Seamless Stadium Wi-Fi Design

Date April 15, 2015 Author Comments Leave your thoughts

Stadium WiFi

I think it’s fair to say it is now common to expect some sort of internet connectivity almost everywhere you go, whether it’s via the mobile phone networks or from the local Wi-Fi network.

Cafes really started the trend by installing a simple wireless router to provide web connectivity for their customers. This was fairly easy to do and more or less imitated the average home Wi-Fi setup. This generally worked just fine providing you didn’t have too many customers all wanting access at the same time as back then the requirement was to surf a few web pages and to check your email.

Larger retail premises saw the attraction in this and began to allow public access to their Wi-Fi networks to provide a similar solution. This was a slightly more difficult proposition as coverage needed to extend across the whole shop floor and needed to be of a reasonable quality. Also most large retail premises Wi-Fi networks had been designed to support in-house requirements and not those of a potentially much larger user base. Some retailers decided an overhaul was necessary with some preferring to go forward with what they already had installed.

“How Come You Don’t Have Wi-Fi!?”

Fast forward to today and the number of people looking to use a wireless connection whilst out and about has increased massively.  Younger visitors have grown up in an environment which offers on demand internet connectivity and expect to be able to access social media and instant messaging Apps wherever they happen to be.  It’s no longer just a case of checking email or looking at a couple of web pages, but has become the completely connected experience you would expect from a home Wi-Fi network i.e. being able to stream video from Facebook, YouTube, upload photos , access instant messaging, and a whole raft of others.

It’s not just a “nice to have” any more but more of a “how come you don’t have it”? However, designing a Wi-Fi solution of this type is a serious undertaking and it’s absolutely vital that the end result provides seamless internet access, as bad Wi-Fi is far worse than no Wi-Fi at all.

Stadium Wi-Fi Design

So how do you go about providing today’s fit for purpose Wi-Fi solution for a large and heavily populated venue such as an exhibition centre, a concert arena, or a sporting stadium?

  • The first consideration is really the size of the potential user population, followed by what level of performance you need to provide to that population.
  • What types of devices are the users going to have and will they have more than one each?
  • What Apps will people wish to use and equally as important what Apps might you wish to develop to draw in your users to give them the full  connected experience, such as for a sporting event, access to video replays, selection and ordering of food and drinks, directions around the venue, stats on the team’s performance, etc.

In order to provide good throughput for potentially very large numbers of users the design must focus on the implementation of many small wireless cells also known as micro-cells. This then reduces the population per AP and helps to provide a good user experience in terms of throughput and response. The knock-on effect here is that many micro-cells translates directly to a very large quantity of wireless access points with a commensurably sized supporting infrastructure to connect and power the wireless network.

Uploads Exceed Downloads

Interestingly studies have shown that stadium Wi-Fi traffic differs from the typical internet usage model in that uploads can equal or exceed downloads as people post photos and videos of the event in real time to the web. This then requires a capable internet connection certainly for event days to ensure that the traffic demand is met. *See our blog on the 2015 Super Bowl Wi-Fi for some impressive usage stats! 

So we have considered some of the basic design challenges that this type of wireless solution raises, but we also need to add a few more, for example where are we going to site the equipment?

  • A distributed network is required and the wireless signal needs to be provided to where the users are located and aesthetics are probably going to be very important
  • Implementation is likely to be complex and therefore time consuming. When in the event calendar can this be scheduled?
  • How do we monitor and manage this large wireless (and wired) network to ensure it is working optimally and meeting the design criteria?
  • How do we publicise the installed wireless network and how do we ensure that the vast majority of people will be able to connect easily and with the minimum of fuss?

These and other questions suggest that the provision of a high density Wi-Fi solution in for example a sports stadium is really unlike any other type of deployment, and brings with it its own unique set of challenges and requirements.

 

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Author Will South

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