It's that time of year again. Trash talking abounds, epic appetizers are being planned, and (friendly) bets are placed. Super Bowl XLVIII is here.
Its also the time of year when we hear about what upgrades have been made to the hosting stadium's wireless network to handle the data onslaught. (New York's MetLife Stadium has the honors this year.) (See The No-Streaming Bowl.)
According to a report by CNET, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Wireless , T-Mobile US Inc. , and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) all began preparations more than a year ago for this year's big game, with AT&T and Verizon each deploying more than 500 DAS antennas throughout the stadium, and T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint all planning to roll cell-on wheels (COWs) at the event. A Verizon executive told New Jersey's Star-Ledger that the carrier quadrupled the capacity of the stadium's network ahead of the big game. (See Carrier WiFi's Not Winning in Sports Arenas.)
If the NFL has its way, big game connectivity will be standard in all league stadiums by the end of 2014. The league issued WiFi and cellular connectivity standards in late 2013, dictating minimum network performance levels, citing fan retention and creation of new marketing opportunities as key drivers for the mandate.
Though the NFL is mum about its specific requirements, forward-thinking stadiums are already investing in network upgrades. Chicago's Soldier Field's neutral host DAS system was recently upgraded in partnership with AT&T and Boingo Wireless Inc. , doubling network capacity, and with enough DAS equipment to serve a town of 88,000.
The network was upgraded in time to support massive data traffic during an emergency weather evacuation in November, and to serve an increasingly mobile audience: Our data shows that 95% of sessions on the stadium WiFi network were via mobile, and that sessions are up 80% year-over-year. Also, the San Francisco 49ers are said to be planning a stadium network at their new Levi's Stadium that will cover more than 68,000 spectators, with no lag time in uploads and downloads.
While many NFL and big league stadiums are upgrading to high-powered DAS and WiFi systems, today's university stadiums and campuses are in need of major league solutions. These locations serve the highly connected young adult population, and some of their fan bases are as large and rabid as major sports franchises (and as a USC Trojan alum, I speak from experience).
Though they don't have an NFL-like mandate, university stadiums may be the next to go "pro" with their wireless to meet the following challenges:
College students are one of today's most connected groups. A recent study from Educause found that more than 76% own a smartphone, and more than 58% own more than three Internet-connected devices. If their constant connectivity comes to a screeching halt when they get near the football stadium, they might just watch the game on their HDTVs from their dorms. In 2013, attendance at college football games was down for major conferences, including the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference, among others. The reason? The Bleacher Report posits that lack of connectivity might be a leading cause.
Funding network upgrades
Mobile technologies have ushered in a whole new era of BYOD on campuses, taxing existing networks and tapping IT budgets developed before the dawn of the iPhone era. Universities today are struggling to handle the capacity demands of students, and are working fast to upgrade their networks quickly to ensure that students and faculty can connect.
Installing a neutral host DAS network on campus and in stadiums can help offset the costs of network upgrades. Carriers can help fund DAS installations and upgrades, or pay "rent" on systems at major campuses or major teams' home fields. Revenue share from DAS networks can help bolster campus IT budgets and enable further investment in campus infrastructure.
Building for the future
Universities were blindsided by BYOD. To avoid the capacity crunch that many are currently experiencing, forward-thinking university IT executives are looking to build networks that can grow and shift with the rapid changes in mobile usage.
Building complimentary DAS and WiFi networks helps take advantage of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and provides a "fail safe" capability in times of peak usage. The symbiotic relationship between the networks enable a pressure release valve on campus -- the DAS network can relieve strain on the WiFi network, and vice versa. The coming Next Generation Hotspot protocols will allow on-campus mobile users to transition seamlessly between WiFi and cellular without user intervention -- wherever a user goes, their connection just works. (See WiFi Passpoint: Ready for Prime Time.)
Universities will soon learn from the Barclays Centers and AT&T Parks of the world, and they'll want to start reaching their fans on the last piece of unbranded real estate in the ball park -- the mobile phones in their palms or pockets. Deploying a high-density WiFi network alongside a DAS in a stadium can enable fan mobile use, like social networking and video streaming, along with delivery of WiFi sponsorships and targeted brand messages. Through WiFi-enabled, location-based services, a stadium may even enable concessions orders right from the stands. Teams can reach fans through push notifications in custom apps, or solicit feedback from patrons via surveys.
It's eight months until the college football season starts again, and season predictions are already starting. Here's mine: Major university IT departments will be conducting "training camps" of their own to whip their networks into shape and get connected fans in the stands come fall 2014.
— Doug Lodder, Vice President of Business Development, Boingo Wireless Inc.