I have been involved with a few wireless design and deployments for arenas and stadiums. I have been on the side of designing and validating and I have also played the role of third-party testing and validating someone else’s design and deployment. From this experience, I have come to realize that there is no one right way to design for a stadium or an arena. When asked how I would design one of these large venues, my answer is the classic, “it depends” (thanks Sam!).
After you gather your customer’s requirements, one of the first things you will need to figure out is what the structure has to offer in terms of mounting areas. Most outdoor stadiums will offer overhangs from the upper deck, handrails, and guardrails to assist with mounting. Most indoor stadiums/arenas will offer the same mounting options, as well as the ability to use the rafters.
When looking at antenna mounting locations, you will need to figure out how close can I get to the user and how can I focus my usable cell best, without any interference. With an indoor stadium/arena, when you look at the upper deck, you will almost immediately go straight to the rafters. This is probably one of the best ways to be able to focus the signal on a section of seats, with complete line of sight to the client with little to no attenuating factors.
With this design you want to use high-gain patch antennas – 10dBi – 14dBi usually do the trick. This will allow you to position the antennas as such so that you can focus the signal on the area or section of seats you are trying to cover.
For lower bowl areas in an indoor environment, and most, if not all seating areas in an outdoor stadium, you will want to place antennas under the seats. Placing antennas under the seats, allow you to get extremely close to the clients. With this design you can use APs with internal omni antennas. Now, I know you are saying, how am I supposed to focus the signal using an omni antenna? The beauty of attenuation used to your advantage. When designing stadiums you plan for full capacity, which means lots of people sitting around your antenna and providing attenuation so there is minimal overlap between cells that are not in the immediate area. Of course, this is not absolute and every good wireless engineer should test these factors and placements before designing the correct solution.
Depending on the size of the seating sections and the proximity of the seats, you can also use handrail or guardrail antennas in conjunction with or in lieu of the under the seat option. These solutions on the rails will be a directional style antenna and can focus the signal down one or more rows of seats. Typically you will see these staggered on either side of the section so that you don’t have two directional antennas shooting at each other. These antennas are good for those with seats near the aisles, however, depending on the size of the seating section, those in the middle might not have the same experience.
In conclusion, you have many options to work with when designing high-density wireless for stadiums and arenas. The most important thing to do is test, test, test. Don’t always assume that what worked with one venue is going to work at the next. Also try to work with some of the top antenna and enclosure vendors such as Acceltex Solutions and Ventev, as they have a ton of experience in this arena (pun intended) and can assist with choosing the right solution and even customizing the right solution for your stadium or arena.