Verizon Business and Cisco to bring 5G-powered experiences to stadiums

They’ll address venues’ challenges and provide new capabilities for in-person events, including leveraging analytics for wait-lines, contactless payments and identifying crowd density.

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Image: Jim Mahoney/New England Patriots

One of the most significant non-medical consequences of the COVID-19 crisis–and the required masks and social distancing–is the shut-down of event venues, and subsequently, of course, the actual events. Concerts and sporting events feature expensive tickets that bring artists and athletes considerable coin, but draw fervent–often shouting–crowds, turning the venue into a petri-dish of potential spread of the coronavirus. The much-anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been postponed to 2021, as have many others, although The World Athletics Championships, scheduled for 2021, have been pushed to 2022. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The response to this economical loss and enthusiastic, often traditional crowd camaraderie has been less than ideal. Concerts and sporting events worldwide–even those that have already returned–have been audience-less and virtual, with performers and players given a strict set of safety regulations among themselves (i.e. baseball and soccer in South Korea, basketball in Taiwan, US Major League Soccer, US schools’ sports teams and many more). “Sports fans are already going to football games in limited volumes,” a Cisco representative said.

For fans, virtual viewing is better than none, but many long for the experience of cheering alongside fellow enthusiasts. Today, Verizon Business and Cisco announced they’re bringing 5G-enabled, MEC (mobile edge computing) solutions to sports and entertainment venues, in the hopes of facilitating the anticipated return to an in-person experience, albeit a more thoughtful and safe one. The companies will offer solutions combining Verizon’s 5G network and 5G Edge.

“We wanted to create a frictionless, contact-free solution for venues powered by 5G MEC,” a Verizon spokesperson said. She added, “Cisco is a leader in this space. They are already well-positioned in over 135 venues globally, so it was a natural fit to collaborate with them, leveraging their sports and entertainment solutions platform and digital signage capabilities.”

In-person venue events on the horizon

Clearly, new measures are essential to implement if in-person, large-crowd entertainment is to be revived. Requirements within these venues will have to expand precautions everyone must make as they venture out in public. Verizon’s and Cisco’s goals are to make the experience more secure and enjoyable including contactless physical access, social distancing, crowd management, wayfinding, and seamless payments.

“Cisco Sports and Entertainment’s portfolio has always been focused on solutions,” the Cisco spokeswoman said. “Our group has always been a solutions group. By design, we are able to customize and innovate for each venue, industry, league, etc., as they need–and especially now as we are adjusting to situations with no fans, limited fans, and planning for what it will look like with heavier volumes of fans back in the future.”

The Verizon spokesperson said: “We worked closely with venue owners and operators, industry analysts, and our partner ecosystem to review findings, validate business needs and feasibility.”

Powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband with mobile edge computing (MEC) capabilities, 5G Edge interfaces with The Cisco Sports and Entertainment portfolio, which will interface with 5G Edge, which is powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband with MEC capabilities. 

SEE: Raiders, Rams, and Chargers unveil tech-filled NFL stadiums with 5G, Wi-Fi 6, IoT, and more (TechRepublic)

Verizon Business’ and Cisco’s plan includes the integration of Cisco innovations including: Cisco DNA Spaces for secure location analytics, Cisco switching and data center technology, connected venue analytics, and more. The 5G and MEC environments will help deliver near real-time experiences. 

“Our combined expertise and technology innovation is furthering the evolution of 5G, creating a dynamic offering for the industry that will redefine stadium sports and entertainment for the future,” said Jonathan Davidson, senior vice president and general manager of mass-scale infrastructure group for Cisco, in a press release.

Even though the companies and teams are partnering for the purpose of mass entertainment, it’s a step toward bringing everyone back to normal with the necessary new-normal factors. As social creatures, sharing interests and fandom with each other will help quell the isolation everyone’s been subjected to for months. Verizon and Cisco plan to bring stadiums a digital, future-ready infrastructure to solve inherent challenges.

“We work with a lot of amphitheaters and outdoor venues which have been a heavy focus for us right now,” the Cisco spokeswoman said.

“While all sports and entertainment fans are looking forward to the day they can get back to their favorite venues, many are understandably nervous about their safety in large crowds” said Aamir Hussain, SVP and chief product officer for Verizon Business, in a press release. “This solution will help put minds at ease so fans can re-enter venues with the knowledge that strong steps are being taken to safeguard their wellbeing.” 

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The plan for 5G-enabled venues

Verizon and Cisco will leverage analytics to estimate wait times associated with lines at check in, restrooms, and concession stands.  They’ll develop interfaces with digital signage and mobile applications to direct patrons to alternative locations with shorter lines and identify crowd density and manage crowd flows with the use of digital signage and messages to venue staff to help maintain social distancing standards.

Cisco wasn’t quite ready to share which specific venues they’re working with, but Cisco’s rep said, “We are working together closely with many different venues and sports clubs and organizations to map out their immediate and long-term needs.”

Verizon’s rep said, “We worked closely with venue owners and operators, industry analysts, and our partner ecosystem to review findings, validate business needs, and feasibility.”

She added, “We have committed pilots in music and entertainment spaces with future trials with individual professional sports teams, and anticipate delivering a crowd management solution in the coming year.”

Verizon provides fan experiences at sporting and entertainment events such as The Academy Awards and the Indy 500, and through collaborations with the National Hockey League and National Football League; using augmented reality, virtual reality, and MEC-enabled solutions in stadiums and arenas powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband. 

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