When the Denver Broncos held their first home preseason game Aug. 24, more than 75,000 fans got their first glimpse at the massive new scoreboard anchoring the south end zone of Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The high-definition electronic display, measuring 222 feet by 40 feet, is the third-biggest scoreboard in the NFL, outranked only by boards in Houston and Dallas. It's part of a multimillion-dollar network infrastructure upgrade of the stadium, which also includes new wing boards, more than 1,000 HDTVs and a Wi-Fi network that supports a tenfold increase in the number of simultaneous connections.
We want to compete with folks at home. We want to offer all these services and keep driving these services to the fans.
vice president of information technology, Denver Broncos
"We've been after uplifting our back-end core network over the past few years," said Russ Trainor, the Broncos' vice president of information technology, "and last year we ripped out our entire network. We knew that we were going to be upgrading the scoreboard and adding more technology and services, and we were trying to take that next step. So we needed infrastructure on the back end to support that."
The core network upgrade, based on 10 Gigabit switches and accompanying wireless controllers and access points from Cisco, was done in concert with beefed-up Ethernet, primary rate interface and HD video services from Comcast Business Services, Trainor said. The new switching equipment replaced obsolete networking systems from another vendor.
Comcast provisioned two 100 Mbps Ethernet lines as part of the project. The first, installed within Sports Authority Field, provides direct Internet access to connect the scoreboard, the televisions and Wi-Fi users. The second, a private fiber connection, links the stadium to the Broncos' training facilities and headquarters in suburban Englewood, about 20 miles southeast of the downtown arena. The lines replaced existing 40 Mbps connections, also maintained by Comcast.
Network infrastructure upgrade elevates fans' experience
The new infrastructure underpins the Broncos' strategy to improve fans' experience at the 12-year-old stadium.
"Everyone has smartphones these days, and of course they want to do more with those phones," Trainor said. "We want to compete with folks at home. We want to offer all these services and keep driving these services to the fans, so with the scoreboards and the TVs we went HDTV, and we got the Wi-Fi system going as well, but we are at the beginning of our road. We have the base in, but we expect to grow further."
The new scoreboard alone demanded a tenfold increase in connectivity, Trainor said. "Last year, we were a standard-definition [scoreboard] stadium, and we had 50 connections on the network for the scoreboard head-end room. This year, we have jumped to more than 500 network connections, so it has almost become a main distribution frame with all the gear driving that."
New network enables faster access to players, coaches
The Comcast Metro Ethernet private connection permits the Broncos to quickly transmit data between the stadium and its headquarters office. Players, who are all equipped with iPads containing their playbooks, can now easily access video content and update their playbooks with the latest information, Trainor said. Data backup, meantime, "is now all done over the wire now, so no more data tapes," he said. "We really like what we have now from that perspective."
The fiber link, Trainor added, "almost looks like a LAN connection -- not a WAN connection, so even during game days, we are able to transmit [edited] video back to [headquarters]" right after a game concludes.
Within the stadium itself, a robust wireless LAN is now capable of supporting 25,000 simultaneous connections via more than 500 access points. For now, free Wi-Fi connectivity is restricted to Verizon Wireless customers, but the Broncos are working with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to provide comparable access to their users.
Wi-Fi, Trainor said, extends beyond the stadium, allowing fans waiting in line or participating in tailgate parties to access the network as well. The network, now 802.11n-compatible, will be upgraded to 802.11ac as support for the emerging standard gains traction.
The network also supports traffic from Internet Protocol television infrastructure that feeds hundreds of HDTVs sprinkled around the stadium -- both in public areas and private suites. "We are trying to get TVs everywhere; we don't want [fans] to miss a play," Trainor said.
The Comcast Metro Ethernet network can scale up to 10 Gbps, a level of capacity that ensures long-term viability. "We'll eventually get there," he said. "We consider Comcast one of the base pillars on the back end -- we have our network, our storage and our network connectivity with them."