Connectivity

How Verizon preps for the Preakness

The second of the annual Triple Crown horse races draws over 65,000 people—and even more connected devices.
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At Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, every split second matters.

That’s true for the field of thoroughbreds that will race for the $2 million Preakness Stakes purse on Saturday, and for the tens of thousands of spectators who will consume nearly 50 gigabytes of mobile data during the event.

In data-usage terms, that’s the equivalent of streaming 10,000 songs or 100 hours of video, all condensed into a 12-hour period and concentrated around the track’s one-mile dirt oval.

According to Verizon Wireless’s Brian Dunn, an associate director of network operations, providing this level of connectivity takes a measure of advance planning as well as boots-on-the-ground preparation.

“It’s just a lot of extra capacity that we need to provide for our customers,” he told Tech Brew. “Our standard network will get loaded. So it’s really just a little bump there to ensure that we don’t have any disruptions in service.”

The key to Verizon’s strategy is rolling in temporary assets to boost network capacity, he said, like the MEOW (that’s industry speak for a mobile network on wheels). This trailer is outfitted with hardware to augment 4G and 5G signals, as well as backup power generators and satellite antennas, he said.

“You put the boom up and it’s like a cell site,” Dunn said.

Providing enough network capacity for a big-draw horse race is different than planning for routine coverage of other sporting events like football games, he noted. For one, football stadiums typically include large indoor structures and routinely draw big crowds, making it more practical to hardwire continuous connectivity into the venue with a commercial partner like CommScope.

The Pimlico track draws much smaller crowds throughout the year and is also primarily an outdoor venue, making a “pop-up” connectivity solution better suited to the Preakness, according to Dunn.

Last year, Verizon’s network handled 4.9 million connections during the event’s busiest hour, including a staggering volume of app usage and phone calls, Dunn said. Now, the carrier is ready to do it all over again.

Preparation begins more than a week in advance, first setting up the equipment and then fine-tuning it.

“All the stats are looking good,” he said of the network. “We’ll have a successful event.”

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