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High Capacity Wireless for Stadiums

Satisfying user demand for social media and smartphone usage is an increasing challenge for all Operators in sports stadiums. Design choices are varied and complex and selecting the right turnkey supplier is paramount.

Executive Summary

The growth and demand for cellular services wherever and whenever has steadily increased over the years. The recent rapid growth of smartphone devices has exponentially accelerated this demand. Access to the internet, coupled with the numerous applications available to the user, is putting great demands on the operators for data capacity. The end user experience has never been as important as it is now! Business owners are seeing the internet as a key advertising channel, not just for their own web presence, but also the use of social media channels. The opportunity to deliver targeted advertising and interacting with their customers, has led to stadium owners putting an increased focus on the cellular coverage within their stadium. Each stadium is different and presents differing requirements and challenges, both from technical design and stakeholder management. The key abilities required in delivering a stadium design are:


  • A robust design that is not just a design for today, but for the future. A design that delivers the right solution, using the right products, with the right quality and at the right price.
  • A stakeholder management capability. There will be many stakeholders who will have a direct investment and interest in the solution. They have to be confident that the solution will deliver their requirements. They have to be kept updated and their questions, as well as request for changes, must be managed.
  • Flexibility to address changes to requirements. Changes in stakeholder requirements or even changes due to stadium modifications require a dynamic re-design often with a high degree of creativity.
  • Under pinning the above is a strong project management capability.

More and more stadium owners are becoming aware of the benefits of a strong cellular solution within their stadium. Covering the open areas, the executive rooms, and the administration, stadium owners will have the opportunity to deliver revenue generating or event enhancing services. Within this paper, Vilicom shares its experience of deploying cellular solutions within a couple of the largest stadium in Europe as well as a medium sized stadium. Large or small, the benefits for the owner and the operators are very positive.


Smartphones have changed the way we communicate at home, at business and at play. For mobile operators and stadia owners, the combination of smartphones, mobile devices, innovative marketing opportunities, and Social Media offer lucrative revenue-generating opportunities. However, network operators also face technical issues and financial challenges as stadium are expensive to kit out and may only be used 15, 30, or 50 days a year. As a specialist network design firm, Vilicom brings the worlds of Mobile Operators and Infrastructure owners together to improve their capacity.

Some of these include:

  • Croke Park, an 80,000 seat stadium in Dublin, Ireland
  • A large stadium home to a Premier League football club
  • Craven Cottage, the oldest stadium in London at Fulham FC

Before we look at these projects, let’s rewind for a moment to put things in context. In 1966, England won the World Cup final in Wembley Stadium. Remember, at that time, the number of televisions was measured per street, not per household. More people heard the game than saw it, listening in on the radio. In 2012, London hosts the Olympics. Few will listen to the opening ceremony of the radio. Most will watch it on the television, over the Internet and with mobile devices.

  • For the hosts, this creates wonderful opportunities to share the experience with fans.
  • For fans, smartphones help them make calls, share photos, send videos, and stream live data.
  • For the mobile operators, while this creates a unique opportunity, there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome. In a word - capacity.

In this white paper, we’ll examine the technical and practical challenges involved in designing and rolling out solutions for high capacity stadia.

As a specialist network design firm, Vilicom brings the worlds of Mobile Operators and Infrastructure owners together to improve their capacity

Large Stadium:

Football Club

This large stadium is home to a football club that has a capacity of around 75,000, making it the second-largest football stadium in England after Wembley, and the eleventh-largest in Europe. It underwent several expansions in the 1990s and 2000s, including the addition of extra tiers to the North, West and East stands. The ground frequently hosts FA Cup semi-final matches and aside from football-related uses, has hosted rugby league's Super League Grand Final.

This large stadium will host nine Football matches during the Olympic Games, including a semi-final in both the men's and women's competitions.


This large stadium, in common with other stadia faced the twin challenges of coverage and capacity. Also, with consideration to the 2012 Olympics, operators have began working together in preparation for this prestigious event. The main issue for the operators is to be able to offer a high level of capacity in the stadium to their respective customers. Multi-operator and technology systems are not new, but it is not normal that such high traffic needs to be catered for. Therefore the most suitable solution is to look at serving the users with dedicated coverage by implementing many small, well contained cells. Based on a recent BBC survey to investigate expected 3G traffic demand from Olympic spectators, 18Mbytes/user/day is expected. This translates 1 UMTS carrier per 2000 spectators when using 7.2 HSDPA technology. Taking practical cell and antenna arrangements into account, the stadium will require approximately 22 separate two-carrier sectors to provide the available capacity for the expected number of users.


