Patriots fans welcome Wi-Fi at stadium
When nearly 69,000 fans crowd into Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots NFL season opener on September 16, a new multimillion-dollar, high-density, bowl-wide Wi-Fi network will be fired up for its first public use.
Fans will be able to see instant replays and real-time stats over various mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and and Android devices, officials said. Social networking and access to NFL Red Zone and Gillette Stadium and Patriots apps will also be available.
The new 802.11n Wi-Fi network is composed of more than 200 indoor and outdoor access points from Enterasys Networks, a Siemens Enterprise Communications company, said Ram Appalaraju, vice president of Enterasys marketing.
Enterasys also provided its S-series switches to integrate the Wi-Fi with the wired network at the core, along with a OneFabric control center for network management, which includes Enterasys software for identity and access management.
Fred Kirsch, vice president of content and publisher at the Patriots, said the team and Kraft Sports Group, which owns the Patriots team and Gillette Stadium, picked Enterasys over other vendors in part because of the high quality Wi-Fi experience that Enterasys could provide with centralized management and dense coverage.
The Gillette Wi-Fi network is designed to allow 40 percent of the fans in the stadium to simultaneously send video wirelessly. Enterasys found with other stadium deployments at soccer venues in Europe that about 12 percent of fans send video at the same time. (See also "Super Bowl Site Hosts State-of-the-Art Wireless.")
The biggest concern is video used by fans, which takes up far more bandwidth than other wireless uses, including access to real-time stats. Kirsch said he expects some fans to even use FaceTime and other video chat functions as they realize how well it works in the stadium.
The access points, from the Enterasys AP 3000 family, will operate over both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, supporting 200 users per access point.
Club level suites at Gillette have had Wi-Fi access for about three years, provided by another vendor that Kirsch refused to name. "We had a lot of lessons learned from that experience," he said.
One thing Kirsch learned was to understand user habits, including that bandwidth can be throttled up and down and that fans use smartphones during specific times of a game.
His experience has taught him that video to a smartphone requires about 400 Kbps per mobile device to come through at good quality. Kirsch said that much bandwidth works well, although he admitted it might seem like a surprisingly small amount. He's tested it extensively, transferring video on the new network with various devices.
The installation of the new network took about a month and cost the Kraft Sports Group "multimillions" of dollars, Kirsch said, without being more specific. That much of an investment is probably a fraction of what NFL teams pay star quarterbacks, but "it's worth it for our fans," he added.
Kirsch said Enterasys was chosen for many factors over other providers, but the ability to focus the direction of the access point antennas for a solid radio signal was "the best out there." The technical support and customer service from Enterasys were also a plus.
"I don't care which vendor you are using, if the people aren't up to snuff and won't give the best customer service, it doesn't really matter how good the hardware is," Kirsch added. "Most football teams don't have massive IT staffs, and if you bring in a massive project with bowlwide Wi-Fi, that's a serious ramp-up. So you have to have a company that stands behind it."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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