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How Arizona State University’s stadium is improving Wi-Fi and serving as a living lab for smart technologies

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Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium is getting improved Wi-Fi and other smart technologies.

Image: Arizona State University

Officials at Arizona State University knew they had a problem when students and other fans weren’t able to connect to Wi-Fi at ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ. A decade ago, the lack of connectivity wouldn’t have made an impact. But within the past few years, fans have begun expecting to have the same Wi-Fi experience at stadiums as they get at home.

After realizing that many parts of the stadium were Wi-Fi dead zones, ASU officials began working with Intel to improve the Wi-Fi capabilities at the stadium and it’s been a work in progress ever since. ASU was already working with Dublin City University in Ireland on a smart living project, and Intel joined in that as well, teaming with Dublin City University to provide improved Wi-Fi for Croke Park, a Dublin soccer stadium. The smart technologies being tested will eventually be used in a smart city context, with Croke Park serving as a microcosm of a smart city.

“The stadiums and ongoing projects are being used as a living lab,” said Christine Boyles, director of smart building solutions for Intel’s Internet of Things Group. “They’d been working on some research projects together and we got involved with them when they were talking about the idea of the stadium renovation happening at ASU as well as what Dublin City University was doing with Croke Park.”

SEE: How the NFL and its stadiums became leaders in Wi-Fi, monetizing apps, and customer experience (TechRepublic free PDF download)

The three major themes being explored as part of the living labs are overall operations such as operational expenses and efficiencies, asset management to make sure that equipment is operating properly, and security, Boyles said.

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Access points are in enclosed boxes underneath some stadium seats.

Image: Arizona State University

Sensors are a key component, measuring everything from sound and humidity to temperature and feeding into a database of information that can be used for building systems or other use cases. The sensors are not Intel-based. They are off-the-shelf sensors in Wi-Fi connected boxes under the seats, and the data feeds back to the IT data center. Volteo was the vendor for this part of the project, said Ravi Nannapaneni, CEO and founder of Volteo.

“We are learning different technologies needed by working with Dublin City University,” said Jay Steed, assistant vice president of IT operations for ASU. One of the technologies being tested in both Croke Park and at Sun Devil Stadium is facial recognition software, which will be used in conjunction with an additional 90 security cameras planned for ASU’s stadium. Eventually the cameras will be 4K.

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The facial recognition technology will analyze data on how fans feel when they’re stuck in lines around the stadium, and how they feel overall, based on their facial expressions, said Chris Richardson, assistant vice president of IT development at ASU.

The first phase of improvements arrived at ASU’s stadium in time for the start of the 2015 football season.

“We’re doing this in three phases. Phases 1 and 2 are pretty much complete even though we have a Phase 2-b list,” Steed said. “Phase 3 was supposed to be done, but the athletic director and the university decided to take out the entire east side of the stadium and redesign it. We want to make sure the stadium supports more than six football games a year. Phase 3 is still in the programming phase and the final numbers for access points may vary.”

At this point, ASU has built out the copper load fiber plant that can support 100 Gbps, but can go up to 100 Gbps. “Everything is CAT-15 now from a copper perspective and the access points. We’re a Cisco shop so they’re all Cisco access points. We have access points not only in the concourse and the suites but down in the bowl as well, underneath the seats. It can get to be 120 degrees in Arizona and the sun shining on the box can get much hotter than that. It can get up to 180-200 degrees in the direct sunlight,” he said.

The density allows for one access point for every 50 seats in the student section, and one access point for 75 seats in the non-student section. “We know that students will do more on their iPhones while they watch the game,” Steed said. There are approximately 400-500 access points throughout ASU’s stadium, including the student athletic facility being built underneath the north end zone.

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DAS and access point antennas at Sun Devil Stadium.

Image: Arizona State University

To figure out the best access-point-to-fan ratio, Steed and his colleagues went to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA and NRG Stadium in Houston to assess the design at those stadiums.

The distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular service has been improved at ASU’s stadium, with 21 sectors encircling the bowl now covered by a neutral host DAS. “We’ve had two seasons with that now and people are raving about it. We haven’t had any dropped calls. When it says it’s four bars, it’s actually four bars,” Steed said.

Cisco StadiumVision has also been added for digital signage and the stadium’s big screen. A new large digital screen will be installed in the north end zone this summer, along with two smaller screens in south end zone.

ASU has a mobile app, and parking availability and seat locations within the stadium are available on the app, and new functionalities will be added.

Find the best use for the data being collected is another aspect of the revamp. It can help stadiums determine how to increase revenue and how to increase or decrease sound.

“They’re doing analysis on the sound data itself on how you might use that information. What is a good sound versus a security threat sound,” Boyles said.

Richardson said this is just the beginning. The university has already applied for larger funding to support the living lab partnership to explore facial recognition software technologies, and how it might apply for uses on the broader ASU campus.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. Arizona State University is improving Wi-Fi and adding other smart technologies to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ.
  2. ASU has partnered with Dublin City University to work on new smart technologies that can be used in a testbed environment.
  3. Intel is working with both ASU and Dublin City University to create smart technologies that can be applied to smart cities.

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