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Dolphins De-Wire With BelAir

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It's been a tough year for the NFL's Miami Dolphins, who are 4-6 on the season and must win at least five of their remaining six games to have a shot at the playoffs. The Dolphins, however, can console themselves with the thought that they play their home games in a stadium that is vying to be the most technologically advanced sports palace in the world.

Built in 1987, Dolphin Stadium will host this year's FedEx Orange Bowl as well as Super Bowl XLI, on Feb. 4, 2007. It will do so with a new state-of-the-art wireless network installed by Miami-based integrator A2000, using WiFi gear from BelAir Networks Inc. Built to provide coverage for Florida Marlins baseball games and non-sporting events such as concerts and tradeshows as well as the Dolphins' games, the network supports what stadium manager Tery Howard calls the largest point-of-sale network in the world.

The network will also provide coverage for fans' mobile phones and other devices, staff and security connections, WiFi in the pressbox, and, eventually, digital photo transmission by both spectators and shutterbugs working the games.

"This project started from an initiative that came through at the beginning of the year, asking how we could differentiate ourselves and become more competitive in our industry," explains Howard. "What are some of the innovative implementations we can do to position the stadium as a leader in the industry from a technological standpoint."

The Dolphin Stadium management thus joined what has become something of a networking arms race among big-city stadia. The Arizona Cardinals this year deployed a wireless network from Cellular Specialties Inc. and MobileAccess Networks that offers both cellular voice and WiFi coverage to all of the stadium's 63,400 seats plus the luxury suites, press areas, team offices, and tenant office space, as well as full coverage for public safety radios throughout the 1 million-square-foot facility. (See Wireless Win for NFL.)

The 75,000-seat Dolphin Stadium has 195 luxury suites and more than 10,200 club seats, and features the world's largest high definition light-emitting diode (LED) video display. The new network comprises a total of 29 BelAir nodes including five within the bowl of the field and the stands. In all, the network covers about 2 million square feet, including more than 700 point-of-sale devices plus 68 handheld units for stadium staff and security.

Dolphin Stadium management also considered WiFi equipment from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which had provided earlier networking gear for the facility, says Howard. In fact, the BelAir system was slightly more expensive than other options.

"We thought that the BelAir gear was the most ruggedized and the most stable, and also they had some really good history in terms of what they've done in their market," remarks Howard. "We just thought their solution most closely aligned with what we wanted to do."

Neither BelAir nor stadium officials divulged specific information about cost, but Howard notes that traditional equipment from other vendors would have required much higher node density.

"One of my colleagues in the league just finished building a brand new stadium, and they used 125 to 130 nodes," points out Howard. "We installed 29."

What's significant about the Dolphin Stadium deployment, says BelAir product manager Jim Freeze, is that "It's not just for surfing the Web or for reporters filing their stories but support for these real applications, like point-of-sale. It's also running VOIP services to keep the staff connected during events."

The new wireless network is part of a $250 million capital improvement effort that is designed to push Dolphin Stadium to the top of the outdoor events industry, a high-tech venue for a wide range of events. It's become clear that, for teams competing in today's multi-billion-dollar NFL, fancy artificial turf and plush luxury suites are no longer enough.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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