Super Bowl Scene: Make way for geeks and nerds


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DALLAS -- This might be the nerdiest Super Bowl ever. Or would that be the geekiest?

Respect the people who will allow tens of thousands of iPhones and Androids to work, keep conflicting wireless microphone frequencies from shutting down live TV interviews, not to mention making sure the coaches' headsets aren't tuning in the wrong signals.

For it is up to them to keep the whole thing humming along with no noticeable glitches.

Pete Walsh, director of information technology for the Dallas Cowboys, can see it now. "That opening kickoff, everybody's flashing pictures, taking videos. The first thing you're going to do is share it with friends and family."

And that means a simultaneous push of data from maybe 100,000 cell phones out to Facebook, Twitter and e-mail accounts.

Walsh is confident that everyone's images will make it out promptly, in part because his team has sat in every seat in the stadium using computerized devices to check that 1,000 antennas are properly positioned so no one is sitting in a dead zone.

Several telecom companies including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have increased capacity at the stadium, something they actually began arranging last fall based on the increased data loads that they were seeing passing through.

The stadium seats about 100,000 people, but more are expected to be hanging out outside during the game, even as 2,500 walkie-talkies are in use by first responders. Concession stands, ticketing booths and the 3,000-screen in-stadium TV network uses the latest technology.

The Cotton Bowl held at the stadium in January provided a good test of the high-tech systems created for the new facility, Walsh said.

"I'm very confident," said the guy who once worked on Grant Street for Rockwell International. He has experience with the B1 Bomber and the space shuttle, too.

While Walsh's 21-member team is running the Cowboys Stadium data center, another group of technologically skilled people will be keeping radio frequencies in and around the event flowing as smoothly as possible.

The NFL frequency organization group has the assignment of registering every device that uses radio frequencies to transmit in the area. Much of that involves wireless microphones and equipment used by the media to record and broadcast around the game.

The frequency group has been helping at Super Bowl games for 15 years or so. They try to impose organization on the chaos of 5,000 or so credentialed media who come from around the world to an event heavily staffed by emergency services plus other assorted groups also using radio frequency signals to communicate.

This year, everything got more complicated. The switch to digital TV, combined with expanding government limits on available broadcast channels and growth in the number of low-powered TV stations squeezed the frequencies.

"We have about one-fourth of the channels that are usually available," said Ralph Beaver, a frequency coordinator who has worked several Super Bowls. "We have spent this week trying to find a place for people to transmit."

He means a place on the radio spectrum. People are approved to use their devices in specific locations, at specific frequencies and times, at specific power levels. Someone approved to use a device during the pregame events may not have permission to use it during the game.

Instead of one team using three or four channels for one shoot, the new rules limit them to one wireless microphone. Another solution would have been to ban such devices entirely, something Beaver said has happened at Disney World events. Everyone would have to use old-fashioned wires.

"We try not to do drastic things because we're dealing with the whole world here," he said.

Still, no radio frequency devices will get into Cowboys Stadium for the game without being checked and registered at the entrances by the people in the maroon baseball caps huddled over spectrum analysis machines.

Meanwhile, Walsh was headed to a meeting with the NFL Thursday to get the last needed approvals before the game. Final testing of the stadium's tech systems was done Wednesday, including running simultaneous loads across the system's access points.

All that is left is the last test -- a real-time Super Bowl.


Teresa Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018. First Published February 6, 2011 5:00 AM


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