With the private 5G (P-5G) market predicted to see revenues hit USD $8.3 billion by 2026, according to IDC, and more 5G spectrum and vendors available in the market, there’s likely to be a broader range of applications.

One of the areas that could be poised to benefit from private 5G are stadiums and entertainment venues.

“The larger the scale of the events and audiences, the greater monetary, viewer and patron potential for a stronger business case,” says Tech Research Asia analyst, Tim Dillon.

Dillon says spectrum availability has an impact on the business case “and in most locations this issue has been fairly well addressed, so that’s a positive step. Obviously the larger the scale of the events and audiences, the greater monetary, viewer and patron potential for a stronger business case.”

In this region, a case in point is Verizon. With 200 sports stadiums and event venues in the US, it recently announced a dedicated strategy for stadiums and venues located in the Asia-Pacific as well as Europe. This would cover the full gamut, so fan experiences, safety, access control, concessions and crowd management analytics are all on offer.

The company is building out its international ecosystem of partners for its network-as-a-service (NaaS) offering that combines private networks, mobile edge compute and customer-focused smarts. Verizon has partnered with Extreme Networks on a network at Manchester United’s renowned Old Trafford stadium, joining several other iconic venues and leagues including the Los Angeles Coliseum, MLB, NFL, NHL and Olympiastadion Berlin.

Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin said it’s about blending technology with fan experience.

With other providers like Ericsson, and Optus and Telstra in the APAC region developing P-5G offerings, there’s an assumption more is to come, especially as the technology can be configured in different ways.

Independent analyst Paul Budde says, “Venues and stadiums are one of the few larger- scale success stories of the special features that 5G has to offer. Private networks at mines, campuses, and these stadiums are other markets.”

He sees the next stage as moving into niche market applications in the Internet of Things domain, which would require transmission upgrades to millimeter-wave. That relatively unused portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz offers greater throughput and thus higher overall capacity than the increasingly crowded WiFi bands under 6 GHz. However, there are rivals already waiting in this space. “They do have competition of the current low-cost IoT providers, so it will be interesting to see how that market will develop,” he says.

Why Private 5G plus Wi-Fi?

A stadium is like a microcosm with multiple needs, and 5G is well suited to meeting those needs, which can include connecting point-of-sale, cameras, and smartphones, according to Omdia analyst Pablo Tomasi.

While the private network market is still pivoting from trials to commercial rollouts, with venues and sports environments there are real-life deployments. Tomasi, however, points out that not all the deployments are private cellular networks. “In the US, some stadiums are served via the public network and in others the connectivity is Wi-Fi rather than cellular,” he says.

Extreme Networks VP of international markets, office of the CTO, Markus Nispel, says Wi-Fi is currently the best technology to address connectivity for fans inside and around a venue, proven to be reliable, secure, and scalable, even up to 100,000-seat stadiums.

“P-5G’s initial role in venue operations will likely be to separate critical communications needs from network access for the general public,” he says.

P-5G will suit larger areas, higher mobility like ATVs, or guaranteed response times. “However, the complexity of operating a private 5G network and the initial cost of the network and devices are counter arguments to P-5G, prompting the question if Wi-Fi is good enough even for those use cases,” he tells Network World.

How does security between Wi-Fi and P-5G compare?

The accelerating interest around private 5G also stems from the security capabilities it offers. According to 2021 research by Economist Impact for NTT, the security protocols inherent in private 5G networks enable more native security than standard Wi-Fi networks.

Omdia’s Tomasi notes that security is one of the top priorities for any enterprise, and “it’s one of the reasons why many enterprises are looking into private networks,” he says.

P-5G uses a new type of identifier, the SUPI (subscription permanent identifier) that is not sent over the air. Instead, it sends an encrypted key called a SUCI (subscription concealed identifier). “This comes ‘out of the box’ and prevents the so called ‘IMSI catchers’ used in 4G (and before) to be effective,” saysNispel.

Naturally, P-5G networks need the correct configuration settings and appropriate architecture to suit the use cases and enterprise/industry requirements. Nispel notes the security risks associated with P-5G are like those in any network. “The inconsistent use of security controls, software vulnerabilities, and the large number of connected devices all create risks,” he says.

“For private networks, the well-known EAP-based authentication mechanisms will be used, which includes the need for certificates or other means of authentication. So, identity management and/or certificate management needs to be added, managed and deployed on top in those use cases,” he says.

Critical communication should be encrypted at the application layer as well. “Security should always involve a layered approach that includes people, process, and technology. New architectures like Zero Trust, based on the concept of continuous identity verification, should be considered whenever new deployments are being planned,” he says.

How mature is the market?

Tech Research’s Dillon believes we’re on the cusp of greater activity but at same time more familiarity with the technology and its deployment is still needed. “Not from telcos or experienced MSPs, rather the businesses,” he said.

Dillon thinks those deploying P-5G need an understanding that there are multiple aspects that need to be considered, “broadly across the event content itself, the infrastructure and the facility (such as creating a smart-stadium environment), the viewer engagement (like VR/AR, or game analytics) and operations optimisation such as replacing network cabling with a P-5G solution and the subsequent savings to be achieved”.

With so much potential, providers must clearly define the opportunity and outcomes for any investment, according to Dillon, and move beyond the basic message of faster downloads and more people connected. “That’s just table stakes entry to the game.”

“Facilitating the easy creation of content experiences that, for example, allow a TV viewer or person at the stadium to also use a mobile device to be ‘on’ the pitch whilst the players warm up before match kick off,” says Dillon.

“This is a work in progress and needs more partnerships between content and P-5G providers to support progress,” he added.

Articulating the cost-benefit equation would also help, says Omdia’s Pablo Tomasi.

It’s delivering an enhanced user experience for spectators and using an innovative tech as a platform to develop more offerings as needs evolve. “Using 5G can also bring benefits such as replacing multiple diverse networks with a single one,” he adds.