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  1. Blog
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on 6 June 2024

BT Group and Canonical deliver 5G to UK stadiums

Connectivity is intimately connected to the human experience, especially today. While some of us grew up sending snail mail to loved ones, most of us now take the ability to instantly send a text message for granted. News, pictures and data can reach us within a split second. When that experience of instant connectivity is disrupted, we feel it more than usual. And if you’ve been to a large football match or concert of late, that disruption might seem all-too-familiar.

To address this challenge, telco providers have begun to roll out network upgrades at large venues like concert halls and stadiums. Connect-World reports that 94% of network operators in Europe intend to deliver new 5G services to sports event organisers that want to improve the fan experience and deal with the thorny issue of network congestion in high-density areas. Recently, Canonical had the pleasure of assisting BT Group and its consumer division, EE, in achieving better in-stadium connectivity across the UK as part of a larger 5G roll out strategy. In this article, we will zoom into the story, which is now the subject of a short film aired on

Bringing 5G to the UK starts with infrastructure

For the past few years, BT Group has been on a transformation journey to deliver 5G across the United Kingdom. The Group’s consumer division, EE, became the first to launch a 5G network in the island nation in May 2019. To enable this, BT had to rethink its infrastructure strategy, and they chose Canonical’s open source solutions to enable that transformation in their 5G Core

While previous generations of mobile networks were based on hierarchical and centralised architectures, 5G requires a distributed and service-based architecture (SBA) which decouples network functions into smaller services that allow for more network resilience and speed. BT Group chose Canonical’s infrastructure solutions to enable the virtualisation of their network functions, turning Core network components into software applications that can be updated faster with continuous integration and development. This separation allows different network applications to share the same hardware across data centres, enabling the network to scale when additional capacity is needed. The speed at which software can be updated compared to replacing physical, core network equipment facilitates a new way of working. In short, BT can now build new services in weeks and deploy in days.

The OpenStack-based infrastructure stack is now at the heart of BT and EE’s 5G Core. Since the initial implementation, EE’s 5G network was the first to pass 50% population coverage in 2022 and continues to progress rapidly, recently passing 75% of the population. This makes EE the first UK operator to achieve this milestone. Because the underlying cloud platform is open source and comes with advanced automation, BT Group gains economies of scale which benefit the end user. These benefits are especially tangible in high-density areas like stadiums, where mobile networks are often put to the test.

Improved in-stadium connectivity upgrades the fan experience

To deliver more robust coverage for customers in busy areas, BT Group announced network upgrades for venues like Wembley, which became the first stadium in the UK to have a 5G solution in the stadium bowl. As BT explains, the solution delivers 5G on a 3.5GHz spectrum over several antennas around the stadium. It also supports multiple operators, so consumers using other telco vendors can also benefit from the improved connectivity. Sports clubs like Watford Football Club (Elton John’s favourite) were quick to pick up on this development, looking to improve the fan experience at their events. 

Football fans love to experience the pitch, but they also love to share their experience. Twitter spaces, real-time video sharing, live polls and more advanced use cases like virtual reality (which offer a “360-degree perspective of the action on the field”) are now possible with the faster speeds enabled by 5G. 

As John Parslow, a life-long Watford fan explains: “For as long as I can remember, it was always impossible to upload and share videos from the stadium. But now, they’ve introduced 5G and it is allowing me to connect with my fan group around the world as if they were in the stadium with us”. 

John comes from a family of Watford supporters. His father, Reg Parslow, has been attending matches since 1947, when he was 12. Meeting friends and family members at the stadium is a regular occurrence, which is now a lot more seamless thanks to the network upgrade. 5G has not just made it easier for fans to connect at the stadium, but also with the broader community – no matter where they are.

Hear from a Watford fan, watch the film

To hear how 5G upgrades connectivity across Watford stadium, watch the film.

Special thanks to the Parslow family and Richard Walker, Head of Communications at Watford, for sharing their love of football and the fan experience with us.

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