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sports stadiums, industrial networks, security, industrial standards, cyber security, Belden

Sports Stadiums Need Industrial-Grade Networking

Sports facility managers would be wise to treat their system like an industrial plant.

When you think of an industrial facility, plants, factories, oil rigs and utility sites likely come to mind. While not as obvious, major sporting venues also fit the criteria that classify industrial environments: extreme temperatures, high data transfer requirements, mission-critical communication, and evolving safety and security threats.

Consider that on a typical game day, a sport stadium operates dozens of television cameras, monitors, automated turnstiles and mobile ticket readers while thousands of people fill the seats in the arena. When tickets are scanned, all the associated data – including names and other confidential information – goes through a larger communication network. Being outdoors, these components need to withstand the elements – including corrosion, dust, water, and extreme temperature variations. Speed, security, and reliability of the network infrastructure is critical.

Take the fifth largest sports stadium in Germany, for example. The facility team needed a way to accommodate the growing number of spectators at its weekly events. During its most recent renovation in 2011, the stadium increased capacity to 60,000, then found lines to get into the stadium were extraordinarily long. The ticket collection processes were slow and facility controls – especially at visitor entrances – needed to be automated to keep up with demand.

The stadium sought a way to increase the speed and effectiveness of these operational processes, which required upgrading its networking infrastructure. The stadium owners understood that moving to an industrial-grade system would create a robust, reliable, and secure network foundation that would allow them to automate tedious processes, reduce wait times, and improve visitor safety.

Comprehensive Stadium Communication

A fully integrated industrial communication system allows for faster data transfer rates, which means sports facilities can quickly collect tickets and safely admit thousands of spectators. Three features – reliability, security and industry standards – are critical to the efficient and safe operation of any sports stadium.

To scan more tickets faster – especially during peak periods – and to make venue entry as smooth and safe as possible for fans, turnstiles and mobile readers must reliably read, process, and confirm or reject barcodes and RFID codes within seconds. Back-up systems with extremely fast reconfiguration times must ensure uninterrupted communications between these devices. That's a lofty task without a reliable, automated network infrastructure in place.

A reliable infrastructure is one feature any industrial system, including a sports stadium, cannot do without. Consider most stadium designs: a solution that calls for a discrete, flexible, modular, and segmented communications structure will appeal to the overall aesthetic and operational functionality of the sports structure. Most stadium’s exposure to the elements mean they will require a network that can withstand temperature extremes. To achieve a fully integrated system, stadiums should consider replacing their existing enterprise-level products for the more reliable, industrial-grade alternatives to ensure high network availability, speed, and security, no matter the weather.  

An Eye Toward Security and Standards

When stadium visitors hand their tickets to collectors, sensitive information is being passed as the mobile device scans the stub. To help protect this information and for overall security purposes, a stadium might choose to segment their network with security features like virtual local area networks (VLANS), which would allow engineers and control administrators to easily identify and separate virtualized networks. Separating these systems distributes priority data, including secure information, before less critical communication traffic.

Industry standards change regularly, so it is imperative that products can be used and adapted for current and future applications. A stadium that implements a flexible, modular, and discrete structure will allow industrial networking components to be hidden and incorporated into existing housing structures, like cabinets and columns, turnstiles, TVs, and mobile readers. The flexible and discrete nature of the infrastructure will provide optimum connectivity without disturbing the patrons’ experience.

To efficiently and effectively handle all a stadium’s communication requirements, teams can implement a comprehensive network of switches, fiber and copper cabling, and network management software that would grow with the stadium and guarantee trouble-free operations.

All traditional industrial settings, and even unique cases like sports facilities, can benefit from a robust communications infrastructure. The right combination of reliable, flexible and safe components is unique to each application, but when properly implemented, can do wonders to upgrade the speed, security, and accuracy of a network. Industrial products are key to executing mission-critical operations reliably, safely, and meeting the industry standards of tomorrow.

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Ute Decker is the marketing manager for Machine Building and Automation Manufacturers at Belden. She has been in the automation industry since 1997. She graduated with a business administration degree from the University of Applied Sciences in München. Ute has more than 20 years of experience with discrete manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, food and beverage, automation products and renewable energies.

Photo of the VfB Stuttgart soccer stadiums in Germany courtesy of Belden.

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