Feb 02

How AT&T is solving super problems at the NFL championship game

Staging Super Bowl LII can mean solving super problems, such as: How do you increase network capacity at the NFL championship game site — U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — to handle the cellphone calls of thousands of fans, media representatives and vendors as well as myriad other visitors? Solution: You plan months in advance. So says Marachel Knight, senior vice president, Technology and Planning, with AT&T Operations. She explained how her communication company prepared to handle this complex challenge, and how STEM teachers can use this experience as a teaching tool:

Q: Tell us about the challenge that AT&T faced in meeting demands for increased cell-phone and data usage at the Super Bowl.

A: All wireless carriers face unique challenges when hundreds of thousands of people in a limited geographic area all access wireless networks, potentially at the same time. But, we worked for more than a year to upgrade key portions of the Minneapolis network with both permanent and temporary enhancements where additional traffic is anticipated leading up to, and during, the Big Game.

Q: When did your planning start, what kinds of skills were involved in the planning phase and how did collaboration enter in?

A: Our planning started in June 2016.  A few members from different groups of our network organization participated in planning sessions, including engineers from various network planning and implementation teams. At the same time, other teams provided a constant stream of new information so that we could evolve our plans to align with all events related to the Big Game.

Q: When it came to implementing the plan, when did that phase start, how many workers were involved and what kinds of skills were needed?

A: Implementation started a few months after planning kicked off. After the planning phase, we then went through a network-design process. Once the network designs were created, our construction team secured the contracts and permits necessary to start building. After the build was completed, our network optimization team tested and fine-tuned the network elements to maximize the potential.

It’s hard to say how many workers helped with the construction, but more than 20 engineers helped with the network planning, design and optimization work.

Q: How did you take into account the possibility of foul/frigid weather? Has that actually been a problem during implementation of your plan?

A: Winter weather is something our teams in Minnesota deal with every year as part of their routine activities. In terms of planning, our network-capacity designs were modeled assuming good weather. That’s because customers typically use their phones quite a bit more when the weather is good.

The first week of January was especially cold in Minneapolis (highs below 15˚F the whole week). This led to some challenges working outdoors, but our crews are resourceful. One crew even set up an ice-fishing tent on a rooftop to keep warm while working on a site.

Q: What more can you tell us about AT&T tackling and meeting this real-world challenge, and how STEM educators might use this as a problem-solving example in their classrooms?

A: The key was starting as early as possible, effectively planning and using time wisely to meet our objectives — no matter how big or difficult they seemed up-front.

As we got closer to the game, we had regular status and touch-base meetings to ensure maximum visibility and collaboration among all involved teams.

STEM educators might use this strategy as a problem-solving example in classrooms to show that planning and teamwork are foundational to solving all kinds of difficult problems in a STEM-related industry.