With Super Bowl XLIX Looming, Crown Castle Shows How Glendale Will Keep Fans Connected

Less than two weeks remain until the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks meet for Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, AZ. And, while the AFC and NFC champs have their sights set on University of Phoenix Stadium, the newly renovated venue is just one piece of the Glendale Sports & Entertainment District, a district that is gearing up to host more than 150,000 fans — and their mobile devices — throughout Super Bowl Weekend.

Crown Castle has upgraded not only University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals) but Gila River Arena (home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes), the Westgate Entertainment District, and Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa — the venues in the Glendale Sports & Entertainment District — with the wireless infrastructure needed to accommodate the expected crowds.

A pole-mounted node is optimized for antenna direction prior to being camouflaged.

A pole-mounted node, located in the parking lot of the Westgate Entertainment District, is optimized for antenna direction prior to being camouflaged.

Although the venues are adjacent, there was no one-size-fits-all solution to wireless coverage. Each had to be considered individually, from expected number of occupants to whether the venue was predominantly indoor or outdoor and more.  However, those separate networks needed to be able to connect seamlessly to one another, so that a fan traveling between networks does not experience any disruption of service.

Last week, the company unveiled these upgrades during a media tour of the area. Beginning with the Westgate Entertainment District, Site Development Manager Aaron Lamoureux described the process of building an outdoor small-cell solution. Crown Castle worked with the landlord to repurpose existing streetlights into small-cell sites equipped with wireless nodes and antennas, as well as to place nodes and antennas on restaurant rooftops.

Those sites connect to a fiber-optic network that carries signals to a Crown Castle facility located 4 miles from the Glendale Sports & Entertainment District. At the time of the tour, Crown Castle was testing the sites and optimizing antenna placement to ensure that the carriers are satisfied with their coverage.

“Once we get all that dialed in and we’ve got the thumbs up from the customers, we’ll come back in and put a shroud on [that’s] going to cover those antennas up. It’s going to be painted to match and blend right in,” Lamoureux explains. “You’ll be busy on Facebook or you’re texting, and you’ll walk right by it; you won’t even see it there.”

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Looking more like a speaker than an antenna, this node has been painted to match the vertical column.

In total, Crown Castle deployed 18 independent small-cell sites throughout the Westgate Entertainment District, including 14 rooftop locations, consisting of approximately 50 antennas. Crown Castle works with the wireless carriers (four participate in this infrastructure), providing common equipment to support their various levels of service.

On the day of the big game, however, all eyes will be on University of Phoenix Stadium. Crown Castle deployed an independent outdoor distributed antenna system (ODAS) and indoor distributed antenna system (IDAS). The ODAS comprises 21 locations: 13 streetlight  and eight building-mounted sites.

Four of the building-mounted antenna are simply located above gates; the other four required a bit more ingenuity. “Four of them are behind vents,” says Lamoureux. “Crown Castle worked with the Arizona Cardinals and University of Phoenix Stadium management [on] how do we conceal those without a big antenna sticking off the side of the building. We worked with a vendor here in Arizona to replicate that vent. Now, a number of those vents do serve a mechanical purpose, but others are just aesthetic to keep the same eyeline going around the building.”

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One of the gate-mounted node locations outside University of Phoenix Stadium

Inside the venue, the IDAS consists of 228  antenna locations. Each one, comprising an antenna and remote amplifier unit, connects to the distributed-antenna headend — located on the venue’s 400 level — via approximately 150,000 ft. of cable.

Both distributed antenna systems — outdoor and indoor — are neutral-host, serving four major wireless carriers (Crown Castle declines to specify them). Construction was completed prior to the 2014 NFL season, with the four carriers going online throughout the season. After testing and optimization, the project was finished in time for the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” says Lamoureux. “We’ve been really fortunate to have the relationship that we do with the stadium management and, obviously, with the Arizona Cardinals to come in here and provide this need, not only for the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl but also for Cardinals games going forward for a long time.”

The tour concluded at Gila River Arena, which opened in 2003. The antenna deployment, completed prior to the 2014-15 NHL season, consists of 303 locations, both indoor and outdoor. Similar to the Westgate Entertainment District deployment, many of the antennas are hidden in plain sight: painted to match a wall, installed above a drop ceiling, or located behind a shroud. Nearly 40 antennas hang from the catwalk that extends above the ice, providing wireless coverage for fans seated in the bowl.

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Inside Gila River Arena, a panel node is painted to blend in.

In total, the small-cell solution deployed at the Glendale Sports & Entertainment District was designed to accommodate more than 150,000 fans consuming approximately 4 TB of data before, during, and after Super Bowl XLIX — nearly double the amount of data consumed at last year’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.

This isn’t University of Phoenix Stadium’s first Super Bowl; the Glendale, AZ, venue hosted Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants in 2008. However, the technological landscape has changed drastically, and Crown Castle’s upgraded deployment reflects fan expectations.

“When we did the Super Bowl here in ’08, the iPhone had just come out, [and] we didn’t have Facebook and all these apps. We’ve had about a hundredfold increase in data consumption per capita since that time,” says Mike Kavanagh, president, DAS, Crown Castle. “It’s a completely different world, and that’s why you’ve got a completely different network built here.”

Besides Lamoureux and Kavanagh, key Crown Castle players involved in the Glendale Sports and Entertainment District project include Mark Chmura, director of sales, small cells and DAS; Brian Cabe, VP/GM; Dennis Kavanagh, project manager; and Jason Sears, district manager.