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Frequency Cops Keep Wireless Systems Straight at the Big Game

January 2015

Pro football coaches on the sideline talk to each other using wireless belt packs and a headset. Quarterbacks and defensive captains talk to their coaches over two-way radios installed in their helmets. Add in the plethora of other wireless devices found in the NFL stadiums—TV crews, emergency personnel, police and other security officers—and the potential for frequency overload is obvious.

Since 1996, however, the NFL has coordinated all frequencies through a committee of experts.

At all NFL games there are designated Game Day Frequency Coordinators (GDCs) who organize the multitude of wireless devices. The official GDC even has a spot in the press box.

At Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., the league has some 90 people who will coordinate the frequencies used by the multitude of wireless devices.

"Each wireless device is tagged with Super Bowl XLIX," said Bill Lipscomb, president of WBL Services, a Seattle company that is managing telecommunications and data networks for the big game. "If someone is carrying a radio or other wireless device that isn't tagged they are stopped. The last thing needed is for someone with a wi-fi card taking down a whole wireless section."

At the NFC Championship game in Seattle between the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 18, signs on press box tables asked reporters to refrain from using wireless hot spots.

And according to the NFL's policy directive issued by Tim Davey, director of game operations, this is serious business:

"Any RF operating entity that has not prior coordinated and potentially would or could interfere with another frequency will be subject to being removed from the stadium by NFL Security. The GDC will contact their NFL Security Representative who will remove that person or crew from the stadium and his credential removed."

"The Commissioner is very serious about safe guarding frequencies and protecting against frequency interference as well as penalizing violators who do not prior coordinate or change their frequencies."

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