Dallas Cowboys' technology head discusses new stadium's infrastructure

Like a Tony Romo-to-Patrick Crayton deep ball, CI&M goes for six (questions and answers) with the team's director of technology, Pete Walsh.

August 14, 2009 -- As the calendar inches closer to opening day of the 2009 National Football League season, one of the biggest stories—on or off the field--is the field on which the Dallas Cowboys will play their home games beginning this year. Dallas Cowboys Stadium officially opened in June and has already hosted concerts and other sporting events. On Friday, August 21 the 'Boys will host the Tennessee Titans in a preseason game that will be broadcast nationally on Fox—giving millions their first opportunity to see the new stadium.

Cabling-systems provider CommScope supplied more than 5 million feet of Systimax copper and fiber cabling for the project.

While the team's training camp was getting underway, Cabling Installation & Maintenance had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the team's director of technology Pete Walsh. Like a Tony Romo-to-Patrick Crayton deep ball, we went for six (questions and answers) with Walsh.

CI&M: Approximately 2.7 million feet of Category 6A cabling is being used in the facility to support multiple applications. Can you tell us about the 'non-traditional' applications this cabling supports, including IPTV and digital signage?

Walsh: With the IPTV installation that we have within the stadium, and the speed requirements for this multicast application, we needed the ability to run up to 10-Gbit speeds via copper rather than having all TVs fiber-attached. We will also have some 665 point-of-service terminals running over this same cabling, and with the speed requirements for credit-card transactions and all other items that are traversing the network wiring, we needed the best and fastest-possible cabling solution.

CI&M: Can you explain what parts of the stadium's network are turned over on a temporary basis to organizations such as the NFL, television and radio networks, that set up their operations at the stadium for events?

Walsh: During certain events there are parts of the network that are turned over to the NFL, concert promoters, and the NBA for the All-Star Game [scheduled for Sunday, Feburary 14 2010]. During this turnover the cowboys IT staff works in conjunction with the group using the network to make sure that all items are working properly and can support that event. During the time that part of the network is turned over, we always control and support the IPTVs, concession stands and their POS, as well as all VoIP and POS for the pro shops that are in the stadium. The network was designed to be a multiuse system at any time.

CI&M: You mentioned concession stands. I understand the digital signage at and around these stands, which are supported by Category 6A cabling, present revenue opportunities for the Cowboys.

Walsh: We have several types of digital signage. One is the menu boards for the concession stands, which tie into the back end of the concession-stand application. I can generate menus for each stand and have the information project on any screen I choose at any stand I choose.

Each stand has multiple screens, so one or two will have the name of the stand, another may have the game feed live from the field, and another can hold a digital advertisement from Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Miller Lite, etc.

Once you move away from the concessions and into the seating areas, the digital displays are vertically oriented on columns. They can provide direction to different points in the stadium. Or they can carry a sponsored message. That message can remain on the sign for five seconds, a minute, a quarter of the game, the first half, the entire event, and so on. We have an unlimited supply of inventory for our marketing group to sell advertising. It gives them entirely new opportunities for sales.

CI&M: Tell us about the center-hung scoreboard.

Walsh: It's the world's largest video board with 30 million LED lights. The nice thing for us was that Mitsubishi built and tested the board. I won't say it's like plugging in a monitor and playing it; it's not quite that easy. But a single controller controls every panel on that screen. Once everything is put in place, it's like another TV. We can break it into sections if we want to with football stats on one side, other games in a corner, and so on. We're having a lot of discussion now about how we're going to use that scoreboard during a football game. For the concerts and soccer games that have taken place so far it has been unbelievable.

CI&M: Please describe the ebb and flow of network use you anticipate during Cowboys games as well as other events at the stadium. Specifically, the wireless network likely gets significantly tested during events. Can you describe how the infrastructure was designed and built to support such a deluge in traffic?

Walsh: The network was designed to be able to support the ever-changing needs of the venue. The wireless network has been designed to support a multitude of applications and uses, from the press using it during football games to the Cowboys organization using it for POS concession terminals, wireless voice and in the future location-based services with RFID technology.

CI&M: The stadium has 69 intermediate crossconnects with different distances between them and the main crossconnect. Can you tell me which protocol or protocols and corresponding media types are used in this backbone structure?

Walsh: The center-hung scoreboard also has its own closet, so that makes 70 total in the stadium. We thought about simply serving it with a fiber run, but with the number of different panels that make up the board and what we plan to do with it, we decided to put a separate closet in there. We run EIGRP as the main routing protocol between all IDF closets and the core of the network. With the distances from some of the closets back to the data center, we are taking advantage of both multimode and singlemode fiber.

EXTRA POINT: Walsh offered the following when asked about the decision to use Category 6A twisted-pair copper rather than coaxial cabling to support the IPTV and digital-signage stations in the stadium. "A lot of people said they'd rather stay with coax. You have two generations: those who grew up on coax, and a new generation with new technology. Sure, some were saying to go with the traditional coax. But that's not why Jerry [Jones, the Cowboys' owner] hired me--to do what was traditional. He expects me to be a visionary. We proved that the technology was there, and that we could generate revenue from it."

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