One of the biggest challenges commercial real estate owners face today is meeting tenants’ growing demand for fast, reliable wireless cellular service. The challenge can become more daunting depending on the size of a venue and how many people are in a space using that wireless service at any given time.
So if that’s a challenge for an owner of an office building or shopping center, one can only imagine how difficult it would be to provide great coverage for the 75,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta watching Super Bowl LIII on Sunday. Not only does the sheer volume of people in the stadium make providing reliable wireless coverage difficult, but also the fact that many people are using the network to stream videos, access the Internet and send selfies on their mobile devices or even make phone calls.
As it turned out Mercedes-Benz Stadium was up to the task. According to Speedtest, the overall cellular speeds increased almost 20% to 71.23 Mbps, compared to where they were during the Peach Bowl played at the same arena a month earlier. It was anticipated speeds might decrease given fans used more than 7.2 terabytes of data just on AT&T’s network at last year’s Super Bowl. However, cellular speeds on Sunday were 122.5% faster than the average download speed over cellular in the U.S. this past December.
There were two main reasons why Super Bowl attendees could enjoy such fast wireless service. First, the top four wireless carriers in the U.S.—T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint took steps to ensure they were prepared for the amount of volume. Secondly, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Wi-Fi was designed to handle crowds exactly like the on it hosted on Sunday.
From the cellular standpoint, T-Mobile, which registered the fastest speeds at the game, deployed more than 300 small cells at game-related venues, updated the arena with the highest capacity distributed antenna system (DAS) possible and deployed an outdoor C-RAN system to serve tailgaters.
Meanwhile, AT&T upgraded its part of the in-stadium DAS to provide more than 300% more LTE capacity than what was available when the season began. The carrier also upgraded or installed DAS at another 30 locations in the area and added hundreds of small cells. Sprint deployed Massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) in order to increase capacity and improve speeds. Sprint installed seven cellular sites worth of equipment, which was enough to serve a small city. Finally, Verizon installed about 30 permanent cell sites in Atlanta and deployed portable cell sites at even location. The carrier also allowed its customers to connect to Wi-Fi automatically when they were in the stadium and set up MatSing ball technology to adjust wireless traffic sector by sector, according to Speedtest.
Alpharetta, GA-based RF engineering services firm Notora also played a key role in helping wireless carriers ensure their customers who were in town had strong cellular service—both inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and around the Atlanta area. Inside the stadium, Notora worked with wireless carriers Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to get their systems up and on the air.
“We handle all of the brains behind the distributed antenna system, in small cells and the distributed radio access networks they’re in,” Notora co-founder and vice president of sales Marc Knapp told Connected Real Estate Magazine. “We do the acceptance testing to make sure it’s performing. We’re the team that comes in and takes a lot of these things across the finish line for the carriers.”
Verifying the data on the stadium DAS was just a portion of what Notora did for the carriers during Super Bowl week. It also worked on 26 other venues around the Atlanta area. The company fulfilled T-Mobile’s request to plug its service into systems that were already on the air for AT&T and Verizon. Notora also handled 15 Verizon systems and plugged the carrier into DAS systems owned by others.
Meanwhile, Notora helped enhance visitors’ wireless experience at numerous locations around the Super Bowl where activities were held, including SunTrust park where Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves play as well as two outdoor concert venues where Notora provided services for AT&T and Verizon so they could have their signal lit up and support the venues. The company also worked with three hospitals in the area, as well the hotels where this year’s Super Bowl teams, the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots stayed.
“We got those systems up, on air optimized in all three carriers before the event,” Knapp said. “So, if you were in Atlanta and stayed in a major hotel near the stadium, there’s an 80% chance a Notora employee assisted in providing you with the wireless coverage you had while you were in the building.”
Additionally, Wi-Fi was enhanced at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The stadium’s construction began in 2014 and was finished in August 2017. It was built with technology in mind and had an initial Wi-Fi setup with 1,800 wireless access points and 80 Gbps of Internet bandwidth capacity and had 4,000 miles of fiber cable supporting it. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, like many of the larger, newer arenas are built by the top Wi-Fi engineers in the industry, in order to address challenges like how the building is structured, the limited number of mounting locations for Wi-Fi access and the area’s openness.
The attention to detail the stadium paid to its Wi-Fi construction paid off, according to Speedtest. It was anticipated that Wi-Fi speeds may decrease due to the heavy usage during the Super Bowl, but they didn’t. The average Wi-Fi download speed at last year’s Big Game in Minneapolis was 20.71 Mbps, while in Atlanta this year the mark was 30.98 Mbps.
“If the Wi-Fi network is designed at the same time as the stadium is built, then the Wi-Fi access points can be placed in optimal locations,” Jussi Kiviniemi, Senior Vice President at wireless network designer Ekahau told Speedtest. “This is because one can affect the cabling of the stadium at this time. The challenge comes if the Wi-Fi is designed, or re-designed after the stadium has been designed and built.”