By Todd Rigby, the Director of Sales at Rajant Corporation
When the public thinks about the technology used for sports, they will often think of a digital scoreboard or instant replay video footage. However, in a sporting arena such as one used for football, baseball, basketball, or hockey, these technologies can operate optimally given that they are on fixed infrastructure in a contained location. Recording devices only need reception for one building, albeit a stadium holding thousands of people.
However, sports competitions like skiing, set on more sprawling terrains and amid challenging climates, need versatile and robust networking to match the dynamics. Heavy snow, wind, and subzero temperatures are massive environmental challenges. If a ski resort lacks a flexible network, it will be nearly impossible for wireless communications and live streaming capabilities to operate correctly.
Technology Applicable for a Vast Environment
Designing a wireless network able to record and live stream a competition event in high-definition video is challenging. But, it’s essential to have real-time insights to enable a remote panel of judges to score competitors. Most networks only have a single plane of elevation. Therefore, a dynamic and reliable network is warranted to ensure connectivity along the course that can withstand a vertical drop.
Some courses—such as Aspen Snowmass, located outside of Aspen, Colorado, which hosts competitions included in the Winter X Games and the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open—require a split judging panel due to the complexity of the ski run. There is one panel of judges grading the rail portion of the course, and there is another panel for judging the jumps. These two different obstacles are located at different elevations of the course, but the scores are combined when determining a competitor’s final ranking. Judges and athletes prefer when judges can collaborate to compare performance context of the entire run to work up the most accurate score for the combined run. From a cost standpoint, because these venues only occasionally host events, they typically don’t have fixed networks or video systems. Instead, these are deployed on an event basis only. Using standard Wi-Fi or private LTE for an outdoor winter sports course would be highly inefficient and ineffective because these networks require LAN connections at each infrastructure point. Can you imagine stringing Ethernet or Fiber down a competitive race course in the middle of winter? Apart from the logistical challenges, this also can pose a safety risk for competitors. Despite these challenges, ski resorts may still attempt to use Wi-Fi or Private LTE since course managers may be unaware of better network options.
Choosing the Right Wireless Network
The most suitable wireless network will lead to optimal success rather than perpetual shortcomings. A simpler and more reliable option to consider is to use a mesh network. Mesh networks allow each transmitter and receiver in the sequence to listen and simultaneously send out signals to other nodes. In technical terms, this is referred to as full-duplex. Traditional Wi-Fi networks operate at half-duplex. Think telephone vs walkie-talkie. A mesh network works by installing network nodes across an area needing connectivity. Mesh nodes do not require LAN connections at each point. This allows for much simpler deployment and higher performance during operation.
A mesh network overcomes challenging terrains by forming redundant connections by each radio transceiver. And nodes can self-determine which connection to use on a packet-by-packet basis. If needed, the nodes will redirect a transmission if a node recognizes an alternate connection is operating faster. The use of 5G is seen by some as a set above regular Wi-Fi capabilities. These conclusions are normally a result of believing their smartphone is a good comparison of how a strict data 5G network would function. This is a faulty comparison as most smartphone data is downloaded to the device. Whereas data networks, such as a video capture network on a ski hill, require high upload speeds. Carriers cater to smartphones by allocating a preponderance of bandwidth to the download stream. Because of this, 5G falls far short when compared to a mesh network. 5G and mesh networks are in different leagues: wireless signals cannot dynamically re-route on a 5G network. Private 5G can have balanced upload/download speeds, but they suffer from limited available frequency spectrum, which constricts bandwidth in other ways. In comparison, mesh networks have lots of available unlicensed spectrum and have equal upload/download capacity.
Beneficial Outcomes for Skiing Competitions
By introducing the proper wireless connectivity technology, ski slopes can demonstrate the ability to enhance their digital capabilities significantly. This proactive improvement of their network can lead to more revenue opportunities and improve their course’s value for future events. The benefits go far beyond broadcasting capabilities to viewers at home: the most significant positive outcome is the enhancement of the sport itself. By combining split judging panels, higher quality judging capabilities lead to improved and better-defined sportsmanship. Making sure that cameras and other technological devices are not suffering substantive issues is crucial. Too often, devices lose their signal, or their channels become overloaded, leading to problems.
All in all, a mesh network provides the adaptability needed for wireless technology to succeed in a frigidly hostile and unpredictable environment. As the technological capabilities evolve, this will lead to further innovations such as connectivity underneath the oceans, in remote locations on land, and in places beyond Earth, such as the Moon and Mars. Installing mesh network technology today is a precious investment in the future.
About the author:
For more than 25 years, Todd has been deploying communications systems and technology solutions across multiple industries. He has successfully helped numerous companies with various digitization and Industry 4.0 initiatives. These efforts have improved safety, productivity, asset utilization, and output. Todd has first-hand experience with many different communication technologies, and their application to various industrial use cases. He is the subject matter expert in the United States for Mining, Heavy Construction, Agriculture, Material Processing, Manufacturing and Warehousing for Rajant Corporation, a leading industrial wireless mesh networking company. Todd has helped to develop Rajant’s Partner sales channel throughout the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Australia, and Africa. Before his employment at Rajant, Todd ran a prominent technology integrator and was Rajant’s first reseller Partner.