Translating 5G – What Does it Mean for Sport and Entertainment Venues?

Throughout 2020 and now into 2021 we’ve seen a number of 5G partnerships within sports and entertainment venue settings. O2 continued their partnerships with Arsenal, the RFU (Twickenham Stadium) and The O2 in a 5G setting. Vodafone extended their partnership with Wasps. BT/EE extended at Wembley and Three partnered up with Chelsea. PTI’s Mario Zambas analyses what 5G means for the sports and entertainment sector.

What exactly does 5G mean for sports and entertainment venues? How might that happen and when can we expect to see it? Here are a few quick tips to get you started.

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks, taking care of this decades’ progression in the space:

  • 1980: 1G – Mobile Voice Calls
  • 1990: 2G – Mobile Voices Calls and SMS
  • 2000: 3G – Mobile Web Browsing
  • 2010: 4G – Mobile Video Consumption and Higher Data Speeds
  • 2020: 5G – Technology to Enhance Experiences and Drive Digitisation of Industry

Simply put, 5G is all about optimising uploads and downloads and the number of people / devices that can concurrently access the speeds – i.e. new speeds and throughput.

For proportional context, image a doorway and a crowd of 50 gathered outside needing to get through. Whereas 3G had the potential to get five people through a door simultaneously and then queued all other users (where buffering / poor performance starts), 4G could get 20 people through the same door, leading to a noticeable improvement.

5G could get anywhere between 100 and 1,000 people through that same door, depending on the deployment type, meaning all users get their demand levels met at the highest possible performance level.

So Is There More Than One Type of 5G?

Correct! There are in fact three primary types – depending on who you talk to – only one of which is really active thus far in the UK market.

In headline terms: 

  • 5G Sub-6GHz: the first regulated and approved deployment type in the UK, enabling multi-Gbps data rates and a c3-5x uplift in speed and throughput compared to 4G. It is this form that is being rolled out by the main
  • 5GmmWave:  starting to be tested in the UK / Europe and has already been used in active sporting events in the US, including the 2020 Super Bowl. This can boast speeds and throughputs of up to 10-20x versus 4G. It is this form that many industry reports refer to when talking about the revolutionary uses of 5G – so beware, what you are reading about versus what is being deployed could be quite different.
    • 5G NR: the true form of 5G. This is still some way off but could be in the 50-100x uplift versus 4G

How Quickly is Each Type Being Rolled Out?

From the Telco perspective, 5G is a revolution for them, compared to the shift from 3G to 4G which was evolution. 5G requires new infrastructure, from fibre in the ground to cell deployments.

This in turn means the roll out isn’t as fast as the marketing hype may have you believe (note – the 4G UK deployment is still only 80% complete).

A Q4 2020 study in the UK showed that 5G Sub-6GHz was only 29% rolled out in the UK. The rate of progression has been slowed by Covid. Trials are set to take place in mmWave this year but are as yet unconfirmed.

It is not going to happen overnight.

What Are Your Key Considerations as a Venue Thinking About 5G?

There are four key considerations for venues when thinking about 5G:

  • When Do I Invest? With there being different types of 5G, you need to consider when you will make the deployment. There is no doubt you will need to at some point. Do you go early and try to future proof withmmWave infrastructure, or hold fire, learn from the early adopters and prepare for mmWave from the off?
  • Who Will Use It? Due to the revolutionary nature of a 5G deployment to a Telco, they need to recoup this investment, hence the high prices for 5G enabled data plans and devices create a cost barrier to entry for consumers. If you start to create an in-venue experience based on 5G, you risk excluding a proportion of your customer base. Digital poverty should not be present in our venues, so how will we service everyone?
  • Partnership v Access: Whilst many deals are being completed with a single Telco – with examples at the start of this article – what does that mean for other Telco customers? What happens to a Vodafone customer at Wembley, a Three customer at Emirates etc.? Whilst partnerships are attractive and lower the cost to deployment, there may be hidden challenges that will present themselves in the years to come. Read the small print……
  • How Do I Bridge the Gap? With 5G coming – be it in three, five or 10 years – is there still a role for Wi-Fi? Venues are re-opening in 2021, so how do I layer on new digital services in the short term without over investing ahead of 5G?

PTI have been fortunate to work with cutting-edge 5G deployments into venues globally.

Mario Zambas, Head of Venue Technology (EMEA), PTI Digital

Author credits:

Mario Zambas is Head of Venue Technology (EMEA) at PTI Digital. He has been in the venue space for 20+ years and brings with him a wealth of knowledge from across the industry.

Past experience includes overseeing the IT transformation and CRM business strategy rollout at Norwich City Football Club in the early 2000s, heading up the IT systems implementation for Dubai Sports City and the management of the IT project for Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit from build to deployment.

Continuing in F1, Mario oversaw the IT deployment for the first three Abu Dhabi F1 Grands Prix before taking his expertise to launch both the US Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austin, Texas and the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sochi.

Imagery & source, courtesy: PTI Digital

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