We flew a Speedtest banner over a football game to see if stadium internet is getting faster…
…and it is.
Anyone who has attended a football game in a packed stadium can attest to the fact that the internet there is slow. Not just moves a little sluggishly slow, but tweets won’t publish and mobile internet browsing is non-existent slow. This happens in part because when large groups of people try to access the internet from the same location at once, mobile networks get overcrowded and that causes speeds to decline.
Slow internet makes for a frustrating fan experience for those who want to check out the starting wide receiver’s stats, share their most recent selfie (not that you would ever take one) or check in with friends watching the game at home. It also makes it harder for teams to interact with fans throughout the game. All in all, it’s a crummy experience for everyone.
As football fans and people who think a lot about internet speeds, the Speedtest team started wondering how fast stadium internet actually is and about the influencing factors. So we decided to dig deeper into the topic by taking a closer look at the stadium in our own backyard — CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks.
Over the years, we’ve noticed that people frequently test their internet at crowded events like football games. Having seen this in our data, and knowing that poor speeds in crowded places are a common complaint about mobile networks, we decided to run a little experiment.
On August 25th, we hired a pilot to fly a 30x100 foot banner over CenturyLink Field for the Seattle Seahawks home preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. The banner read “Take a Speedtest” to encourage tailgaters and game attendees to test their internet connection around and in the stadium using our Speedtest app.
After the game, we tallied up the Speedtest results from inside the stadium and the immediately surrounding area (e.g. stadium parking lots) and started analyzing.
What We Learned
We collected results from all four major carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless — at the game. While Sprint walked away with the highest average download and upload speeds (29.95 Mbps and 10.19 Mbps respectively), the number of tests taken using Sprint did not reach a statistically significant number. This low test number makes it hard to say whether Sprint’s network truly was the fastest at this particular game, or just an outlier.
Verizon Wireless achieved the fastest average download and upload speeds (20.19 Mbps and 9.55 Mbps respectively) at the game with a significant number of tests. T-Mobile and AT&T were next with lower upload speeds and the highest latencies overall, meaning fans on those carriers likely had an even harder time sharing and receiving information.
We looked at 12 other CenturyLink events over the previous months to expand our test pool, including several concerts and Seattle Sounders games. Again, all four major carriers were represented in the data. Across all 12 events, Sprint maintained the highest average download speed at 23.03 Mbps. Interestingly, Sprint also was the carrier with the most tests taken on their network during the 12 event period. This difference is likely because Sprint is a COPA America events sponsor around the US and runs a fan booth at CenturyLink Field where employees and customers are encouraged to take a Speedtest. Despite Sprint’s larger test volume, Verizon claimed highest average upload speed with 10.47 Mbps.
CenturyLink is an ISP themselves and their namesake stadium now provides free CenturyLink Wi-Fi to game attendees. Additionally, Verizon customers get exclusive access to Verizon’s free in-field Wi-Fi. In looking at Wi-Fi tests taken before and during the game, most were conducted over CenturyLink’s network. The network’s wireless performance was 5.14 Mbps download and 10.21 Mbps upload at the game. Looking again at the 12 events at CenturyLink Field, the Wi-Fi averaged 5.17 Mbps download and 9.68 Mbps upload. The top recorded download speed on CenturyLink’s Wi-Fi across all events was 17.54 Mbps.
The highest average download speeds took place outside CenturyLink Field. So if you want to download that Vuvuzela app, your best bet is to do it before you enter the stadium or somewhere else beforehand. More interested in uploading that picture of garlic fries to Instagram? Surprisingly, stay in your seat! Upload speeds tended to be higher within the stadium stands than outside.
Stadium Internet is Getting Faster
The internet in stadiums is getting faster. We looked at four notable US football stadiums — the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, and the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium — and saw that speeds are improving across the board.
Stadiums are getting faster for a couple reasons. First, they’re investing more heavily in technology infrastructure to enhance the in-stadium experience and engagement opportunities for fans. Take San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, which was built with 70 miles of Wi-Fi cabling (400 miles total) and 1 Wi-Fi access point for every 100 seats in the bowl for a total of 1,200 access points in the stadium. These infrastructure developments make it easier for fans to access mobile internet at the game from any carrier.
Mobile carriers are also investing in their networks around the stadiums. It wasn’t too long ago that carriers rolled up en masse to the stadium on game day with mobile antenna trucks to help enable mobile internet for their customers. Now, carriers are investing in embedded infrastructure at stadiums and sports arenas.
Verizon is fast at work getting Houston’s NRG Stadium ready to host the 2017 Super Bowl, citing the importance after fans at Super Bowl 50 used nearly 7 terabytes of data. On the college circuit, AT&T installed a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) at Oregon State University’s Reser Stadium to help fans get online. Carriers still have their ups and downs, but continued network investments such as these keep pushing general mobile internet speed trends in a positive direction.
This faster internet benefits everyone by increasing accessibility to existing content and communication mediums as well as opening up new avenues for connection. For instance, faster internet at Levi’s Stadium has led to a smartphone and tablet stadium app that provides digital content like instant replays and directions to bathrooms with the shortest lines. Stadium vendors can also sell concessions via the app and then deliver the items directly to a fan’s seat, helping merchants sell items at the game and decreasing the amount of time fans have to wait in line. As internet speeds continue to improve, it only stands to reason that more solutions to streamline experiences for fans and open up new opportunities for businesses will emerge.
Next time you’re at a game, concert, festival, or other event share your Speedtest results to social media with #CrowdSpeed. With your help, we are one step closer to better understanding — and improving — internet performance everywhere.