DETROIT — Next time you’re at Ford Field for a Lions game or other event, look up at the tops of the concourses.
Installed unobtrusively are rectangular plastic plates perhaps a foot across, pointed downward at an angle, down the rows of seats in front of you.
They represent an investment of upwards of $2 million by Verizon Wireless to bring Wi-Fi high-speed Internet connectivity to its customers in the stands, the first network of its kind at any major sports arena in Michigan.
The Lions, meanwhile, have taken advantage of this move by releasing a spiffy new smartphone app that offers fans advantages like instant replays and up-to-the-second statistics.
Verizon now offers no less than three separate networks at Ford Field. The first and oldest is its traditional cell towers around downtown Detroit that provide both 3G and high-speed 4G LTE coverage. Verizon has also installed a distributed antenna system inside Ford Field — a cell tower split into more than 200 antennas distributed around the stadium. DAS’s are installed in many locations like stadiums or concert venues where large crowds — all armed with smartphones — gather. Verizon built its DAS at Ford Field in 2006 in anticipation of the Super Bowl, and recently tripled its capacity.
And then there’s the third network — Wi-Fi access points offering free Internet connections to Verizon customers. More than 400 new Wi-Fi access points are now scattered around the stadium.
Wi-Fi offers advantages to cell phone subscribers because video, audio and other data downloaded onto a smartphone over a free Wi-Fi network doesn’t count against subscribers’ data plans.
Verizon says about 10 miles of fiber-optic cable and 15 miles of copper cabling were used to build the Wi-Fi network, which took about four months to install.
Mark Emerick, Verizon’s director of network operations, said the cell phone carrier now has Wi-Fi networks installed in six National Football League stadiums. The others are in Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver, New Jersey and New Orleans.
Mark Woloszyn, the Lions’ manager of IT, said the new network was “one tool that allowed us to create the app.”
The new Detroit Lions mobile app features in-stadium game day content, including instant replay from multiple camera angles for every play, available less than 10 seconds after the play ends, NFL Redzone channel streaming capabilities and concession maps.
Woloszyn said the team plans to add other features to the app, including concession ordering.
Between games, the app offers exclusive video on demand clips with player and coach interviews, an aggregated Twitter feed with real-time updates from fans and the team, a fantasy football tracker, and one-click social media sharing of photos, news and podcasts.