Stadium Wi-Fi Needs a New Paradigm –– Buechley

Fiber-optic technology, authentication and a revamped business model are required for carriers and venues to take full advantage of robust Wi-Fi networks and for fans to receive an improved wireless experience, Seth Buechley, president, Solid, told DAS Bulletin this week.

“There is a lot of talk about stadiums with Wi-Fi that offers replays and other premium content, but that takes a very robust Wi-Fi network,” he said. “A lot of people talk about Wi-Fi, but very few stadiums have it, which results in the fans receiving a poor mobile experience.”

At the Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona, Spain, Solid joined with authentication vendor Stoke in debuting “GameChanger,” a neutral-host Wi-Fi offload system that allows venue operators to share the unlicensed Wi-Fi network with multiple carriers, similarly to DAS networks.

The current paradigm for Wi-Fi at high-congestion venues is not working because a single carrier must bear the whole cost of deploying the network, be responsible for refresh and reconfiguration, and work out a sharing agreement with other carriers, according Buechley.

“It’s too complicated for a single carrier to roll out Wi-Fi in a stadium because of the problems sharing with other carriers, so many times a Wi-Fi network never gets deployed,” he said. “That is why very few stadiums have Wi-Fi and the result is a poor wireless experience for the user.”

In most cases, the venue should own the Wi-Fi infrastructure and the carriers should fund it, either by paying for a portion of the cost to build it or by paying to use it, which makes it economically feasible for both the venue and the carriers, said Buechley.

“What if you could reduce the cost of the Wi-Fi network? Would carriers opt in? A vendor-owned Wi-Fi network reduces costs for the cellular operator, and gives them a business model for sharing,” he said.

In addition to reduced costs, the carriers need secure on-network traffic and don’t want the responsibility for refresh or reconfigurations of the network.

“What if the carrier could keep the traffic on their network instead of blindly offloading and hoping for the best?” he asked. “What if there was a model for them to share the Wi-Fi network without having to handle the refresh and reconfiguration?”

Buechley said the answers lie in applying a neutral host DAS model to Wi-Fi offload, providing each wireless operator with the equivalent of its own high-capacity Wi-Fi network with backhaul. In contrast to DAS where each carrier handles its own authentication, with Wi-Fi, the venue not only needs physical infrastructure, but also that network needs to be shared, and the venue needs to assist with the authentication process.

“You have to make it all tie together. In Wi-Fi on unlicensed spectrum, you need a total solution,” Buechley said. “You can only have one Wi-Fi network or there will be interference. So carriers would have to share the system.”

The venue would receive a number of revenue opportunities with the deployment of its own Wi-Fi network.

“The venue would get all the Wi-Fi it could eat, and it could get all the analytics and insight into wireless usage,” he said. “They could start pushing marketing to those phones based on that insight, and they could use that Wi-Fi network to open up new revenue streams, whether by leasing the data or by marketing their products and services.”

For more information on GameChanger, see the Products section.