It was a hot, brutal summer day, the mercury was stuck in the mid-90s. It was the kind of heat that makes waves of hot air dance in the distance and mirages glisten on the horizon. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, worried I was a bit underdressed to be meeting with a customer. But I wasn’t visiting any ordinary customer, I was at BottleRock Napa Valley in the heart of California’s wine country; one of the music scene’s most iconic festivals.
I was there to meet with the entertainment industry’s premier technology implementor, Clair Global. Specifically with Clair Global’s CIO, Matt Clair. By the way, he was wearing shorts too.
Matt Clair is part of the founding family and carries the company’s name and reputation with him to every event he manages; this guy is one of the best. I had a chance to meet with Matt and his right-hand man, Ben Harris along with a couple of Cisco folks while they got everything set up for the festival.
It’s always fascinating to me how few folks can get a wireless network set up for 45,000+ music-crazy fans in just a few days. And it’s not just guest wireless, there’s ticketing, point of sale, back-end systems, and more.
The answer isn’t a single tool or method, it’s multi-faceted. Setting up this type of network requires know-how and experience; Clair’s been doing this for so long it’s become second nature. But beyond that, it comes from careful planning, having the right mix of tools, and partnering with Cisco Customer Experience (CX) to ensure the network is optimized for great experiences.
For a dynamic event environment like BottleRock, Clair Global uses planning software to map out the event space and determine the best locations to add wireless access points. Because they’ve done this before, they’re familiar with the traffic flows as well as high-density areas that need a little more power. They have the whole thing mapped out in an easy-to-read diagram which makes setup and troubleshooting much easier.
Cisco DNA Center, the Swiss army knife of network management tools
Clair makes extensive use of Cisco DNA Center to automate many of its network settings and processes, saving countless hours of time and eliminating manual errors while simplifying setup, management, and troubleshooting.
AI Enhanced RRM, CleanAir Pro, and 3D RF Mapping allow the team to all but eliminate wireless congestion and interference, meaning that fans can record clips of their favorite artists and moments to post on social media without a hitch. Additionally, AI Network Analytics along with Assurance gives the Clair team actionable insights to quickly solve problems, keep the network running, and ensure the experience for users. These capabilities and more allow Clair to accelerate the BottleRock deployment to just a few days onsite, including running fiber, hanging APs, setting up switches, and connecting everything.
Cisco Catalyst Access Points controllers and Switches deliver performance and reliability for high-demand networks
Clair has standardized on the Cisco Catalyst 9104 integrated stadium antenna as its fan-facing AP of choice. This award-winning AP is a beast, with too many antennas and features to count. The Catalyst 9104 can support wireless connections at a distance of 200+ feet. Additionally, the antennas are software configurable, allowing Clair to steer the RF beams and adjust the beam size to provide the best coverage across all areas. This gives the Clair Global team the ability to fine-tune the RF signal, creating the best and most reliable connections possible.
In addition, the Cisco Catalyst 9124 outdoor Wi-Fi 6 AP is used in smaller areas, while a smattering of Catalyst 9120 Wi-Fi 6 APs is used to ensure seamless coverage around the festival grounds.
Controlling the APs is the Cisco Catalyst 9800 wireless controller. The Catalyst 9800 delivers powerful feature sets that along with DNA Center allow for granular management of the wireless network and its characteristics.
Speaking of power, the APs are connected to lightning-fast Cisco Catalyst 9300 switches with mGig cards to maximize throughput. They deliver 90 watts of power per port with UPOE+, allowing Clair to power all the APs on the network as well as other POE-enabled devices, such as monitors, sensors, and cameras. Using Cisco DNA Center, they also monitor energy consumption at each port and analyze the data to ensure the proper operation of networked devices across the festival.
OpenRoaming delivers seamless and secure wireless experiences
Imagine the elimination of guest Wi-Fi passwords, portals, and SSIDs. Imagine that you Just Connect! Well, this isn’t some visionary idea, it’s here today and it’s called OpenRoaming. OpenRoaming uses an ID you already have, such as your carrier, device maker, device operating system, or loyalty app to automatically connect you to a participating Wi-Fi network. It’s a Wireless Broadband Alliance standard and it’s managed by member companies from across the wireless industry. It’s secure, seamless, and automatic.
The numbers give a clear picture: Nearly 75 percent of fans at the festival automatically connected when their AT&T and T-Mobile devices saw the OpenRoaming network. Those with Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel devices are also automatically connected. These users combined consumed 33 terabytes of data over the three days of the festival.
On the Cisco side, OpenRoaming is enabled through Cisco DNA Spaces. It connects to the OpenRoaming federation of identity providers to drive identity-based authentication, policy, and SLAs. The end result is simple, easy, secure, and automatic Wi-Fi connectivity.
Cisco CX delivers the knowledge and know-how to get’r done.
Now, I’ve talked about the Clair Global team, network planning, and the equipment that makes this all possible but there’s another component to the overall success of the network: the Cisco Customer Experience team – or “CX” for short. CX is the professional services team at Cisco whose expertise and knowledge are a huge factor in helping to set up some of the world’s largest sports and entertainment events, including the U.S. Open, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Super Bowl, and more. To say these guys know what they’re doing would be an understatement.
As I walked the BottleRock festival space with Matt Clair, we were joined by Matt Swartz, Distinguished Engineer, CX architect, and all-around wireless guru. While we were reviewing the massive array of Catalyst 9104s distributed throughout the grounds, Matt Swartz was explaining his methodology. He architects the wireless network so that each AP has no more than 100 devices connected per radio, even though each is capable of up to 200. He also explains that they rely strictly on 5GHz channels for fan-facing Wi-Fi. This is done to ensure there’s enough power and throughput while limiting co-channel interference. As he explains this to me, he points out areas that need additional access points and takes note of the area, where fans are likely to be standing, where the other APs are, and more. When he gets back to the trailer/network closet, he works with the team to get the additional APs scoped and added to the network. He then works in the DNA Center console and uses its AI engine to ensure everything is calibrated, tuned, and optimized. And just like that, the wireless network was ready to go. There’s a lot more to it but that’s top-secret Cisco stuff and if I told ya…well you know….
Learn more about Cisco DNA Center
Check out how Cisco CX can help transform your network
See the vast array of Cisco wireless solutions for both indoor and outdoor
Learn how OpenRoaming with Cisco can unlock your guest’s wireless experiences