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NFL keeps Super Bowl goers entertained with Wi-Fi analytics

With Super Bowl 50 kicking off Sunday, there is one team behind the scenes that plenty of mobile users in the stadium will be counting on — and it’s not the Denver Broncos or Carolina Panthers.

With 80,000 fans using their phones to message, share content and more during the game, the Wi-Fi connectivity needs to be rock solid. The NFL will use analytics software from Extreme Networks to track the connection quality, bandwidth usage and the types of content being consumed or shared over the Wi-Fi network in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

There is pressure to make sure everything runs smoothly, and it’s not easy to prepare for, said Mike Leibovitz, a director in the office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, based in nearby San Jose.

“When you have a venue like that … you can’t replicate it,” Leibovitz said. “You have to be ready on game day, and you need to be able to react.”

Extreme Networks doesn’t provide the actual Wi-Fi signal, but it can address any connectivity problems with the Wi-Fi provider, which at this year’s game is Aruba Networks.

The company also uses network usage data to measure fan involvement in certain situations. For example, during last year’s Super Bowl, Wi-Fi traffic dropped dramatically in the fourth quarter as fans put down their phones to focus on the close game. Conversely, users were active on Wi-Fi constantly the prior year, when the game was a blowout, Leibovitz said.

Extreme Networks also shares information about the content attendees are sharing and consuming with the NFL in real time. If it’s not related to the game, the league can push contests — such as a chance to meet players after the game or win free merchandise — to fans using the NFL Mobile app, to keep them involved.

Whenever a company has the ability to observe what users are doing on a network, it raises questions about privacy. Those concerns are unwarranted, Leibovitz said.

“We don’t know who you are, but we can measure what is going on and the quality,” he said.

For example, the company would know someone is watching Netflix in the stadium and how well the connection is working, but it would not know what show he or she is watching, who the person is or the person’s exact location.

If connectivity issues arise, it’s a challenge to identify the cause — whether it be the network infrastructure or a specific mobile app or platform, Leibovitz said. Twitter sees extremely high traffic during the Super Bowl, for example, so if it is running slowly in the stadium, it is important to determine whether Twitter itself is having difficulty handling the high volume overall, or if there is an issue with the stadium’s network.