Verizon’s “Multicast” Aims to Put Indy 500 Fans in the Driver’s Seat

Xconomy Indiana — 

Racecar driver Simon Pagenaud started the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis from the pole and led 57 of its 82 laps on his way to Victory Circle earlier this month. And Verizon Wireless subscribers across the world were invited along for the ride, thanks to streaming video from in-car cameras delivered via the carrier’s IndyCar Mobile app.

The app is free and available on all mobile devices, but certain features are only accessible on the Verizon network. The carrier’s LTE “multicast” technology will allow Indianapolis 500 fans to watch this weekend’s race in real time from two drivers’ perspectives, follow their favorite cars’ progress on an interactive 3D track, and listen to the IndyCar Radio Network broadcast as well as pit crew conversations.

All users have access to a real-time leaderboard, video-on-demand highlights, photo galleries, and other features powered by the app’s mobile command center on site. It takes about 20 people to manage the app at a given track; they spend a total of 216 hours each racing season just getting the technology in place.

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 110,000 feet of fiber connect IMS Productions’ mobile broadcast compound with the 100 cameras and other equipment capturing action on the track. The video is fed to a dozen or so tractor-trailers outfitted with TV monitors and specialized software. Some video is used for the national ABC television broadcast, and some goes directly to the Verizon app.

IMS Productions’ engineer Paul Nijak said he expects sporting-event broadcasts to become more targeted as the multicast technology gains popularity. Rather than providing a one-size-fits-all program for the masses, producers will deliver more specialized content for focused audiences.

Transponders placed on the cars relay location and speed information as the cars cross 36 “timelines” imbedded into the legendary track. (Image: Verizon)

Transponders placed on the cars relay location and speed information as the cars cross 36 “timelines” imbedded into the legendary track. (Image: Verizon)

Verizon, which sponsors the IndyCar Series of racing events, chooses the drivers for its live stream based on factors such as their total championship points and recent track performance. At the Grand Prix, Pagenaud and third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe’s cars were among six equipped with cameras.

That number will likely double at the 100th running of the Indy 500 on Sunday, though the feed will begin with Verizon-sponsored drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power.

Getting live race information to the app is only half of the battle. Verizon also has to make sure its network is capable of delivering it to customers, even if they’re at the track with a half-million of their closest friends.

Nationwide, the company invested $11.7 billion in network enhancements last year, spokesman Steve Van Dinter said, including millions in and around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For example, it added 16 permanent small-cell sites in the area to improve coverage, replacing the temporary cell-on-wheels vehicles used during past races.

Verizon customers used over 9 terabytes of data during Indy 500 weekend last year, said Daniel Huffman, a senior design engineer at the carrier. (That’s the equivalent of streaming Netflix nonstop for 375 days.)

Given that wireless usage continues to climb, Huffman is preparing to accommodate far more than the 17,357 Facebook posts, 6,251 tweets, and 145,025 Instagram posts made from the track in 2015’s Indy 500. The network topped out at just under 30,000 simultaneous users last year, he said.

Since then, Verizon has boosted network capacity at the track by 33 percent.

“We’re planning for 450,000 users out there,” Huffman said. “It’s a small space for that many bodies, and they all want to do the same thing at the same time.”

Race day is not the end of the road for the Verizon crew. Huffman and his team will monitor network performance throughout the event, adding capacity as needed when usage spikes. Then they’ll spend the following week figuring out how to do even better next year.

“The technology demands increase so much every single year, you’re never idle at this kind of place,” he said.

Verizon’s infrastructure at Indianapolis Motor Speedway includes several “cell-on-platforms,” 12-by-40-foot buildings equipped with radio transmitters and receivers that are the equivalent of seven temporary cell sites. (Image: Verizon)

Verizon’s infrastructure at Indianapolis Motor Speedway includes several “cell-on-platforms,” 12-by-40-foot buildings equipped with radio transmitters and receivers that are the equivalent of seven temporary cell sites. (Image: Verizon)