Phoenix Stadium: built for wireless from ground up

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It sits in the desert as a shimmering star, an example of state-of-the-art technology. From its retractable roof to its grass field that can roll out of the steel and concrete structure, University of Phoenix Stadium was also built with wireless in mind.
The $455 million stadium opened in 2006 in Glendale. Ariz., and is not just a football stadium for the NFL Arizona Cardinals or the annual site of college football’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The stadium features active distributed antenna systems that provide mobile communications for the large crowds that fill the stadium for sporting events or concerts. The system is also in place as the stadium is used for conventions, tradeshows and even weddings and receptions. Recently the stadium was the site for the Southwest Landscape and Nursery Expo.
“The Cardinals organization wanted to build the most technological advanced stadium in the world,” said Mark Feller, Cardinal’s VP of information technology. “So we followed the theme when we put in our communications system.”
As officials were planning the stadium, they turned to in-building solutions to provide instant cellphone and Wi-Fi communications for the crowds that converge on the venue for events.
The stadium is an example of the growing market of the in-building wireless market. According to ABI Research, revenue in in-building with active distributed antenna systems is projected to reach $9.2 billion by 2013.
Feller said using the antenna system was the most efficient way to adequately provide communications for a stadium that can seat a capacity crowd of 73,000 people.
The antenna system “gave us the ability to be out in front,” Feller said. “It has worked out nicely. It was clearly the right option for our stadium.”
The company hired Cellular Specialties Inc. to install an antenna system within the stadium. The company outfitted the venue’s 1.7 million square feet with 110 antennas. To provide ubiquitous wireless service, every cellular carrier was given access to the facility. The Cardinal’s wireless carrier, Alltel Communications L.L.C., was allowed to install base stations in the stadium’s data center. Signals from the other carriers penetrate the stadium through external equipment that uses fiber optics to plug into the antenna system and amplifiers that receive signals from carrier base stations located a mile away.
“We put our system in with the intention of allowing all carriers to use it,” Feller said.
Feller said other stadiums in the NFL have antenna systems for communication, but none as comprehensive as the system in place in Glendale. For example, the stadium didn’t need additional communication equipment for last February’s Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. The venue was filled to capacity with fans and media.
Sports venues that host such large events usually need temporary in-building solutions. For example, the sports venues that hosted the Republican and Democratic national conventions in August were outfitted with antenna systems. To outfit a building with an antenna system, it runs about $1 per square feet. “Our system held up pretty well,” Feller said of the Super Bowl.
The system not only provides cellular and Wi-Fi coverage, but also can support paging, two-way radios and telemetry.
Mike Altman, VP of CSI’s Custom Solutions Group, said in-building projects for the company has exploded in the past couple of years. Altman said the company, which was formed 10 years ago and is based in New Hampshire, started out outfitting home of executives with the technology.
“The market has continued to grow dramatically,” he said. “Individuals and companies have a need to communicate through wireless in their buildings and that need will continue to grow.”
The company has installed antenna systems in hospitals, various stadiums and arenas throughout the country and for corporations, including an Anheuser Busch production facility and buildings that house Charles Schwab and American Express.
Altman said the company builds its solutions to the specific needs of its customers.
Feller said the stadium’s Wi-Fi is being widely used by fans who have Apple Inc.’s iPhone during NFL games.
“The Wi-Fi is not only being used in the press box,” he said. “The crowd is using their phones to access the Internet.”
Feller said the best part of the system is the joy he sees in faces in the crowd, whether they are taking a picture, sending a message or making a call with their phone.
“There is instant gratification,” he said. “They get to share their experience.”

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