By Emily Rushton
Ever wonder what all goes into supporting the network infrastructure and cell phone coverage in the stadium during a Utes football game?
As it turns out, a lot. University Information Technology (UIT) staff are working hard behind the scenes before, during, and after each home game to ensure everything runs the way it’s supposed to, from ticket scanner and concession stand connectivity, to maintaining Wi-Fi in the press box and cellular coverage for the whole stadium, to facilitating the upload of live statistics to various sports websites.
“Both the Stadium and Athletics hire UIT to have people on-site for the games,” said Stacey Wood, manager for Campus Computer Support. “Just to make sure all of the possibilities that could be covered are covered.”
Typically, a team of eight staff members from UIT networking, copper, fiber, and phone teams, as well as Athletics IT, are on-site on game day to ensure things run smoothly.
“Having those people there has really made a huge difference in making sure IT is monitored and, if needed, that things get repaired and/or back online quickly and efficiently,” said Wood.
“We’re the insurance policy,” said Ray Carsey, network manager for UIT Network & Core. “We’re there just in case bad things happen.”
The cable plant team, overseen by Tim Goodale, senior product manager, always completes a review of the fiber infrastructure (on which the field cameras run) to make sure there are no issues. Then, network engineers will review the numerous wireless access points (APs) to ensure they’re all registered properly. The engineers will also work with the local Athletics and Stadium IT staff to confirm wired and wireless connections are working for the concession stands and the numerous handheld ticket scanners used at the gates.
During the game, in the press box, network engineers are present to provide support for any members of the press who have trouble connecting to the network.
“And that’s not really network engineer work,” pointed out Trevor Long, associate director for UIT Network & Core. “They’re actually helping with end points – clients or laptops. So they’re jumping in to help wherever needed.”
With a capacity of nearly 46,000, it’s challenging to maintain strong cellular coverage in the stadium when it’s full – but improvements are being made all the time. Currently, there’s an indoor distributed antenna system (DAS) for Verizon, a Cellular-on-Wheels (COW) for AT&T, and a dedicated antenna for T-Mobile pointed directly at the stadium during football season.
“Next year, AT&T and T-Mobile will hopefully both be part of the indoor cellular DAS,” said Caprice Post, UIT product manager.
Finally, Wood’s team supports the technology allowing game statisticians to upload live stats to ESPN and PAC-12 networks.
“They provide the computers and accounts that sync with the different sports websites,” said Chris Robinson, network engineer for UIT Network & Core. “And it all happens in the press box.”
It’s a lot of work, but UIT gets it done.
“University of Utah football games are highly visible events on a national scale that require immense technical agility while staying reliable,” said Mike Ekstrom, director for Network & Communications Infrastructure. "I’m so proud of our excellent IT teams in the field that make all of this happen.”