Wireless networks pave the way to the Super Bowl

Wireless network deployments have given major football stadiums the connectivity they need to host massive events like the Super Bowl.

A wireless network has unlocked the true potential for connectivity at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the new home of the Arizona Cardinals and host of 2008's Super Bowl XLII.

The Cardinals had used Arizona State University's stadium in the past, but when plans were devised to build University of Phoenix stadium, the Cardinals organization saw it as an opportunity to revamp the infrastructure and technological landscape.

"While we were building the stadium, we took a very interesting approach to technology," said Mark Feller, senior director of technology for the Arizona Cardinals. "We wanted to build the most technologically advanced stadium in the NFL, or even the world."

Since the stadium is a multi-purpose venue hosting trade shows, concerts and other events during the off season, Feller said, the organization sought out adaptable wireless systems that would support varying types of communications regardless of device or location within the stadium.

"All events have wireless needs," he said, noting that the 1.7 million-square-foot stadium is expected to host more than a million visitors in its first year.

Feller and his team turned to Cellular Specialties Inc. (CSI), an in-building wireless solutions provider, for an infrastructure that gives players, staff, media and fans use of wireless devices such as cell phones, laptops and PDAs throughout the entire stadium.

Using the Universal Wireless Network from wireless vendor MobileAccess, CSI was able to install the system during construction. Using the solution, the Cardinals organization can provide WLAN connectivity to devices, reception for radio systems used by public safety organizations, and wireless coverage for cellular carriers like Alltel, Sprint/Nextel, Cingular, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Feller added that because MobileAccess' system is modular, he and his team can add new services and future wireless applications without the headaches of additional wiring or disruption of stadium operations or the existing wireless system.

The materials used to build the stadium didn't offer the best potential for connectivity, according to Feller. The building is a massive structure of concrete, steel and corrugated aluminum.

"It looks really cool but doesn't do much for wireless transmissions," he said.

Nevertheless, the stadium was able to achieve a 98% coverage rate from all of the major wireless carriers and Wi-Fi.

"All throughout our season, we have Wi-Fi running," Feller said, adding that press and Cardinals brass can use their laptops throughout much of the building. The system will remain in place for any other events that take place at the stadium as well.

"We took the approach that we're going to be a commercial in-building provider, similar to an enterprise," he said. "A distributed antenna and wireless system can accommodate that."

Along with focusing on the WLAN and other wireless services the stadium can offer now, Feller is looking to the future. He said his goal is to allow the wireless system to scale to accommodate growth and support a maximum number of users, which will be put to the test when Super Bowl XLII rolls into town next year.

"We know we've got a lot of flexibility in the system," he said, noting that currently there are more than 100 antennae scattered throughout the stadium at strategic locations identified during site planning. In areas that could be particularly tricky for wireless access, there is a higher concentration. There are also 38 wiring closets pushing the system.

"This was a learning process for us," Feller said. "We know that during a game there are going to be a lot of communications going on and other wireless communications coming in; we have to make sure there's no interference."

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Feller and his team also tapped the expertise of the NFL's own frequency coordinator to ensure that the system offers optimum connectivity.

Like University of Phoenix stadium, Detroit's Ford Field, which hosted Super Bowl XL, deployed a similar system using MobileAccess. There, facility managers used Gulf Coast Real Estate Consultants LLC to design and install an integrated multi-carrier wireless infrastructure.

At Ford Field, the MobileAccess Universal Wireless Network provides wireless connectivity throughout the 1.3 million-square-foot stadium, giving fans, media, facility staff, vendors and event personnel the use of WLAN-enabled laptops, PDAs and devices from carriers such as Verizon and Sprint, along with pagers and two-way radios.

"As host of Super Bowl XL and multiple large events throughout the year, Ford Field and Gulf Coast wanted to deploy a wireless infrastructure able to handle the high-capacity requirements and reliable-communications demands of these world-class events," Gulf Coast's Julio Dumas said in a statement, adding that everyone who enters the stadium depends on wireless connectivity for communications and safety, no matter where they are inside its walls.

And other stadiums across the country have also adopted the Universal Wireless Network technology. According to MobileAccess, Reliant Park in Houston deployed its system prior to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, and Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., followed suit in 2005 for Super Bowl XXXIX.

Cathy Zatloukal, MobileAccess Networks' president and CEO, said each of the stadiums needed to accommodate current and future wireless demands for various events like the Super Bowl but also needed to avoid financial and operational inefficiencies. She added that a pervasive wireless network can give stadiums a competitive advantage and help them attract large events by allowing all visitors to access wireless data and voice services.

"Wireless is quickly becoming a must-have technology for sports facilities," she said.

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