San Francisco 49ers Wi-Fi network will enable 68,500 fans to connect at once

The San Francisco 49ers are aiming to outfit their new football stadium with a public Wi-Fi network that will enable all 68,500 of the venue's attendees to connect simultaneously without suffering slowdowns in uploads or downloads.

Stadium 49ers

The Wi-Fi network in Santa Clara Stadium will likely offer 1 TB of capacity. 

"We see the stadium as a large data center," 49ers Senior IT Director Dan Williams told Ars Technica.

The Wi-Fi network in Santa Clara Stadium, which will replace Candlestick Park and open in 2014, will likely offer 1 TB of capacity. "The 68,500 will not be able to penetrate that," he said.

Williams was formerly with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) as was the team's CTO Kunal Malik.

Williams said the planned Wi-Fi network will be built to deliver service akin to what a user could get from LTE, which Williams said is anywhere from 20 to 40 Mbps per user. "The goal is to provide you with enough bandwidth that you would saturate your device before you saturate the network," he added.

Though other sports venues have built impressive Wi-Fi networks, they are generally designed to serve only a portion of attendees at any given time. For example, football fans attending this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome were able to access an extensive Wi-Fi network built by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) using equipment from Cisco Systems. That network was designed to handle up to 30,000 simultaneous connections during the Super Bowl, or about 41 percent of the Superdome's seating capacity of 73,208.

Williams said most stadium Wi-Fi networks are limited by their layout of access points, with one usually placed behind a section and one in front of a section. The 49ers are planning something other than this typical overhead design, though Williams would not provide many specifics. He also would not disclose the specific number of access points planned for Santa Clara Stadium, saying only that the number will be "zero to 1,500."

Ars Technica noted that is more than double the Superdome's 700 Wi-Fi access points. But Malik cautioned that the number of access points "will not give you any hint on whether the Wi-Fi is going to be great or not." He said the customer experience is controlled by other factors.

Last July, the National Football League announced plans to build Wi-Fi hotspots in all 31 of its football stadiums in an attempt to attract more football fans into the stands. One of the first major deployments was completed by Cellular Specialties and Enterasys Networks in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. More than 15,000 fans accessed the system during the team's home opener on Sept. 16, 2012, but the Wi-Fi network has also generated numerous complaints from fans dissatisfied with the customer experience.

For more:
- see this Ars Technica article

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