September 2, 2014

Stadium Tech Report: Aruba Networks chief designer on building the ‘ultimate stadium’ network at Levi’s

Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks

Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks

For Chuck Lukaszewski, getting the job to design the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium was a bit of a personal perfect storm: Having long desired to build the ultimate stadium Wi-Fi network, he’d finally been matched with a customer with plans and a budget to fulfill that dream.

Lukaszewski, the senior director for outdoor solutions engineering at Levi’s Wi-Fi gear supplier Aruba Networks, said the aggressive vision for connected fan engagement put forth by the San Francisco 49ers and their vice president of technology Dan Williams was a plan Lukaszewski had long wanted to pursue.

“I had a vision of how to build an ‘ultimate stadium,’ and Dan said he wanted an ultimate stadium,” said Lukaszewski in a recent phone interview. “He gave me the freedom to design something that had never really been done before. It was a real meeting of the minds.”

By early results, the joint effort is by all standards a success, with network traffic statistics from the first football game at Levi’s showing a robust Wi-Fi network with Super Bowl levels of user traffic. According to Lukaszewski, by the time kickoff rolled around for the Niners’ preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Aug. 17, the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium had already surpassed the three most recent Super Bowls when it came to concurrent network usage, and had also exceeded the peak network usage statistics from the recent World Cup finale in Brazil.

While the network still hasn’t been tested in a regular-season game, or with the planned instant-replay feature active on the Levi’s Stadium app, it’s probably safe to say that at the very least, Lukaszewski and Williams have hit the ground running successfully. And while the network team did have some factors in their favor – including the ability to blend the wireless infrastructure into the overall stadium buildout and the budget for 1,200 Wi-Fi APs – there was still significant work that had to be done to produce a wireless experience with the magnitude of Levi’s offering.

Avoiding the ‘circular firing squad of RF’ in antenna deployment

According to Lukaszewski, he’s had experience deploying Wi-Fi networks in many unusual or difficult places, including on oil tankers and on financial-market trading floors. But stadiums, he said, especially open-air arenas like football stadiums, require a much higher level of deployment expertise, especially when you are trying to provide an extremely high level of connectivity to every seat in the stadium, as the Niners wanted to do at their new 68,500-seat home in Santa Clara, Calif.

“The 49ers have a completely unique view of the connectivity experience in a stadium – it’s the whole relationship of a fan with home,” said Lukaszewski. “Technology is just one piece of that. And [wireless] connectivity, is the last yard.”

But just like that last three feet into the end zone, the last yard is often the toughest distance to cover when it comes to providing Wi-Fi connectivity. Unlike cellular operators, who own and control their licensed swath of spectrum, Wi-Fi networks operate in the unlicensed band of airwaves, and have an unknown number and type of end-user customers to support. According to Lukaszewski, designing and deploying a large-scale stadium Wi-Fi network is extremely more difficult than building a similar cellular network, mainly because of the interference situation.

“The classic design for a cellular DAS [distributed antenna system] in a stadium is to just put antennas high up, all the way around the bowl, pointing down,” said Lukaszewski. “That’s completely inefficient for Wi-Fi – we call it the ‘RF circular firing squad.’ Cellular owners can do that because they are exclusive owners of their spectrum and can bathe the bowl in signals. With Wi-Fi we have to ‘share the air’ in a ‘listen before talk’ environment.”

APs under seats, close to the fans

Without getting too deep into the specifics of Wi-Fi networking, what Lukaszewski, Williams and their teams needed to do was to figure out how many Wi-Fi access points (APs) they would need to provide high-quality connectivity to every seat in the house, and where to put them not just to provide the connection, but to also avoid interfering with signals from other close-by APs. While some of the planning can be done beforehand, Lukaszewski said that like in a restaurant kitchen, the final product often involves some hands-on refinement.

“You have a recipe, but you taste it and change it as you go,” Lukaszewski said, comparing the Levi’s deployment to a dinner dish. “We start out by going with the plan, then take a lot of data and make changes in real time.”

In the Niners’ favor was the fact that Levi’s Stadium was built from the ground up with the connectivity in mind, which made it much easier to deploy the network than in older stadiums where wiring and antennas need to be retrofitted into existing structures. Things like the many under-the-seat APs at Levi’s, with their wiring holes and mounting infrastructure designed into blueprints, might require concrete drilling and unsightly cable runs at stadiums built before networking was a pressing need.

