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Wi-Fi World

Apr 10, 2014 11:33 AM, By Tim Kridel

Supporting Stadium BYOD

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Big Buildings, Big Challenges

The scale of arenas and stadiums, typically at least a half-million square feet and 10,000-plus spectators, creates a number of variables that affect Wi-Fi reliability and performance. For example, there are at most only 24 channels available to serve an entire facility.

“Care must be taken in designing the layout of the Wi-Fi equipment such that channels can be reused repeatedly throughout the facility,” says Bruce Miller, Xirrus vice president of product marketing. “Physical isolation of access points from each other is key to this, ideally from walls, beams, or other barriers within the building structure.”

Interference also saps capacity. Those sources include microwave ovens in the concession areas, coaching staff headsets and, in the case of Amway Center, wireless Xbox game controllers that bled out in the bowl from a kids area in the upper concourse.

“It’s interesting where you find stuff,” Elkins says.

That stuff has a nasty habit of popping up unexpectedly, such as when fans have smartphones that double as Wi-Fi hotspots. One solution is to outfit the WLAN with spectrum analyzers, which continuously scan the Wi-Fi spectrum looking for interference sources and then devise ways to work around them. Sometimes AV gear can create interference, such as a surveillance camera that needs to be moved to another channel.

“It’s a constant effort requiring continuous surveillance and remediation,” Aruba’s Lukaszewski says. “Fortunately, some Wi-Fi management systems have integrated spectrum-reporting capabilities that can proactively inform the administrators of new interference sources so they don’t need to perform continuous manual checks.”

Another key issue is capacity. It’s common for franchises and venues to underestimate how much fans will use a WLAN, and that can lead to a poor experience for both them and any AV services on that network.

“Recently, we had the opportunity to participate in conversations around usage of team apps in venues and in particular, video services at a major event,” says Bill Anderson, a consultant at AmpThink, whose sports Wi-Fi projects include Amway Center. “We were surprised when we heard that the app vendor expected less than 3 percent of the fans to use the video service during the game. In a number of venues we support, we consistently see 20 percent or more of the fans connect to the network, and that number is growing.”

Arenas and stadiums often are used for concerts, tradeshows, and other non-game events that put a lot of people on the playing surface, where they’ll want or even need reliable Wi-Fi. For example, if some home show exhibitors are selling products, Wi-Fi might be the only way for them to process credit card transactions.

If exhibitors find that venue’s WLAN is unreliable, there’s a good chance they’ll resort to personal hotspots: handheld routers that use Wi-Fi to share a cellular broadband connection with multiple devices. Those hotspots can interfere with the WLAN and cause problems such as signage and cameras that suddenly lose their backhaul. So if a venue plans to host a lot of non-game events, it makes sense to ensure that the playing surface has seamless coverage.

“This is typically done with specially located access points at the field wall for an outdoor venue, or from overhead catwalks in indoor arenas,” Lukaszewski says. That’s one more example of why sports WLANs aren’t as straightforward as they might appear. But as more franchises and venue owners decide to add them, Wi-Fi becomes something that AV pros will increasingly have to work with or even enable.

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