Ericsson Optimizes WiFi for the Sports Venue

It’s no secret that fans attending sports events expect their phones to work. In-venue wireless networks have evolved from luxury to expected service, intended to alleviate cellular congestion but expected to facilitate video streaming, photo uploads, status updates, and more. Looking to deliver high-performance coverage for in-venue wireless networks and address the issues of user density and interference, Ericsson has introduced a stadium-optimized WiFi system.

“Ericsson is all about delivering great wireless performance everywhere, and we see stadiums being one of those key locations,” says Dave Park, head of WiFi product management, Ericsson. “The types of challenges they have — the density of users, the types of service they want to deliver — we really had something to offer there. We thought it was a good, comprehensive part of our strategy to be able to offer our customers the ability to deploy great wireless everywhere.”

Access Everywhere
Ericsson’s WiFi system consists of two products: the AP 5114 stadium-optimized WiFi access point and the WIC 8000 WiFi controller. According to the company, each access point is dual-radio and dual-band and can handle up to 600 Mbps.

“We have a new access point that provides very targeted coverage specifically to deal with the very-high-density users,” says Park. “You get a lot of people in the seating areas using their smartphones, using their tablet devices, and so we have a new access point … to accommodate that kind of density.”

The WiFi controller is available with either a 500- or 2,000-access-point control capability, which can be stacked together to create networks capable of aggregating tens of thousands of access points.

“The access points discover and autoconfigure [to a] controller, and the controller provides self-organizing network capabilities,” says Park. “[It] optimizes the network, optimizes the powers, the frequency we use, to really give the best possible performance in the stadium. Those two elements work together to give it an end-to-end solution.”

Interference Concerns
Because stadiums and arenas are so densely packed and require so many access points and controllers to accommodate fans’ needs, interference between access points and controllers is a constant challenge.

“We use a combination of techniques,” Park explains. “We have some antenna techniques we use to direct the signals to the right places, so you don’t direct the signals where you don’t want them, [which] kind of isolates the seating sections. We have radio features that optimize the connection to each user, so that provides the best possible connection on a per-user basis. And then the controller… adjusts the powers and the frequencies in use in the stadium automatically to provide the best possible interference environment. … It’s not a ‘one technique solves everything,’ so you want to work the antenna level, the radio-firmware level, and the controller level to mitigate all the possible interferences.”

Ericsson’s WiFi system is available as a turnkey service with the supplier building out the system and operating it in the venue. More often, says Park, venues opt to have their WiFi system planned and built out before taking over operation of the wireless network.

Enhancing the Fan Experience
In addition to fans’ uploading pictures to Facebook, sports venues use wireless for point-of-sale transactions, ticketing, front-office needs, and much more. Even within the context of an individual game, stadiums are truly multiuse venues and need to be able to accommodate multiple SSIDs.

“We go beyond what would traditionally be known as multiple SSIDs,” says Park. “We have what we call our virtual-access-point capability, and that allows [us to install] … a single set of access points and controllers to deliver all of those services on that one set of infrastructure. In a stadium, you don’t want to be putting out multiple sets of equipment; you want one set of equipment. Our virtual-access-point capability allows secure separation of the different services.”

This is the first product launch since Ericsson acquired Canadian carrier-grade WiFi vendor BelAir Networks. Ericsson integrated BelAir’s product portfolio into its heterogeneous network solutions. According to Park, Ericsson’s stadium-optimized WiFi system is part of the company’s strategy to be able to offer customers wireless access everywhere.

“When a user comes into a stadium, they [will] get a kind of seamless service continuity,” says Park. “Their device will operate and work in the stadium like it works everywhere else they go. … Then, they can get access to services and things [in the stadium, like] in-stadium video and camera feeds, in-stadium services and promotions, those kinds of things.”