Campuses expanding stadium Wi-Fi access

Many campuses are extending wireless networks to athletic facilities.

College students arrive on campus with two or three internet-ready mobile devices—and they all expect trouble-free internet access, not only in dorms and classrooms, but also increasingly in campus athletic stadiums.

To meet the demands of students and other game-day attendees, while providing a more interactive experience for fans of college sports, many colleges and universities are upgrading their wireless access so that fans can text, upload photos and videos, and get real-time information without waiting for bogged-down campus networks to respond.

Extending wireless service to campus stadiums also benefits coaches who have wireless access in locker rooms and vendors conducting point-of-sale transactions at the venue.

Many schools are opting for what is known as a distributed antenna system (DAS), which is a network of smaller separated antennas scattered throughout a building or specific area to ensure that people do not lose their cell phone connections.

In September, the University of Alabama installed a DAS through AT&T at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The university’s DAS extends outside of the stadium so that students can enjoy faster internet connections, and it’s operated by Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Coverage includes the surrounding streets and walkways outside of the stadium, as well as all corridors, executive offices, locker rooms, and seating inside the stadium.

Indiana University, with 110,000 students, turned to a DAS when campus IT officials realized that cell phones and smart phones were essential to students, and also that wireless capacity at its football stadium and basketball arena was sub-par.

Campus technology staff knew that more and more devices would arrive on campus with students each successive year, and that students would want freedom to communicate and collaborate in real time. The university partnered with Crown Castle on a 10-year plan for the DAS.

In 2011, Auburn University launched a multi-carrier stadium DAS with a guest Wi-Fi solution in its stadium. Fiber is distributed in a way that allows for a campus-wide DAS expansion. Aruba Networks designed the stadium Wi-Fi network.

“Technology has become a significant part of the game-day experience,” said Scott Carr, Auburn’s senior associate director of athletics for external affairs. “Fans are uploading pictures to social networks, checking scores, even watching highlights on their devices. This Wi-Fi network will keep our fans in the stadium connected to Auburn fans across the state and beyond.”

Verizon teamed with iBAHN, an Internet Protocol-based information services vendor in the hospitality, meeting, conference, and retail industries, to build and install the Wi-Fi network—known as AU Guest Wi-Fi—with encrypted security and high-speed billing and support capabilities. The network, which has been installed throughout Jordan-Hare Stadium, will provide athletic fans seamless access to eMail, internet, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites within the high-density access area. It is available by paid subscription.

“We know that Auburn Tigers fans are among some of the most loyal in college sports,” said Mark Bartolomeo, vice president for global enterprise sales for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. “On game day, they can use the new network to easily check statistics or watch highlights from the stadium or the parking lot.”

Last year, Stanford University teamed with AT&T to expand its wireless and broadband activity to all athletic venues on campus. Campus officials hoped Stanford students would access social media sites from their smart phones, but also worked to create downloadable advanced mobile applications to let students watch instant replays, check scores, access video, and upload photos to friends while cheering in the stands.

Bob Bowlsby, Stanford’s Jaquish and Kenninger Director of Athletics, said the university was eager to launch the new mobile applications and give fans “an enhanced and personalized game-day experience.”

“We understand how customers can use Wi-Fi to engage students, faculty, parents, and players in a university sporting event and throughout the season,” said Kevin Carman, director of AT&T Education Field Marketing.

Carman said the company works with schools to build customized mobile apps, access to real-time game and player statistics, video, promotional offers, enhanced social networking, and location-based services (LBS). AT&T also works with application developers or venues with application solutions.

AT&T reps said the company plans to spearhead a movement aimed at elevating various colleges’ athletic venues and campuses by introducing resources to tech-savvy students.

Geographical challenges

In the past, the University of Colorado has experienced problems controlling its wireless network and has struggled to contend with increasing student and faculty accessibility demands.

“A 9.5 million-square-foot campus poses several logistical challenges to providing reliable wireless access. Adding mobile spots on buses and heavy-traffic areas made it even more difficult,” said Max Lopez, senior wireless engineer at CU’s Boulder campus. “It’s an evolving environment in which building configurations and uses change, so we needed to develop a flexible network architecture to support wireless in hard-to-reach spaces and be able to manage it centrally for greater efficiency and responsiveness.”

To address the surging network traffic, Colorado installed a centrally managed, wider-reaching wireless Cisco network. The Cisco network allows students stronger access to internet resources and communication. Built-in troubleshooting tools and guides are available to assist in case of emergency.

“With the introduction of CleanAir Technology from Cisco and the ability to support multiple frequencies, we were able to deploy a network to accommodate everyone’s unique needs (access to library resources, homework assignments, or vendor point-of-sale transactions at football games) from any Wi-Fi device within buildings and from designated outdoor areas on campus without degrading service or compromising security,” said Lopez.

Generating revenue

Many campuses offer stadium Wi-Fi access to students for free, but guests have to pay a fee to hop onto the network. This has become a revenue-generating operation for many schools.

Youngstown State University (YSU) in Youngstown, Ohio, partnered with AT&T to offer Wi-Fi across its campus last year. Faculty, staff, students, and campus visitors with qualifying AT&T smart phones, 3G LaptopConnect, and high-speed internet plans can access Wi-Fi on the YSU campus at no additional charge. Other visitors can gain access by purchasing a day pass.

At Auburn, guest wireless internet service is available in the stadium and across campus using a smart phone, tablet, or laptop computer. The cost is $7.95 for 24 hours, $9.95 for 48 hours, $11.95 for 72 hours, or $17.95 for 30 days.

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