The showdown at Levi's Stadium on Sunday will be the most high-tech, connected Super Bowl in history and is set to make records, but not necessarily on the playing field. The contest between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos could result in the largest amount of data ever being consumed by fans at a single event.
Last year's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. resulted in 6.23 terabytes of information being used during the event, and a new record is expected to be set during Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. San Francisco 49ers COO Al Guido said he couldn't predict the precise amount of data that will be consumed by fans on Sunday at his team's home stadium, but he said, "who knows if it will approach 10 terabytes. There's no question that everybody has been preparing to break the record. I don't doubt whatsoever that it will be broken."
The combination of the use of the stadium's app from VenueNext, along with the halftime show, and the prompts throughout the game that will encourage fans to use their mobile devices will contribute to the heavy data load, he said.
Guido said he's confident the stadium can handle it, despite the fact that it will be significantly more than the approximately 4 TB of data used at the WrestleMania spectacle in March 2015 — the most data used at the stadium to date.
Everyone lives in such a connected world that when they're at a high-density event, such as the Super Bowl, they still expect to be able to use their smartphone or other connected devices and have access to a superfast Wi-Fi connection. This expectation has intensified in the past two years, because now it's just as important to some fans to be able to upload a selfie to Instagram showing the field behind them as it is to actually watch the Super Bowl. Not to mention being able to pull up players' stats, watch instant replays, and send texts.
A winning ecosystem of tech
The stadium is a masterpiece in high tech. It features free Wi-Fi from XFINITY by Comcast, and there are over 1,200 access points throughout the 70,000-seat stadium, and more than 400 miles of cable, including 70 miles to support Wi-Fi. There are more than 12,000 physical network ports.
Even with the plethora of media, and the increased download and upload traffic anticipated compared to a traditional game day, there will still be superfast Wi-Fi for fans, said John Guillaume, vice president of product management for Comcast Business.
When the stadium was built, "they were smart about it in that they deployed about 1,200 access points throughout the stadium. They even went as far as to deploy them underneath the seats in the stadium. As you know if you have Wi-Fi at home, you have a better experience when you're closer to that access point than when you're 150 feet or 300 feet away. The signal degrades with distance. They're trying to get the fans as close to those access points as they can," Guillaume said.
"The backbone of it all is we have two 10 Gbps internet connections. They're both live and geographically redundant. We have physical redundancy on different paths so if you have a problem with one you have backup on the other," he said. "As 10 gigabytes would imply, it's an ultrafast network. That's what makes the experience great for a fan when they're doing Instagram photographs or texting or doing replays or things like that."
One of the interesting sidenotes about the data being used will be looking at which social media outlets people choose, with Snapchat seeing a huge increase during each of the past two Super Bowls, said Mike Leibovitz, director of the office of the CTO for Extreme Networks, which is the official Wi-Fi analytics provider of the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year. He expects to see significant use of the Periscope and Meerkat mobile apps with real-time streaming during Super Bowl 50, and, "that changes the game once again. That will be a new data set for us to look at and see what those types of video services and how they will be working."
During the Super Bowl, the biggest data usage occurs right before the game and during halftime, particularly right at the end, before the third quarter, he said.
Cellular data improvements at Levi's Stadium
Cellular data is a separate measurement, and last year Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint said a combined total of 6.56 TB was used on game day in, and around, the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Super Bowl was held.
The internal distributed antenna system (iDAS) and the external distributed antenna system (oDAS) are operated by a third party at Levi's Stadium, and AT&T has joined that DAS, said Paula Doublin, assistant vice president of antenna solutions, DAS and small cells for AT&T.
"This weekend is really unique in the fact that it's essentially two cities 37 miles apart with major activities going on in both cities, sometimes at the same time. There's a lot of course happening there at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, and you've got to take care of the stadium itself and the various hotels because the NFL has headquarters there and team hotels and the fan experience going on around the stadium in Santa Clara and San Jose itself," Doublin said.
Even the airports have had their networks improved, she said. "We've got San Francisco and San Jose and we've got Oakland. For all three of those we did some new builds and put DAS there, we joined some DAS, and we enhanced our capacity quite a bit in each one of them. Then we took ourselves 37 miles away in San Francisco and around the Moscone Center and the piers for the fan experience at Super Bowl City," she said.
There were 75 separate projects as part of the plan, and AT&T installed just over $25 million in new equipment to support the Super Bowl and enhance the cellular network. This has resulted in about 150% more LTE capacity than was delivered during the regular 2015 football season at the stadium, with three LTE carriers, Doublin said. Overall, AT&T has spent $100 million in the past year to upgrade its network in the Bay Area.
"The really nice thing about this is the majority of the investments that we've made and the networks that we've put together are going to stay. They will continue to serve day over day and year over year. That's the real benefit to cities and communities that host these big types of events," she said.
Verizon said in a press release that it spent $70 million to make improvements for the Super Bowl to more than triple its 4G LTE wireless data network capacity in the area.
As far as the actual DAS capacity goes, there are 25 traditional cell sites within the equipment at Levi's Stadium, with 525 antennas throughout the stadium and 60 miles of either fiber or coaxial cable tying it all together. "That's more than enough coverage and capacity to cover the entire city of Santa Clara itself," Doublin said.
The Super Bowl app and Wi-Fi security
Fans will have a unique experience at Super Bowl 50 because of the ability to use their smartphones and other devices without, hopefully, any glitches. VenueNext created a new app just for the big game that offers many of the same features as the regular Levi's Stadium app it created. The only things missing from the Super Bowl app are the ability to have food delivered directly to seats, mobile ticketing and fan loyalty programs. Items added include a celebrity cam live feed, express pickup of merchandise at the 49ers team store, and Super Bowl commercials being available to watch right after they air. Other standard items on the app include video replays, checking wait times at nearby restrooms, and express ordering of food and drinks.
"It's a really, really unique app," said Doug Lodder, senior vice president of business development for Boingo Wireless. "Mostly because of the concession element. And the Wi-Fi is pretty seamless. Sponsored by Comcast. You find the Comcast ID, and you're connected. No barriers, anything. What they will experience on the positive side is a robust system because it's a new stadium."
Security can be an issue. "If I had to nitpick a bit, I'd say not having a secure Wi-Fi network is probably something you will start to see a bit more about. We've started to hear questions about a wide open Wi-Fi network with no terms and conditions to accept and no security key to punch in. It's becoming more of a concern, so how do we combat it? We don't want to make it more difficult to connect, but we want everyone to be secure and safe when they're on the network," Lodder said.
Despite the potential security risk, Lodder said that he thinks Super Bowl 50 "will be phenomenal."
"Having grown up in the Bay Area, and having been to Levi's Stadium myself, what they've crafted there is a model for what everyone should be looking for. It's an incredible experience for fans and it will keep going from there as well. What they've built as a foundation is what in 3 to 5 years that other stadiums will be doing."
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic. She's an award-winning journalist and specializes in business and lifestyle features. She has also worked at People magazine, W magazine and Women's Wear Daily.