Selection Process and goals

Based on our success with similar projects, the operators and the owners of this large stadium recognised Vilicom had the necessary skills, expertise and track record to make the project succeed. Vilicom’s role was to provide a detailed coverage design to all stadium areas, which involved optimising the solution, minimising waste and cost, and achieving the specified coverage and capacity targets. This has now been achieved, resulting in a strong architecture which is practical and pragmatic to install while reducing the quantities of equipment and hence saving time and money.


Technical Design

To put this in context, let’s turn our attention to the technical design. The architecture was divided into three parts:

1. Stadium Bowl. 34 Antennas positioned around the edge of the bowl roof, point into the crowd and provide dedicated coverage and service to blocks of 4,000 spectators (on average). Each antenna is connected to a dedicated optical remote repeater unit, which is connected back to a master unit via fibre optic cable. All operators RF signals are combined on the one systems, and the entire system can be configured to each operator’s requirements.

2. Internal Stadium Areas. All areas and floors are covered by a DAS system with 24 optically fed remote units and 220 antennas.

3. External Stadium Areas. An additional 6 cells around the outside of the stadium cover the immediate parking and entrance to areas of the stadium. Two dedicated BTS rooms house all operators’ equipment and connectivity to the optical master system.


Basic Concept

To understand how the design works, let’s look at the following process:

  • The BTS operator feeds a reduced RF signal power to an optical master unit.
  • This converts the signal to be distributed over several optical fibres to remote repeater units (amplifiers).
  • At the remote unit, the optical signal is converted and amplified back as an RF signal for conventional distribution of coax cable to the antennas.

Optical systems compensate for RF losses associated with long RF Cable lengths, and simplify installation work. They also have the benefit of remotely locating a BTS room from the coverage area (for up to 10 kilometers).

Croke Park: Gaelic Athletic Association

The spiritual home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Croke Park has been at the heart of Irish sporting life for over a hundred years. Boasting a capacity for 82,300 people, the stadium is the home of Gaelic Games and the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). In the 1980's the GAA decided to investigate ways to increase the capacity of Croke Park. As a result the design for an 80,000 capacity stadium with a three-tier design was completed in 1991. The redevelopment of Croke Park allowed for a main concourse, a premium level incorporating hospitality facilities such as restaurants, bars and conference areas and finally an upper concourse. The entire redevelopment of the Stadium cost approximately €260 million. Located in the heart of Dublin, it provides facilities for sports events, concerts, conferences and events for the business community. As the third largest stadium in Europe, after Barcelona’s Nou Camp and Wembley in London, it also faces specific technical challenges. Remember that ten years ago, few fans had camera-ready phones; five years ago, few had video options; and less than two years ago, not many had phone, camera and video bundled on one device. The advent of smartphones changed this. Today, many visitors come to matches with powerful internet-ready phones with cameras and videos preinstalled. The iPhone took things to the next level, offering a richer suite of applications with Social Media ‘apps’ that encouraged the sharing, commenting and interactivity.



The challenges facing the GAA involved meeting customer expectations, understanding emerging technologies, and making commercial decisions that would position Croke Park as an industry leader when hosting sports matches, concerts, and business events. Likewise, the challenges for the Operators were to:

  • Design a system that would support the anticipated capacity demands
  • Develop a shared capital commercial model, aligned with each party’s aspiration
  • Manage the project delivery, coordinate multiple teams, and source the necessary equipment
  • Engage with Croke Park and work around other parallel projects when onsite
  • Understand the potential revenue streams, and customer expectations that justify the investment in the project


However, the priority for the GAA was to ensure that its visitors – many of who are members of local GAA clubs around the country – had the best possible experience when visiting Croke Park. Of course, this also extended to rugby fans, concert goers, VIPs, and corporate boxes This meant designing a system that:

  • Offered network services to 80,000 fans simultaneously
  • Ensured sufficient RF levels were achieved across all sectors in the stadium
  • Reduced interference and contained the RF signal within the stadium
  • Covered corporate areas, team communication, media communication, seating bowl and access/vendor areas

And, while this applies to capacity crowds at the weekends, coverage is also required at business seminars and conferences during off peak times.

