The Super Bowl – A lesson in Stadium Wi-Fi

As some of you may be aware, the Super Bowl took place this month – the world’s largest sporting event. Yet, in the UK and in most of Europe, the event goes by without drawing-in huge numbers of viewers, perhaps due to its inconvenient starting time. (Personally, the fact that an average game only contains 11 minutes of action – this being the time the ball is on the field – is an automatic turn-off. It also makes me wonder how some American’s have the cheek to call cricket ‘boring’, but that’s a debate for another time.)

The story is entirely different in the US, where a staggering 113 million people (twice the population of the UK!) honed-in on their TV sets to watch the match. Meanwhile, 73,208 ‘lucky’ fans packed into the stadium to witness the event which lasted over 4 hours, including about 60 minutes of game-time and plenty of entertainment in between. As the sporting action was so sporadic during the match, it’s no surprise that mobile phone usage was immense, with spectators using their phones to receive live information about the event from the NFL, tweet about the match and upload selfies to Facebook (probably).

Mobile phone usage was in-fact at an all-time high this year, with Verizon reporting an 800 percent rise on data connections, compared to last year. The half-time interval alone generated more data than during a single hour in any other Super Bowl in history.

In order to meet the insatiable demand for mobile engagement, the NFL turned to Wi-Fi as a key means to control the data capacity issues, with the aim of providing the same kind of wireless connection that spectators would receive at home. AT&T had already deployed a huge antenna system to boost mobile phone signals in the arena and the Wi-Fi. But this was not seen as enough, and a Wi-Fi network was also deployed by Verizon, involving 700 high density Wi-Fi access points. It enabled up to 30,000 devices to be connected to the network simultaneously during the match.  This was key in providing offload from the wireless network and curbing the capacity crunch during the game. 

The NFL valued the Wi-Fi network so highly that they put strict measures in place to make sure there was no equipment bought into the Stadium that could interfere with the Wi-Fi signal. Every device that entered the stadium had to go through a frequency scan and required authorisation before it was allowed in.

It seems these efforts were rewarded. The success of the Wi-Fi network during the Superbowl can be judged by the small number of complaints that were made about the network connection during and after the game. The constant streams of Twitter and Facebook posts made during the match would suggest that the majority of spectators were able to enjoy a seamless wireless experience.

So, whilst the Super Bowl may not be everyone’s bag, it is certainly a testament to how the live sporting experience is changing, as people engage with their mobile devices to enhance the live sporting experience. As such, there is growing need for Stadiums across the globe to create a reliable connected experience for fans. In doing this it opens up new revenue opportunities for Stadiums, who can use their network to send out targeted promotions, advertisements, sponsorship activations, etc. Meanwhile, spectators will receive an enhanced experience through stadium-specific applications, which could include live team updates, social media engagement, and event and concierge services.

The onus is also on network operators who are beginning to see the benefit in providing Stadium Wi-Fi as a managed service. Whilst most stadium Wi-Fi deployments are likely to provide free connectivity to subscribers on any network, the operator can set its own agenda and use the network to send out its own advertisements.

With the World Cup bearing upon us, it’s likely that we’ll see Stadiums replicating the efforts made during the Super Bowl. Four Latin America mobile network operators; Claro, Oi, Telefónica, and TIM, have already committed in supplying Wi-Fi, through wireless vendor Ruckus Wireless, within two of Brazil’s largest soccer stadiums; Estádio Nacional de Brasília and Arena Octávio Mangabeira. Let’s hope the trend grows, so that we can all experience the added benefits of a connected stadium.

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