Huawei to deploy Wi-Fi network as part of its first U.S. sports sponsorship

Huawei's deployment of a Wi-Fi network for the Washington Redskins at FedExField in Landover, Md., is just one of several stadium projects for the infrastructure vendor.

As part of the deal with the Washington Redskins, Huawei Enterprise USA is deploying its Agile Stadium Solution, which will deliver a high-density Wi-Fi network that will allow fans in the stadium to access mobile apps, watch local video and share their game-time experiences immediately via their favorite social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or something else.

Huawei's experience outfitting other stadiums around the world is one of the reasons the team chose to work with the vendor, according to Washington Redskins CMO Mitch Gershman. Among Huawei's other stadium projects are Signal Iduna Park in Germany, Glasgow Ibrox Stadium in the UK and the Amsterdam ArenA in The Netherlands.

The FedExField partnership calls for Huawei Enterprise to provide a Wi-Fi network for the suite Level at the 85,000-seat venue, one of the largest stadiums in the National Football League. It also represents the first major sports sponsorship for Huawei in the U.S. As part of the deal, Huawei became a multi-year team sponsor and "Official Technology Partner" for the football club.

Plans call for the gear to be deployed before the end of the year at FedExField, where Huawei is replacing legacy infrastructure that wasn't fitting the needs of the organization, according to Rob Verkon, senior solution sales and marketing manager at Huawei Enterprise USA. He declined to name the competitor that supplied the legacy Wi-Fi system.

Huawei also is engaged in discussions with other stadium owners that haven't yet been upgraded. "We're working with several other clubs," he told FierceWirelessTech, including Major League Baseball, the NBA and NCAA universities. "We've got quite a bit of activity going on in this vertical… It's a very compelling place to be right now for leveraging, particularly Wi-Fi, technology."

Huawei is equipped to deploy distributed antenna system (DAS) solutions as well, but most NFL stadiums already have a DAS solution provided by a wireless service provider, and Wi-Fi serves as a good data offload service. Verkon added that it's not just the stadiums that are in need of Wi-Fi--surrounding parking lots, administrative offices and practice facilities are also in need of connectivity.

Were Huawei executives reluctant about doing a deal with the team given the controversy over the name? Not at all, he said. "In fact we're very proud to work with an NFL franchise that has such a storied history," he said. "We support the organization's efforts to present the best fan experience in the league, and as a global innovator, we at Huawei prefer to focus on technology and the user experience."

On the flip side, Huawei's history as a vendor excluded from U.S. telecom contracts due to alleged ties to the Chinese government hasn't been as much of an issue as one might think. "What more can you do than coordinate with America's favorite pastime?," he said. "It's the leading sport in our culture, and by partnering with the Washington Redskins, we're not only showing our commitment to the Redskins, but also to the United States. It certainly helps with our efforts to build a brand in the U.S."

It looks as though plenty of opportunities remain for upgrading facilities for sports teams. "The main push in all of these instances, the game day experience is really driving it, and the other piece of that is getting folks out of their houses and coming to attend the games again," he said. "Almost all the folks we've talked to, including the Redskins, their primary push is to offer the connectivity to the fans, for free, as a service to them."

Huawei is also talking about eventually doing more advanced apps, like showing fans a map to their seats, displaying queues at restrooms and other places so fans can find the shortest lines, or offering the ability for attendees to order a hot dog and ball cap and having those things delivered to their seat.

Upgrading stadiums with better wireless connectivity is big business for others as well. Last year, AT&T (NYSE: T), Boingo Wireless and SMG collaborated on a neutral-host DAS at Chicago's Soldier Field. That network was designed to increase capacity for all fans in the 63,000-seat stadium.

AT&T recently released stats showing the kind of usage it saw at stadiums during the baseball playoffs: Out of the 18 playoff games, the highest single game total for cellular data usage on a DAS was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis during the league championship series Oct. 11, when more than 508 GB of data crossed the network. The highest peak hour of cellular data usage on a DAS also occurred Oct. 11 at Busch Stadium when more than 84 GB of data crossed the network from 8-9 p.m. Central time, according to a post by Bill Smith, president of AT&T Network Operations.

At AT&T Park, where the company operates both DAS and Wi-Fi, all-time records were set for mobile data traffic usage. During the final round of the playoffs, fans used the most data during Game 4 played on Oct.  25 at AT&T Park, consuming about 2.1 TB of data across both cellular DAS and Wi-Fi networks (more than 477 GB of data on DAS and more than 1,626 GB on Wi-Fi). "This is equivalent to more than a whopping 6M social media posts with photos," he said.

For more:
- see this Huawei press release (PDF)
- see this AT&T post

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