On a more granular level, stadium events present capacity demands for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) such as:

  • User Demands. Croke Park holds 82,500 people, many of whom want to photo, record and discuss the match with mobile devices.
  • Physical Limitations. As the stadium is concentrated into a relatively small area, it’s hard to implement so many cells without diminishing quality of service.
  • Spikes in Usage. Visitors tend to use their phones at specific times, for instance, before the game, at half time, when goals are scored, and after the final whistle, all of which create intense demands on the networks.
  • Volume. In addition to making calls, they also upload photos and videos to Social Media sites, watch video replays, make video calls and send text messages.
  • Grazing. During quiet periods, visitors tend to use their phones to ‘graze’, i.e. surf the web to pass the time, placing more demands on the network.
  • Background Data. As smartphones are configured to automatically update, download, and get information in the background, they use up more capacity on the network.
  • Social Media. The popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites means photos and videos are shared online instantly.
  • Business Case. Providing a DAS shared between operators has many benefits, such as sharing the system’s cost. This reduces the burden on a single operator to provide the investment, allowing them to channel these funds into other aspects of the project.
  • Expectations. Users expect mobile services, especially in high profile venues.
  • Quality of Service. Prolonged degraded or unavailable service results in poor customer experience, particularly at a sporting or concert event.
  • Brand Perception. As many mobile operators sponsor sports teams and events, it’s crucial that their service is available when their brand is on the pitch.
  • Customer Experience. Event managers are also aware of the importance of mobile data services to the overall experience of attending event. For instance, this includes the desire to share the experience in real-time by video calling.

Event organisers realise that mobile data is a critical service that needs to be available to make their event and venue state of the art and reflect positively on their brand values.



In many respects, both Croke Park and the network operator shared common goals. Particularly two over-arching goals:

1. Immediately provide capacity to meet current users’ needs

2. Develop a roadmap for capacity growth

In addition, corporate and hospitality areas which previously lacked sufficient coverage needed to be improved. One of the dilemmas for the design team was to estimate the projected network demands. As mobile data usage increases, especially at stadia and live events, it becomes more challenging to define the current capacity demand that needs to be serviced. For network operators, this means creating realistic projects and allowing contingencies for emerging technologies and their associated network demands, thereby ensuring there is a sensible upgrade path if and when the client needs to change the network configuration.


Stadium Design

Following consultation with our strategic partners, Vilicom designed a solution that allows Croke Park to capitalize on the existing network infrastructure and also provides sufficient flexibility to expand when necessary.

  • Sectorisation. Multi-sector systems are developed to cover all areas for 4G though allowing the flexibility for operators to feed in only the number of cells they initially require. This design allows for further division of cells as traffic growth occurs. In addition, as a strategic partner, Vilicom will continually work alongside operators and stadium owners to monitor the traffic growth and optimise/upgrade the system in parallel as traffic growth increases.
  • Antennas. The choice of antennas to cover the seating area is critical to ensure the optimal coverage footprint with minimal overlap (in order to reduce interference and control soft handover areas).

Due to the excessively long distances (and RF losses) between the base station equipment and the antennas for some sectors, RF-to-optical conversion was used to connect to remote repeater units. The selected repeater provided for a multi-operator, dual band 4G system in one repeater unit, and so simplified the remote units’ installation and configuration.

Multi-operator stadium systems have the highest demand for technical ability, solution innovation, and pragmatism.

Vilicom's Strategic Value

On this project, Vilicom facilitated and chaired the complex business of coordinating the requirements of infrastructure owners, lead operator and joining operators. Vilicom provided the technical design, setup the contracts, lead the implementation and testing, and thereby project managed the entire end-to end process, including management of suppliers. Multi-operator stadium systems have the highest demand for technical ability, solution innovation, and pragmatism when dealing with complex evolving requirements, areas where Vilicom has a proven track record after successfully delivering multiple large projects. Vilicom also has experience of bringing together the many parties involved in such systems: operators, stadium owners and management team, and suppliers; co-ordinating varying requirements and interests of the different parties, in order to insure a mutually optimal project outcome.


