Austin Football Club (Austin FC) is only in its second season but already the team has made it to the Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs. The club has been dubbed the “sellout king” of MLS, with all seats claimed for 36 consecutive games, a league record.
With a capacity of more than 20,000 in a city filled with tech savvy millennials, Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium hosts huge data-hungry crowds who text, livestream and post to social media throughout the games. At least a quarter of the online data generated during a typical game is upstream traffic, according to Ryan Fannin, the team’s VP for IT.
Fannin oversees the infrastructure that supports wireless connectivity at Q2 Stadium. In 2020, the stadium signed a deal with Boingo to provide Wi-Fi and a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS).
Wi-Fi came first. Boingo deployed one of the first Wi-Fi 6 networks at an MLS stadium, with contractors installing more than 600 Cisco access points throughout the arena. The network leverages Passpoint for frictionless transition of users to the Wi-Fi network.
As the team’s popularity grew and the crowds swelled, it quickly became clear that it was time to add the DAS. Construction started earlier this year, and the system was complete by June.
T-Mobile is the anchor tenant for the DAS, and the only carrier that has connected so far. The headend room has empty racks waiting for Verizon and AT&T, and conversations are underway with both.
The DAS supports standalone 5G and LTE, and is backhauled by a new 8 gig fiber connection. It incudes 120 Nokia remote radio heads. The carrier assigned 40 RRUs to each of three spectrum bands: 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2.5 GHz. T-Mobile RF engineer Ana Escarcega said the carrier has 20 MHz of 1900/PCS spectrum in Austin, and two 10 MHz blocks of 2100/AWS spectrum. It has 100 MHz at 2.5 GHz, with the ability to add another 80 MHz as spectrum becomes available.
One hundred sixty-six JMA Wireless antennas blanket the 465,000 square foot stadium. The antennas range in size and power level, from small ceiling-mounted units to large black boxes mounted on the sides of the wide halls.
The DAS was put to the test October 16, when Austin FC defeated Real Salt Lake in its first playoff game. T-Mobile reported a 35% increase in data traffic compared to a regular season game, and said the network handled 114,500 social media posts, twice the number typically seen during a game. Total upload data traffic during the game was 103 GB and total download data traffic was 267 GB, putting upload traffic 28% of the total. Upload traffic was the highest at kickoff, and download traffic was the highest around halftime.
T-Mobile did not report average network speeds during the playoff game, but informal speed tests conducted during a regular season game one week earlier showed upload speeds as high as 425 Mbps and download speeds of up to 581 Mbps.
Customers of AT&T and Verizon can access the DAS through T-Mobile’s Network Pass program. This promotion allows mobile subscribers with an unlocked eSIM device to connect to Wi-Fi and move their phones onto the T-Mobile network for a free three-month trial, while maintaining their contract with their primary carrier.
5G speeds have helped the stadium’s mobile concession business, according to Fannin. He said the stadium uses a “store and forward” system for processing credit cards, meaning that the card numbers are stored on mobile devices and then forwarded to the banks for verification. If a card is declined after the sale has been made, the stadium has to take the loss. With a faster network, more cards are getting declined before the transaction is complete.
Although Q2 Stadium is fully devoted to Austin FC while they continue their winning streak, it is also designed to accommodate other types of events during the off season, including concerts and other sporting events.
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