Meet the man who made sure you had signal at the Superbowl

Meet the man who made sure you had signal at the Superbowl

Kalen Hayes in a stadium

A day in the life of Kalen Hayes, lead radio frequency technician at RootMetrics

If you were to turn up at State Farm Stadium in Glenville Arizona a month or two before the Superbowl, you may well have bumped into Kalen Hayes, the lead radio technician at RootMetrics

Kalen would most likely be walking around with a curious board equipped with several smartphones, one from each of the US’s major mobile network operators.

“I’m the ‘Can you hear me now?’ guy” he tells Capacity. “We essentially test user equipment to make sure each carrier has ubiquitous service in a given location.”

office QA drive testing.jpg

For a big event like the Superbowl, this is a very important job. The sheer volume of people, coupled with their demands to stay connected to capture and make the most of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, means theory can only get you so far.

Mobile networks are crafted by technicians to cover as much space as possible, but in a large building with heavy footfall like a stadium, there are always going to be holes.

This is where Kalen comes in. He and his team will walk the halls of the venue they're assigned to equipped with real time benchmarking and mapping tools, which can provide radio engineer's from MNO's with the data they need to plug the holes.

It’s a job that many people are surprised exists, but one that Kalen thoroughly enjoys. “When I tell people what I do, its not uncommon for them to be surprised that you even need to have mobile equipment in a building. They think it all comes from the tower, or just have no idea how it works!”

Kalen’s a big fan of the travel. H caught the field work bug working in the oil and gas sector as a field technician prior to switching to telecoms.

But the technical aspect of the benchmarking and network optimisation is what really inspires him in his role at Rootmetrics.

A typical day on a project

The challenge is split into two parts. Collecting the performance data is the first step, which begins the night before a walk, making sure that all the equipment is ready to go.

“As you get closer to a big event like the Superbowl or a concert, the security gets more and more strict, so we need to make access to the venue as easy as possible.”

Once security has been navigated, the walk begins. To cover all the accessible areas of a large arena like State Farm Stadium, this can take two people 10-12 hours. Each area they cover to test performance has to be manually tracked on a map.

“Outside we can use GPS, but its not reliable enough in the stadium” Kalen explains.

The second part of the challenge is taking the data that has been collected and making the necessary changes to support a stronger network experience.

“We always try and change the most accessible variable first, so this could be physically moving an antenna or making some changes to the software configuration.”

The information and recommended actions are passed up to whichever mobile operator has contracted RootMetrics for the role.

Smaller jobs would only require one person, but a two person job like the Superbowl stadium has advantages. “We can give them a call and ask them to take a break while we take the data we’ve received and make changes to the network configuration in real time. Then it can be retested by our walker and they move on to the next area.”

The creative challenges of solving these issues are a huge motivator for Kalen, who has an interest in taking more responsibility for radio frequency planning with MNOs.

Other projects and challenges

Outside of stadiums, RootMetrics work on projects in a range of different locations, from subways to ski-resorts.

“I’ve tried skiing down the slopes with the equipment but it’s not that efficient! I’ve definitely nearly busted up a few scanners that way” Kalen jokes, but luckily there were no accidents.

“We’ve also done the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York City. That was an awesome trip. Seeing behind the scenes and looking at all the support infrastructure that keeps these projects working was fascinating.”

In addition to the perils of the slopes, working with heavy equipment all day in the heat can be a challenge as well.

“One of our projects was at a stadium in Missouri. It was the summer, over 100 degrees out, and very humid. We had to climb up into the scoreboard tower to test the network there, which was not very comfortable to say the least!”

Capacity quick fire questions

Capacity: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Kalen: “Don’t take anything too personally. There’s a lot happening and you will make mistakes. Things will always go wrong, but just own it, let the right people know and keep plugging away!”

Capacity: What do you do outside of work for fun?

Kalen: “Like everyone I’ve made a lot of changes in my life since the pandemic. I threw out my old routine and started some new hobbies. I’ve gotten into gardening, which has been really rewarding, although challenging with all the time spent away from home on projects with work.”

“I’m a big video games guy and play a lot of real-time strategy and city builder style games as well!”

Capacity: What are your professional strengths? Why is this the right job for you?

Kalen “A lot of my strengths involve analytical thinking. Im good at seeing a problem and breaking it down into smaller pieces that are easier to fix if there are any issues. For some of our bigger projects, its good to take a huge event and break it into smaller pieces where its easier to get on.

Capacity: What do you do when you are not in the field?

Kalen: “We do a lot of quality assurance work on our apps and make sure our software is working correctly. This can get quite technical, and we have some big technical challenges we need to solve. I prefer the field work, but this is another great part of the role!”

Gift this article