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Getting connected

Fans want ever-increasing levels of connectivity when they visit a sports stadium or arena. Stadia speaks to Todd Christner, director of ONE market development at Corning  to find out what questions venue managers should be asking when seeking to maximize connectivity

 

What kinds of things do venue owners want to know when they contact you?
Typically, when we get contacted, Corning will be engaged on these kinds of projects on a couple different levels, and we make a lot of different products. On one level they’ll contact us purely to spec in fiber and different items like that. But on the larger, broader scale, what my role is and what Corning is pushing into the market in terms of technical advancements, is giving these venues advice and guidance about where the market is heading – what’s out there that they should be considering or looking at. We come in and sit down and give them Corning’s view of the world – where we think the technology is headed and what we think the benefits are of where the market is going. We’re sitting with Texas A&M University, the [Atlanta] Falcons. We met with the [Detroit] Red Wings the other day. It’s a conversation that involves the venue asking us to help them understand what’s in this space.

So it can be a consultancy-type relationship to begin with?
The neat thing about Corning is that, as fiber is the media that’s a proven industry standard to get information from point A to point B, we interact with a lot of different technologies that want to use that fiber to connect. So we see a lot of different things that are out there simply due to the fact that we are the industry standard for that connection, and then we have our own technologies that we lay on top of those. We let them know who’s utilizing fiber, who’s the best at using that fiber, what the applications are, what the capabilities are, that sort of thing. We point them in the right direction.

Are venue owners clued up on connectivity?
It’s about a 50-50 mix between those who really have some knowledge about what they’re looking for, and those that just know that there’s a problem and are trying to figure out and understand what that problem actually is. So, when we sit down with them, some of them already realize that they need to get a better connected network in here, and they’re looking to understand what the best connected networks are – wi-fi, LAN, what the differences in technologies are, and so on. Others will come in and say that things aren’t going well, and that they want us to help them understand what we can do with it.

Broadly speaking, what are venues looking to do?
I would say it's an equal exchange of knowledge. With the explosion of the Internet of Things, and as more and more things become addressable on a network – smart buildings or intelligent buildings, location-based services within the space, knowing which bathrooms have the shortest lines, what the line’s like at the beer garden, and what the best route is to get from the car to your seat – people with their smartphones are wanting to interact and have access to more data.

In order to make those things work, they require several data points, or IP address devices within the environment, that require connections – whether that’s wi-fi or a hard cable. It’s giving the fans or the end user the ability to connect to the network, but it’s also providing the connections for all of those data points within a stadium or a venue. It’s about understanding what kind of fan experience they want to provide. That helps us design the kind of data connection points you need to have within the environment, and [determine] what’s the best way to allow the end users to access that data.

Is it a growing trend?
Yes, it is. Some venue owners know that that’s what they want, others are trying to understand and get a grasp of it. But it always comes down to dollars and cents. What’s the cost to implement this robust network within a stadium, and what’s the return on that? Are the fans going to come? Is the revenue and the guest experience going to offset those costs? That’s usually been the determining factor, or the deterrent, for this to happen more quickly. You come into the realm of, ‘This is what I want, but the price tag doesn’t validate the return.’

What we’ve done at Corning is to drastically affect that cost model. If you went into legacy, copper-type-based systems, to get to those IP addressable devices was cost prohibitive. To add an extra thousand devices was prohibitive. Now with what we’re doing, it’s becoming cost-neutral, or it even has a cost benefit.

If you went into legacy, copper-based solutions, they take up more space and more power. As you increase the network points of presence, or the number of devices on that network, it requires more copper cabling and more IDS, or closet, space. All those things start to compound or increase, driving up the cost. With our passive network, we’re able to eliminate the copper cabling, which drives down cost and labor to install. We’re able to recue the space and power that we consume within a building. We really hit those two marks on the head and reduce those items, and allow the venue to increase the total points of presence.

Fiber’s got 108TB of throughput across a single strand of fiber, so it can hold a lot more data. It is the width of a hair, so we can get a lot more in one space – and can get a lot more IP addresses than you could with a bundle of copper cabling.

Do you work with new venues during design?
Yes, and that’s happening more and more. Looking back at the legacy copper-type infrastructures, there were some industry standards and decisions that were made two years before the buildings were ever built, so the designers didn’t need to talk to anyone about it. IDS for every 300ft², you know?

They had this model that they ran through. But as these venue owners, partners and engineering groups become aware of this, they’re now starting to include us in the design phases, which allows us to affect that space.

Texas A&M University, in a legacy copper-based environment, were going to have 43 IDS closets and we reduced the number to 23, significantly affecting that space. They actually turned eight of those into first aid rooms and are seeing that they can use that space for more productive uses.

And there’s an element of future proofing as well?
They have over 3,000 spare fibers around [Texas A&M University’s] Kyle Field stadium, and extra power at each one of those locations where those fibers show up. So we can expand that network greatly within the future as new technologies come along, but without having to add more cable. We’ve wired Kyle Field with fiber like you would plumb a building – it’s part of the utilities. We’re seeing fiber be implemented as if it were part of the utilities.

September 3, 2015

 

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