Wi-Fi MVP for Journalists at Super Bowl XLIII

On Sunday afternoon, when the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers take to the field in Tampa, FL for Super Bowl XLIII, more than 4,000 members of the media will be on hand—and in need of reliable Internet access to file their stories and access online resources. While Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger have been preparing all year for this big game day, Motorola had roughly one week’s notice to get the WLAN that will serve members of the press at the stadium and team hotels up and running.

“We needed to move quickly,” Kevin Goulet, senior director of product marketing for the WLAN and security division at Motorola told Wi-FiPlanet Friday. “We’ve done this in the past—this is our fourth Super Bowl—but we didn’t quite have the lead time this year that we had with others. We had to look at what type of capacity was needed, where that capacity was needed, what type of coverage in terms of geography we needed to provide, plus security and authentication.”

Luckily, Motorola has developed some solid offensive moves of its own—reminiscent, perhaps, of the Tom-Brady-led drive that culminated in the last-minute Vinatieri field goal that cost Kurt Warner his last Super Bowl (XXXVI) and still haunts him to this day. Specifically, Motorola was able to read the field well, call the right plays, and reach its metaphorical goal line by calling into action its RF Management Suite and planning tools, which helped network planners view the network sites with the kind of vision quarterbacks strive for. [Click here for our extensive review.]

“We used our RF planning tool to scope out the need for this opportunity and identify the best places to put an AP, based on the data being pumped through the network,” said Goulet.

‘D’ with a fence

Thanks to Motorola’s ability to spring into action with a speed rivaling that of the Steelers’ Santonio Holmes, registered members of the press attending the game will have free, simple access to a secure 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN.

“As soon as we get a media person on board, they can upload their criteria and their configs to the network, so that once they’re on the first time, they can get up and back without reentering a key. The management suite allowed us to do that,” said Goulet. “We have connectivity for over 4,000 members [of the press] for this week and a few days past the Super Bowl. I think the press is happy with it.”

All told, the network is comprised of three RFS6000 switches, 41 AP300 access points, five mesh-enabled AP5131 access points, a server and a handful of AirDefense sensors. It supplies secure, high-speed Wi-Fi access in all the stadium meeting areas, team hotels, the press area at the stadium, as well as three other major areas at the venue. Registered press should experience seamless roaming from AP to AP indoors at each location.

“When [journalists] check in at the media center, they are given the opportunity to use [the network] for free,” said Goulet. “We gather info from them, either through pre-registration or registration. We’ve uploaded mac addresses to make it much easier, because that information is important and critical. We have port authentication in the network. It’s robust and reliable—not hotspots. You must be authenticated to get on. That way, others can’t get on the network. Once [the journalists’] criteria is uploaded into the network, they can roam without having to reenter any keys. There is authentication, but no keys; it’s all downloaded into the device and uploaded into the network.”

Gadget plays

Raymond James Stadium, like any major sporting venue—but particularly a Super Bowl venue—is a bit of an RF minefield with vendor wireless networks, hotspots, wireless team communication systems, on-site TV broadcasts, and other potential interference.

 “I don’t know the total number of SSID’s that we found when we got down there,” said Goulet, “but it was everyone from vendors to the Tampa stadium network for hotspots within the stadium—a plethora of wireless running all over the stadium—so that’s why we used our LAN planning tool. It sniffs the network, finds out where the congestion is, and plans around the most open channel—the one where we see the least potential conflict.

“The RF Management Suite is also running full-time while this network is running right now, for any dynamic changes to the RF footprint. If the TV station lights up a feed right next to the network and bleeds over a couple of channels we’re on, RF Management will identify that and jump to the clearest channel. All this will be blind to the user, so the user doesn’t get dropped and have to re-authenticate. It’s managed dynamically.”

Like Warner and Roethlisberger who are each vying for their second Super Bowl ring—and history-making victories (Warner hopes to bring his franchise its first Super Bowl victory; Roethlisberger could bring his team its league record-breaking sixth championship)—Motorola is no stranger to this type of challenge. It served up a WLAN to the Beijing Olympics and has wireless indoor/outdoor networks in stadiums around the globe.

As Sunday’s champion may also be able to say, Goulet said, “We were lucky we had a recipe and were able to follow it.”

Super Bowl XLIII kicks off at 6 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 1st. Journalists have already descended on Tampa and begun using Motorola’s wireless LAN to file stories and communicate.

Naomi Graychase is a devoted Patriots fan and former sports reporter. She is already counting down the days ’til next season’s kick-off, but will be rooting for the Steelers on Sunday. (Go AFC?) She is also Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet.com.

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