Off to the races with Ericsson

Categories: Industry Technology

NASCAR attracts close to 200,000 spectators each event and today they are networked to a great extent. Fans send text messages, tweets, load up photos and they can also follow the communication between drivers and their crews with their mobiles. This puts high pressure on mobile networks and therefore the operator Sprint has chosen Ericsson to help optimize the networks.

On February 26 2012, the Daytona 500 race was halted and the drivers found themselves under a red flag. NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski then chose to pick up his phone while waiting for the race to restart and began posting status updates on Twitter.

Keselowski's initial tweet spread like wildfire – it was retweeted over 5,000 times and his Twitter follower base tripled in 24 hours. His live status updates would not have been possible without the additional network capacity and coverage provided at the race site.

When attending a major event, it’s easy to forget that a lot of thought and effort has gone into the planning process. In addition to the venue, utilities, equipment, catering, transportation and crowd control, organizers must now consider the increased load on the telecommunication network that results from a large number of people gathering in a relatively small area.

Conveniently for NASCAR, the series’ title sponsor is Sprint. In order to cope with the increased network demands experienced on a race weekend, Sprint partnered with Ericsson.

The plan was to create a temporary mobile-network solution for each race site to provide the additional capacity required – using a mixture of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. The solution needed to be flexible so it could be built up for the weekend, torn down and moved to the next race site. In essence, this could be compared to building up and tearing down a mobile network that could provide communication services for a small city. Add to that the fact that this needed to be done 38 times a year. This was quite a challenge.

Using its vast network-design and planning experience, Ericsson had the solution. This involved a phase of analyzing the existing network to understand the specific requirements of each site. Depending on the capacity needs, careful planning and design determine if there should be five or more portable cells on wheels (COWs) deployed. During the days leading up to a race, Ericsson ran tests to optimize the network and fine-tune the equipment.

But testing is one thing – it is when the NASCAR teams arrive and start their practice sessions that data usage starts to kick in and the network is really put to the test. And when the fans arrive, the usage skyrockets. During the race, to maintain network stability, Ericsson monitors, optimizes and performs active traffic management in real time. A lot of things can go wrong, but due to the careful planning, experience and proactively of the Ericsson team, network incidents are often fixed before anyone even notices they have happened.

Ericsson’s ability to support communication networks during periods of intense load is not limited to the 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races that take place each year. The company performs this role at many major events throughout the world.

More facts

  • Network capacity during a NASCAR Sprint Cup race can be as much as 3.5 times higher than it is at the same venue when a race is not taking place. Impressively, it takes just three days to assemble the temporary network that achieves this feat, using a mixture of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.
  • A Cell on Wheels (COW) is a complete mobile base station placed on a truck. It is used to support major events and includes radio antennas and backhaul solutions. Multiple COWs can be deployed to build an extensive capacity booster.
  • More than 50 transmission links need to be connected.
  • The mix of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi represents a very "dirty" radio environment, calling for careful network design and optimization.