Stadium WiFi @ Super Bowl 52

29th Jan 2018

Here we are again! My annual NFL Super Bowl WiFi blog – I know you have all been eagerly awaiting the next instalment, so here goes. 

On the Field…

It’s been a slightly different playoff period, with a fair few of the ‘usual suspects’ falling short of the mark. Last year’s runners-up, the Atlanta Falcons, made it as far as the divisional round, whilst the ‘Super Bowl regulars’ of recent seasons, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both failed to book a ticket beyond the regular season. 

Of course, some things never change. The New England Patriots successfully navigated yet another post season to gain a record-breaking place in their 10th – that’s right, 10th!  - Super Bowl. 

It wasn’t plain sailing by any means and, if I’m being really honest, as a Pats fan, I was a little gutted for the Jags who were victims of Tom Brady’s superhuman ability to perform under pressure (have you heard about the clutch gene?), taking the AFC Championship from them in the most decisive 4th quarter drive to date. You’d have to have a granite heart not to be touched by Blake Bortles’ sideline waterworks at the end of the game.  

On the other side of the playoff picture, the Minnesota Vikings met the Philadelphia Eagles and were attempting to break a record of their own. A win would have made them the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium. 

Alas, it was not to be – the Eagles winning convincingly 38 – 7...but, this does bring me neatly on to the home of the Vikings and venue for Super Bowl 52, the $1.1 billion US Bank Stadium. 

Stadium Connectivity Is a BIG Deal

WiFi performance at Super Bowl host stadiums has become something of a separate competition, with previous hosts boasting bigger and better usage stats year-on-year. This means that connectivity is now a major part of any new stadium design. See previous year’s data statistics below:

  • Super Bowl 49: 4.1 terabytes of data used
  • Super Bowl 50: 7.2 terabytes of data used
  • Super Bowl 51: 11 terabytes of data used
  • Super Bowl 52: Who knows!

According to one of the NFL’s networking team (it speaks volumes that they actually have a networking team – stadium connectivity is a big deal!) the demand for connectivity during games shows no sign of slowing down, with fans demanding Internet access from the moment they walk the concourse.

As I have reported in previous blogs, the appetite for connectivity at the Super Bowl seems to grow every year, throwing down the gauntlet to network designers each time a new venue is selected. 

Expecting the Unexpected 

This is demonstrated no better than by the statistics from a recent playoff game at the Viking’s US Bank stadium where, in their thrilling last play against the New Orleans Saints, the Minnesota team did the unimaginable and scored a touchdown with literally nothing left on the clock to win the game. 

It goes without saying that those in attendance experienced an eruption of joy rarely seen in any sporting venue and the network managers witnessed a similar explosion of network activity. 

Official usage stats from the history-making Saints Vs Vikings game show a level of unique connections (Approx 37,000) greater than those record-breaking numbers reported (35,000) during Super Bowl 51, held at Houston’s AT&T Stadium (another historic comeback from the Patriots there too…). So if we are asking if previous records will be topped, we already have the answer…and it might be that Super Bowl 52 will have to serve-up some mind blowing action in order to go one better.       

The Technical Specification

It is clear that the project managers and network architects involved in the design of the network at Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium were well aware of the task ahead and provisioned for a network to beat all previous records. In fact, perhaps owing to the magnitude of the occasion, the design and implementation of the resulting network was shared by a number of solution providers, including CenturyLink and AmpThink

Featuring around 1300 Cisco access points, the US Bank Stadium WiFi has been built for resilience under the strain of potentially serving 66,000 concurrent users. 

Of particular interest is the access point placement, and the effort that has gone into reducing the aesthetic impact of the technology – something that we at Ensign Communications know just a little about

Opting to mount wireless access points in purpose-built ‘boxes’, the deployment differs from that of, say, the Levis Stadium (home to the San Francisco 49ers and Aruba Networks’ stadium WiFi flagship venue) where APs are placed under fixed seating at regular intervals. 

As far as I know, the US Bank Stadium is the first to deploy access points in this way and – they claim – will keep fans connected to the correct access point for optimum connections. Of course, one of the main challenges for high-density stadium designs is ensuring that the ‘load’ is shared evenly across all of the access points in the venue for the best possible fan experience.   

Distributed Antenna System (DAS)

In addition to the 1300 Cisco access points, there is also a separate DAS network installed at Minnesota’s showpiece stadium to support fans on their cellular networks. The demand and importance of DAS networks has almost outstripped that of WiFi in recent years as companies such as Verizon expect to the load to increase by half year-on-year (as is becoming the norm). 

Although, with stadium owners and affiliates set to benefit greatly from fans gaining access to their WiFi – in terms of behavioural analytics and marketing data - you’d have to think more emphasis will be put on promoting wireless through game-day applications and access to additional facilities. 

The problem with DAS is that the franchise operating the stadium connectivity will never have access to the data passed over the network. With a great deal of emphasis on the fan experience and, ultimately, the additional revenue streams that are facilitated by stadium WiFi, we may well see the demise of DAS as WiFi becomes increasingly critical in battle to get bums-on-seats.  

Enjoy the Game!

With just under a week until Super Bowl 52 gets under way, I'm sure the network team at the US Bank Stadium are preparing for the biggest test of their WiFi yet. As always, I will be awaiting the usage statistics and will be sure to report back in the aftermath! 



What Next?

For advice on designing or upgrading your business WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.