In this article
- Aruba's wireless technology installed at Levi's Stadium opens many possibilities for the future of live sporting events
- The major surge of data during the game shows the need for venues to have powerful IT infrastructure
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were not the only ones to break records during the 2015-2016 football season. The records broken in the stands and over Aruba’s wireless infrastructure installed at Levi’s Stadium open many possibilities for the future of live sports events.
By halftime, the Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system (DAS) at Levi’s Stadium had transmitted or downloaded more data than last year’s final big game had done during the entire day. And it wasn’t just a few data hogs who helped break the record. More than 38 percent of attendees (27,316 unique Wi-Fi users) logged onto the stadium Wi-Fi at some point during the big game. At one point, nearly 29 percent of the fans (18,901) were logged onto the wireless network simultaneously.
“The performance of Levi Stadium’s connectivity was nothing short of amazing,” said NFL chief information officer Michelle McKenna-Doyle in a press release. “It blew away all our previous records and provided strong consistent connectivity for our fans to share their memories. We were very pleased.”
Innovative under-seat access points enable increased data capacity
The unique under-the-seat design of the access points in Levi’s Stadium was the differentiating factor in the network successfully handling the massive amounts of data during February’s big game. Aruba spent the past five years researching, developing and testing under-seat access points at previous deployments, even running a partial deployment in nearby Candlestick Park to learn how the access points function in a football stadium.
“Placing the access points under the seats instead of, say, on the handrails in the stadium, means they’re lower to the ground and exposed to much less interference,” said Chuck Lukaszewski, vice president of wireless strategy and standards at Aruba. The design of the network infrastructure at Levi’s Stadium also uses the crowd itself to create very small radio cells that serve more users with a limited number of radio channels.
Levi’s Stadium worked with Aruba for the past two years to prepare the network for the surge of simultaneous traffic and ensure it could run at rates of more than three gigabits per second for the entire event. In fact, the network ran at nearly four gigabits per second for three and half hours.
It took more than 400 miles of cable, 12,000 physical network ports and 1,200 under-the-seat access points to keep the network running and the fans happily tweeting. Levi’s Stadium was also the first venue to offer fans 3.5 gigabits per second of Wi-Fi bandwidth.
Lukaszewski credits the Wi-Fi success at February’s big game to the collaborative partnership between Aruba, Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers staff, as well as HPE’s engineering and research capabilities. “The team had very high expectations. They wanted 100 percent of concurrent usage at the stadium when other stadiums were only asking for 25 percent,” said Lukaszewski. “But they allowed us to do a lot of research, characterization and tuning to prepare for the big game. The Wi-Fi network records would not have been possible without our great relationship with these organizations.”
Integrating mobile tech into sports events
It is now a given that fans are going to pull out their phones during a live event, and as a result, venues have new opportunities to enhance the experience. Lukaszewski said that per-user traffic during 49ers home games at Levi’s Stadium increased 31 percent from the 2014 to the 2015 season. To drive this level of mobile engagement, venues need a wireless infrastructure that can handle a high volume of data. And since it’s no secret that fans will complain on social media if wireless is spotty during the game, stadium managers want to feel confident that they have the infrastructure in place before kickoff.
The record-breaking big game also shows the potential for venues and teams to increase fan engagement. While much of the data transferred came from video uploads of the game or live tweeting from the stadium, many fans used an app specific to the big game to place food and souvenir orders for pickup from express locations, or order drinks that were delivered to their seats. This allowed them to make the most of the experience and see as much of the game as possible without having to wait in long lines.
Like Levi’s, many new stadiums are also installing beacons to help fans navigate the venue, which can increase food and merchandise sales. Since February’s big game was the first time many fans had visited Levi’s Stadium, many of them used Aruba wayfinding technology via the mobile app and 1,200 Aruba Bluetooth beacons to find their seats, restrooms or food vendors within the stadium.
The high-definition video replays available in the big game app also relied on Aruba’s wireless network and Mobile Engagement solution. Since the NFL requires that replays are only viewable from inside the actual stadium, a check is made before each and every replay to verify the user’s location. In addition, the food menus are also created in real time based on the location of the user.
Yes, the records were impressive—both on the field and off. But whether you are a Broncos fan, a Panthers fan or just watch the commercials and halftime show, the big game highlighted the importance of having the proper IT infrastructure—and a strong, collaborative partnership between the stadium and its technology vendors—to provide the level of connectivity fans now expect.
“February’s big game showed us that the appetite for connectivity at venues is absolutely not slowing down,” said Lukaszewski. “As an industry, we need to keep innovating to push these numbers even higher.”