All of this week in Minneapolis/St. Paul and especially during Super Bowl 52 this weekend, fans will experience some of the fastest wireless access, which is the result of two years of hard work by wireless carriers.
Fans have raised their expectations every year for wireless at the Big Game. Verizon, for example, has seen data usage soar from 1.9 terabytes in the 2014 Super Bowl up to 11 TB in last year’s Big Game.
Meeting the challenge of the data load that will come as a result of this year’s clash between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles highlights the current state of the art in wireless in the industry. LTE Advanced, hundreds of small cells and miles of fiber are combined by the wireless carriers to allow high-speed access to the network during this week in Minneapolis.
Verizon’s network enhancements include:
The density of the Verizon wireless system at Super Bowl 52 is unprecedented, according to Brian Mecum, Verizon vice president, network west. The capacity has been increased by 500 percent. Verizon deployed a total of 550 miles of fiber inside the stadium supporting 1,200+ antennas and 100 coverage zones.
“We have deployed DAS for years, and now with fiber we are able to use remote radio heads and connect them to antennas,” Mecum said. “The C-RAN architecture allows you to deploy small cells on fiber and connect them back to a centralized hub where the remote radio head resides. It allows us to deploy a lot of capacity to a small area,”
Verizon’s antennas are hidden in the drink rails, hand rails and even under the seats – bringing the coverage as close to the users as you can get.
And, located in the rafters above the field will be MatSing Multi-Beam antennas. RF lens technology allows multiple sectors and high capacity, broadband wireless communications. Both Verizon and AT&T used MatSing Ball antennas during last year’s presidential inauguration, according to WirelessEstimator. Verizon also used MatSing Balls during last year’s Indianapolis 500.
“We used the MatSing Balls because we wanted to make sure that the stadium floor has strong coverage for first responders and stadium staff,” Mecum.
A MatSing Ball uses an RF Lens, which similar to an optical lens only it forms or bends electromagnetic waves through refraction. “By placing a single radiating element on the surface of spherical RF Luneburg Lens, a high-gain signal is created
radiating from the opposite side of the spherical lens,” according to MatSing. “Multiple radiating elements can be placed around the same sphere to create multiple, independent, high-gain beams utilizing the same lens.” The result is improved performance over a traditional antenna array.
T-Mobile Goes Large
Those who doubt the competition among the carriers should take note. The carriers seek bragging rights by having the highest speeds and by driving the most data over their networks. Over the last two years, the T-Mobile expanded coverage in Minneapolis increasing capacity by 35 times, launching several LTE Advanced technologies, deploying small cells and DAS, doubling LTE spectrum and adding backhaul. T-Mobile focused its network enhancements where the biggest crowds will be, boosting capacity 30x for spectators at U.S. Bank Stadium, 35x for the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and 16x at the Xcel Energy Center for Super Bowl Opening Night.
“To achieve these gains, we doubled the amount of LTE spectrum in the Twin Cities and launched a trifecta of speed-boosting LTE Advanced technologies including carrier aggregation, 4X4 MIMO and 256 QAM, so T-Mobile customers with capable devices could more than double their previous download speeds,” said Neville Ray, chief technology officer for T-Mobile.
From 2014-2016, AT&T invested nearly $350 million in the Minnesota wireless and wired networks. Minneapolis was one of 20 markets where AT&T upgraded to LTE Advanced features such as 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation.
“That means we’ve overloaded the stadium with wireless capacity and boosted LTE capacity by more than 150 percent compared to last year,” said Marachel Knight, senior vice president, Wireless Network Architecture and Design. “With more than 800 antennas, the network inside the stadium alone could provide coverage to the entire city of Minneapolis.”
Sprint Gets into The Game
Sprint is using the stadium’s DAS, with and additional 800 antennas powered by small cells using 2.5 GHz spectrum. In addition, its using two-channel carrier aggregation, which doubles network capacity. Outside the stadium, the carrier has installed 200 small cells on lamp posts and street lights.
On nearly 400 macro cell towers, Sprint has deployed three-channel carrier aggregation using 2.5 GHz spectrum across Minneapolis-St. Paul. Additionally, it upgraded hundreds of cell sites to include 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz band, which allows it to offer “LTE Plus,” which is its brand for LTE Advanced.
Verizon Keeps a Watchful Eye on Network
At an undisclosed location in metro Minneapolis, Verizon maintains an operations control center that allows it to monitor the traffic flow during the 10 days of Super Bowl events and to quickly respond if there is a fiber disconnect or an equipment failure to ensure that the redundant network takes over.
Inside the center surrounded by 50 TV screens (only three dedicated to the game), 150 technicians watch for fiber problems, equipment failures, data surges, power outages. Verizon has two national operations centers. This command center is like a mini operations center. It encompasses the beltway and areas just outside the Twin Cities.
“Technicians keep an eye on the connected computers and systems and data networks to make sure that if anything happens, we can react and make sure our redundancy kicks in,” Mecum said. “If the network sneezes, my team knows it. We have techs and engineers in the field and we are able to quickly respond to anything that comes up.”
Tested and Ready for the Game and the Future
Mecum, and his team, have tested every foot of the Super Bowl coverage, going up and down stairs of the stadium, inside and outside of the venues and hotels. Last year, he walked more than 62 miles or 120,633 steps on his Fitbit, testing the network,
“I make sure that everywhere our customers are going to go, so does my team. We have 150 people working on it. They are all out checking the coverage,” Mecum said.
No matter who wins the Super Bowl, the real winner is the Twin Cities. After the trophy has been thrust into the air and the ticker tape has fallen, all the wireless equipment will stay and assist the core of city in attracting new businesses, additional residents and world class events. The municipality will also continue to benefit from smart city intelligent video technology that Verizon installed downtown for the City of Minneapolis that connected back to police command center, making the city safer for the years to come.