Many attendees at the Super Bowl want to make selfies, and shoot streaming videos, and talk to everyone they know in between plays. That consumes huge amounts of data bandwidth and can cause major problems for first responders in the host city and those working the event who need reliable connectivity. That's why law enforcement officers and other public safety professional working America's largest spectator event back in February in the Los Angeles area needed priority and preemption that moved their communications to the front of the line. To provide that level of service for first responders, cellular companies like AT&T and Verizon have to prepare months—even years—in advance for a "mass calling event" that may not even occur.
“This was a coordination, about a two-year planning period where we were working with state and local government agencies in the Los Angeles County area where we were making sure that they had mission critical communications, they had the network reliability, the speed, the capacity—everything that they would need to communicate and coordinate effectively during the Super Bowl for all of their public safety operations,” says Cory Davis, director of public safety operations team at Verizon, which offers Frontline as a priority and preemption solution for first responders.
AT&T, which provides FirstNet and Band 14 public safety coverage through a 25-year agreement with the quasi-governmental FirstNet Authority, also planned more than a year in advance for both community and first responders’ needs. AT&T’s Fred Scalera, director of program management for FirstNet, says network teams start working with Super Bowl cities about two years in advance, and then about a year out the local planning for public safety support begins.
Expanding The Network
This year's Super Bowl venue presented the first responder networks with some extreme challenges. Inglewood, CA's SoFi Stadium has a seating capacity of 70,240 and its location in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County puts it in an area with some of the highest cellular traffic in the world.
Verizon invested $119 million in infrastructure around SoFi Stadium, according to Phillip French, the company's vice president of network engineering. However, he clarifies that this investment was on top of the about a half-billion dollars the company invests in southern California annually.
French describes the network as “robust” and said it had to be ready to not only handle the demand of fans at the stadium but also large gatherings of fans in the convention center in downtown Los Angeles about 15 miles away and even for peak travel corridors through the area.
French says a Super Bowl is a “mass calling event” and Verizon prepared with ample capacity in case another mass calling event occurred on top of the already heavy need for data. Other mass calling events could be something like the breaking news of a shooting outside a Justin Bieber event during Super Bowl week, he said.
“What’s great about those investments is the people who live in Los Angeles, the tourists, the public safety agencies, the businesses, they are all going to benefit from those investments for years to come. Those capital investments stay there around the stadium,” Davis says.
Likewise, AT&T expanded coverage and improved connectivity in the broader community by investing nearly $2.7 billion in wireless and wireline networks in the greater Los Angeles area from 2018 to 2020.
“These were thousands of sites that were upgraded to make sure that we had networking continuity across any place, that could be large venues or anywhere large events happened for the Super Bowl,” says Scalera.
“We wanted to ensure that everybody that was leveraging the FirstNet network had access to it, where they needed it, when they needed it, so that they could use all their devices and apps to the best extent they could communicating with all the partners they needed to throughout the event,” says Michael Varney, director of stakeholder collaboration with the FirstNet Authority.
Scalera, who was the first person employed to work on FirstNet after AT&T signed the agreement with the FirstNet Authority, has had a hand in delivering communications solutions for decades and has planned communications for several Super Bowls. “The network was the most solid I’ve ever seen at any Super Bowl,” he says.
SoFi Stadium was at the heart of the data need, at least on the day of the big game. But the stadium presented unique challenges since its proximity to Los Angeles International airport necessitated a construction plan that placed the field more than 100 feet below grade. “As you get more and more underground, you need to put more nodes and things like that to give you the connectivity because you are well below grade,” Scalera says. AT&T installed nearly 260 5G+ nodes inside the stadium to aid in connectivity.
Verizon, an official partner with the National Football League, began working with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017—well before the stadium's construction—to plan for abundant connectivity and meet the data demand of attendees in the new venue.
“This event was our largest event ever for a Super Bowl,” French says. “We knew in partnership with the NFL and the security entities around, how customers were going to come in, what we expected in quantity, and we had the network designed for all that. The network performed incredibly and that wasn’t by accident.”
Both FirstNet and Verizon Frontline staged deployable communications assets around the area in case more capabilities were needed to serve public safety.
Among those assets were AT&T’s six high-capacity Cells on Wheels (COWs) that provided more bandwidth for use by both the public and first responders. Those COWS, which arrived about two weeks ahead of the game, have everything a cell tower would have.
“They were located throughout Inglewood back out through even downtown in LA. They’re brought in to add a lot more capacity that we would ever need in any normal event in LA,” Scalera says.
