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HPE drives Ryder Cup connectivity with Wi-Fi 6E, Private 5G

Tech provider delivers Athonet private 5G service alongside Aruba Networking Wi-Fi technology for the first time, providing connectivity for fans and operations staff at premier golf event

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has revealed it has deployed “ground-breaking” integrated private 5G and Wi-Fi network at the 2023 Ryder Cup men’s golf competition.

Running since 1927, the biennial Ryder Cup has become one of the world’s most famous sporting events. Running from 29 September to 1 October 2023, this year’s tournament is being held for the first time at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome, Italy.

HPE will deliver ultra-secure capabilities, greatly expanded coverage, and enhanced fan and staff experiences at an unprecedented scale based on an integrated private 5G and Wi-Fi network. The infrastructure combines the private 5G technology of Athonet, recently acquired by HPE, and HPE Aruba Networking’s Wi-Fi technology.

With fans and event staff requiring ubiquitous high-bandwidth connectivity at all times throughout the venue, the vision to deliver an innovative, state-of-the-art wireless network was paramount for organisers.

Looking to support what is said to be the most digitally engaging Ryder Cup, HPE said all of the network innovation has the core goal of delivering enhanced fan experiences. It stressed that nowadays spectators not only demand connectivity at all times, but they’re also seeking a personalised, immersive experience driven by rich content.

Powered by insights from the network, fans in Rome will be able to virtually navigate the golf course, jump the queues for merchandise and food, and track player locations – no matter where they are on the course. Similarly, operations staff can monitor fan behaviour, assign more staff during peak periods and provide fan activations on the fly.

Wi-Fi 6/6E networks are providing the mainstay of high-capacity connectivity required for thousands of fans congregating in popular areas, while private 5G is the base for wide area coverage to more remote parts of the golf course, as well as a secure private network dedicated to critical operations staff.

Digital enhancement

Max Walker chief technologist for HPE UK and Ireland, told Computer Weekly: “We’ve transformed the Ryder Cup into the most digitally enhanced temporary event in sporting history. We focus now more on experience, so it’s edge to cloud [technology]. The way we’ve structured our network is so that our connectivity is enabling fans from an experience standpoint as they use WhatsApp, TikTok, Facebook, all social media platforms.

“There’s probably going to be about 250,000 devices each day used by about 50,000 spectators, as well as the contractors, vendors, partners and staff,” he said. “We’ve got Wi Fi 6 mainly in the outdoor aspect, and Wi-Fi 6E in the indoor aspects. We’re taking data from the access points and ingesting that into a data lake. From that, we are looking at analytics such as crowd-tracking and queue-busting applications, plus other innovations that we’ve brought to the table around collaboration.”

However, the course presented unique connectivity challenges, not only to the organisers, but also players and fans alike. The golf course covers 370 acres of archaeologically protected countryside, meaning HPE could not route all of the course to run fibre optic ducting. Furthermore, as revealed to Computer Weekly by Michael Cole, chief technology officer of the European Tour group and Ryder Cup Europe, the fibre cables were also attracting the very unwanted attention of rats running around the site, meaning integrated Wi-Fi and private 5G network wireless options were imperative.

“Each Ryder Cup gives us an opportunity to push the boundaries of technological innovation to maximise the fan experience, so it is really exciting to be breaking genuinely new ground with the combination of world-class Wi-Fi and private 5G technology,” he said. “Private 5G brings huge operational benefits in particular, providing us with a fully private network that will be unaffected by the crowd’s high demand for high-bandwidth applications. It gives us full-course coverage for cellular devices providing critical services like security, stewarding, ticketing and scoring that might have otherwise relied on the under-pressure local telecoms networks.”

The higher throughput capacity of a densely deployed Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E network was seen as the optimal solution for crowded spaces like the clubhouse and hospitality and retail venues, as well as spectator grandstands. This was also due to the fact that devices such as laptops and tablets often cannot connect to cellular networks, and roaming agreements between public and private cellular networks are in their infancy. The network uses both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E technologies with more than 800 Wi-Fi access points, delivering twice as much capacity as HPE did for the last European Ryder Cup in Paris in 2018.

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The backbone of the network is built on 200 HPE Aruba Networking CX switches with AI-powered HPE Aruba Networking Central for network management providing a single point of visibility and control across the entire network. There were around 50 switches in 2023. The dashboard in HPE Aruba Networking Central also provides AI-powered insights into what’s happening across the entire environment from a network troubleshooting, optimisation and security perspective.

HPE Aruba Networking ClearPass technology has been deployed to provide secure, efficient access control and onboarding for improved spectator experience across the Wi-Fi infrastructure. Running the network and compute environment from the HPE GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform means less equipment is required onsite and is said to have the added advantage of being more cost-effective and quicker to deploy and manage.

The private 5G network covers the golf course with one radio mast located in a central location powered by the Athonet Tactical Cube, a compact and mobile private cellular service for mission-critical applications. The Private 5G network also provides backhaul connectivity to solar-powered Wi-Fi access points in more remote parts of the golf course, extending the coverage of the Wi-Fi network without the need for cabling. It also sees use in providing a secure, segmented network for delay and capacity-sensitive critical operations that need guaranteed bandwidth, such as security, stewarding and transport.

Yet there was a logistical and legal question to address with the Private 5G construction. Italy has allocated all 5G spectrum to mobile service providers, so spectrum is not normally available direct to enterprises. In addition, there were exclusion zones in the locality. For the Ryder Cup, the Italian government made an exception, and its Ministry of Communications gave access to the 3.8 GHz band, seen as perfect for 5G as it can carry large volumes of data while traveling significant distances.

HPE was also keen to stress that creating a more sustainable event was high on the list of priorities, something especially challenging when delivering a pop-up event. The company said the acceleration of wireless and cloud technologies at this year’s Ryder Cup has led to a big reduction in physical equipment that might otherwise be surplus to requirements after the golf has concluded. It also meant there has been less disturbance of the golf course ecology.

The Ryder Cup is also one of the first global use cases for a new sustainability dashboard on the HPE GreenLake platform that delivers key insights on IT energy consumption, carbon emissions and electricity costs. The dashboard leverages advanced analytics from across the technology estate to enable decision-making that improves overall sustainability performance.

Commenting on his firm’s commitment to the Ryder Cup, Phil Mottram, executive vice-president and general manager of HPE Aruba Networking, said: “When we announced our acquisition of Athonet earlier this year, our goal was to become the global leader in private 5G solutions, and the Ryder Cup is a perfect opportunity to showcase how our Wi-Fi and private 5G innovations work together to achieve that goal. This is a perfect showcase for the integration of private 5G and Wi-Fi in a challenging environment, with private 5G providing extended range and reliability for operations staff, while Wi-Fi 6E provides high-capacity connectivity to thousands of fans concentrated in core areas.”

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