Here’s how we future-proofed our campus stadium

Igniting experiences by blanketing 25,000-seat Williams Stadium with intelligent Wi-Fi infrastructure lights the way for achieving NCAA success

Lesson 2: Determine the value of guest data beyond game-day mobility—then evaluate which solutions provide the intelligence you need
Our athletic facilities attract individuals we may wish to invite back to campus for other events or to become a part of the campus community. Like many institutions, we host numerous high school tournaments and other non-collegiate events in our large public venues (LPVs). Plus, we’re the site of the Virginia Commonwealth Games, an Olympic stepping stone that draws nearly 10,000 athletes. Regardless of event type, various attendees would make attractive students, faculty, or staff members.

With our new setup, we have the onboarding and access-control tools in place to capture user data unobtrusively for academic and athletics recruitment. Additionally, we are looking at using a combination of innovations in location-based services and analytics to assist with improving customer relations during on-site events. We could aggregate data such as where visitors go within our LPVs, the traffic patterns for getting there, and which apps they use in-transit as well as upon arrival.

Lesson 3: Choose your partners wisely—they’ll help you get it right
Deploying the best solution for any stadium or arena requires a combination of the right technology infrastructure and the right implementation expertise. In our case, solution maturity, reliability, ease of management, scalability, and upgradability led us to Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company for our infrastructure.

We selected M S Benbow & Associates (MSB) as our implementation partner for its proven LPV success. Although we calculated our bandwidth and density needs based on in-house data, MSB contributed expertise and statistics from other stadium deployments such as take rates, per client bandwidth for streaming vs social media postings, the impact of Wi-Fi calling, and more. All of these inputs assisted us with right-sizing our solution for today’s usage patterns.

Both partners also helped us understand the wisdom of not only designing and deploying robust infrastructure, with built-in location-based innovations and other intelligence, but also engineering for the future to support a cost-effective transition to 802.11ax.

Lesson 4: Leverage your partners to gain approvals—their experience speaks volumes
Unsurprisingly, the estimated cost for addressing the university’s state-of-the-art stadium vision drew more than a few questions. The collective knowledge of Aruba and MSB engineers was invaluable for convincing our executives that the Wi-Fi solution we proposed was neither too expansive nor too restrictive.

Among other things, our partners helped us walk leadership through the savings we’d gain by future-proofing. Using real-world examples, we demonstrated the considerable expense associated with jack-hammering through concrete, upgrading conduit, pulling more wire, and re-pouring concrete to upgrade wireless, versus recognizing expected trends up-front and incorporating future requirements into today’s construction project.

Lesson 5: Give yourself ample time—you’ll be glad you did
As we conduct our subsequent venue Wi-Fi installations, we’ll definitely adjust our resource needs related to time. Regardless how good an engineer you are, building an extensive wireless network in an LPV requires ample time for planning and execution.

On the planning side, it’s critical to gather proper requirements by really looking at all the angles. Also, look beyond the infrastructure required to meet fan expectations and gain a detailed understanding of your institution’s direction by seeking guidance from leadership. For execution, build in extra time for various types of unforeseen delays.

Lesson 6: Build it right and they will come
Despite weather challenges during home games this fall, our institution is clearly benefitting from deploying top-notch stadium Wi-Fi. Students went from complaining about lack of access in Williams Stadium to telling us it was the best connectivity on campus, making them more excited about attending games than before.

Statistically, we’re realizing our target of 40 percent take rates on-site. Further, more than 10,000 unique devices connect at average speeds of 70-100 mbps down/up during football games. With a total network peak bandwidth of over a 1.2 Gbps and nearly a terabyte of data used per game, Wi-Fi calling accounts for up to five percent of traffic.

Although social media app usage is popular, we also discovered non-student attendees were most likely to stream games elsewhere. As people frequently monitor more than one event in their homes, we were pleased to see them doing so in Williams because it encourages attendance.

Today, we’ve started applying these six primary lessons, along with numerous other secondary insights, to our new 4,000-seat Liberty Arena. We’ve even had a formal “lessons learned” meeting that’s helping us shape the timeline and requirements gathering phase. Overall, it’s an exciting time for LPV mobility in higher ed and we’re looking forward to continuing our institution’s journey.

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