Washington upgrades Wi-Fi backbone at FedExField

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 11.07.38 AMFans at FedExField now have more bandwidth to use on the stadium Wi-Fi network thanks to a recent upgrade that moved the backbone capacity to 10 gigabits per second, according to a release from the team.

Though it’s never been previously publicly announced by the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise, according to sources close to the team the reported network built by Verizon Wireless using Cisco Wi-Fi gear has been in full operation since last season, albeit under a sort of “soft launch” mode done without any promotion.

With more fans now using the network, the team saw a need to increase bandwidth from the 1 Gbps pipe that had been supplying all the Wi-Fi network needs. For many football-stadium Wi-Fi networks, 10-Gbps pipes are a popular choice, with several stadiums opting for multiple such connections. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home of the San Francisco 49ers, has four 10 Gbps pipes as part of its backbone configuration, while US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, has six 10 Gbps links.

For those who are new to stadium Wi-Fi (or who don’t know the difference between backhaul and actual end-user network speeds), the backbone bandwidth is shared by the entire network, which may have multiple tens of thousands of client devices running off any of hundreds of Wi-Fi access points. Typical user bandwidth speeds on Wi-Fi in large networks can range from single-digit megabits per second anywhere up to 20, 40 or even 60 Mbps, depending upon network configuration and density of users. Any fans attending games at FedExField who want to send us a speedtest please do!

AT&T takes on Verizon on Washington Capitals’ home ice

In a sign of the times, AT&T announced Wednesday significant improvements to mobile broadband coverage at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center. The announcement underscores the growing importance of providing superior connectivity around sports facilities.

AT&T will likely use added capacity as a way to convince Washington Capitals, Washington Mystic and currently-locked-out Washington Wizards fans to keep using AT&T services to get a 360-view of the live sports experience, or defect to AT&T if their current mobile carrier is substandard.

That AT&T has brought its in-stadium network improvement push to the Verizon-branded Verizon Center with better connectivity is a cagey move by AT&T.

Rob Forsyth, greater Washington/Baltimore area vice president and general manager for AT&T, said:

We’re committed to our investment in the local wireless network, and providing enhanced wireless coverage at major sports and entertainment venues is just one way.

There are interesting wrinkles to the AT&T upgrade. The owner of Verizon Center is Ted Leonsis, who was an pioneer in creating digital content during the early days of AOL.  Now owner of the Washington Capitals, Leonsis is also one the most wired sports executives in America. Whether AT&T will seek to buy favor with Leonsis as the sports viewing experience shifts toward social media and watching broadcasts on smartphones and iPads remains to be seen, but giving NHL fans really good digital throughput when they go to watch their 4-1-0 Capitals can’t hurt.

How Sports Fans May Benefit

If Verizon chooses to reciprocate, fans in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Chattanooga, Tenn. and San Francisco are most likely to benefit. In all of those markets, AT&T owns sole naming rights to stadiums, including the home of the San Francisco Giants and the San Antonio Spurs. Though AT&T probably doesn’t need Verizon to help out inside the Giants’ ballpark, Verizon does have its new speedy 4G LTE service active in San Francisco, while AT&T’s LTE service is not yet there.

Verizon has sole naming rights at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato, Minn. and the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sprint owns sole naming rights only at Sprint Center in Kansas City, which currently does not house a major professional sports team.