Verizon's under-seat DAS key in handling expected 10.5 terabytes during next year's Super Bowl

The final whistle in Super Bowl 50 blew less than a week ago but Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is already six months into its preparations for next year's big game, to be held at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

By Verizon's count, more than 7 terabytes of data crossed its network at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. from kickoff until the end of Super Bowl 50. Vikram Rawat, director of network system performance at Verizon Wireless, expects at least 1.5 times that during next year's game. That means wireless data consumption during the 2017 Super Bowl could top 10 terabytes.

Aspects of Verizon's network design with Levi's Stadium, particularly a first-of-its-kind under-seat DAS deployment in the lower levels, helped handle extra traffic this year and Rawat expects those same unique DAS radios to be deployed in Houston.

The need for something like an under-seat DAS, which can increase capacity without adding the extra noise that would come from more sector antennas, came about after Verizon saw data usage during the Super Bowl jump from 1.9 terabytes in 2014 to 4.1 terabytes in 2015.

"I was in Phoenix during the Super Bowl [in 2015] and what we saw was remarkable," said Rawat in an interview with FierceInstaller. "From the Super Bowl in New York to Phoenix we saw a significant growth in data; it was exponential. Based on that Phoenix experience, we came back [to Santa Clara] and had go back to the drawing board."

For Santa Clara, Verizon doubled down on its traditional design of hanging antennas on the concourses but also added the under-seat DAS. One of the main challenges with installing an antenna so close to where people are sitting was to ensure it could operate within the power guidelines set by the FCC. But with the design Verizon used, Rawat said that even at full power, the under-seat DAS was safely within that power range.

The local Verizon network team from Houston was on hand for Super Bowl 50 and saw how the under-seat DAS impacted capacity. Rawat said the plan right now is to use the same technology in NRG Stadium to deal with another huge day of mobile data traffic.

"If we doubled the traffic [in Santa Clara] we're expecting to do the same thing [in Houston], and nothing traditional will work. So this design will be taken to the next step," Rawat said.

Rawat didn't offer too many specifics of what the stadium deployment for next year's Super Bowl will look like but he said it will be denser than the network at Levi's Stadium.

Rawat said Verizon had planned for 8 terabytes during this year's Super Bowl but had projected 6 terabytes, so the 7 terabytes it saw fell right in between. He expects that the capacity Verizon built in at Levi's Stadium should accommodate expected usage for the next two to three seasons.

In August 2015, Verizon announced a $12 million investment to build a distributed antenna system (DAS) and additional XLTE technology in and around the Houston stadium. In all, the new DAS will distribute 783 antennas throughout the facility and should increase capacity by four times.

"When Super Bowl fans from around the world arrive in Houston, we want to deliver consistent, reliable performance at NRG Stadium and throughout the greater metropolitan area that our customers have come to expect from Verizon," said Keith Gladhill, president of the Houston/Gulf Coast Region for Verizon Wireless, in a statement.

For more:
- read this Verizon press release

Related articles:
Parallel Wireless and partners put public safety LTE network to the test during Super Bowl 50
Verizon, AT&T beef up stadium DAS, small cells for Super Bowl 50
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