CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- University of Illinois officials plan to make it easier for sports fans to use cellphones at Memorial Stadium.
The university hopes to boost cell reception and add high-speed capacity this season, followed by a more permanent digital antenna system next year, the News-Gazette reported. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics also wants to eventually provide Internet access to Illini fans at the stadium.
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The goal is to allow people to post on social media, stream video and order food on their electronic devices in a way that doesn't consume data plans or overload networks.
The plans follow upgrades made by many collegiate teams throughout the country, including Nebraska, Wisconsin, Penn State, Texas Christian and Stanford universities. Professional teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, have also added wireless access to their stadiums.
The University of Illinois, home to one of the top-ranked engineering and computer-science departments, wants to join the pack sooner rather than later with what it sees as an obvious addition.
"It can't move fast enough," said Marty Kaufmann, the assistant athletic director for external relations and licensing. "We're a little behind where we'd like to be."
The university is beginning a three-year, $8 million project to extend wireless service throughout every academic space, but it doesn't include Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center.
"On an average day, we'll see 65,000 devices connected to our campus network, but they're spread out all over campus, and spread out over the course of the day," said Brian Mertz, chief communications officer for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Systems. "In the stadium, we may see 30,000, 40,000 people all trying to do something online. All in a relatively tight space, for a short amount of time. It's a different kind of load on the campus network."
Mertz said the university is looking into its options, including price points, for adding wireless access at the stadiums.
In the meantime, Verizon has already installed a mobile cell site with a tall antenna reaching above the bleachers. The company said it will enhance the signal and add capacity over its high-speed network.
"It should dramatically improve coverage inside and outside of the stadium for Verizon users," Kaufmann said.
The university hopes other providers will follow suit.