“It’s always better when you can design it in,” said Lukaszewski of the wireless infrastructure. “The key is to have lots of low power cells, right among the people. That’s how we extract capacity. To get that you have to mount APs, and get the wiring to them. That can be very expensive in a retrofit. And it’s not always going to look very nice when you do it.”

More recipes for different events

Even with the impressive stats from the initial game, Lukaszewski was fast to note that the Levi’s Stadium wireless network is far from a finished product.

“We still have a lot of work to do – we’re definitely not done trying yet.” Lukaszewski said. “Every game, we want to get a little better.”

Typically in a stadium situation, Lukaszewski said, it may take 5 to 6 big events for the network team to really lock in on the tuning and tweaking necessary to make the network run at optimal performance. But even then, there’s still work to be done since the network requirements often differ greatly for different event types and crowds.

“There can be, more than one [network] recipe,” Luckszewski said. “The use case for a concert, for example, is way different than a football game. In an indoor stadium where you have both basketball and hockey, you may have 3 or 4 recipes, depending on the event.” Levi’s Stadium, he noted, is already scheduled to host several different types of events, including soccer games, high school football games, and an NHL game early next year.

But even as Lukaszewski, Williams and their teams continue to improve on their work, the early returns seem to suggest that the Niners have accomplished what they set out to build at their new home: A connected stadium that provides a fan experience unlike that found in most other large public venues.

“I think the 49ers have set an example for any team, in any sport,” Lukaszewski said.

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Chris Gallo

Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field
Seating Capacity: 41,160
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: No

The iconic Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field enters its 100th season in style.
The Chicago Cubs are celebrating all season long with special promotions and the experience is even better with Wi-Fi throughout the historic ballpark. The Cubs do not yet offer iBeacon technology, but the free Wi-Fi is not bad for a ballpark that’s been around for a century.

And with a proposed $500 million dollar restoration and renovation plan, it’s possible that the digital experience at Wrigley might improve in the coming years. Potential enhancements include new restrooms, concessions, a 6,000 square foot video board in left field, which has drawn opposition from neighboring rooftop owners and historic-minded fans, who don’t want to see the old Wrigley ruined. At the very least, pretty much everyone can get behind improved connectivity. But it remains to be seen if the Cubs’ owners will get approval for their renovation plans.

St. Louis Cardinals
Busch Stadium
Seating Capacity: 45,399
Wi-Fi: No
Beaconing: Yes

The reigning National League Champions enter their eighth season at Busch Stadium in 2014. Public facing Wi-Fi is absent, but the Cardinals unveiled non-digital enhancements with the Ballpark Village and AT&T Rooftop this year.
Busch Stadium does have several DAS antennas installed and is one of many teams to test out iBeacon technology with MLB At the Ballpark this season.

Milwaukee Brewers
Miller Park
Seating Capacity: 42,200
Wi-Fi: Premium suites only
Beaconing: No

Rain or shine, the game is always on at Miller Park. Opened in 2001, the stadium remains one of the more modern ballparks with a retractable roof and a climbing wall as part of the Dew Deck. Unfortunately, the modernizations do not include any public Wi-Fi for fans. Maybe next year Brew Crew?

Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Park
Seating Capacity: 38,496
Wi-Fi: No
Beaconing: No

After making the playoffs last year for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to improve stadium connectivity at PNC Park. The Bucs plan to install major upgrades with additional access points and antennas, hopefully
in time for another home playoff series in 2014.

Cincinnati Reds
Great American Ball Park
Seating Capacity: 42,036
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Entering its second decade of existence, the Great American Ball Park welcomes fans with free Wi-Fi and more than 60 iBeacons throughout the ballpark. The stadium uses that network to distribute ballpark information and targeted offers to fans throughout the game.

The Reds also partnered with Miami University to build a dedicated social media area on the third-base concourse. The Reds Connect Zone includes Wi-Fi access, charging stations for mobile devices, and more than 25 screens of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook polls, and Vine videos for fans to stay connected at the game.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Holy Terabyte! First football crowd at Levi’s Stadium uses 2.13 TB of Wi-Fi traffic, with nearly 25K fans on Wi-Fi at once

Levi's Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

Levi’s Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

All those predictions about Silicon Valley people using a stadium network more than other fans? It looks like they’re true.

