By Don Herana
Major sporting events like the recent World Cup held in Brazil have brought together people from all around the globe looking to immerse themselves in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And while watching the World Cup matches, many spectators will be clicking on their camera phones to capture memorable shots and uploading them to Facebook and other social media sites to share their experiences with friends and families? back home.
Consumers today have changed the way they capture their personal experiences as habitual content creation and sharing on social media have become integrated into their lifestyles. This has fuelled the adoption of smartphones with integrated camera functions which is predicted to reach 1.75 billion this year.
The changing behavior has led to a strong demand for Wi-Fi Hotspot in public venues such as football stadiums and the recent 2014 World Cup in Brazil and 27th Southeast Asian Games held in Myanmar not only brought people from around the world together, but was also a testimony to some of the latest technological solutions.
Challenges in stadium Wi-Fi deployment
The traditional distributed antenna systems (DAS), which served as an excellent neutral host solution for voice systems in most public venues are easily overload with data traffic, especially in high human traffic areas in today?s data-centric world.
With almost every spectator owning a smartphone and constantly uploading photos and videos to their preferred social network, it becomes necessary now for these public venues to add a new access network to cater to these growing smartphones consumers and customers. WiFi becomes the best choice to the venues and expectations for a reliable and powerful WiFi performance.
However, many challenges surround the success of Wi-Fi deployment among stadiums and other sports arenas which are amongst the most difficult locations imaginable due to the requirement for both very high performance and very high density.
This is especially so for World Cup where reliable, high-speed wireless data service must be delivered to appease thousands spectators given the extremely high visibility that came with hosting the world?s most watched sporting event.
For multi-sport events like the SEA Games, stable Wi-Fi access and secure connectivity are other key prerequisites in order to support its Verification and Information System (SVIS), which ensures that only accredited personnel are allowed entry into controlled areas, and Game Management System (GMS), which provides competition-related information such as scheduling, transportation and real-time scoring updates.
Factors to consider for stadium Wi-Fi deployment
It is important to consider various factors about Wi-Fi deployment that directly affect the network design and the choice of equipment such as the nature of the venue, required capacity and number of Wi-Fi access points (APs).
As each stadium?s structure is different, the availability of vertical assets would determine if integrated or narrowbeam antennas are more appropriate to achieve the desired coverage across all public seating areas.
AP deployment must be properly planned as more APs also create more interference, thus careful planning and design is required to mitigate these radio wave interference in high-density environments. Required capacity should also be considered because expected demands can differ.
For example, World Cup needs to cater for more uplink requirements due to the high number of uploads by football fans whereas SEA Games require both uplink and downlink in order to manage their SVIS and GMS.
Other important factors for Wi-Fi deployment include proper installation and the use of carrier class equipment as well as proper tools to measure and report on network performance.
Interfering networks which usually involve wireless networks put in by TV broadcasters and a possibility of other rogue wireless networks must also be considered.
World-class technology and expertise delivered impressive results
Ruckus Wireless? carrier-grade Smart Wi-Fi technology was behind the successful deployment for World Cup in Brazil as well as the 27th Southeast Asian Games.
The four stadiums, including Maracana in Rio de Janeiro where the final World Cup match was staged, deployed a total of 709 indoor and outdoor Ruckus ZoneFlex Access Points managed via a combination of SmartCell Gateway 200 WLAN Controllers and Zone Director WLAN Controllers for 241,033 public seats.
These deployments made extensive use of narrow beam integrated BeamFlex adaptive antennas to better target specific seating areas while at the same time limiting RF interference.
Detailed reporting by Ruckus SmartCell Insight (SCI) provided the statistics on network performance such as monitoring the uplink and downlink traffic along with number of connected users.
SCI statistics showed that Ruckus managed to consistently achieve multi-megabit per second range in the venue during actual World Cup matches, which is truly impressive considering the huge crowds and the near universal use of smartphones by today?s football fans.
Wi-Fi was clearly the network of the choice for the average fan, carrying as much as 2X the traffic carried over 3G/4G networks during World Cup matches.
With several major sporting events happening in the next couple of years on a global and regional scale, and as consumer habits evolve with the proliferation of mobile devices, it is imperative to look at deploying the right technology for high density environments such as stadiums and other sporting arenas.
High-capacity density deployments are key to enhancing spectators? experience and enable host countries to establish their repute an international-class sporting destinations.
The author is the country manager for the Philippines at Ruckus Wireless