Super Bowl 51: Another Record-Breaking Year for WiFi?

30th Jan 2017

It’s that time of year again! You know the one…when you get really excited about a major sporting event that the majority of people in your life couldn’t care less about?

Super Bowl 51 (or Super Bowl LI, if we are being true to NFL traditions of using Roman Numerals) is less than a week away and, after last week’s Conference Championship games (Semi-Finals), we can all look forward to the spectacle.

Now, naturally I’d love to use this platform to talk about the event through a ‘sporting’ lens…the unbelievable talent of Aaron Rogers and the Packers and their crushing defeat at the penultimate hurdle; the outrageous season had by the Kansas City Chiefs; the ‘on fire’ Super Bowl rookie, Matt Ryan; Tom Brady’s SEVENTH (!!!) Super Bowl…but, that’s all for a different blog.

I am here to talk about the Wi-Fi experience. What have fans come to expect on the biggest day of the NFL season?

Great Expectations

Super Bowl 51 will be played out, for the second time in history, on the faux-turf of the NRG Stadium, home to the Houston Texans.

A regular Goliath, the monster venue has come under threat in recent times as newer, more advanced, stadiums, both architecturally and technologically, have sprung up across the United States, raising questions over its credibility as a host for the ‘main event’.

In 2015 we looked at previous Super Bowl hosts and their focus on the in-stadium connectivity experience. Some of the numbers were staggering – here’s a quick recap:

  • Super Bowl 46 (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis): As one of four carriers operating on the day, AT&T dealt with a total of 215 Gigabytes of data. This number alone was 5 times higher than Super Bowl 45.
  • Super Bowl 47 (Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans): After a technology investment of over $300,000, 'the dome' was ready for the demand on data. Boasting a total of 950 access points, stadium owners had a keen eye on capacity and even used channel switching to ensure seamless performance.
  • Super Bowl 48 (Metlife Stadium, New Jersey): Provided by AT&T, it is safe to say that the network was tested. At peak usage, over 13,000 of the 85,000 capacity crowd were connected – that’s a lot of users by anyone’s measure.

So, that was the picture up until 2015 which brought us another classic as the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks by the narrowest of margins, and another record-breaking year in terms of data usage.

WiFi preparations

It wasn’t as if the IT team at the University of Phoenix weren’t prepared for their big day. Preparations for Super Bowl 49 began three years in advance as legacy Cisco kit was ripped and replaced with an $8 million Cisco Connected Stadium solution (no one ever said good wireless comes cheap!).

The usage reports for the event were HUGE, with 6.23 TB of data having moved across the stadium network. This figure loomed large over previous ‘highs’ from the regular season games, surpassing them by more than double. And that’s not all; combined with the cellular data from the day, total usage topped 12.79 TB. Stunning!

The Big 5-0

And so to last year’s milestone event – Super Bowl 50, billed as the ‘techiest Super Bowl ever’!

Held at the Levis Stadium in San Francisco, Aruba HPE’s flagship as the most advanced ‘connected stadium’ in the world. Predictably, all previous records were smashed. Check out Extreme Networks’ infographic.

  • 15 TB of data transferred
  • 20,300 maximum concurrent users
  • 288 GB live streaming data
  • Facebook wins as the most visited site

The magnitude of what was achieved at Super Bowl 50 must not be overlooked. Aruba HPE knew that usage would be at an all-time high – not least due to Peyton Manning’s (eventually triumphant) curtain call as a bona fide NFL legend and a star-studded half-time show - and worked hard to ensure their solution performed on the day. As reported by Network World , the hype was justified.

In order to achieve such feats, Aruba engineers concentrated on two core metrics; ‘Take Rate’ (the amount of people connecting) and ‘Concurrent Load’ (number of people on the network at the same time). This is explained in more detail here. To be ‘safe’, the assumption was that ‘Take Rate’ would be 100% and ‘Concurrent Load’ would max-out at 50%...a smart move indeed. Sometimes ‘over-egged’ puddings taste the best!

Super Bowl 51 – Another record-breaking year?

Back to the matter at hand; what can fans in attendance at the NRG stadium on February 5th expect? If history tells us anything, another record-braking year for Wi-Fi may well be on the cards.

Having won the bidding process for the project, American wireless provider 5 Bars were tasked with the installation and configuration of the new carrier-grade Extreme Networks infrastructure.

Consisting of over 1,100 - 802.11ac Wave 2 access points – perfect for such high-density deployment - the network will be supported by an Internet pipe as big as 5 Gigabytes.

A new dawn for Internet of Things technology

This year’s Super Bowl will surely build upon the level of Internet-of-Things integration witnessed at Super Bowl 50. Not only was the impact of I-o-T felt in the stands, but continued to reveal a new world on it as well.

Since the 2014/15 season, NFL players have been fitted with radio-wave emitting nodes, giving coaches and fans real-time location-based data. Player acceleration, distance traveled, top speed and other such statistics can be displayed and consumed as required – you wouldn’t want to have an ‘off day’, would you!?

As far as off-pitch I-o-T data usage goes, surely the most amazing is the ability for device locations to be tracked and disseminated in real-time to ensure that fans can locate the toilet or hot-dog stand with the shortest queue. This was used to great effect at the Levis Stadium during Super Bowl 50 and will be another watermark of performance for the NRG’s network.

What about Network Security?

It’s safe to say (pun intended) that, with usage and device numbers exploding year-on-year, cyber-security planning and design is of critical importance. One report published after Super Bowl 50 found that from the first to final whistle, no less than 100,000 cyber-threats had been detected on the Levis Stadium network. It further transpired that only 19 off these were considered ‘serious’, although I'm sure most network bosses would tell you that even that is too many.

Network monitoring and data visualisation will be key to the detection of potential threats, which is easier-said-than-done when there are terabytes of data flooding a network over a relatively short space of time. To give this some context, during Super Bowl 50, a whopping 17 million websites were recorded and there were over 8 million domain name requests!

Kick-back and GO PATS!

Once all is said-and-done, we will be eagerly awaiting the reams of stats and data that will undoubtedly come from the 51st battle for the Lombardi Trophy, but until then, it’s all about Tom Brady’s New England Patriots claiming their fifth Super Bowl victory…GO PATS!

And, don’t forget to book Monday morning off – it’s going to be a late one!  

What Next?

If you are planning to deploy an enterprise-grade wireless network or are experiencing problems with a existing setup, please feel free to contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.