The Dallas Cowboys Are Improving Stadium Cell Coverage Before Fans Return for 2021 Season

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  • The Dallas Cowboys are the latest National Football League franchise to add new antennas to their stadium in an effort to improve cellular connectivity and data speeds.
  • MatSing makes high-end antennas that cost up to $250,000 and help wireless networks improve connectivity during live sporting events.

The Dallas Cowboys are the latest National Football League franchise to add new antennas to their stadium in an effort to improve cellular connectivity and data speeds.

It's an example of how teams are preparing to host more fans during the 2021 season. And it could help solve a common problem for people at large venues: poor cell service, slow data speeds, or the inability to place and receive calls when thousands of people are trying to use the network at the same time.

The antennas are made by MatSing, which helps sports teams increase connectivity speeds at large complexes. The company declined to reveal specifics about its financials, but said they are "profitable" and grew "three times last year."

The Cowboys and network partner AT&T, which owns naming rights to the $1.2 billion venue, agreed to install 20 MatSing's antennas before the team's home opener on Sept. 27. Larsson didn't reveal how much the team spent, but the company's antennas range in price from $10,000 to $250,000. The equipment looks like massive golf balls that are located near the roof of AT&T Stadium.  

In an interview with CNBC, MatSing CEO Bo Larsson said the company's antennas use less power than older models and can reach farther to help improve network coverage.

MatSing antennas at Las Vegas Raiders Allegiant Stadium.
Source: MatSing
MatSing antennas at Las Vegas Raiders Allegiant Stadium.

Sports teams need to upgrade

This season, more fans will go to NFL stadiums as pandemic restrictions around sporting events are lifted – for now. Larsson, a former Sony executive, said teams will need to address connection infrastructure prepare for 5G expansion.

Sports clubs and network providers traditionally use antennas that resemble large speakers hanging from a venue's ceiling. Antennas were also placed under seats, which Larsson said can be dangerous. The American Cancer Society says this type of radiation, if "absorbed by the body in large enough amounts," can cause tissue damage and possibly cancer.

Stadiums also have too many antennas, which can cause interference. By placing its antennas in the ceiling, the signals have a better "line of sight," which helps devices communicate, Larsson explained.

Fans are also using their phones to do more in the stadiums. Matthew Messick, the Cowboys chief information officer, said the team's older antenna system exhausted capacity, which interrupted spectators from sharing Cowboys-related content on social media platforms.

"That's what fans are expecting these days — sharing their experiences," Messick told CNBC on Monday. "We came to an end on our old infrastructure and were providing a bad experience for our fans. Everything is dependent on your fans being connected with the outside world."

Added Larsson: "You need top connectivity because of crowd management, touchless transactions and people are concerned about security more than ever before."

Steve Alexander, the chief technology officer of global network strategy firm Ciena, said communication between IoT (internet of things) in NFL stadiums also requires efficient connections. These devices are sensors in player equipment, and cameras around stadiums that collect data for sports analytics purposes.

"It all requires good network infrastructure,"  Alexander said, predicting over the next 10 years, in-venue experiences would become more "richer and immersive."

Ciena provides network equipment and software services to carriers including Verizon and AT&T.

Larsson wants to expand MatSing's sports portfolio, especially as new ticketing models and experiences around sports gambling continue to grow. The NFL uses MatSing for events like the Super Bowl. Teams like the Las Vegas Raiders (Allegiant Stadium), Indianapolis Colts (Lucas Oil Stadium), and NBA champs Milwaukee Bucks also use the antennas.

"Connection needs to be instantaneous because you might gamble on things like the next play," Larsson said. "And it's a future-proof investment because you can use the same equipment and continue to expand."

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