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Stadiums and arenas are amongst the most diffcult locations imaginable to deploy Wi-Fi networks because of the requirement for both very high performance and very high density. The Maracana Stadium in Rio can seat 76,000 fans in a fairly confined space. Providing high-speed wireless services in such an environment requires carrier class equipment along with deployment expertise. These types of venues have traditionally utilized distributed antenna systems (DAS) to provide cellular connectivity, which is an excellent neutral host solution for voice but can quickly be overloaded by data traffic—especially in today’s data-centric world where almost every football fan has an iPhone or Android smartphone and is constantly uploading videos or photos to Facebook. After all, part of going to the World Cup is to make sure your friends back home get to see lots of pictures and videos of you in the stadium. To deal with this major change in fan behavior, it was necessary to add a great deal more data capacity and there is no better way to do this then with Wi-Fi. For the World Cup, a consortium of four mobile operators in Brazil came together to install these Wi-Fi networks to offload their DAS networks and to greatly enhance the user experience.
A big part of the challenge for any venue is to get a sense for how much capacity is required to meet the expected demand. The trends of late point to a need to support up to 35% of fans wanting to go online (with 15% simultaneous usage at peak, and that number will undoubtedly go up in the years to come) and to plan for 300 kbps per fan. This points to a need in large stadiums for well over 1 Gbps of data network capacity, and that’s only the beginning. In the next few years these performance numbers will approach 2 or 3 Gbps in the larger venues. This is something that just can’t be supported with today’s DAS systems. The trend more and more is DAS for voice and Wi-Fi for data. Another interesting trend we’ve seen is that uplink requirements can often be higher than downlink requirements. This certainly wasn’t the norm in the pre-Facebook, iCloud and Dropbox era, but now you see a lot of uploads occurring in stadiums. This will directly impact the network design and the choice of equipment.