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When I go to a football game, I go to watch it; however, I’m amazed by how many people go to the game but are watching their cellphone screens instead of the action on the field. (I would understand this if it were a Kansas Jayhawk game.) People will upload photos and videos of what they’re watching to share with friends and family on social media and, let’s be honest, to brag about how exciting their lives are. Cellphone companies such as AT&T have taken notice of this and increased their capacity at sporting events. People don’t want to drain their data packages, though, and are demanding free Wi-Fi almost anywhere they go. Many stadiums are now providing free Wi-Fi to the masses as part of the experience, but this is no easy task.
To have a fully functioning and reliable Wi-Fi platform, the backend wiring, network switches, wireless controllers, routers and available Internet bandwidth are the heart of the operation. Simply plugging in a few $50 wireless access points from a local box store won’t get the job done. HP recently acquired Aruba Networks. Aruba, like HP, specializes in providing wireless to any size of organization or crowd. Aruba has done extensive studies on wireless capacity, signal strength and density.
When stadium IT staff is trying to provide wireless to so many people, wireless range isn’t the issue. You don’t need to cast the signal very far. This helps keep channel interference and access point overload to a minimum. The issue is the number of users within a given area exceeds the capacity for the access point. Aruba recommends having one access point for every 50 users. The percentage of event-goers using Wi-Fi is increasing, but the current recommendation is to plan for 20 percent of total attendance use. According to mutigers.com, Memorial Stadium’s expanded capacity is 71,168. This would mean Memorial Stadium’s tech staff would need to plan for about 14,250 users or the equivalent need of 285 access points. Also, not just any access point will do. It needs to be a secure outdoor access point that can withstand the extreme heat and cold of Missouri weather.
It doesn’t stop with collegiate athletics either. According to USA Today, in the fall of 2014 the NFL named Extreme Networks its “first official Wi-Fi solutions provider.” So far 12 NFL stadiums have deployed a new state-of-the-art Wi-Fi infrastructure. Aside from the convenience and luxury of having Wi-Fi for fans, it ultimately comes down to big business. The franchises in the NFL are not only wanting their fans to enjoy the free Wi-Fi but also to take advantage of the opportunity to send you promotional information while you’re at the game. For example: “Alex Smith just threw a touchdown pass. Twenty percent off his jersey at the team store.” The increased fan satisfaction along with the ability to send promotional offers is why NFL teams are looking at Wi-Fi infrastructure as an investment, not an expense.
As for the future, it’s not unrealistic to think that someday every sports stadium will have a fantastic Wi-Fi connection, but for now it simply comes down to cost. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of improving Wi-Fi availability for a stadium because each one has different infrastructure challenges; however, it’s predicted to be somewhere in the multimillion-dollar range. As time goes on, we’ll see newer technology develop and more competitors enter this unique market. It’s only a matter of time before you’re posting selfies instantly at your next Tigers game.