It’s College Football Season…Time to Stock Up on Wings, Chips and…Wireless?

Originally published on The Modern Network

The football season has kicked off for both the NFL and NCAA. Across America, alumni are flocking back to their alma maters on Saturdays to watch their schools’ football teams compete – regardless of their talent level or place in the standings.
For colleges and universities with popular football programs, the football season is an incredible money-making opportunity thanks to merchandise and ticket sales. However, the rush of students and alumni onto campus, into parking lots for tailgates and into the stadium to watch the game comes with a large number of challenges.
We’re constantly talking to decision makers and network administrators at colleges and universities, and we’re continually hearing about how the game day experience has changed for attendees. With these changes have come new demands on the school and its IT infrastructure.
Unlike in the past – when tailgating required a grill, some frozen hamburger patties, a beverage and MAYBE a football – today’s tailgaters show up with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Although many of these devices are connected to mobile networks, football fans will be looking for the faster, more reliable connection of campus wireless networks for the functionality and capabilities they crave.
Just what capabilities are we talking about?
Spectators are looking to watch pregame shows on their mobile devices. When the pregame is over, they’re looking to watch other games that involve rivals or are important for BCS rankings in real time. They’re looking to take and post pictures and videos of their revelry on Facebook, Vine, Instagram and Twitter. They’re even watching the live coverage of the game they’re attending – from the stands – to hear commentary, get a field-level view and keep track of stats. All of these things are bandwidth hogs that perform better and more seamlessly over a college’s wireless network than over a carrier’s 3G or 4G network – if that school network can handle it.
Network administrators have to consider a few things to ensure that the network is prepared to handle this influx of alumni and students. First, they need to be sure to have the appropriate radio access points in and around the stadium to handle the sheer volume of users and mobile devices. Not ensuring that the appropriate amount of access points are available will result in a degradation of the signal and a poor experience for everyone.
When figuring out how many access points are needed, it’s essential to overprovision. They need to establish and identify the most conceivable mobile devices that would be connecting to the network and then plan for even more. They also need to be sure to provide coverage not just to the stadium, but the parking lots and areas around it.
Next, a system needs to be put in place to ensure that the bandwidth is there to support these devices, when needed.
Most college football games fall on Thursday nights and Saturdays. The wireless network that has been created in and around the stadium is most likely overkill on weeks when the team is away and on the days when there isn’t a game. It’s important that the schools can shift bandwidth to and from this part of the network based on demand, since it would be a waste of computing resources when spectators aren’t present. Being able to power down some of the radio access points needed to get the signal density required for a game day could also save the school a lot of money in power bills.
Luckily, automated processes are possible in today’s software defined networks (SDNs) that can enable schools to reconfigure the network seamlessly depending on a number of factors, including day and time. This will automatically move bandwidth and computer resources to the section of the network covering the stadium and its surrounding area on game days and away from places like academic buildings and dorms where they won’t be needed.
The college football experience isn’t what it used to be. The hot dogs are still there, but now they’re being juggled from hand-to-hand with a beverage and an iPad. To ensure that all alumni, students and other football fans have the game-day experience they desire, it’s now essential that schools offer more than concessions and sweatshirts – they must deliver a strong wireless network as well.

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