Each year the Super Bowl gives wireless carriers and network providers a chance to show off their wares in arguably the most radio frequency-intensive environment on the planet. This year's big game, held in the Arizona Cardinals' high-tech University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, may be sports' most extravagant display of wireless communications equipment to date.
Completed in 2006 at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars, the facility has the NFL's most advanced telecommunications infrastructure, with a system of distributed antennas providing cellular and Wi-Fi service throughout the 1.7 million-square-foot bowl. The Frisbee-shaped antennas are connected to wiring closets on all levels of the facility. The stadium, which has also hosted the national championship game for colleges, the BCS Championship, seats about 73,000 for the Super Bowl.
New for the game are added upper-level boxes for auxiliary press space as well as a media work tent adjacent to the stadium. Both will be equipped with high-speed EV-DO coverage and with Wi-Fi connectivity, said Mark Feller, VP of technology for the Arizona Cardinals organization.
"I have a BlackBerry with Wi-Fi capability," said Feller, "and part of the testing regimen is to just walk the building to make sure the Wi-Fi capability is up and running."
When the stadium opened in 2006, the team said that 95% of the facility was covered with wireless service; now, said Feller, virtually everywhere in the University of Phoenix Stadium is covered.
Feller expects around 10,000 wireless devices, used by coaches, officials, fans, security personnel, and so on, to be operating on 2,000 radio frequencies on game day. Making sure all of those transmissions go through clearly and cleanly is the job of the league's 45-person "frequency coordination" team.
This year the NFL moved to limit wireless transmissions from the sidelines, restricting radio-equipped helmets to one player, usually the quarterback on offense, on each side. The radio helmets are designated with a green dot on the back of the headgear.
Also earlier this year the NFL adopted a new system for coaches' headsets. Motorola now supplies light, ergonomic wireless headsets based on the popular Razr phones.
In all, the stadium will have about 100 Mb of Internet access on Sunday, with 15 of that being used up by the photographers alone. "I think we'll have bandwidth to spare yet," said Feller.
Around 1,000 people will be using the Wi-Fi connection, though that doesn't include fans who might bring in Wi-Fi-equipped smartphones or the like.
While Sprint Nextel will be the lead sponsor for the pregame activities surrounding the stadium, No. 5 U.S. carrier Alltel is the official wireless provider for the Cardinals and will be the only carrier with a base station inside the stadium.