Nascar nights – Not Normal Network Needs

Major sports events are being networked to an ever greater extent. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), for example, provides several tools for fans watching a live event.

Radios, called race scanners, are available so fans can follow the communication between drivers and their crews during a race. The leaderboard is available in your smartphone, so you can stay up-to-date on the drivers’ positions. And recently, Brad Keselowski made history by becoming the first driver to tweet while racing (during a stoppage).

At each race, mobile-network coverage is needed for up to 192,000 fans as well as the teams of the 100 participating cars. In addition to having coverage inside the venue, parking-lot coverage for pre-race tailgating is vital. The network demand at such events is far from normal and requires temporary reinforcement. This requires and add-on network, which is designed as a complement to the existing network.

Ericsson supports race sponsor and US operator Sprint with a managed-network solution for such events.Two teams and two complete equipment setups cover the 38 yearly events on a rotating scheme. For a venue like the Texas Motor Speedway, five Cells on Wheels (COW) are deployed. COWs are mobile cell sites containing antenna towers and electronic radio transceiver equipment on trucks or trailers. The temporary addition is designed with two COW inside the venue with six antenna elements and three outside with three antenna elements each.

I was given the opportunity to visit the Ericsson support team during the race in Texas on April 14, and I was truly amazed by several things:

  • It takes just three days to assemble the temporary network
  • More than 50 transmission links need to be connected
  • The mix of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi represents a very “dirty” radio environment, calling for careful network design and optimization
  • The data capacity is three-and-a-half times larger than the current data capacity for voice
  • NASCAR does not allow teams to collect any telemetry data beyond fuel injection mapping, and the collected data is published for all to see.

The debate has begun on the role of networks in enhancing the fan experience in sport, and some feel that tweeting is distracting the drivers or athletes. But having gained more than 100,000 new Twitter followers in one day, @keselowski is clearly breaking new ground.

My predictions for the future of networked sports are that:

  1. All major sports arenas will upgrade mobile-data access within three years for capabilities to deliver seamless 3G/4G/Wi-Fi access to the devices of fans and the staff supporting the sport
  2. Online experience at the venue will be an integrated part of live events
  3. Innovations around social media, TV and mobile devices are key in attracting new generations of fans
  4. Spectators will use smartphones and soon bring tablets for replays and special statistics at the venue, as a complement to the jumbo TV screens already in place