How Technology is Changing the (Football) Game

Paula Doublin, an Engineer at AT&T shares the play by play of what's involved in building wireless technology for stadiums.

Long before the first kickoff signals the start of a new football season, my team is in the trenches tackling the technology you count on every game day.

Specifically, we’re responsible for the ever-evolving technology that gives you the most seamless viewing experience from the seat on your couch at home to your seat in the stands. And strengthening football stadium networks is a big part of our job.

Months before the first snaps of the season, we visit stadiums to get the networks ready to give you the ultimate wireless experience. We do this so you can share every tackle, every catch, and every touchdown effortlessly using your wireless device from your seat or at the snack bar.

With the season underway, fans like you are flooding stadiums and sharing all the action with friends and family. In fact, we saw nearly 40 terabytes of mobile data cross our network during the opening weeks of the college and pro football seasons combined. That’s equal to 110 million stadium selfies!*

It’s clear that technology innovations are changing the way we view, consume and engage with football. Here’s how we stay ahead of the game:

The Secret Behind Keeping You Connected

As ultimate football fans, we’re constantly checking our smart phones for the latest updates on final scores, player statistics, and team rankings. Even when we’re sitting at a stadium watching a live game, some of us might even peek at our devices every minute or so to get the latest or maybe even stream another game halfway across the country. You know someone like that, right? So, here’s where the secret to connectivity comes in.

We install and upgrade Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) at college and professional football stadiums across the country. A DAS is a network of hundreds of small antennas installed throughout football stadiums and other big venues where thousands of people are using their phones at the same time. This helps ensure strong, fast wireless connectivity for fans—no matter where they are in the stadium, from the top of the stadium bowl to the field-level suites.

We design and install these DAS networks in all types of buildings: hospitals, arenas, airports, malls, hotels--you name it. But, building a stadium DAS is my favorite challenge. That's because a stadium is always evolving--it is always in the process of becoming something more. For example, during the off-season, a stadium might add a seating section, install a retractable roof, or maybe add a new big screen, a new restaurant, a children’s play area or a conference area.

These changes, while beneficial to the fan experience, can all can interfere with the wireless network inside the stadium. It means we have to pivot and make adjustments and additions to the DAS so you can stay connected.  

Fast Athletes, Faster Technology

Critical plays on the field happen at lightning speed. We can say the same for the rapid pace of technology evolution.

The way people use their phones can change drastically from one season to the next. For example, an app that didn’t exist last year could be all the rage this football season or you might have a new device. Regardless, you want to use your smart phones and apps from your stadium seat just like you would at home.

That’s why we’re constantly measuring network performance inside stadiums. We’re even using drones to take these measurements quicker.

These metrics help us decide if we need to boost network capacity inside the stadium to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for mobile data. With the help of drones, we can make upgrades happen faster than ever, all season long.

Whether you’re watching at home or at the stadium, this season will be one for the books. With faster, more advanced and future-facing technology, fans can view, consume, and engage with the game of football in real-time like never before.

*Data used by AT&T customers only during first home games of 2016 at college and professional football stadiums where we have a DAS on-air.

Paula L. Doublin is the Assistant Vice President - Antenna Solutions Group, Construction and Engineering for AT&T. Paula has responsibilities for enterprise-wide strategies, tactics and deployment relating to the engineering, construction and installation of in-building wireless network infrastructure, such as distributed antenna systems and small cells, across AT&T’s national footprint, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Doublin has also completed an international assignment where she was the majority Strategic Equity Partner for Performance Development with SBC International, Inc. and the Executive for Human Resource Strategies, Telkom-South Africa and was based in South Africa for a number of years.  She is currently based in Dallas, TX and was appointed to her current position in March 2010.