One of the great feats of Baylor’s McLane stadium is how wired it is—in the past we’ve talked about the WiFi setup at the stadium that allows you to watch instant replay footage on your phone. But what if you aren’t using WiFi? Here's a story about what it takes to supply 45,000 people with cell phone coverage…in a place that didn’t really coverage before.
When you walk around McLane Stadium, you probably won’t notice the 425 cellular antennas hidden throughout the concourse, tucked above the seats, and yes, in the bathrooms. It’s called a distributed antenna system, or DAS. That’s what AT&T and Baylor say they needed to allow fans to send and receive about 660 gigabytes of texts, tweets, and video clips every game. Combine that with all the data like instant replays streaming through the stadium’s Wifi system and it’s about a terabyte every game.
Artecia Wilson with AT&T says they designed the system keeping an eye on the exponential increase in data usage—the current system should be able to keep pace with smart phone users for the next three years.
"The last four years has been monumental," Wilson said. "The increase in smartphones, tablets, the increased data usage has been exponential. So we had to plan for that and every single time we think we have the magic number, we say let’s add on there, add to that and it’s worked out to be honest with you."
Around the stadium, 20 closets contain the radio transmitters that make up the brains of the DAS. Baylor and AT&T also stretched almost 17 miles of coaxial cable and about 5 miles of fiber optic cable to connect to the cellular antennas. That’s on top of the 343 Wireless Internet access points the stadium also has.
Bob Hartland is Baylor’s associate vice president of information technology infrastructure. He says McLane’s canopy design was perfect for hanging cellular antennas—easier than bringing cell service to fans in Floyd Casey’s “bowl” design.
"So just the massive amount of seats that they had to cover was the challenge there," Hartland said. "The beauty here is it’s more vertical. So you had all the underlying architecture that you could mount antennas that you could mount for the different spaces so you’re able to deal with a lot smaller number of fans per section."
Service slowed down a bit when fans were trying to upload videos after the unveiling of Robert Griffin III’s statue. But technicians were able to realign the antennas around the statute to fill the coverage gap.
Pattie Orr is Baylor’s vice president of information technology. She says the system is at its best when no one notices it's even there.
"Because before the DAS was turned up, there wasn’t coverage, this is just a big vast space," Orr said. "And after the DAS was turned up in August as we were testing in July and August, all of the sudden, your phone works, you can text, it’s just fantastic, you can go anywhere in the stadium and have full access and that’s what we wanted to happen."