Feb 1, 2020
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Super Bowl 54: How 5G will help keep fans safe at the game

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High-tech security features will help keep 49ers and Chiefs fans safe during Super Bowl weekend in Miami.

Image: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Super Bowl weekend is when hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the host city, and this year, with Super Bowl 54, that’s Miami. The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will go head-to-head in Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Florida. 

Keeping those fans safe before, during and after the game is a major undertaking. But
5G can help with connectivity
to make it easier for first responders to communicate, and for new technologies to be deployed. Both Verizon and AT&T have worked to ensure that first responders have safety measures in place to protect the community and fans. 

Verizon’s consultant for Super Bowl LIV is Bill Bratton, who is best known for his two terms as New York City Police Commissioner. Bratton was an integral part of security planning for the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey, since fans spent much of their time in New York City pre- and post-game.

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

“Basically what 5G will allow will be a dramatic expansion of capabilities in terms of coordination among law enforcement, collaboration, artificial intelligence. It’s also going to allow significant enhancement of technology around facial recognition,” Bratton said.

Some features will be more common in the future. “There’s drone technology that’s really just emerging. The ability to use drones, and both for offense, but also defense against the growing threat of drones. That is always a concern now in sports events, like the NFL is having this weekend, with an open stadium basically. There’s no roof on the stadium. So the FBI and others who have principal responsibility for that, they will have expanded capabilities in the years ahead,” Bratton said.

Verizon invests $80 million

Verizon invested $80 million into the Miami area to prepare the network for the Super Bowl. This included installing 230 miles of fiber-optic cable, as well as adding to the infrastructure with small cell towers, a new indoor and outdoor Distributed Antenna System (DAS) at Hard Rock Stadium with more than 250 antennas for 4G LTE. There are 5G nodes in the stadium and around the stadium to give fans 5G Ultra Wideband Service, said Verizon Senior Vice President of Technology and Product Development Nicki Palmer.

There are 1,500 antennas in the stadium bowl seating area and 2,000 Wi-Fi access points. Verizon added about 30 in-building systems around the cities and in popular hotels, as well as 4G and 5G small cells in the Bayfront Park area to support where the NFL Super Bowl activities and events are, Palmer said.

“The benefit of having a Super Bowl is that $80 million investment that Verizon put into this area to bring 5G technology. When the game’s over, that’s all still here. So the police forces here will be able to maximize all the many new things that 5G is going to allow them to have,” Bratton said.

SEE: 13 NFL stadiums will offer Verizon 5G for the 2019-2020 season (TechRepublic)

Verizon worked with public safety officials in Miami to prepare for the big game, creating their own command center for this year’s game. This is one of numerous command centers throughout the stadium area, Bratton explained. 

“Verizon has a huge one [command center] where they have almost 100 technicians brought in from around the country to monitor everything that’s going on before the game, during the game, after the game, to make sure that if there’s surges in people using the phones, that they can meet the capacity needs. In addition, law enforcement has what they call a joint operations center, which is their command center. That is a huge operation also, with representatives from all of those law enforcement agencies, [with] representatives from Verizon in the room,” Bratton said. 

Keeping the Wi-Fi network safe

Keeping the network safe is also crucial, said John Brams, director of hospitality, sports and entertainment for Extreme Networks.

“Security is always a multipronged approach. So with us being the network capacity of this, and again, all the work we’ve done to sort of optimize it for that environment and the capacity, I think like Bill [Bratton] mentioned is the ability for us to provide the excess capacity in case of the need for that. So it’s there, it’s available as part of the overall strategy. And then our overall solution, too, is we weigh security on top of that. We want to make sure that people have a good experience,” Brams said.

“We also want to make sure that their experiences aren’t going to impact others. So we put a lot of measures in place just to make sure that, ‘hey, yes, you could have a nice public-facing Wi-Fi, good experience, lots of bandwidth, but I don’t necessarily want you to be able to do anything to anyone else on the network.’ So we put a lot of security policies in place that says, ‘hey, you’re fine going outbound to the internet. That’s great.’ But we want to make sure we limit what you can do to other users or other things as part of the network to make sure that this is a safe, secure solution for everyone,” Brams said.

Super Bowl LIV - Hard Rock Stadium Miami

Image: Mark Brown/Getty Images

AT&T invests $85 million

AT&T has invested $85 million to boost 5G and LTE service in Miami to prep for the Super Bowl, said Chris Sambar, executive vice president, technology operations for AT&T. 

“We’ve designated 29 different locations as what we would consider areas where we want to augment investment in. So the macro network, all of the large cell towers, we’ve updated and upgraded all of those towers in the area with additional spectrum, specifically the Band 14 spectrum, the FirstNet spectrum. So we put that on all of the macro towers over the last six months in that area, that was the first thing we did. And then we went in and started looking at installing individual nodes, 5G nodes, 5G Evolution, and 5G Plus nodes, which is the millimeter wave. We identified 715 individual places where we were going to install nodes, so we’ve done that.”

There are a total of 750 individual nodes, with a radio and antenna, to augment coverage throughout the entire area, including the 29 locations where there is an event happening with large groups of people expected, or where there’s a significant public safety presence, Sambar said. 

“The twist you get from us that’s probably a little different than other carriers is, because of the FirstNet contract and the number of FirstNet subscribers that we have, we’ve done a lot of work to augment the network and upgrade the network. So that Band 14, that’s their specific spectrum for public safety, it’s on all the towers down there. And then a lot of those 750 nodes, 50 of them specifically, we’ve gone and installed Band 14 on those nodes as well,” he said. 

“Then in addition to that, and all the carriers do this, we put out COWS. Cell on Wheels, the mobile cell towers. We deployed six of those in different areas. Some are high capacity, some are regular COWS, some are 5G Plus, or millimeter wave, capable COWS. Specifically, in addition to those six, we’ve deployed three SatCOLTs, which is just a satellite COW. A Satellite Cell on Light Truck is what the acronym is. That is specifically for disaster recovery. So when we have hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, the SatCOLTs are what we bring in to recover the network, because they don’t require power, and they don’t require a physical connection. They work off of a satellite and a generator,” he said.

AT&T has three SatCOLTs that are standing by in specific locations that public safety has requested. In fact, in one case, it’s sitting at the fire station ready to be deployed as needed. The other two are in specific locations where public safety officials have requested. “And we’re working with FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the local police, local fire,” Sambar said.

AT&T also has a Response Operations Group, known as ROG. They’re part of the FirstNet team and they’re dedicated to public safety. They wait in the emergency operation center and sit with everyone from the police and fire departments and are on call as needed during events, he said. 

Future Super Bowl planning has begun

Planning has already begun for future Super Bowls. Bratton said, in an interview three days before Super Bowl 54, “Planning for this event actually takes two years, both for law enforcement as well as Verizon. So today, for example, there’s representatives from the Tampa PD and Los Angeles PD that’ll be arriving to work with a host committee that the local police have put together to help them prepare for Tampa, next year’s Super Bowl, and Los Angeles Super Bowl two years from now. Because it takes that long to really develop the plans for this event.”

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