Written by IEEE | April 20, 2018

Despite fact that parts of the U.S. are still experiencing below-freezing temperatures and even a little snow, the Major League Baseball season is in full swing. When heading out to watch a game in person, baseball fans want more than just the latest weather forecast at their fingertips. The ballgame experience now includes access to the latest stats, injury reports and roster moves instantaneously. Before smartphones, getting any inside scoop involved listening to the radio call of the game, or calling a family member sitting home watching the game on TV.

Today, watching a baseball game in person is a totally different experience due to the various statistics apps that are available. Even the casual baseball fan may use a smartphone to look up a player’s name or former team. “Old time” baseball stadiums, like Wrigley Field in Chicago, are staying ahead of the curve in upgrading their infrastructures so that fans can enjoy seamless data downloads.

On April 6, the Chicago Cubs announced a multi-year partnership with Comcast that included the installation of a “10 Gigabit dual-circuit fiber network, which will offer roughly 1,000 times more speed and capacity in the ballpark and surrounding area than what was previously available. That capacity will be more than enough to accommodate the network of WiFi access points,” according to the news release.

How much strain can thousands of fans using WiFi at the same time have on a network, and what is being done to maximize fans’ experiences? We asked IEEE Fellow and associate professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Sundeep Rangan, to shed some light on the emerging technologies behind improvements in network infrastructure:

“There are two emerging technologies that could deliver even higher data rates. The first is the use of high frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) bands.  These have much wider bandwidths to provide higher capacity. They are also blocked by many common materials and can be transmitted in very narrow beams, so they are easier to isolate in a dense stadium setting. The mmWave bands are already used in the IEEE 802.11ad standard and are a key component of the 5G cellular standards that should be available soon.

A second potential method is so-called massive MIMO. In this solution, a large antenna with several elements communicates to a number of users with narrow beams. This method should also improve capacity in a stadium; however, most of the early field trials have focused on more traditional suburban and urban settings.”

Improved wireless capabilities may only be the tip of the iceberg for what we see in the sports stadiums of tomorrow. Who knows – in the coming years, fans might be able to order food and merchandise from their seats and have it delivered to them; or better yet, weigh in on whether or not it’s time to take a starting pitcher out of the game.