At ACUTA, Aruba’s Jeffrey Weaver discusses the logistics of overcoming campuses biggest wifi nightmare

wifi-stadium-campusDallas, Texas — Massive college sporting events like the NCAA tournament — which concludes here with the Final Four this week — can be a strain on campus wifi networks and IT officials.

But it’s not just times like March Madness that can be a nightmare for campus wifi networks. Officials scramble to make sure university networks can handle all the traffic at basketball arenas and football stadiums all season.

Jeffrey Weaver, manager of large public venue system engineers at Aruba Networks, spoke Monday at the 2014 ACUTA conference about the logistics behind stadium and arena wifi networks.

“Inside Aruba,” Weaver said, “it’s one of the most difficult things we do.”

Demand for speedy wifi inside a stadium comes from many different types of users. The venue itself needs wifi for video feeds. Security uses the network to look for threats. Fans are tweeting selfies and photos of the field or court. Promotions are beamed to digital signage around the stadium.

“You can’t be thinking application by application,” Weaver said.

(Next page: Challenges you may not think of)

New innovations that allow the venue and marketers to analyze the data generated by fans has also created a set of problems and opportunities, he said. The network won’t just be for fans to get information out of the stadium, but also to collect information from within.

“Analytics is going to change everything in these stadiums,” Weaver said.

There are many challenges in making sure a wifi network can handle all these uses at once, he said. To start, many arenas and stadiums are quite old and not even wired for wifi. Often a wireless network has to be built from scratch. Weaver recommended making the network “very, very redundant” as a precaution.

The nature of sporting events also means its hard to test a network’s capabilities until it’s already in use by thousands of fans. A speed test can be done inside an empty stadium, but that’s hardly relevant once the space is packed with people.

“The attenuation of our bodies is huge in these stadiums,” Weaver said, adding that some universities use that to their advantage, putting access points directly under seats, turning fans into antennae.

Because stadium and arena wifi-use is event driven, networks have to deal with stretches of inactivity only to be suddenly bombarded when something significant happens in a game.

A bad call may mean 10,000 people rushing to use the network at once. Conversely, a boring game may produce an even heavier load, as fans look for entertainment elsewhere.

If that elsewhere is the parking lot for a tailgate, then the wifi has to also be accessible out there, Weaver said. Now, universities want to reach people before they even set foot in a stadium, meaning the network must be large enough to be just as reliable outside.

“I can digitally engage with that guest earlier,” Weaver said. “The sooner, the better. The stadium network is no longer just in the stadium.”

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