The network numbers are in for the first football game at Levi’s Stadium, and they are pretty amazing: According to Dan Williams, the vice president of technology for the San Francisco 49ers, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 2.13 terabytes of data during last Sunday’s preseason game, with a peak of 24,775 fans on the Wi-Fi network at the same time. Those numbers are comparable to the latest Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where according to AT&T and Verizon there was approximately 2.5 TB of data used on wireless networks.

The kicker to the Niners’ stats — they do NOT include any traffic figures from the Levi’s Stadium DAS, the distributed antenna system that is meant to provide enhanced cellular coverage in the stadium. What follows is an email Q-and-A with Williams, who kindly answered our extensive list of questions. The real question is, if Niners fans are hitting terabyte levels during preseason games, what’s going to happen when the season starts for real? And the instant replay function in the team app is live? Read on for some great insight from Williams. Additional editor’s note: The companies talked about include Aruba Networks, the provider of Wi-Fi gear; Brocade, provider of back-end networking gear and integration; DAS Group Professionals, the integrator and deployment team behind the DAS (the network of small antennas that improve in-building cellular coverage).

Mobile Sports Report: what was the peak number for simultaneous Wi-Fi connections? The average?
Dan Williams: We peaked at 24,775 (roughly 38% of attendance) concurrent connections with an average of 16,862 (roughly 25% of attendance).

MSR: When did connections spike? When did they start and then tail off?
Williams: We had two spikes, 1:02 p.m. [editor's note: kickoff was 1 p.m.] with a system wide peak of 2.3Gbps and then again at 1:53 p.m. with 1.7Gbps. We averaged more than 1Gbps for more than two hours.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

MSR: What was the total data tonnage on the Wi-Fi network?
Williams: We offloaded 2.13 Terabytes during the event.

MSR: What were the usage patterns with the app — which feature did people use most?
Williams: We had a great deal of usage throughout Sunday. The food ordering app usage was top of the list with ticketing being a close second while video would take third from a feature standpoint.

MSR: What are the plans with the instant replay feature… when will it be live (and can you explain why it was held back)?
Williams: We felt a lot of folks were happy with the livestream, so we wanted to focus more on a couple of core features with food ordering and ticketing a bit more at this point. Replays will be available to all by the first regular season home game.

MSR: Can you explain exactly how the location feature works… does it require Bluetooth to be on?
Williams: The location service is mainly built around low-energy Bluetooth, BLE. We have a number of beacons placed throughout the open areas and points-of-interest which allow the app to identify your location through proximity. Aruba helped us build this as well. GPS is also used but the primary resource is Bluetooth. The app prompts users to enable Bluetooth to provide improved location awareness.

One of the big screens in Levi's Stadium.

One of the big screens in Levi’s Stadium.

MSR: Can you provide any stats on the DAS performance?
Williams: The DAS held up really well. Like WiFi, we found some areas that need tuning. Unlike WiFi, the carriers protect a lot of their specific data but they have told us they are very happy with the system DGP helped us with. It is important to note our DAS and WiFi have been built to compliment each other and I think between Aruba and DGP, we did that very well. Most come here looking to connect to WiFi but our story internally has been we are going to have an awesome connectivity play regardless of medium.

MSR: Could you guys see any [more] of the 2.4 GHz issues like the one I had?
Williams: As you know, 2.4GHz is limited with non-overlapping channels so we suspect a number of legacy devices may have some problems. That said, we had a ratio of 2:1 with respects to 5GHz to 2.4GHz [usage] which shows a good deal of 2.4GHz usage. We know we still have some optimizations to do in the upper bowl and upper concourse while we continue to fine-tune the main bowl and concourse as we noticed our cell edge was weaker than expected when the stands were full. Our Aruba team did a great job capturing real-time data during the event as there is really no other way to test this stuff without a full venue. We will make some tweaks and continue to learn more from every event we host. Between Aruba, Brocade, and the 49er tech staff, we are not resting on our laurels. We know there is more to do.

