Fingers Crossed…

Big projects bring many rewards, but also bring many frustrations. That’s just the way life goes when you are involved with the design, installation, and configuration of a wireless network that is in a high visibility area. The first weekend in December, I sat behind my laptop for 4.5 hours with my fingers crossed, hoping that things would go smoothly. While I’ve been involved in many projects like this over the years, even to this day I get a bit antsy in the days leading up to the opening of a new arena or stadium project. It’s impossible for me to avoid this, because regardless of the amount of planning, calculations, testing, etc that you do there are always things that are beyond your control.

The key to any project, regardless of size, is to properly set customer expectations. Especially when you are working in sporting venues, where it has become an arms race of sorts to provide the ultimate fan experience. Light shows, fast concessions, and plentiful restrooms have become the expected in these venues. Now, thanks to those of my generation, you can add blazing fast WiFi to that list of required amenities. It’s no longer enough to sit in the stands and watch the event, but we have the need as a society to tweet, post videos, FaceTime friends, and heck even watch other games going on at the same time. All of this puts strain on the wireless network where proper configuration and a great channel plan are needed to keep up with these demands. As part of setting those expectations, you must convey to your customer that a full venue simply won’t compare to an empty one. As the venue fills and airtime is consumed, those speed tests will decrease. That is a fact. Take a look at the two images below and you’ll see what I mean.

As you see here, once the crowd fills it starts to slow down. Yet, with enough designed capacity and good configuration your network can still perform well and easily meet the demands of your users.

The speed and performance of the network is the visible product at the end of the process. Setting expectations on speed and performance are important, but they aren’t the only things you should set expectations for with your customer. They are simply the end result and most visible piece of the project. What you don’t see are all of the steps between the beginning and end that require a keen eye to ensure the end results are positive.

I promise you that any big project will come with construction process frustrations. In many cases, you simply won’t be able to complete all of the wireless design steps want to ensure positive results. Testing (including APoS) in many venues like this are required in order to confirm that you have proper coverage cells, available mounting options, and most importantly that you can get the wire to the place you want your AP. In many cases, your perfect design will be rendered imperfect by an architect since things don’t look symmetrical. That’s ok. Your design will have to be flexible to a degree as I can guarantee you, some battles over AP type and location will be lost. Fortunately for the wireless engineer, sometimes a good enough location is acceptable.

For tips on increasing performance in a HD WLAN, see my previous blog post here: https://blog.theitrebel.com/2017/06/06/increasing-hd-wlan-performance/

You might be wondering what are some of the config pieces that help increase speed in VHD settings. You didn’t think I’d say all of this and not give a few tech nuggets did you? Here are a few tips, but not all. After all, I have to have a few secrets.

  1. Trim all low data rates. Cut all data rates below your beacon rate, except for the next highest rate. (Ex. beacon at 24 Mbps, lowest data rate allowed would be 18 Mbps.) I like to use 24 Mbps as my beacon rate when I know I can support high SNR for clients in VHD networks. If you can pull off 36 Mbps, do it. The goal is to use as little airtime as possible for beacons & management frame functions, leaving more for data frames!
  2. Enable 802.11k and v. These will help your devices run on the better AP in most cases.
  3. Provide an open or known network. There is a ton of airtime consumed by probing devices in these settings. By using a known or open SSID, you can greatly decrease the amount of probes in the air from clients.
  4. Limit 2.4 GHz. I promise you there will be some devices that just won’t run in 5 GHz. In this venue, on this night, there were over 3000 devices connected but 130 were 2.4 GHz only. Don’t alienate users just because they can’t afford a shiny device.

Fortunately, all of the work was well worth it. After two years of work, the event went smoothly and I found myself reading an email Monday morning from the customer, who was beyond pleased with how the network performed on opening night. An opening night sellout and a 45% take rate with solid performance metrics. I’ll take that any day.

-Scott

If you’re looking for more on stadium and arena WiFi, check out https://www.mobilesportsreport.com.

2 thoughts on “Fingers Crossed…

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