Football playoffs are upon us. Is the Wi-Fi ready?

Football playoffs are upon us. Is the Wi-Fi ready?

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The year is coming to an end, which means the holidays are here — and for sports fans, it also means the NFL and college football playoffs are around the corner.

Football stadiums will turn into mini-cities holding tens of thousands of people, all of whom want to be hyperconnected as they cheer on their favorite teams. Through their mobile devices, they can share photos and video with their friends but also check on other scores, watch highlights and more, creating an integrated physical and digital experience.

SoFi stadium (pictured), a 70,000-seat sports and entertainment arena in Inglewood near Los Angeles, hosted the 2022 Super Bowl, for which the Wi-Fi usage hit an all-time high. Even the teams have their own Wi-Fi networks on each side of the field on dedicated channels for use during the game. In those 10 years, Wi-Fi has delivered a 100-fold increase in carried traffic, skyrocketing from 300 gigabytes in 2012 to 31.2 terabytes in 2022.

A major factor contributing to the traffic increase is social media, according to Chuck Lukaszewski, vice president and wireless chief technology officer for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. company. In addition to social media uploads of photos and videos on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, cloud services such as iCloud also grew massively during that time period.

The other contributing factor is spectrum. For more than two decades, unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi connectivity has been available only in the 2.4-gigahertz and 5 GHz bands. In fact, it wasn’t until 2016 that 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands became fully accessible. With growing connectivity demands putting a strain on existing Wi-Fi networks, opening up the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E couldn’t have come fast enough. It extends the efficiency features and capabilities of W-Fi 6, providing up to seven 160-megahertz channels for high-bandwidth applications.

“At first, Apple didn’t support 5 GHz and some of the early Android devices didnt support 5 GHz. Later, we had other issues to deal with, so we had half of the available spectrum,” said Lukaszewski, explaining the challenges of providing connectivity to fans in stadiums.

Realistically, the 6 GHz band isn’t likely to come online before the 2024 Super Bowl. The initial use cases will be indoors, since 6 GHz band is not approved yet for outdoor operations. Lukaszewski envisions Wi-Fi 6E access points also making an appearance at the 2025 game. In the meantime, Wi-Fi technology continues to improve. Over the 10-year period, the peak speed doubled thanks to adoption of proximate” RF designs, which “solved the engineering side of the problem,” according to Lukaszewski.

Aruba supplied its technology for two games at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2016 and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in 2019, where it collected real-time Wi-Fi data that showed hour-by-hour comparisons of the networks for the first time. By increasing the density by 30%, Aruba more than doubled the load that the networks could handle.

“Nobody has ever published a chart like that for any stadium, anywhere in the world,” said Lukaszewski. “We’re in a unique position to be able to do that because we have two different years and it’s a similar design at different densities.”



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