I recently had the opportunity to tour Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in my hometown of Austin, Texas. In 2012, COTA opened to the public with tremendous fanfare, heralding the return of a Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix to the United States with the country’s first purpose-built F1 racetrack. Over the past eleven years, the venue has hosted many other events and concerts, but a challenge has lingered with connectivity, given the facility’s 1,500-acre expanse.
Two years ago, with the return of F1 post-pandemic, massive crowds put enormous strain on the public cellular networks and Wi-Fi infrastructure that serve the venue. When my cousin and I attended, we could not download our tickets at the gate, concession lines backed up into many of the grandstands because a wireless point-of-sale system crashed, the F1 race app didn’t function at all and rideshare apps couldn’t hail drivers at the end of each day.
Recognizing these challenges, COTA is investing in improving network capacity and resiliency to keep fans happy and, most notably, to keep fans coming back. I want to share some details I learned during my visit, along with my insights about the venue’s current and future plans.
Why worry about connectivity?
So why should COTA worry about connectivity? Two words—fan experience. I wrote an article earlier this year after visiting three venues in the U.S. that understand the importance of connectivity for the fan experience: Allegiant Stadium, the Chase Center and Q2 Stadium (home of my Austin FC). For COTA, the fan-oriented use cases that benefit from improved connectivity include all the ones I mentioned above—everything that went wrong when the networks were overloaded—as well as new mixed reality fan activations, social media support for uploading video and images, connectivity for new “car condos” at Turn 11 for purchase and more.
Bobby Epstein, chairman and cofounder of COTA, is also embarking on an ambitious expansion in the form of a theme park. COTALAND is a brilliant idea—an amusement park located at Turns 19 and 20 that features more than thirty rides, including first-of-their-kind and one-of-a-kind roller coasters. The closest theme parks in Texas lie at least an hour outside of the city center with others to the north in Dallas and south near San Antonio. Thus, having one in Austin should be a boon to the local economy and bring even more visitors to COTA. The latter is an important point, and if the venue can support more visits, then it can justify the added investment in networking infrastructure.
During my tour, I spent time with Leo Garcia, svp of COTA facilities and track operations. As we drove throughout the track areas, Garcia spoke at length about the economic challenges and the sheer magnitude of the venue’s footprint. I came away with a different perspective than I had in 2021 when I first visited. Blanketing connectivity throughout the COTA campus and doing it cost-effectively is a daunting task that requires strategic partnerships.
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Partnership with Extenet
One of these partnerships is with Extenet. The company was founded in 2002, recently moving its headquarters from Chicago to Frisco, Texas, just outside Dallas. Moving to Texas is wise for Extenet, because it puts the company closer to the North Texas telecom corridor and adjacent to a big pool of talent in the Dallas and Fort Worth metroplex. It also places the company in the middle of the country, providing a central base of operations extending to the east and west coasts.
Extenet specializes in high-performance public and private network deployments for indoor and outdoor applications across various industries, including sports, entertainment, hospitality, enterprises and municipalities. The proof is in the execution, and Extenet works with all the tier-one mobile network operators in the U.S. and boasts private deployments in storied venues including the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the San Antonio Spurs’ AT&T Center, Madison Square Garden, The Kennedy Center and more.
At COTA, Extenet is making a compelling installation. It includes 21 node locations to boost public cell capacity and bandwidth, more than four miles of fiber, 144 fiber strands per node to support critical backhaul and full 5G track support for essential communications, including race and safety-related operations. The deployed passive infrastructure also supports CBRS spectrum for future private networking use cases. That’s another smart move, especially if COTA takes advantage of mobile offload capabilities using OnGo; that could substantially improve connectivity for peak usage during F1 and MotoGP races that can bring hundreds of thousands of fans to the venue daily.
It’s worth mentioning that the COTA staff is lean, which underscores the need for the venue to seek partnerships with companies like Extenet to support world-class connectivity for its operations. Extenet owns and operates the network infrastructure at COTA, allowing the venue to focus on what it does best. It’s a model for other newly minted F1 facilities in Miami and Las Vegas, and COTA is sharing best practices and lessons learned with those venues, too.
I’m looking forward to my next visit to COTA as a fan to find out firsthand how these investments in connectivity fuel the fan experience.