Business Benefits

Unlike other projects, where the network design is closely tied into revenuegeneration opportunities, the Croke Park design was intended to future proof the stadium to accommodate anticipated technical demands and also allow the opportunity to embrace commercial opportunities where they arise. For example, the design now allows the network operators and Croke Park to provide:

  • Better quality of service
  • Access to mobile networks
  • Reflects well on the GAA as a brand
  • Superior conference facilities
  • Develop products and services with partners
  • Positive PR and press coverage
  • Higher customer satisfaction
    In addition to this:
  • Vilicom’s ability to design and manage multi-operator systems
    resulted in significant cost savings per operator.
  • Vilicom’s partnership approach ensured all requirements were
    captured and an optimal system was designed to give the best value
    for money.
  • With the demand for digital devices increasing every year, it has become critical for stadia owners to measure performance more intensively in order to retain customer loyalty and maintain a competitive edge. Improving network experiences reinforce their brand’s value, leading to satisfied customers and positive media coverage.


Evolving Capacity Requirements

From the initial to the final design, the system capacity has been doubled, twice! This reflects the growing data usage and uptake in smartphones. The design was developed in close co-operation with the mobile operators who were constantly revising upwards their capacity demand forecasts due to the success of the smartphone. Of particular note, the system’s flexibility and upgradability was of critical importance to the operators, and this was taken as a design factor from the outset. Building on our contributions to the design phase, Vilicom has been retained to provide additional services monitoring the traffic and capacity demands.

Croke Park strives to provide a greater fan experience to all its visitors. In today’s wirelessly connected world, our customers want to be able to use their devices not only for voice calls, but also for internet browsing and accessing an increasing number of real time applications. Vilicom were contracted to ensure the delivery of one of the largest and technically leading edge DAS networks in Ireland. Vilicom implemented all the infrastructure requirements to enable enhanced mobile connectivity at Croke Park. Vilicom’s experience in delivering full Managed Services, for what was an extremely challenging and complex project, was invaluable. Vilicom was instrumental in the management of all stakeholder requirements, which included continuous communication throughout the project with all stakeholders.The result has greatly enhanced our visitors’ experience and made Croke Park a fantastic venue to attend.

Alan Gallagher
Head of Stadium Operations, Croke Park

Craven Cottge

Craven Cottage: Fulham FC

Craven Cottage has been the home of Fulham F.C. since 1896. After major refurbishment work was carried out in 2004, the ground's capacity has increased from 22,000 to its current capacity of 25,700. As part of our services to the client, we were asked to evaluate the current coverage in, and around the stadium. Vilicom were asked to provide a detailed design and plan to build a dedicated system in the stadium to improve coverage and help with the local capacity congestions. Before we look at the proposed design, let’s examine the underlying issues that faced the management team at Fulham F.C.

Growing Pains

The primary issue facing Craven Cottage is that mobile networks struggle to maintain good coverage and access to voice and data services in or around the stadium during a match due to ever increasing capacity demands.

  • Smartphones. This capacity issue has progressively increased with the introduction of smartphones. This is not restricted to Fulham’s stadium, but is also an issue for many other high capacity stadia.
  • Team Usage. A further system demand is that the team uses the mobile network for its own communication between staff and especially when the owner arrives to a match.
  • Suburban Restrictions. This means there are coverage and capacity issues not only at the stadium but also in the immediate surrounding area, coupled with this, stadium neighbours are sensitive to any solutions which require installations at roof area.
  • Customer Experience. On match day, cell sites cannot cope with the capacity demand and users experience areas and periods without access to mobile service. In addition the local users who live in this area suffer from lack of service.
  • Negative PR. The club wants to improve facilities to corporate spectators who sometimes had issues using their smartphones on the corporate networks. It’s eager to have a reliable communications system in place during match day and needs an immediate solution.


Project Goals

Vilicom was asked to look at a dedicated solution for the stadium to absorb the traffic for all operators. This will help relieve the external network and provide improved service to spectators and staff on match days.



The technical architecture is divided into two parts:

1. Bowl. Provides dedicated coverage to each of the 4 stands. Only 4 antenna locations for 3 main stands, and 8 antennas for the Johnny Haynes Stand, the protected monument stand.

2. Internal: Provides enhanced seamless coverage to two stands with internal areas and suites as well as dedicated coverage to the main cottage which houses the staff and players rooms and lounges. There is also a dedicated BTS space to house a minimum of two operators’ equipment and connectivity to the optical master system. The following diagram shows the location of roof mounted antennas and remote units.

