There are few sectors that have made such an explosive comeback following the lows of the pandemic. But the events and entertainment sector has rebounded with renewed momentum. When the global health crisis hit in 2020, and unprecedented health and safety restrictions were implemented all over the world, large events very quickly felt like a thing of the past. Festivals, sporting events and theme parks would have felt the strain of these measures more so than many others, forced to close up shop and put their business on hold.
Fast forward to 2023 and the industry is looking far healthier, the appetite for live events is seemingly back in full force. Mintel forecasts that this year, the value of the UK music festivals and concerts industry will surpass its pre-Covid levels. By 2026, the market intelligence and research agency predicts that the UK market will reach a record high of more than £3.22bn.
With this increasing demand, the Channel’s role in supporting large live events should not be overlooked. As Tim Loynes, director, Cellnex UK in Building Solutions pointed out, sports events venues and other large exhibition centres play host to huge numbers of visitors in short periods of time which can put “extreme pressure” on public mobile networks.
“In addition, thick-walls, steel structures and the use of metallised-glass is relatively common in building design for these kinds of venues, which can have a major impact on mobile signals, reducing their strength or blocking them completely,” Loynes explained to Comms Business.
“Dropped calls, low data rates and the inability to connect severely impact the guest experience. In today’s connected world, there’s an expectation that mobile coverage will simply be there, and when it’s not, it can be frustrating for everyone.”
A connected world
Connectivity has become an increasingly important part of live sport and entertainment, Loynes explained, noting that fans are expecting a “more engaging and seamless experience”.
He added, “Improved connectivity has meant that event attendees now look for increased communications ahead of and on the day of events, including real-time updates, event schedules and interactive maps of the venue.
“Attendees also expect a more immersive and engaging experience, and event organisers are tapping into this trend through the use of mobile apps to interact with exhibits, promote venue services and special offers to audiences, or provide access to exclusive content.”
EE was Glastonbury Festival’s 2022 technology partner, and data from the festival highlighted this increasing demand for connectivity. Last year, the event broke data records with a whopping 182 terabytes of data used by attendees over the course of the five-day festival, 76 per cent above the 2019 record.
EE developed an app for festival-goers to plan their festival line-ups prior to and during the event, which saw 193,000 total downloads. Data analysis also showed that 3.4 million calls were made by festival guests – an increase of 200,000 compared to the 2019 event – and over 11,948 attendees used EE’s ‘Recharge Tent’ to boost phone batteries, while 8,182 made use of the power bank swapping service.
In a connected world, data is a goldmine of information, Loynes said. “More and more venue and event organisers are seeking to collect and analyse data about attendee behaviour and demographics. Better connectivity can allow this to happen efficiently, which will allow organisers to improve future events.”
Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are one example of a key technology that Channel businesses are seeing demand for across the events and entertainment industry.
These technologies involve placement of multiple antennas around a venue which can boost cellular coverage in the building, ideal for ensuring larger venues can meet connectivity demands – particularly in areas where signals are weak or cannot reach, Loynes pointed out.
“DAS technology, a connectivity network of very low power antennas, is particularly beneficial in high footfall areas such as campuses, stadiums, and other similar environments, where high levels of data are required to support operations,” said Loynes.
“When connected to operators’ Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) via a remote optical system, DAS provides mobile and multi-system coverage to multiple operators in the surrounding environment, including enclosed indoor building spaces, in turn creating [a] truly smart venue.”
In 2020, Cellnex teamed up with Manchester City football club to improve mobile coverage for 55,000 fans at the Etihad Stadium. The provider now offers full mobile coverage for the entirety of Manchester City’s facilities, promising ‘optimal capacity and coverage’ inside the stadium.
“Such a solution allows the Etihad Stadium to be at the forefront of the best stadium experience for their fans, while boasting technological readiness for ever growing data demand in the future,” Loynes commented on the partnership.
Elsewhere in the sporting world, Ireland’s Aviva stadium has been supported by Shared Access, an independent owner and operator of shared wireless infrastructure, to improve the experience for fans on all mobile networks through a partnership established in 2020.
The partnership is involving significant investment in the stadium over the next 25 years, through Shared Access ensuring that all mobile network operators are live inside the stadium with 4G and 5G coverage.
“Shared Access have been investing in grassroots sports in Ireland for over 12 years,” said Chris Jackman, CEO of Shared Access, in a statement.
“Having already built hundreds of operational sites, we are currently building a pipeline of over 150 new telecom installations nationally, and with our track record of investing in major venues already established we are delighted to be working with The Aviva Stadium to ensure it has the best mobile connectivity in Ireland now and in the future.”
Getting the visuals right
Resellers and MSPs can also find opportunities within the audio and visual space for events and entertainment customers. Midwich is a distributor that supplies solutions to the AV, document solutions and IT industry. Midwich established Innovation House in 2021 alongside four other UK distributors: PSCo, Holdan, Invision and Sound Technology.
