The Indian Wells Tennis Garden (Indian Wells, California), the second largest tennis-specific stadium in the world, has just deployed a Wi-Fi network for indoor and outdoor applications such as point of sale and ticket-scanning, guest access and mobile data offloading. The BNP Paribas Open, which is held in Indian Wells, is the largest ATP World Tour and WTA combined two-week tennis tournament in the world. The deployment shows how critical Wi-Fi has become to sporting venues where fans carrying smartphones want to take photos or video, and upload them to their social networks, or send them via email to their friends and family. Soon, people attending sporting events will be outraged if their sporting venue does not offer Wi-Fi service.
For mobile operators, having Wi-Fi in a stadium packed with smartphone-carrying fans, means that fewer people will use the often overloaded cellular networks for data traffic or if they do use the cellular network, the operator can offload the data traffic onto the Wi-Fi network.
The move to offer ubiquitous, high-speed Wi-Fi service by Indian Wells and other pubic venues such as Balboa Park in San Diego reflects a major trend in Wi-Fi adoption as a standard public access service by network operators and public-facing enterprises around the world.
According to IDC, the global smartphone market will double from an expected 2011 shipment of 472 million to nearly a billion units by 2016. Information and analysis provider IHS forecasts that tablet shipments will rise from 60 million units in 2011 to over 275 million units by 2015. Wi-Fi is integral to virtually all of these devices. As mobile devices proliferate and the demand for anywhere connectivity accelerates, Wi-Fi has become an essential access method in high-density environments. In-Stat predicts the number of Wi-Fi hotspot-connects to reach 11 billion by 2014, up from 2 billion in 2010.
As a result, sports teams, stadium operators, and stadium vendors view public-access Wi-Fi as an opportunity to improve the guest experience, better serve customers, and pursue revenue growth via stadium-specific mobile apps ranging from food ordering to delivering compelling in-venue video content, such as replays of a big play or live streaming from a variety of camera angles, and in the near future, providing interactivity with fans.
“Reliable Wi-Fi services for a diverse set of users and applications is vital to improving the operation of our facilities and enhancing the guest experience,” said Steve Simon, Chief Operating Officer, Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “We no longer see Wi-Fi as an amenity but rather as a necessary utility for staff, vendors and guests who need to stay connected.”
Last year, more than 350,000 people attended the BNP Paribas Open, making it the most attended tennis event in the world outside of the Grand Slams. In addition to the tennis tournament, the site has been host to a wide variety of special events such as arts festivals, concerts, and pre-season NBA basketball games. Past artists include The Eagles, Tom Petty, Pavarotti and Bocelli.
Tennis with a Wireless Twist
Built in March 2000, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is a multi-use sporting facility that includes a 16,100-seat stadium court, 23 match/practice courts, box office facilities, a fitness center, and 45 VIP suites on 54 acres.
After evaluating Wi-Fi alternatives from Cisco, BelAir, Aruba and Sonic Wall, the Indian Well Tennis Garden selected and is deploying a unified Ruckus Wireless Smart Wi-Fi indoor and outdoor infrastructure. For the upcoming BNP Paribas Open (March 5-18, 2012), the system will provide wireless access to players, officials, coaches and VIPs, as well as for supporting box office credential scanning and other vendor services. The facility will also use long-range point-to-multipoint bridges to extend wireless connectivity to remote will-call ticket operations.
“The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is a large venue, and the events held there have a wide variety of needs, so easy deployment of wireless connectivity is essential,” said David Sahl, director of technical services for the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “The Ruckus advanced wireless meshing technology with adaptive antenna arrays gives us the flexibility to provide extensive Wi-Fi coverage and consistent data rates in areas where pulling cables is prohibitive.”
In the past, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden found coverage, reliability and user density to be major problem areas with its legacy Wi-Fi system. “We really needed a single indoor and outdoor wireless system that was specifically designed to support a high density of concurrent users while providing stronger and better coverage throughout a facility that, in itself, is a challenge for any wireless system,” said Sahl.
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden faced a problem that many sports venues encounter: prior to an event, wireless coverage would be excellent, but once the guests arrive and begin logging onto the network, it becomes more difficult to maintain a strong signal throughout the facility. This is the same problem experienced by large conferences, except in a sports venue, there are even more people and many of them are uploading photos and video.
Wireless Advances Make Big Difference in Simplifying Deployment and Security
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is making use of a number of features with the Ruckus system such as smart meshing, dynamic pre-shared keys (dynamic PSK), client isolation and dynamic VLAN assignment to improve wireless network security and simplify deployment.
Smart meshing on Ruckus APs extend wireless coverage at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden quickly and easily to locations where cabling is difficult. Simply plugged into a power source, a Mesh AP automatically forms a reliable mesh connection to a nearby AP that offers the best capacity. Unlike other Wi-Fi mesh alternatives, an adaptive antenna array in each Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi access point (AP) provides longer range and more reliable wireless links to its neighbor APs by constantly steering transmissions over the best performing signal paths while mitigating interference.
With dynamic pre-shared keys, Indian Wells Tennis Garden can give its corporate users secure access through unique encryption keys that are generated by the ZoneDirector and automatically provisioned on each user device without human intervention. With client isolation capability on the Ruckus ZoneDirector, Indian Wells bolsters network security by prohibiting users on the open network from seeing each other.
Using dynamic VLANs, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is able to automatically assign a discrete VLAN to each vendor at the venue upon authentication. This eliminates significant network configuration chores typically required to provide vendors with their own segregated Wi-Fi network.
While initially offering limited public access, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden sees Wi-Fi as an ideal technology for offloading data traffic from overburdened cellular data networks to improve spectators’ online experience. Wi-Fi is also viewed as a key technology for supporting future wireless applications such as IP security cameras, voice over IP communications and IP-based video streaming.
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is deploying a high-speed, dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) 802.11n wireless environment using Ruckus ZoneFlex 7363 indoor and 7762 outdoor units controlled by a redundant centralized ZoneDirector WLAN controller. Ruckus 7731 point-to-point and point-to-multipoint bridges are being used to extend wireless broadband to remote locations.