Technology plays a big role at Super Bowl

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While you’re enjoying the Super Bowl, cellphone carriers are tripling capacity near the stadium, GPS tracking systems will be monitoring VIPs and more than 250 journalists will be devouring broadband.

The big game draws a big demand for technology to keep things running smoothly and securely ? and companies are investing millions to make the experience flawless.

This will be the fourth Super Bowl for Oklahoma City-based US Fleet Tracking to track scores of VIP vehicles coming and going. Every driver of VIPs wears a small box on his or her belt that tracks their location and speed using GPS. Back at security headquarters in the stadium, staff can pull up a map showing the location and speed of every driver and get instant alerts if they leave or enter a particular location.

US Fleet Tracking CEO Jerry Hunter said he couldn’t talk about security specifics or the cost of the service for the game, but said each tracking device costs $399 and typically costs about a dollar a day for tracking services. It’s also handling the tracking system for this month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“In the case of the Super Bowl, because they can’t afford any screw-ups at all … they have to make sure everybody is in the right place at the right time,” Hunter said.

The company had been hardwiring the devices under the dashboards of each car ? but now every driver simply wears it. “So instead of installing them in 20 or 30 vehicles, we could handle a couple hundred vehicles,” Hunter said.

Back in the media room, Sam Joffray and his team are making sure reporters can get their stories out. He’s been working with the NFL to set up the media room for the past 14 Super Bowl games. Back in 1997, the system consisted of a large bulletin board where reporter’s phone messages were posted.

“The media would get kind of competitive and see a Post-It note with a number from someone famous and steal the notes,” Joffray said. Because that didn’t work so well, he installed kiosks for reporters to log in and get messages. Since then, it’s evolved to six computer stations with video cameras for reporters to log online and create video or audio clips and more than 90 Ethernet connections to connect computers to.

Joffray’s company, Concept Matters, based in New Orleans, also will have six tech support specialists on hand to help fix reporter’s problems ? like a computer crash in the middle of a story. His team is also providing loaner laptops for emergencies.

But the greatest demand comes from the tech-savvy fans themselves. The last time the Super Bowl came to Miami, in 2007, organizers said it attracted more than 100,000 visitors to the area. The concentration is so great that cellphone companies need to bring in equipment to boost service just to keep up with the heavy demand for data and voice calls throughout South Florida.

Halftime is especially stressful for cellphone carriers. All at once, practically everyone in the stadium will be sending photos, video and text messages to their friends ? and some will be calling friends so they can try to listen to the performers.

Mobile providers always invest to beef up capacity when there are large crowds for sporting events and other activities, like boat and auto shows. The companies will give an extra boost to existing cell sites, and for something as huge as the big game, it will bring out extra cell sites on wheels, also called COWs, to the parking lot. Cell companies also use COWs to help the network if the power is lost after a hurricane or other disaster.

Sprint has invested $2.3 million just on communication technology for the big game. During the last Miami Super Bowl, Sprint and Nextel’s call volume increased more than 275 percent and 325 percent, respectively, according to the company.

Sprint is adding four COWs near the stadium and one in Miami Beach. AT&T said it is adding three in the parking lot, and Verizon has installed what it calls a permanent “super system” at Sun Life Stadium. There will be two base stations and extra antenna arrays on the stadium ? the total project costing about $1 million.

Sunday will be the first time AT&T is adding a fourth layer of traffic capacity to its cell site inside the stadium, increasing the stadium’s support for AT&T customers by 280 percent.

And cell capacity isn’t just boosted near the stadium ? areas near Fort Lauderdale and South Beach hotels are also getting extra resources to handle the crowds.

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(c) 2010, The Miami Herald. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.