While they don’t look like traditional industrial settings, outdoor sporting venues face similar harsh, environmental conditions to utility and manufacturing sites. The similarities don’t end there. The communication in these stadiums is also considered mission-critical – ensuring patrons not only have an enjoyable experience during the game, but that they enter the arena in a systematic, timely and safe manner.

To accommodate the growing numbers of fans at sporting events, stadiums need a fast, reliable and robust network communication structure that can operate under harsh conditions, such as extreme temperatures and exposure to moisture, noise and vibration. The ability of sporting venues to withstand these conditions, while also quickly transferring large quantities of data, is critical for avoiding long lines, improving visitor safety and seamlessly broadcasting the games to viewers worldwide.

Belden recently worked with VfB Stuttgart, one of the largest soccer stadiums in Germany, to upgrade its communication network structure for better control of the entire sporting facility. Below, find my answers to several questions about this project, the importance of data speed and network reliability in sports facilities, and the crucial role that industrial automation can play in these non-traditional environments.

What underlying factors contributed to VfB Stuttgart’s decision to upgrade its communication infrastructure?

Just like any other industrial environment, sports stadiums need to function seamlessly – thousands of visitors’ experiences depend on it, and they all arrive at the venue in a very short time-period. Systems can’t go down or transmit data slowly; otherwise, tickets won’t be scanned quickly and unhappy spectators will be stuck waiting in line.

Full system integration and optimum connectivity were critical to meet the stadium’s goals. VfB Stuttgart wanted to increase the reliability, speed and accuracy of the ticket collection and broadcasting processes for an even better fan experience. This required an upgraded communications structure that was flexible, modular, discrete and segmented. To do this, we helped them move from enterprise products to industrial-grade solutions in order to ensure high network availability, speed and security.

Network Reliability - Stadiums

Industrial automation teams worked to update the stadium’s communication and networking infrastructure, replacing the outdated office-grade technology for a modern industrial-grade system.

Had VfB Stuttgart done similar upgrades in the past?

The stadium was originally built in 1933 and has undergone several rounds of renovations in its 84 years. As one of the oldest and largest sports facilities in Germany, it stands as an important symbol to both the German people and Europe. These factors were taken into consideration when planning the upgrade of the network infrastructure so that the renovations preserved the facility’s history and integrity.

Most recently upgraded in 2011, the stadium expanded its capacity to fit more than 60,000 spectators, 400 television monitors, 100 automated turnstiles and 30 mobile ticket readers. With the expansion, the stadium needed a way to ensure reliable and efficient communication throughout the facility. The sports club asked Belden to introduce automated networks throughout the stadium. From there, Belden worked with stadium officials to design an all-inclusive communication network that would be able to provide the control required to effectively manage the facility’s needs.

What challenges do industrial automation applications face overall? What solutions are out there to help professionals overcome them?

Industrial settings, including production, manufacturing and stadium facilities, are up against the hardest control factors of them all: safety and security. Given the stadium’s exposure to extreme temperatures changes, like those of other mainstream and mission-critical industrial environments, VfB Stuttgart needed networking components that could be used outdoors and withstand temperature variations and other harsh conditions. These elements also needed to fit into existing cabinets.

The flexibility and modularity of network components is another big issue. Given the changing nature of industry standards, it is important that products used in industrial settings can meet both current and future applications. The stadium required a flexible, future-proof solution to accommodate further adaptations or enlargements of the facility and meet evolving broadcasting environments. This flexible infrastructure allows for more turnstiles, TVs and mobile readers as priorities and needs change, which had never been an option before.

Current industrial communication standards also require that networks identify priority information so that important messages reach their destinations at the right time, meeting both quality of service and speed of network requirements. If networking teams don’t take high-quality components into consideration when building out their infrastructure, network traffic can be slow and sufficient data transfer isn’t guaranteed.

Network Reliability - Stadiums

The turnstiles and other equipment at the visitor entrances of the VfB Stuttgart stadium needed to be able to withstand the outdoor elements. Limited roofing above the entrances offers minor protection from rain and other conditions.

What was the overarching approach to updating the stadium’s network infrastructure? What can other applications learn from this?

We designed and implemented a comprehensive network structure with our partner, RW-electronic, to handle the facility’s specific communication requirements. This entailed upgrading the cabling, switches and network management software. To guarantee trouble-free operations, the stadium installed 250 switches, 300 kilometers of fiber cable and 100 kilometers of copper cabling. Again, the goal was to enable a flexible infrastructure that would support future growth, so the stadium could add to the network as its needs and priorities changed.

For security purposes and to protect the sensitive information collected during the ticketing process, we implemented network segmentation with virtual local area networks (VLANs) so that network administrators and control engineers could easily define and separate virtual networks within existing infrastructure. This enabled the overall system to strategically prioritize data traffic, security measures and ticket information over other less critical processes.

Though stadiums may not be what one would typically identify as an industrial operation, there are many similar environmental factors and strategic decisions that need to be taken into consideration when designing the communications infrastructure. The unique set of modular, flexible and discrete components used in this VfB Stuttgart case is just one example of the innovative possibilities for industrial products.

To learn more about Belden’s project with VfB Stuttgart and how robust communications infrastructure can benefit your industrial facility, read this case study.

From what other non-traditional industrial environments have you been able to learn networking tips and best practices? What challenges is your network infrastructure up against? I look forward to hearing from you.

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