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Up close and personal: Wi-Fi analytics at the Super Bowl

Fans who make it to Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. this weekend may not be able to get close to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson or the Patriots’ Bill Bellicheck, but they will be able to touch base with “Wi-Fi coaches” to troubleshoot Wi-Fi issues during the game, courtesy of Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi analytics provider Extreme Networks.

That team of 20 certified Wi-Fi coaches will not only interact with fans to help with connectivity issues on their phones and questions about the NFL’s Game Day application, they’ll be on tap to respond to any Wi-Fi network issues around the stadium as a means of closing the loop on real-time operational analytics, according to John Brahms, director for sports and entertainment at Extreme. Those tech-savvy coaches will be carrying a cross-section of devices, including some with equipment for more extensive testing, for insights into the radio frequency environment and the user experience. They’ll also be monitoring social media to see if fans are talking about connectivity problems.

Extreme has been the National Football League’s official analytics partner for five years now and is also the league’s official Wi-Fi solutions provider, so it handles both in-stadium Wi-Fi infrastructure and the analysis of the data from that network.

Super Bowl 50 had 10.1 terabytes of Wi-Fi usage, according to Extreme, while last year’s Super Bowl saw 11.8 terabytes of data traverse the Wi-Fi network — more than any single cellular operator, although Verizon came close with a reported 11 TB of usage on its network during last year’s game. Almost half of fans at Super Bowl LI accessed the Wi-Fi network at various times over the course of the game.

Brahms said that the company’s preparation for this weekend’s game kicked off about a year ago to support both the Super Bowl itself as well as the extended events around it; Extreme is providing Wi-Fi support at locations including the Game Day Operation Center and the Seven Steakhouse Sushi & Rooftop Restaurant, the site of this year’s NFL House where a nearby local restaurant is transformed into a high-end hospitality hub for VIPs. Compared to a typical NFL game, he noted, the Super Bowl runs longer and fans arrive earlier, extending the amount of time that the network sees high usage. The NFL also takes over operations of the Super Bowl venue, he noted, as a Super Bowl is an NFL event as opposed to that of any one team. The organization uses insights from each year’s network analytics to make business decisions about operations going forward, Brahms added.

In order to prepare for the game, cellular resources within the stadium have been upgraded, with the national carriers focusing on the use of a fiber-fed distributed antenna network. U.S. Bank Stadium is relatively new, Brahms said, and its Wi-Fi network didn’t require much in the way of changes; particularly since the NFL requires network testing throughout the season to ensure that Wi-Fi systems are meeting its standards.

This year, for the first time, Extreme will be provided broader use of real-time analytics on the health of the network: usage stats such as the bandwidth being consumed, for example, and heat maps that will be shared to isolate any issues and troubleshoot, Brahms said. Beyond the immediate use of game-day analtyics, he said, post-game analysis of the data continues to provide insights into year-over-year trends. Some of the analytics will also focus around usage and engagement for the NFL’s Game Day app — which itself represents some of the opportunity for analytics-based lessons learned. In past years, Brahms said, the league has had one app focused on the in-stadium game day experience and another for use outside the stadium. That approach meant that users had to download multiple apps to get the full experience that the NFL wanted them to have, and it set up what Brahms called “some continuity issues” with the fan user experience. As a result, this year the league has shifted to a single app.

According to Extreme, since it became an NFL partner in 2014, data usage at the Super Bowl has increased by nearly 270%, with most of the rise coming from social media traffic. Brahms said that he expects that usage will continue to rise, although he added that the number of concurrent users on the system is likely at a point where it may begin to plateau. Even if people are using multiple devices, he said, at some point the number of users who access the Wi-Fi slows in growth even if the data used continues to rise.

Brahms also said that although the overall “social media” traffic category has dominated data usage and that is unchanged, the specific mix of apps evolves much faster. Snapchat, for instance, was the number one social media app used at last year’s game even though that wasn’t the case two or three years ago — and data from Extreme will help the NFL figure out what the next Snapchat is, as it prepares for future games.

 

Image copyright: herreid / 123RF Stock Photo

ABOUT AUTHOR

Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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