Just as many expect the New England Patriots to star in this year's Super Bowl, onlookers easily could assume wireless will take center field for communications. But as Los Angeles Rams fans and technologists know, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes -- and in the case of the infrastructure powering mobile connectivity, it's miles and miles of dense fiber.
Carriers have deployed hundreds of small cells and antennas throughout Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the surrounding area to support the anticipated crowd of 1 million attendees. Much of this infrastructure will remain to support 5G, according to AT&T.
Last year, Verizon supported 18.8 terabytes of data in its network within the stadium, while AT&T's network carried 7.2 Tbytes and Sprint's carried 9.7 Tbytes. This is predicted to increase this year, based on individuals' overall patterns of cell-phone use. Outside the stadium, emergency personnel will rely intensely on infrastructure to pass data to and from security drones, license plate readers, police and Armed Forces tasked with securing the area, and emergency medical technicians, among others. (See Verizon's Broadband Touchdown Outlasts Super Bowl.)
"One-day events like the Super Bowl provide huge scaling challenges for communications, and optical fiber is the only medium capable of transporting the massive volumes of data in and out of the venue. We’re therefore seeing an increase in optical fiber use at large sporting events like the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the Olympics," Loudon Blair, senior director of Corporate Strategy at Ciena told Broadband World News.
The many camera angles, instant replays and dazzling effects viewers are now accustomed to seeing place huge demands on bandwidth -- demand only fiber optic cable can manage.
"I am sure everyone has noticed a recent trend at these events where the broadcaster provides lots of viewing angles -- from behind the goal line, at the halfway line, overhead -- which requires lots of UHD 4K cameras. At the last World Cup, each football stadium had over 1,000 cameras." Blair said. "The uncompressed 4K video generated by these video streams requires a lot of bandwidth (typically more than 10Gbps per stream) to be transported inside and outside of the stadium. The amount of bandwidth this requires is significantly more than can be handled by traditional satellite links."
Unlike years ago, when the event itself was the entertainment, Super Bowl producers now must add more to create a digital experience that provides the value attendees expect. Those at Mercedes-Benz Stadium want to share their day -- adding further stress to the infrastructure if inadequately designed.
"Sports fans who are sitting in the stadium are glued to their phones. They are recording events and sharing their own private experiences, while remaining tapped into what’s happening online. Without adequate wireless bandwidth to accommodate 50,000-100,000 connected fans, the latest generation of fans who have been raised on interactive social media may not be attracted to the venue," said Blair. "Clearly, … lack of connectivity is unacceptable – attendees need a way to share with family who aren’t there, friends who are seated in different sections, and to record content for sharing later or in real-time."
With terabytes of data in play and service providers' need to over-provision in such a high-profile, live-televised event, infrastructure requires a combination of satellite, local cellular and high-capacity optical fiber, he said. Only then can the infrastructure support all the data media and tens of thousands, if not 1 million, users create, added Blair.
Fans outside the stadium, there to absorb the atmosphere or watch in local bars, also contribute to data traffic, he said. That's where 5G will play a key role, added Blair.
Using 5G, wireless demand from radio towers will be steered to support any spike in demand within and around the stadium for the hours that an event occurs. Once it's over, a service provider can then redistribute that bandwidth to support general purpose use cases, said Blair. Today operators can use Ciena's Liquid Spectrum to allocate network capacity where it's needed; the software controls steer optical bandwidth toward a stadium, for example, during a big game and then repurpose the bandwidth after the spike is over, he said.
No matter who wins the Super Bowl on Sunday, fiber will have played its part in the tech team -- supporting the fixed and wireless players so each service provider makes users look like quarterbacks in their own eyes.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.