The Johnny Haynes stand at Craven Cottage, is a Grade II listed building named after one of Fulham's greatest players Johnny Haynes. One of British football’s outstanding inside-forwards, Johnny Haynes was capped for England on 56 occasions, 22 as captain.

Basic Concept

The basic concept of the network design is as follows:

  • The operators’ base station equipment is connected to an optical master unit. This converts the signal to be distributed over several fibres to remote repeater units.
  • At each remote unit the optical signal is converted back to an RF signal and amplified for conventional distribution over a coax cable system to the antennas.

While optical distribution systems are primarily used when RF losses on coaxial cable would be excessive, they also simplify many aspects of the system design and installaion. Optical systems also provide the technology to remotely locate a BTS room from the coverage area (for up to 10 kilometers).


Project Management Challenges

At the design stage of the project, options had to be checked with the club in order to confirm

  • Equipment locations
  • Design aesthetics cable routes
  • Future club construction plans to help ease the planning permissions with the local authorities with respect to the installation of equipment in the protected stand of Johnny Haynes

The installation planning must work around the clubs world of matches and events. Therefore all project work needs to be coordinated around quickly changing schedules. Further, the River stand is to be totally renovated and as such the system must cope with the upgrade in the near future.

We also have to take into consideration that there is a very limited amount of electrical power available on match days that can be used for a solution; a further complication is that one of the stands is a protected building.


Human Factors

Craven Cottage stadium is an old building and is considered an historic landmark with local residents who are very sensitive to any changes proposed to the grounds, stands, or local area.

At Craven Cottage we suffered for a long time with poor cellular coverage, either 2G or 3G. In recent times, with so many people using smartphones and the necessity of mobile communications on match days, it became essential to address this. Thanks to Vilicom’s excellent work in designing and deploying the stadium solution, we now have great coverage when making calls or using web based services. The way Vilicom coordinated the project was excellent, we were kept updated on the progress and had full confidence in Vilicom to deliver . We are now looking into leveraging the solution with new services that benefit the supporters who come to the stadium

Sean O Loughlin,
Fulham FC Financial Director


Good Coverage and Capacity in Stadia provide benefits for all the stakeholders.

  • The stadium owner benefits from the opportunity to be able to generate revenues, for example, via targeted advertising or coverage in their conference suites.
  • Network Operators increase their customer satisfaction and have the opportunity to generate additional revenues.
  • Subscribers have a more satisfying, consistent and positive experience, in being able to access all the services, that they now take for granted and expect to be available wherever they are.

The explosive growth in data puts a significant strain on the network. In particular, video sharing and the popularity of social media, places extreme demands on the networks as this type of usage becomes the norm, not the exception. As the number of smartphones increase exponentially, the stadium solution has to consider a design that will support this growth and capacity demand.

A number of key points have to be considered in high capacity stadia solutions:

  • To be able to design a stadium solution that is sufficiently robust to accommodate the demands and opportunities.
  • To be able to coordinate and work with ALL the stakeholders to ensure the right design.
  • To be able to Project Manage a complex solution deployment successfully.
  • To have the flexibility and creativity to dynamically address changes in stakeholder requirements.

On large, complex projects of this nature there will always be revisions to the original design. New specifications, technical requirements and constraints emerge as the project evolves. Each of these changes have to be factored into the design.

One common thread that runs through these projects has been the power of collaboration. For each of the above case studies, all parties had interesting potential and ambitious goals–but the essential element in actualising the vision is collaboration.

Whether it’s Rent, Capital Contribution, Access, Advertising Rights, Network Capacity, Satisfaction for your network user, presentation of your brand, each stakeholder’s ambition can be realised, and a greater goal achieved through working together.

If you’d like to learn more about how Vilicom delivered these projects and what how Vilicom can deliver your projects, please contact our sales team.


For further information contact:

Gearóid Collins

Vilicom is an expert provider of consultancy services with over 20 years of experience in the analysis, design, test and implementation of wireless networks. Vilicom’s strengths lie in technology strategy consulting, the planning of cellular networks, transmission network design, implementation of specialised in-building coverage systems and network benchmarking and testing. Vilicom has delivered its services in over 20 countries for network operators, network equipment vendors, industry regulators and investors. Vilicom delivers value for its customers by adopting a flexible, customer-focused approach, retaining cutting-edge expertise and maintaining its independence.



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