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It Takes A Team: NCAA Tournament Wireless

 

Every March, college basketball’s best teams battle it out in a fierce, single-elimination tournament that is probably best described as madness. Watched by millions across the country, the final three games provide the centerpiece for a larger-than-life event that serves as the ultimate test of teamwork—both for the athletes that compete, and for the city that plays host.

Such was the case for the tournament’s 2018 host, San Antonio, Texas. With an expected television audience numbering more than 97 million viewers, success would cement San Antonio’s standing as a host capable of overseeing the highest profile events. But what does success mean in the context of a major athletic event?

In today’s mobile-first world, it means that each and every fan in attendance can share the excitement in real-time. It means that millions of people watching, listening, and streaming at home can do so without interruption or delay. Quite simply, it means reliable data—and lots of it.

 

Getting a Game Plan

Completed in 1993, the Alamodome’s versatility and proximity to San Antonio’s rich downtown have made it a fan favorite for decades—but San Antonio isn’t one to rest on its laurels. A massive IT upgrade was about to secure the Alamodome’s seat among the country’s most tech-friendly sports venues.

Working alongside the tournament’s longtime IT partner, Ryan Marketing Group (RMG), the city’s IT staff began the process of updating the beloved venue’s IT infrastructure. “Essentially there would be two sides to the project,” notes John Rodriguez, Assistant IT Director for the City of San Antonio. “First we needed to update the Alamodome’s permanent infrastructure, then we would install the temporary, event-specific capacity.”

Having worked together on a number of previous projects, the city of San Antonio enlisted our help to spearhead the effort. Working alongside RMG and the city’s internal staff, our team developed an implementation schedule that detailed the scope of work, outlined partner responsibilities, and established project timelines. Given the large number of outside organizations that would be present at the event, the plan was expressly designed to accommodate on-the-fly changes and special requests.

 

Getting to Work

Work on the Alamodome’s permanent infrastructure began in 2017, with significant updates made to the facility’s voice, data and wireless systems. Beginning in early 2018, our team shifted focus to the temporary capacity, creating the wired drops necessary for the broadcast compound, on-site vendors, and ticketing personnel. Attention then turned to wireless.

“The NCAA brings in their own temporary seating for the floor level,” recounts the project’s Principal Solutions Architect, Craig Watkins. “This required us to develop a temporary wireless solution to augment the facility’s permanent infrastructure.” In order to create a seamless user experience, our team oversaw the installation of over 250 temporary access points to cover the new seating area, media room and outdoor stadium event spaces.

 

San Antonio’s Moment to Shine

In the end, our team—working with RMG, city staff, and vendor partners AmpThink and Tero Technologies—installed over 1,000 network drops and hundreds of miles of cable in support of wired, wireless and voice/telephony services to ensure the tournament went off without a hitch.

As with any live event, however, there were a few surprises. “At the last minute, we received significant requests from several media outlets,” recalls John Rodriguez. “Computer Solutions was able to meet those needs on the fly. We didn’t even have to think about it.”

It all came back to the plan. Understanding the fluid nature of live events, our team was well prepared to handle eleventh-hour changes. As for the event itself: “It was relatively quiet,” Rodriguez notes. “Due to the pre-work, there were simply no major issues.”

Indeed, with the eyes of the world watching, the Alamodome rose to the occasion. While there will be no trophy to celebrate, the real prize came in the selection of San Antonio to host the finale again in 2025.