My name is Matt Swartz and I’ve been supporting the technology side of live events with Cisco for many years. Having recently completed the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships, and currently in Japan for the largest temporary sports event on the planet, keeping fans and event infrastructure connected is top of mind. I thought I’d share the top five challenges IT professionals like myself face and need to anticipate at these types of events.

1. Bandwidth

Depending on where the event takes place, there probably won’t be a couple 10 gig circuits available. So, you’ll need to work with the local providers to have circuits provisioned and have backup circuits preferably through a different provider in case your first provider has issues. With any live event you’ll notice a few common bandwidth themes, and you’ll need to make sure you create your bandwidth plan with these in mind:

  • Designing with redundancy
  • Having a backup plan and prepare for things that could go wrong
  • Having a backup plan for your backup plan

2. Power

In permanent venues, power is usually not a major issue and has been well thought out and provisioned to handle just about any situation. In temporary events, power can be one of the bigger challenges given the temporary nature of the event, combined with the fact that these events tend to be held in areas where there isn’t a lot of existing infrastructure to work with. For example, golf courses would be one location where power can be an issue. More times than not you are extending power from the nearest location and quite often you are using some form of temporary power to fire up your switches, which in turn power your access points. The most common forms of temporary power are gasoline and natural gas generators of all shapes and sizes, as well as battery power. Both options have to be maintained as gas needs to be refilled and dying batteries need to be swapped out for fully charged ones. Think through all the potential power challenges.

3. Client Change

The predominate client device at live events is the smart phone, and while there are a couple vendors that are much more popular than the rest, the one thing they all have in common is change. Client change comes in various forms, whether it be a new device being released to the market, or much more common, a software update to an existing device. In either case there is the possibility that the client behavior on your network will change. With that knowledge you need to be acutely aware of these changes as they can impact your network. One example of this is channel support. Not all devices support all channels. While we don’t suggest planning to support every known device, we do suggest making sure you understand the supported channels along with the characteristics and behaviors of the devices that will make up 95+% of your network. Be cognizant of changes.

4. Simplicity

The simpler you can make it for people to get on and utilize the network you’ve painstakingly built to keep them connected, the better. In the beginning, splash pages were very popular, but they’re also a barrier to entry. These days it pays off to make it as seamless as possible to access a network. Enter OpenRoaming, created by Cisco and now transitioned to the Wireless Broadband Alliance. OpenRoaming provides a seamless way to authenticate users to the network via a variety of authentication options including service provider authentication. Also, popular apps are now joining as authentication providers, and each venue can insert the OpenRoaming SDK into their app to seamlessly authenticate their fan base to the network.  For more information on OpenRoaming, visit our solutions page. Remember to keep it simple.

5. The Unexpected

Last but certainly not least, expect the unexpected. Anything can happen, and while we always hope for a smooth event, sometimes we get some surprises. Here’s a true story…imagine during the middle of one of the most watched football games of the year—the power goes out! What do you do? You’ve planned well, you have UPS backup power, but you don’t know how long the power will be out. It’s time to get creative and think about the possibilities. Work with the smart people around you and come up with a plan. Perhaps you consider shutting down half of that redundant core you set up. Why would you do that? Well, it’s draining your backup power fast, and if you shut down half the core, you can stay up that much longer. Beyond power, other things can come into play—like a new point of sale app that can’t handle the load of orders coming in.  Of course, the first reports are the Wi-Fi is down, but in actuality, the issue was on the application side and related to the server farm’s ability to handle requests fast enough. Wi-Fi tends to be guilty until proven innocent in these types of scenarios.  Expect the unexpected.

Get a behind-the-scenes look from Matt Swartz on how he
provides a best-in-class live event digital experience 

At the end of the day, when you have a great team, a great plan, and great technology backing you up, it’s possible to minimize all these challenges. If only we could minimize the harder challenges to plan for, like weather, pandemics, and the random streaker.

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