Recently, we have been involved in several projects where an IT consulting company has attempted to bring public wireless service into a high density arena. So far, the jury is out on how effective these service offerings have fared.
The motivation for such a project is driven by several factors.
1) Most standard cellular 4G data coverage is generally not adequate to handle 20,000 people with iPhones in a packed arena. I am sure the larger carriers are also feverishly working on a solution, but I have no inside information as to their approach nor chance of success.
Note: I’d be interested to learn about any arenas with great coverage?
2) Venue operators have customers that expect to be able to use their wireless devices during the course of a game to check stats, send pictures, etc.
3) Public frequency, wireless controllers, and access points are getting smarter rather quickly. Even though I have not seen clear success in these extremely high densities, free wireless solutions are gaining momentum.
We are actually doing a trial at a major sports venue in the coming weeks. From the perspective of the NetEqualizer, we are invited along to keep the primary 1GB Internet pipe feeding the entire arena from going down. To date we have not been asked to referee the mayhem of access point regional gridlock and congestion in an arena setting, mostly because of of our price point and cost to deploy at each radio.
Why do these high density roll outs fail to meet expectation?
It seems, that 20+ thousand people in a small arena transmitting and receiving data over public frequencies really sucks for access points. The best way to picture this chaos would be to imagine listening to a million crickets on a warm summer night and trying to pick out the cadence of a single insect. Yes you might be able to single out a cricket if it landed on your nose, but in a large arena not everybody can be next to an access point. The echoes from all the transmissions coming in to the radios in these high densities are unprecedented. Even with an initial success we see problems build as usage up take rises. If you build it they will come! Typically what happens is that only a small percentage of attendees login to the wireless offering on the initial trial. The early success is tempered as usage doubles and doubles again eventually overwhelming the radios and their controllers.
My surprising conclusion
My prediction is that in the near future, we will start to see little plug in stations in high density venues. These stations will be compatible with next generation wireless devices, thus serving up data to your seat. You may scoff, but I am already hearing rumbles from many of our cutting edge high density housing internet providers on this issue. Due to wireless technology limitations they plan to keep their wired portals in their buildings, even in areas where they have spent heavily on wireless coverage.
Addressing issues of wireless data coverage.