Dallas Cowboys, AT&T add more tech to AT&T Stadium, add fuel to ‘most-connected stadium’ debate

AT&T Stadium, North Texas, USA

AT&T Stadium, North Texas, USA

During last Sunday’s first “real” football game at Levi’s Stadium, I was asked several times if I thought the San Francisco 49ers’ new home was the “most connected” venue ever. I hesitated and hedged my answer a bit, because when it comes to wireless networks and tech innovations I think AT&T Stadium — home of the Dallas Cowboys — needs to be mentioned in the same sentence as Levi’s.

This week AT&T and the Cowboys announced more enhancements to AT&T Stadium’s already powerful network, and a new toy for fans to interact with. First on the network side, AT&T said from last summer until now it has increased the capacity of the stadium’s DAS by 50 percent, with 1,300 DAS antennas now in place. On the Wi-Fi side the stadium now has more than 1,500 access points, which may be the most in any stadium anywhere, to the best of my knowledge. (According to the Niners’ press guide, Levi’s has 1,200 Wi-Fi APs.) Throw in the big TV hanging from the center of the roof and AT&T Stadium has to be part of any discussion about “the most connected stadium” in football, if not in all of sport.

AT&T Stadium's new "Fan Experience Board" in louvering position. Credit all photos: AT&T/Dallas Cowboys.

AT&T Stadium’s new “Fan Experience Board” in louvering position. Credit all photos: AT&T/Dallas Cowboys.

(I’d also include AT&T Park in San Francisco in that argument, which has somewhere north of 1,200 Wi-Fi APs in a much smaller venue; from what we hear the two AT&T-sponsored stadiums have a friendly competition when it comes to tech deployments.)

On the new-toy side it should be fun to see the new 130-foot “AT&T Fan Experience Board” in action — according to AT&T and the Cowboys this contraption is built of 40 mirrored louvers which can rotate in sync, and can show ads, fan pictures and will also be part of what the team and AT&T are calling the “Unite this house” feature on a new fan app. We’ll let the Cowboys blog explain how this will work, on plays where Tony Romo is throwing to teammates instead of to opponents:

The “Unite the House” fan interaction feature on the app will alert fans at pivotal moments of the game through their mobile devices. As the stadium app vibrates, a message will be displayed providing the particular context and immediacy of the action. Fans will be guided to unlock their phones, hold their fingers on the Dallas Cowboys star and as more phones power up, the stadium will be full of strobes, not only from mobile devices, but also on the ribbon displays and the HD video board. The visual will gain intensity and speed as more fans join in, energizing the stadium and culminating in a final eruption of light and motion provided by the louvers that will canvas the entire stadium.

AT&T Stadium interactive screens

AT&T Stadium interactive screens

AT&T and the Cowboys also announced some large interactive screens — the Cowboys blog called them “life-sized iPhones” — where fans can swipe to learn more about Cowboys players, or Cowboys cheerleaders. Our guess is that both will be immensely popular. At Levi’s, there are some interactive displays and features — one, sponsored by Yahoo!, asks fans to answer trivia questions. While it’s neat to see these things emerge, I wonder if instead of fluffy features some interactive boards could be converted into things that could help you — like with stadium maps, or an app that would let a phone-less fan send a message to someone else’s device. Our guess is that you will see more, not less, of these interactive screens in the near future.

If nothing else, the Cowboys and AT&T seem to be showing that even off the field, the NFL is a competitive league — we will be interested to see how the technology deployments at other stadiums, like Jacksonville, play out. Look for more coverage and anlysis in our upcoming Q3 Stadium Tech Report issue, which will focus on… football. AT&T technology photos to follow.

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

Message board showing photo compilation

Message board showing photo compilation

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Chris Gallo

attparksign1San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park
Seating Capacity: 41,503
Wi-Fi: Yes, 1,289 access points
DAS: Yes, 196 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

The San Francisco Giants continue to be a pioneer in stadium connectivity. The club calls AT&T Park home, where it features over 1,289 Wi-Fi access points throughout the stadium. The park seats more than 41,000 fans, which means there is one Wi-Fi access point for every 32 fans when at full capacity.

