Super Bowl XLIX has come and gone, and what an amazing game it was (especially for those of us who live in New England and saw our Patriots defeat the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24). I also enjoyed the technology commercials, and in fact a few interesting ads involving mobility were aired: a wacky one by Sprint featuring some inexplicably bellowing farm animals, a spot by T-Mobile about their Wi-Fi calling service (which also featured more farm animals, apparently it was a theme this year), and the quirkiest one, in my opinion: a commercial by Mophie depicting an apocalypse brought about by God's depleted smartphone battery. There was also a Kim Kardashian T-Mobile ad, but let's not waste time on that waste of time, shall we?
The commercials fell short of the halftime show and the final quarter of the game. Like any major event, it involved a lot of celebration, speculation... and communication. Thanks to our mobile devices, we're all journalists now, and sharing our thoughts and experiences on social media is half the fun of any exciting spectacle. There's even a bit of competition in the art of being the first to tweet "Touchdown!" or post "What's with those sharks on either side of Katy Perry?" to Facebook, where friends and family who are watching elsewhere can read and comment. In fact, Adweek.com reported that "More than 65 million Facebook users worldwide discussed Super Bowl XLIX on the social network, generating some 265 million posts, comments and likes." Furthermore, "87% of Super Bowl-related [Facebook] posts in the U.S. were made via mobile devices."
Carriers and network channels know mobility is going to mean everything to the masses at an event like the Superbowl, which is why they went out of their way to make it easy for fans to access the game on their devices. CNET.com posted instructions on how to watch the proceedings online courtesy of NBC, which live-streamed the game for free via their Sports Live Extra app, available for tablets running iOS, Windows and Android. They also made the game available to watch directly via their site. Expect more of this in the future; the days of being shackled to your TV set are long over.
On a more local basis, the folks hosting the game at the University of Phoenix stadium knew there would be a big demand for wireless service and they sought to deliver an experience worthy of the Big Game. In order to accommodate 72,000 fans with smartphones they bulked up their Distributed Antenna System (DAS), which provides Wi-Fi, cellular voice and data to customers via numerous carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. This means those attending the game weren't just relying on local mobile data access such as what you and I receive around town; they were sitting right the source of the signal (for some that's better than free beer!)
Without getting too dry and technical, the stadium's original DAS had one layer with 33 coverage zones, each using the 850/1900, 700/700, and 2100/2100 MHz frequencies. The upgrade of the system involved splitting the frequencies into two layers: one for 850/1900 Mhz, 700/700 Mhz and 2100/2100 Mhz and the second for 1900/2100 Mhz, 800/1900 Mhz and 2100/2100 Mhz. This provided the advantage of being able to handle more traffic via 48 sectors using 225 antennas placed throughout the stadium. The four major carriers use at least 15 of the 48 coverage sectors (Sprint 15, T-Mobile 30, AT&T 44 and Verizon Wireless all 48!)
To give you an example of how they utilized all that connectivity, Verizon Wireless boasts of more than 25 million customer wireless connections (which can be broken down to almost 25K per minute) in use at the game, totaling approximately 4.1 TB of data - more than twice the amount sent and received during the prior Super Bowl.
The stadium wasn't the sole beneficiary of all those new wireless highways, however. Carriers performed similar upgrades at nearby hotels, convention centers and other areas where fans were likely to gather. As the Big Dig in Boston proved, you can never have too much traffic capacity.
Costs of these kinds of endeavors aren't cheap - AT&T pumped over half a billion dollars into its network coverage in the Phoenix area alone between 2010 and 2013, and more than $140 billion overall between 2008 and 2013 - but in the end they pay big dividends for customers and carriers alike. In September of 2013 AT&T was ranked #1 on the Progressive Policy institute's list of "U.S. Investment Heroes," having been the company that invested the most money in the U.S. economy.
With that kind of a win-win arrangement, it's not just the Patriots who came out ahead, but all of us faithful mobile users as well.
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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.