Premier League football club Liverpool FC is deploying wireless arrays from networking company Xirrus at Anfield Stadium, the home of the club since its formation in 1892.
The first phase of the deployment covers the two-tier, 12,000-seat Centenary Stand and adjoining corporate facilities, enabling fans to access and share digital content during games.
Andrew Robinson, Head of Digital Media and Technology at Liverpool FC, told Techworld that installing the WiFi arrays has required quite a bit of work on the core network around the stand.
“Anfield's an old stadium. We face a challenge with a relatively out of date core network,” said Robinson.
“The other issue we have from a practical perspective is the availability of networking cabinet locations, because modern stadiums tend to have all that kind of thing planned in, whereas with Anfield we're really in a difficult spot.”
Liverpool worked with wireless design integration specialists WDSi Group to run new fibre throughout the Centenary Stand and install new switches, ready for the wireless arrays. Robinson said that, because of the way that the Xirrus arrays work, the amount of cabling needed was a lot less than it might have been with some other solutions.
“In terms of the way the solution works and pushing out multiple radios to the arrays themselves, which obviously minimises cable runs, that for us is an important part of our decision-making process,” he said.
Robinson said the decision to deploy Xirrus primarily came down to the working relationship between the two organisations, but he was also impressed with the way the company combines a flexible range of wireless hardware solutions with the capability to handle huge capacity and bandwidth demands.
“Xirrus has very innovative technology that allows us to prioritise key applications and connect more devices to the network by optimising Wi-Fi spectrum usage. These factors are critical to our long-term vision of providing our fans with the best match-day experience possible.”
It is not yet known how popular the WiFi network will be, but Robinson said that everyone in the stand should theoretically be able to use it simultaneously. Spectators can access the network via a one-time registration process using an email address.
From the tests that Robinson and his team have done so far, there is a clear correlation between bandwidth spikes and activity on the pitch, with fans using social networks like Twitter and Facebook to share their experiences with friends and family.
The new network will enable the club to gain more insight into how fans use the stadium and its facilities. It will also provide information about what devices fans use to connect with the club, so that it can invest in digital platforms accordingly.
“We've created a day one experience, and we're ideally looking to evolve that over time. One of the things that we've talked about doing potentially is looking at at-seat ordering,” said Robinson.
“Whilst we probably won't be at the stage where food and beverages will be brought out to you, you'll at least have the ability to pre-order and then go to a certain stand and have that waiting for you. That kind of capability, building on the access to data, is potentially quite exciting.”
All of Liverpool FC's core business data is hosted on-premise, and is spread between a couple of storage locations. Meanwhile, all of its web hosting was recently moved to Amazon Web Services, which has saved the club quite a lot of money.
“The biggest challenge is the breadth of what we do. It's not just about those 11 guys running around the field – although that's extremely important. We're also a retail business, a ticketing business, a media business, a hospitality business,” said Robinson.
“One of the real challenges is trying to make sure that things are as joined up as possible, that we leverage economies of scale. We're a huge global brand but we're not a huge global infrastructure.”
The new Wi-Fi network will be available to Liverpool fans for the home game against West Ham on Sunday 7 April.