The Patriots have secured yet another berth for the big game this year. And while head coach Bill Belichick may not be using his Surface tablet for the big game after intentionally grounding it on the sidelines earlier this season, what he may not have realized is that there’s a good chance his device was operating just fine. The stadium’s Wi-Fi network was a likely culprit.
Many of us who have used a mobile device in a stadium can probably relate to Belichick’s frustrations – from broken phone conversations, interruptions in emails or texts or internet access denied. The biggest game of the year will introduce even more Wi-Fi challenges with more devices all in close proximity, putting even more stress on the stadium’s technology infrastructure.
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Everyone in attendance at the big game in Houston — from teams, to fans, to sponsors and reporters — must rely upon the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. But most people don’t realize the level of preparation involved to ensure the network can handle the volume.
Constructing a robust, reliable Wi-Fi network in a high-density environment is especially challenging when gearing up for an event on the scale of the big game. As NRG Stadium prepares to host, here are the top five ways to make digitally-active fans and teams happy:
1. Design for capacity
The average number of devices per attendee has only increased over the years, and the need for larger capacity to accommodate the influx of devices is the top issue for stadiums – whether for the NFL, NBA, MLB or MLS. Stadium officials must estimate how many total devices fans will be using concurrently, keeping in mind that usage will surge during halftime, and try to accommodate accordingly.
2. Minimize channel contention
Competing access points and antennas are common in large stadiums. Since stadiums are very open, energy must be directed to specific locations and seating sections. Using different antenna arrays with a narrow beam width can decrease channel contention and co-channel interference. If they have not already, NRG Stadium officials should consider doing a remediation project for minimizing interference to see where the signal is propagating and how to constrict it to focused areas.
3. Location, location, location
Antennas, whether in front of or behind stadium attendees, affect speed and connectivity for users. The NFL and NRG Stadium officials should consider placing access points in unorthodox locations, like under stadium seats or from catwalks above. They should focus antenna arrays and determine alternative ways to shower signals in upper and lower bowls so that they can direct signals where they want.
4. A strong signal is not necessarily a quality signal
Many stadium fans may find it’s hard for them to update their social media status during the game even though their devices may tell them they have a strong signal. This can be due to channels stepping on each other. Changing the antenna array to minimize co-channel interference can improve signal quality.
5. Introduce signal variety
Disabling low data rates, especially in the 2.4 GHz band, will improve the overall performance of Wi-Fi at the big game. NRG Stadium will want to steer users to the 5GHz band as often as possible, as it’s less susceptible to interference and can move data faster. With additional channels in the 5GHz frequency, minimizing co-channel interference and channel contention is more easily attained.
The big game promises to be a great match-up between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. Coaches, players and fans should all be able to get the most from their digital experiences at NRG Stadium if these five Wi-Fi conditions are met. Perhaps then Coach Belichick will give technology another chance.
Marc Murders is a Solutions Director with Infrastructure Services in the Solutions Division of Randstad Technologies. He is responsible for scoping and developing wireless technology deployments to the client base.