Unlike the challenges of the World Cup, Olympics, and other sports events that take place in multiple places over several days, the Super Bowl game itself lasts about four hours. That means there is zero tolerance for failure, from shooting the game to broadcasting and streaming it. So on game day, it’s a gut-wrenching experience for the hundreds of people who have worked for two years to make sure that everything simply “works.” Super Bowl fans in the stands will expect flawless cellular and Wi-Fi performance, and viewers at home will expect multi-view, action-packed, real-time coverage. The mammoth technology infrastructure supporting Super Bowl LII should deliver on both.
This weekend, the population of Minnesota’s Twin Cities area will grow by one-third for the event as one million people descend like locusts for the game and dozens of pregame and postgame events. Minnesotans have hosted large events before—a quarter-million attended pro golf’s Ryder Cup in nearby Chaska in 2016—but none with this level of high-tech deployment.
Handling the whopping amount of data is just one challenge. While the final totals won’t be scored until after the post-game frenzy dies down, Super Bowl LII will certainly exceed the nearly 40TB of voice, video, and data transferred last year in Houston, of which 11.8TB was delivered via Wi-Fi. To provide some perspective, 11.8TB is equal to more than 5,000h of Netflix streaming, 2,900 DVDs, or 1.2 billion single-space typewritten pages. To handle this data deluge, the stadium has six 10Gbps circuits coming into the stadium, 550mi of fiber into the building, and nearly four miles of Cat6 Ethernet cable just to wire the building.
On the wireless side:
The cost all this must be been staggering, but it will be in place after all the fans go home.
Communications is just one part of the puzzle of technology that brings the Super Bowl to viewers. To shoot the game, for example, NBC Sports Group will use 106 cameras, including 76 for game coverage, two SkyCams, seven 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) cameras (two in the end zone), 130 microphones, and more than 50mi of cable. The stadium has 13 Daktronics video boards with a total viewing area of more than 31,000ft2 and a 55ft-high LED outdoor screen on the concourse that’s curved to look like a sail and is attached to a steel longship (Vikings, remember).
Intel will show off its “True View” technology, installed last year in the stadium, that uses 30 cameras with 5K (5120 × 2880) resolution delivered via voxels (pixels with volume). Used to render hi-def, multi-perspective replays in 3-D, each camera can process 1TB of data in near real-time.
Fans will be able to use the VenueNext stadium smartphone app, which not only includes a stadium map, but also marks your parking spot, shows restroom waiting times, enables in-seat snack ordering, and provides instant-replay videos. Even with all this power-guzzling hardware, the stadium still meets the criteria for LEED Gold certification—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system for resource and energy efficiency.
Security measures—both hi-tech and low-tech—will be in place as well. Before the game, every delivery truck and tractor-trailer entering the stadium will be X-rayed top to bottom in a special covered area and then escorted by a military escort into the stadium. Super Bowl attendees will be permitted to carry only small cameras with lenses less than 6in, clutch bags smaller than 4.5 × 6.5in, and clear plastic bags 12 × 12in or smaller. Thousands of law enforcement officers will be on the ground and in the air, including the State Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security, and other deferral agencies, along with officers from more than 50 state jurisdictions. Flights will be restricted over the stadium, and more than 2mi of fencing and concrete barriers will surround the stadium and other vulnerable areas. An estimated 100 explosive-sniffing dogs will be on duty, too.
All of this for a game that will last just four hours. But the Super Bowl isn’t simply a game, of course. It’s a culture whose fans demand (and are willing to pay for) the best that technology can provide. They certainly won’t be disappointed this year.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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