Cisco Sidesteps Blame For NFL Microsoft Tablet Failure

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Cisco is sidestepping blame for a wireless networking issue during the NFL's AFC championship game Sunday that left New England Patriots coaches and players unable to review plays on the sidelines on their Microsoft Surface tablets.

During the second quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Patriots coaches complained that their Microsoft Surface tablets used to review plays weren't working. The issue was fixed by switching the tablets from wireless to a network hardwire, according to a report during the game's CBS TV broadcast.

Microsoft issued a statement to CRN confirming that the issue was not related to the tablets, but rather the network. "We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly," said Microsoft, without identifying the network vendor.


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The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant said that although the stadium uses Cisco for its wireless network, the Microsoft tablets used on the sidelines were connected to a mobile cart rather than the stadium Wi-Fi system. It's unclear whether the cart contains Cisco gear. A Cisco spokesperson was unable to confirm whether the cart contained Cisco gear by publication time.

"While there was a reported issue with the Patriots staff being able to use their Microsoft Surface tablets for a time on the sidelines, the tablets connect to a separate, dedicated mobile cart rather than to the aforementioned Wi-Fi system," said Cisco in a statement to CRN. "As a result, this issue was not related to the overall in-venue Wi-Fi solution, or its performance."

The stadium uses Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi and Cisco StadiumVision for its wireless solutions. Connected Stadium is a high-density, turnkey wireless solution that combines Wi-Fi technologies, specialized software and professional services optimized for stadiums, according to Cisco. StadiumVision is a centrally managed video and digital content solution made up of customized video, team and sponsor promotions and relevant event information.

One executive from a solution provider based in Colorado familiar with Mile High Stadium gave CRN an inside look at the stadium and listed several factors that could have played a role in the wireless malfunction.

"The Broncos do enable a number of wireless features for both fans and coaches alike," said the executive with the local solution provider and Cisco partner, who declined to be identified. "Some of those features include access to ... stadium mobile applications. The Broncos do have an internal application that live streams radio broadcasts, video broadcasts, TV broadcasts, so those are consumers of bandwidth available. The Cisco technology suite is a very localized option, though. So what you want to do is have adequate coverage. You want to have enough concentration of the access points to be able to handle both the bandwidth and the localization. All these various SSIDs [Service Set Identifiers] that separate one another and keep them from interfering with each other -- they use sophisticated controllers to help manage the [radio frequency] power transmit and receive functions that help keep all these different [access points] in alignment with one another and keep them from running over each other."

The executive said he believes critical network services like sideline information for the teams are protected by giving them priority ahead of the general traffic going on around the stadium.

"You do have localized SSIDs that should separate the various teams from one another and from the fans. Those technologies are implemented and they should help reduce that risk," he said.

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