A Pop-up Stadium Wi-Fi Network for the Largest Local Event of the Year!

I thought I would take a second to write about a project I recently completed. It was fun and spur of the moment, and knowing how to properly use the gear that I had on hand was key to making it work.

Let me be your Wi-Fi hero..

The City I live in hosts the “largest illuminated holiday parade in Texas” or at least that’s it’s claim to fame. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, scaled down a bit, and travelling the streets of South Texas. People really do come from all across our area to check this out and it has quickly become a component of a larger holiday event for our City. This year, they went over the top and booked a concert with a pretty recognizable name and put on one heck of a production.

The only thing missing? Wi-Fi.

I got the call on Wednesday to setup the network for the crews and staff by Saturday morning. I had access to every part of the facility, the City IT department at my side and some great gear ready to be used.

Here’s the situation

Fiber optic access to the network on the South Side of the stadium, where the ticket offices are (on the far right hand side of the photo below), needed to be used throughout the area. At the opposite end-zone on the other side of the field (the far left hand side of the photo) there was going to be a monstrosity of a stage.

Panoramic from the West side of the stadium atop the press box

Using the high-point of the stadium, the pressbox on the West side (where the pic above was taken), here’s what I did:

Quick and easy install!

A point-to-point link using Cambium Networks ePMP integrated units. With MCS15 negotiated in the middle of the 5GHz spectrum (5675MHz), we were pushing about 148mbps down and 135mbps up.

That tied me into the network at a great speed and allowed me to setup shop in one of the media rooms. I had a Ruckus Wireless ZoneDirector 3000 connected to a FortiNet Fortigate 90D to provide local routing, switching, firewall, UTM, DHCP, and DNS forwarding. With 16 ports on it, it would be plenty.

Perched up above the production

From there, it was all about the mesh.
I used 4 Ruckus Wireless T300 APs. The first was connected into the back of my Fortigate as a root hub for the other APs. The other 3 were placed throughout the stadium where Wi-Fi was needed.

On the trussing at house left, stage right.

The stage AP acted as an access location as well as a mesh node for the two other areas to provide redundancy across the network. In addition, we had a request to provide access to an Arecont 180 degree camera on the stage. I used the Ethernet port on the Network side of the POE injector to do this. Sidenote: it ended up consuming about 10 Mbps on the mesh, but the network handled it with no problems.

Prior to the production trailers coming in, I needed to verify throughput at distance to make sure everything was going to work well:

View from backstage area. Pressbox is obscured by stage.

Not bad for no line of sight!

The final mounting locations weren’t necessarily ideal, but we did the best with what we had.

On the antenna mast

Stage right on the trussing had to be moved to the inside
leg because of the line array

One other (non-pictured) AP was placed at the far South end of the stadium to provide more access as well as redundancy for the network. The stage & backstage areas both had 2 or 3 paths back to the root for reliability.

Configuring the Gear

Once the APs were in place, the backhaul was working, and the gear was ready, next came the config. Nothing too crazy was done, but I did take some specific steps to ensure reliability of the network. I knew there were going to be more than a handful of devices competing for the spectrum, so I wanted to make sure I was providing the best access possible.

Just one of a few devices at the event. These were on all the mics
as well as almost every video camera there

With news coverage from every local station (only about 6 of em to be honest, however each had their own wireless network and 5 cameras or so), press swarming the event, production equipment for mics, monitors, video, and more, RF was going to be a limited commodity.

I took the channel size down to 20 MHz on 2.4 and 5GHz to avoid as much interference as I could. I set the data rates to minimums of MCS 5 or above to block out weak device signals on devices that were a little further away than necessary. I disabled background scanning, load balancing, rogue AP detection, etc. Basically all the things that would eat up the cycles on the AP for no good reason. I wasn’t expecting a high number of users (maybe 50 max) but I was anticipating about 10,000 attendees with devices that would be beaconing, probing, etc.

“We want a hidden network”

Originally a hidden SSID was requested, however I opted not to do that for stability. A standard best practice where there are hundreds if not thousands of devices present, hidden SSIDs can be way worse for your network than a strangely named, secured network; for example, “339” (the calendar date of the event). Just in case, lemme try and explain why:

For every beacon that is sent out, the device (an Android device for example) might want to connect to said “hidden” network. If that device does in fact try to connect, a probe request is sent because that SSID is not included in the beacon. Now what you have is an access point not just processing beacons, but probe requests as well. So if you don’t want your APs to work double-time, don’t use hidden SSIDs. And if you’re expecting 10k users, all of which will be beaconing and some probing, it could bring your AP to it’s knees pretty quickly.

Ok, showtime.

The network was up, the Wi-Fi was working, now all we needed were thousands of unauthorized users and a few dozen actual users.

Had to wear a nerd shirt.

Everything worked the way it was supposed to and handled all requests without fail. The network was stable and well performing with the only outage occurring on a node where someone unplugged me for about 20 seconds.

Cambium ePMP integrated & Arecont 180

In addition to the gear we had going, we were asked to backhaul a few video feeds across our network.

I snapped this shot to show how many individuals there were with a mobile device. Some people took a few photos, others recorded almost the whole concert it seemed!

All in all it was a terrific event for our City and the surrounding communities. I am always happy to do projects like this that elevate our entire area and am so proud that I am the one who gets the call when someone needs wireless and they need it done right!

5 thoughts on “A Pop-up Stadium Wi-Fi Network for the Largest Local Event of the Year!

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  1. Great stuff!. Folks typically do not understand what it takes to deal with a network and RF in a temp world. This is a great explanation. I loved your advice on hidden SSID's nice and simple!

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