FirstNet, which is not a commercial network, stationed mobile assets including five SatCOLTs (satellite cellsite on light truck), one Micro SatCOLT, a new Communications Vehicle, and a cache of network equipment and FirstNet Ready devices.
Scalera explains that FirstNet SatColts can be installed on top of a parking deck where they erect a 50-foot communications tower. Two SatColts were staged in LA near NFL Live and two more were located at the stadium, one on either side.
“They were put in hot standby. The reason for that is there has to be redundancy,” Scalera says. “If there was a failure in the network at any point, we could remotely turn those on.”
The fifth SatColt was positioned with a response team at the LA County Emergency Operations Center and the new Communications Vehicle was based at the EOC near the NFL Live events. The Compact Rapid Deployable (CRD), a small portable cell tower that can be deployed by one person, was posted in a staging area in Inglewood.
On Friday, the Communications Vehicle started moving to the staging area in Inglewood and the CRD remained through Saturday night for any response near NFL Live. By Sunday, both were moved for game day to staffed staging areas in Inglewood.
“We also staffed the Joint Operations Center full time, which was in Inglewood; the Emergency Operations Center fulltime, which was at the LA Police Academy; and then when the staging area went live we staffed that with the Comms vehicle and the CRD for the staging area where over 1,000 public safety responders were,” FirstNet’s Scalera says.
He points out how FirstNet has greatly increased capabilities for handling Super Bowls in recent years, even in just the handful of years since the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta.
“When you go back to the Georgia Super Bowl, we had a great success on the network and we did have hot standbys up, but we didn’t have MicroCOLTs and we didn’t have response equipment,” says Scalera. “Back when we would go to those other Super Bowls, we used to rent some Tahoes—portable satellite equipment, portable phones, throw them in and that was our response. Now we’ve built that into the Response Operations Team with vehicles that have their equipment on board.”
Verizon Frontline staged deployable assets including a Cell on a Light Truck (COLT), a Satellite Trailer Emitting Equipment Remote (STEER), a Satellite Pico-cell on a Trailer (SPOT), and a Generator on a Trailer (GOAT). In coordination with the Inglewood Police Department, the Frontline Verizon Response Team pre-positioned deployable assets at the agency’s Incident Command Post. The team also set up portable cell sites, WiFi hotspots, free charging stations, and other Frontline devices and solutions to enable communications and boost network performance.
Verizon Frontline provided solutions to the Inglewood Police Department’s Joint Operations Center, where in partnership with 5G FWA edge solutions provider Inseego, the Verizon Response Team helped ensure federal, state and local public safety agencies had the network reliability and speed they would need to communicate and coordinate effectively during public safety operations.
“With the high bandwidth requirements of the local, state, and federal law enforcement partners on scene, including video downlinks from helicopters providing situational awareness, it was reassuring to know we had a 5G Ultra Wideband connection measuring over a gigabit in speed we could utilize,” said Patrick Au, of the City of Inglewood’s Information Technology Department.
When the big game arrived, Verizon managed the network from a brick-and-mortar command center and had already rehearsed nearly any network scenario that could arise.
“At the beginning of the football season, we were running the command center each home game in a dry rehearsal. Each home game we were simulating some form of an event,” French says. The simulation could be a loss of power at the command center or a simulation of a mass calling event by shutting down some macros and working with the team to see how to deploy assets into Los Angeles.
“We are always running drills up to the main game so when we get into those 10 days if something happens, we have likely practiced a scenario similar to it,” French says. Verizon’s network was able to provide data needs for everyone, first responders included, without activation of the Frontline deployable assets, according to Davis.
Gametime Data Usage
Super Bowl LVI marked record high data demands, according to both Verizon at AT&T. French says Verizon had about 40,000 users inside the stadium on game day. They consumed 30.4 terabytes of data during pregame, the event, and postgame. That is a huge increase compared to the prior two Super Bowls. In 2021, at a more limited-attendance game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Verizon delivered 25.3 TB. In 2020, 21.5 TB of data was consumed.
French said Verizon plans for a data increase from one Super Bowl to the next and calculations for the 2023 Super Bowl in Phoenix are not yet finalized, but a preliminary starting point would be to plan for at least a 20% increase in data needs from one year to the next.
AT&T saw a new Super Bowl record set with 13 TB of data usage before, during, and after the game. That was a 28% increase over the 2020 Super Bowl in Tampa. AT&T uses 2020 as a comparison, saying that attendance was lower in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the public safety side, AT&T reported on average a first responder used twice the data of a fan at the big game. During the 2022 Super Bowl, first responders conducted more than 320,000 data connections and about 2,300 voice calls through AT&T.