EE To Test 400Mbps 4G At Network ‘Mother Ship’ Wembley Stadium

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Better EE 4G coverage, mobile ticketing and contactless payments are next steps in Wembley’s bid to be the world’s most connected stadium by Euro 2020

EE is to trial 400Mbps 4G at Wembley Stadium, with contactless payments and mobile ticketing among the other innovations deployed at the arena, which has set itself the goal of being the world’s most connected stadium.

The operator, which entered into a six year deal with the Football Association earlier this year, says the national stadium will become the test bed for the majority of its future innovations as stadiums are a massive test of network infrastructure.

“Wembley for us is the mother ship of our network,” explained Mansoor Hanif, director of radio networks at EE. “It’s where we expect our customers and where they can touch it and feel it and interact with it.”

Wembley is the ‘mother ship’ for networks

Wembley EE (2)Hanif said the infrastructure needed to capable of supporting 90,000 people during massive events, but because demand is much lower at all other times, the network had to adapt.

“Do you build a massive pipe for one minute a week or do you find ways to manage that traffic?” he asked. “That’s a massive technical challenge.”

The home of the England national football team will be among the first locations to receive 300Mbps when it launches commercially, but EE has already been upgrading its infrastructure, adding 5MHz of 3G capacity and offering 20MHz 4G.

It said that since the partnership with Wembley started in February, more than 1.7TB of data had been downloaded on its network and 900GB had been uploaded, meaning that upstream speeds were becoming just as important as downstream. EE added that only one percent of phone calls had failed since then, something it hailed as a remarkable achievement.

The advent of 400Mbps is part of EE’s six year roadmap, which will be completed by the time of the 2020 European Championship semi-finals and finals, which will take place under the famous arch – which incidentally has been fitted with 270 large scale LED floodlights with millions of colour combinations.

“We see Wembley in 2020 as being a portal to the future,” added Hanif. “This is a gathering place for people who love sport and technology. It’s like Stonehenge of the future.”

Mobile payments and ticketing

The ticket barriers at Wembley are already NFC-enabled and can read barcodes, but the rollout of mobile ticketing will give the FA more information about people who come in through the turnstiles, allowing them to target events and offers. This is important as Wembley, one of the most expensive stadiums in the world, needs to generate revenue if the FA is to return a profit on its construction.

Wembley EE 4The FA also intends to rollout contactless payments in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, having tested out the technology during the 2014 Rugby League Challenge Cup final. Football has traditionally been cash-based, but with cards becoming more popular, Wembley needs to adapt and process payments quicker to encourage more sales, says the FA’s CTO Rob Ray.

“The whole vision of Wembley is about having the best stadium experience possible,” he said.

The world’s most connected stadium?

Other innovations include a new EE Wembley application, improved Wi-Fi in areas of high football, and 12 new antennas around the stadium. With such measures designed to improve engagement with sports and music fans, it’s clear Wembley won’t be following the lead of Old Trafford and banning iPads and laptops from its stands.

“Interrupting the customer experience is now what we’re about at all,” said Ray. “I understand it from a rights perspective, but you have to move on from that.”

Both EE and Wembley acknowledge they are participating in a “global race” to make Wembley the most connected stadium in the world with arenas in the US, but they are confident of achieving the title.

“It’s very hard for us to say we’re number one now as there’s no benchmark,” said Ray. “We’re comfortable we will be.”

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