(Image courtesy of www.sportsauthorityfieldatmilehigh.com)
With the NFL season kicking off, we decided to investigate one of the more overlooked aspects of the game: in-stadium wireless communication. Surprisingly, several aspects of the game experience rely heavily on wireless communication: coaches headsets on the field and in the booth, concession stand payment processing, and, of course, fans with smartphones.
Anyone who has attempted to connect to publicly available wireless internet in a stadium, concert venue or otherwise generally crowded area knows that connectivity is finicky at best and nonexistent at worst. In the era of instant score updates, fantasy leagues, Twitter and other social media applications, fans expect to be able to use their smartphones during a live-game experience. Additionally, even just a few years ago coaches themselves dealt with connectivity problems:
… The tablet computer in his left hand — a high-tech replacement for the black-and-white printed pictures coaches have used for decades to review plays — kept losing its Internet connection, leaving Belichick unable to exchange images he and his coaches rely on to make in-game adjustments.
The fault is apparently in a new private Wi-Fi network the NFL installed in stadiums this year to great fanfare. Internet service is erratic, making a system financed by one of the world’s richest sports leagues little better than the one at your local coffee shop. …
Of course, since then, the NFL has gone out of its way to better incorporate wireless communication technology into the stadium experience for fans and personnel alike. This year, the Denver Broncos 3,000 5 GHz wireless antennas in Mile High Stadium (we should note, the claim of ‘most of any NFL venue’ is unverified):
To increase fan connectivity, Broncos announce install of 3,000 5GHz wireless antennas at stadium, believed to be the most of any NFL venue. pic.twitter.com/ES2CWZhJ0z
— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) September 5, 2017
For the NFL, and other large events, the question of connectivity has more to do with bandwidth capacity than access to a wireless network. Most cellular carriers provide access to LTE networks in the populated areas where stadiums and event centers are located, but the sheer amount of data being used during an event like the Super Bowl has grown exponentially over the years. In 2014, data usage at Super Bowl XLVIII totaled around 2.5 terabytes. Super Bowl LI, played in February 2017, saw nearly 12 TBs transferred throughout the game over WiFI alone, with Facebook and Snapchat accounting for almost 10 percent of the total bandwidth. Verizon and AT&T customers combined to use another 20 TB of data over those networks.
With those numbers in mind, it makes far more sense to utilize high-bandwidth technology like WiFi, rather than relying on the LTE networks to support those big data figures.
When IIoT and the NFL Collide
The average consumer thinks of WiFi as a broadband service facilitated by a router in one’s home or office. When scaled to the usage size of a football stadium-worth of bandwidth consumption, however, a regular router will not suffice. Instead, these stadiums use wireless communication technology that has been deployed with regularity in the Industrial IoT for years: signal repeaters and access points peppered strategically throughout the necessary coverage areas. Just like companies in the utilities, oil and gas, precision agriculture and smart city industries, these stadiums are relying on industrial-strength WiFi platforms to handle the data demands of teams, vendors and fans. An additional consideration for stadiums and critical industries is the security of these networks, so tech vendors must be able to supply built-in security measures within the access points. These networks must be secure, flexible and reliable in order to support the massive demand being made for hours on end.
The New Generation of Stadium Experiences
We tend to take internet access for granted these days. Connectivity is already nearly ubiquitous and only growing each year, so it makes sense that stadiums would eventually start to catch on to the technology being used to propagate these industrial-strength networks. At this point, it is not just the NFL that is working on pushing the stadium experience into the next generation, other professional sports leagues, music venues, and festival sites are catching up to the IIoT technology that is proving to be a literal game changer.