Fans watching football matches in Europe are nearly doubling the amount of mobile data they use every season according to research by Vodafone’s Networks Centre of Excellence team in Madrid - the engineers tasked with assessing new network technology.

Mobile data usage in stadia during football matches increased five-fold when 4G was introduced. Fans are now using their smartphones for around a third of the time they are in a stadium.

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Upload usage peaks at the start and end of matches when people send messages and share photos. At half time the crowd is busy downloading information from social media and news sites. When goals are scored fans both send messages and stream instant replays on their smartphones.

Smartphone usage even stays high when fans travel overseas to away games. Mobile data usage in UEFA Champions League games quadrupled when Vodafone introduced daily roaming offers.

Rapidly increasing mobile demand creates particular challenges for network engineers. There can be over a thousand mobile antennae in a football stadium, causing up to 10 times the normal levels of network interference (the cause of dropped calls, problems connecting and higher device battery drain). There is also highly volatile network demand as the crowd reacts to in-game events.

To address that Vodafone has been introducing innovative 4G technology in a number of ‘super stadia’ around Europe including:

  • Traffic based adaptive features – Since 2012 Vodafone has introduced technology in several European stadia to improve the management of volatile network demands, which has increased network capacity by over 100%.
  • Stadium antennae – first introduced in 2013, this system positions hundreds of antennae to point down towards individual seats to reduce interference (traditional antennas cover wide arcs).
  • LTE Broadcast – in 2014 Vodafone was the first in Europe to trial 4G Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (eMBMS) at Borussia Mönchengladbach’s ground to efficiently deliver HD video to smartphones.
  • 4G Centralised RAN – In 2015, Vodafone, Huawei and Nokia were the first in Europe to introduce a Centralised 4G Radio Access Network architecture in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Spain, and in the Bologna and San Siro stadia in Italy. This reduces interference by up to 200% when customers are uploading to the network by better co-ordinating mobile base stations.
  • HD Voice and Voice over LTE – over 750 hours of voice calls were made by Vodafone customers in the San Siro stadium during the 2016 UEFA Champions League final as fans benefited from technology introduced to improve call quality.
  • Spatial multiplexing - 4x4 and 4x2 Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) is a technology that Vodafone has used this year in Spain. Introducing 4x4 MIMO increased data downloads by 89% during one match. 4x2 MIMO increased 4G network capacity by 35%.

We are introducing these enhancements to stadia across Vodafone’s markets and the fan experience will continue to improve as we are now trialling new technology to prepare for the introduction of 5G.

Aitor Garcia Viñas is an End-to-end Network Strategic Programmes Delivery Manager. He has worked for Vodafone since 2003 in a number of engineering roles. He joined Vodafone Group’s Networks Centre of Excellence team in 2013. He is currently focused on rolling out technology to improve mobile network performance in stadia and other places where crowds gather, and the introduction of network technology to support the Internet of Things.

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