Innovation House is a large multi-brand experience centre, showcasing more than 200 audio-visual (AV), unified communications and collaboration (UC&C), broadcast, smart home, and rental solutions from 50 manufacturers all under one roof. A range of these solutions can help the events industry create compelling experiences for visitors, with AV systems now commonplace at trade exhibitions, industry conferences, and many other types of events.
In an increasingly hybrid world, some events and entertainment companies are also on the lookout for technologies that can make those unable to attend in person feel like they were there. In January, Panasonic Connect Europe announced the next generation of Kairos, its state-of-the-art live production platform, and provided an advanced preview to visitors at ISE 2023, in Barcelona, Spain.
The new release grows the Kairos ecosystem by adding two new powerful and quiet Core mainframes, expanding the platform’s GPU processing to support larger and more complex productions and enabling it to deliver rich content to a higher quantity of larger screens.
The company expects this updated solution to suit productions ranging from broadcast studios to remote production and streaming of live sports and concert events.
Kairos virtualises traditional switcher functions eliminating many legacy switcher hardware constraints with innovative CPU/GPU architecture and utilises a multi-format Agile I/O feature to remove the one-to-one input constraints of SDI only switchers.
5G and beyond
With 5G connectivity increasing in prevalence, Channel companies are aware of the opportunity for businesses in the events and entertainment sector, who will be keen to ensure that they can keep up with competitors and provide attendees with the best experience possible.
This spring, Ericsson has expanded its indoor mobile connectivity portfolio with three new solutions, described as “easy-to use and cost efficient”, aiming to deliver 5G coverage, capacity and capabilities across the interior of any work or business environment regardless of building size or complexity.
In a statement announcing the new solutions, part of its Ericsson Radio Dot System portfolio, Ericsson said that around 80 per cent of mobile data is generated through indoor use, with high-performing indoor mobile connectivity having become a critical digital infrastructure. The company estimates that only around ten to 15 per cent of floor space in buildings is currently served by indoor 5G connectivity.
Its latest indoor radio unit, IRU 8850, is suitable for medium to large venue coverage and delivers up to four times the capacity of its predecessors. Ericsson positions it as an alternative to DAS technology, claimed to be up to 70 per cent more energy-efficient.
The second indoor 5G portfolio addition, the Ericsson Indoor Fusion Unit, is aimed to small to medium sized building coverage and is described as a compact, all-in-one indoor 5G solution that combines radio and baseband functionalities into one unit.
The company is also introducing a new software feature for indoor networks called Ericsson 5G Precise Positioning, which provides location services for a range of use cases that CSPs and enterprises can use.
“The in-building wireless market is so diverse that products have remained extremely fragmented for years,” commented Joe Madden, founder and chief analyst at Mobile Experts.
“Ericsson has pulled together a line-up of products that are more flexible and adaptable, to handle wide variations in the application. This approach can drive economy of scale, with common parts serving large and small buildings, with high capacity, low capacity, or multi-operator applications. This kind of digital backbone will enable deployment to scale up for larger numbers of buildings.”
The mobile opportunity
Lee Broxson, CSO at Jola said that the Channel is in a prime position to meet the leisure and entertainment industry’s “dynamic” mobile data needs.
He commented, “Jola has a unique process called the Mobile-data Revenue Generator, which helps partners to identify opportunities within each market vertical in their customer base and pitch unique and differentiated mobile data solutions.
“We have over 1300 partners, many of which sell into the leisure and entertainment market supplying mobile data solutions to cinemas, theatres, leisure centres, theme parks and festival organisers.”
Use cases will vary for different types of businesses within the sector – Broxson pointed out some of the ways that these businesses are utilising mobile data to improve their events, such as theme parks and festivals using 4G data solutions to monitor visitor numbers and cinemas and theatres using mobile data in-house as primary and backup connectivity for outdoor screenings.
“Many leisure centres, run with minimal staff and operate door entry systems. Some systems rely on a central server, with an expensive router and broadband connection at every site, to manage door access. Rolling this solution out to new sites is expensive,” Broxson said.
“Using the benefits of Amazon Web Services, Jola created a unique 4G private APN solution for Jola partners to pitch to leisure centres looking to deploy door entry systems across multiple sites operating this way. Private VPN tunnels were added to access control central servers, between the server networks and Jola’s M2M 4G network, allowing LAN-based IP traffic to all connected sites.”
This has resulted in reduced overhead costs and deployment times as well as improved security, he said, with deployment of a private APN ring-fencing all end user sites that require door entry authentication.
By using technology to streamline operations through automation of tasks, Cellnex’s Tim Loynes said that the overall efficiency and even health and safety of events can be improved, through benefits such as prevention of long queues.
“It can also better connect security teams, which will help them to respond quickly to issues,” he said. “With our increasing reliance on connectivity in the modern world, it’s important that event venues and stadiums can keep up with demand and expectation, with DAS and future connectivity technologies deployed to provide coverage and capacity that event attendees need and expect.”