Mike Johnson, Director of Communication & Collaboration Solutions Logicalis US, explores the benefits of high-density Radio Frequency (RF) and how it can contribute to the bottom line and user experience.

Although you may not be a potential buyer for a high-density Radio Frequency (RF) system, you certainly have been or soon will be a consumer. RF, commonly known as Wi-Fi, is the packetized radio network that your mobile device connects to at home, at work, at the coffee house and now more commonly at major event venues. We all know how and when to use Wi-Fi to offload our web browsing, download applications from Google Play or iTunes, upload images and videos to social media or do our daily jobs. But what happens when 20,000 other potential users are around you? Well, that’s when Wi-Fi typically breaks, and high-density RF is needed. I’ve seen it in action – at the Cleveland Cavaliers National Basketball Association (NBA) venue, Quicken Loans Arena (lovingly nicknamed “The Q”).

I participated in the Cisco Systems RF Design and Competitive Summit in Richfield, OH. We took a tour of the Cisco RF Development Center where the latest in indoor and outdoor access points (radios) are being designed and tested. Cisco bought a separate building just for this purpose, which features fake cubicles and more than 100 real iPads, tablets, phones and laptops all accessing the network at the same time to put a load on the products and test their capacity for users and throughput in Mbps. Cisco even set up a toy train track that stretches from one end of the building to the other to simulate a user “roaming” from one access point to another to prove that the connection stays on with a strong signal.

It was great to see this environment, but what came next was even better. We took a bus to downtown Cleveland for a tour of the Q. We were hosted by Ed Kordel, the Cavaliers’ senior director of IT, and Michael Conley, the vice president of digital. The Wi-Fi at stadiums and locations where thousands of wireless users congregate has always presented challenges – sometimes neither Wi-Fi nor 4G/3G data networks from providers such as AT&T or Verizon work due to the high demand. There are simply too many users and not enough RF and bandwidth. With the digital experience so integral to Cavaliers games, owner Dan Gilbert tasked Ed and Michael to make it better. They engaged Cisco, Verizon and a technology partner to design and install a system that could support thousands of users. During Lebron James’ emotional return to Cleveland in early November for the first game of the season, this new network was put to the test.

More than 6000 users connected simultaneously. Single access points each saw up to 200 users sharing the signal. Handling the load took a robust network and keen design choices. It wasn’t perfect on day one. However, tonight while I was there it was rock solid for me. Using the Cavs app on my Android phone, I watched video replays from three different camera angles of dunks and plays that had just happened a few seconds earlier on the court. I consistently got 2MB upload and 5MB download from the web. How did the Cavs and their partners accomplish this user experience? The answer lies in highly technical implementations of backend systems and high-speed Internet connections. (Cleveland went from 200 Mbps to 300 Mbps just days after they signed Lebron James to a contract. The team knew they would need it!) However, it also takes a dedicated network, designed and used only by wireless users, it takes antennae placed in specific locations with directed signal strengths and it takes a Distributed Antennae System (DAS), which, for the Cavs, was designed and deployed by Verizon, to handle the 3G/4G network so not all the load is placed on it or the Wi-Fi. It’s balanced by user choice, but only if both are working. It also takes redundancy, monitoring, testing and tweaking. After two games, I can report it’s all going well. Dan Gilbert should be proud of his team on and off the court.

What’s next? Michael Conley told us he’ll be using this network to cater and market to all his loyal customers. By simply using this robust network, they generate usage data, and can be directly marketed to in new and innovative ways. Ad impressions on signs in the stadium have far less reach than the mobile device and screen that are in a customer’s hand or pocket.

It takes a team from marketing, IT and the various lines of business to truly understand and benefit from just how much high-density RF networks can contribute to the bottom line and user experience. The Cleveland Cavaliers understand that, and they have the right partners to make it happen.

Logicalis didn’t do the Cavs design or implementation, but we have designed and deployed networks for the National Hockey League (NHL) Columbus Blue Jackets and the National Football League (NFL) Indianapolis Colts. We can help with designing, implementing and planning for Wi-Fi and high-density RF in similar situations. We can also discuss how this technology can impact your bottom line.