AT&T has also installed 196 DAS antennas as part of its wireless network. Combined with Apple’s iBeacon technology, fans can easily order concessions or upgrade tickets with the MLB At the Ballpark app. When it comes to stadium connectivity, the San Francisco Giants set the standard.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodger Stadium
Seating Capacity: 56,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, 1,000+ access points
Beaconing: Yes

For the second consecutive year, Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten promised fans Wi-Fi would be installed by opening day. And the second time proved to be a charm. Dodger Stadium now includes more than 1,000 access points transforming the half-century old ballpark into one of the baseball’s most well-connected parks.

The 52-year-old stadium underwent a $100 million renovation a year ago, including improved connectivity and a cellular distributed antenna system. Fans can even take advantage of the MLB At the Ballpark app using their smartphone to pre-pay for parking and tickets to get into the game with iBeacons installed in Dodger Stadium.

San Diego Padres
Petco Park
Seating Capacity: 42,455
Wi-Fi: Yes, 423 access points
DAS: Yes, 460 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

After a significant upgrade in 2012, Petco Park features more than 400 Wi-Fi access points and more than 400 DAS antennas throughout the stadium. The San Diego Padres were also one of the first teams to install iBeacon technology.

The club is rolling out the technology slowly and experimenting with the MLB At the Ballpark app. When strolling through Petco Park, Padres fans can receive the day’s lineup card and real-time coupons for the team store. Backed by Qualcomm, the Padres are bringing a consistent connected experi- ence to its fans.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Field
Seating Capacity: 49,003
Wi-F: Yes, 278 access points
DAS: Yes, 460 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

One of the more versatile stadiums in baseball, Chase Field turns 16 this season. Since 2011, the Diamondbacks have partnered with AT&T to make it easier to fans to enjoy the ballpark and game.

This season fans are encouraged to be part of the Ultimate Dbacks Digital Experience. This includes logging on to one over 200 different AT&T hot spots to order concessions with MLB At the Ballpark and watch instant replays of Mark Trumbo’s home runs using MLB At Bat.

Colorado Rockies
Coors Field
Seating Capacity: 50,455
Wi-Fi: Yes, 600 antennas (by July 15)
DAS: Yes for AT&T; Undergoing renovation and will have VZW and T-Mobile soon. Beaconing: Yes – Install will be complete by June 30.
The lone team in the NL West without Wi-Fi over the past few seasons, the Colorado Rockies are going to change that in 2014. The club plans to install more than 600 Wi-Fi access points by July 15. But that’s not the only upgrade to the 19-year old park.
The Rockies removed 3,500 seats in an $11 million dollar project to build the Rooftop Party Deck. This 38,000 square-foot area is open to all fans to socialize, grab a bite to eat, and watch the game. The best news is Rockies fans should be able to stay connected with iBeacon installs and improved DAS antennas also planned for deployment by this summer.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Chris Gallo

Atlanta Braves
Turner Field
Seating Capacity: 50,096
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: Yes

The Atlanta Braves recently announced plans to build a new stadium in Cobb County, but the defending NL East champions are still improving Turner Field. In its 17th season, the TED is now outfitted with iBeacons throughout the ballpark.

Braves fans are encouraged to download the MLB At the Ballpark app to use their smartphones to get into the game, upgrade tickets, and pay for concessions. Fans do not need to be worried about data connectivity with multiple Wi-Fi access points, DAS antennas, and mobile charging stations.

Washington Nationals
Nationals Park
Seating Capacity: 41,888
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: No

On the heels of several Wi-Fi upgrades from a year a go, Comcast continues to expand connec- tivity throughout Nationals Park in 2014. But there are no specifics about connectivity just yet.

The ballpark is still young (in its sixth season) and the club is exploring where to make improvements. A proposed plan for a retractable roof that would cost an estimated $300 million was denied in 2013.

Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park
Seating Capacity: 43,651
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Just up the road in Philadelphia, Comcast is taking care of its home park. The cable company installed hundreds of Xfinity hotspots inside Citizens Bank Park in 2013. This year the experience is even better with iBeacons throughout the ballpark.

Phillies fans can order a cheesesteak or upgrade tickets as they walk down Ashburn Alley with the MLB At the Ballpark app. And the Budweiser Rooftop, Harry The K’s, and Games of Baseball all include strong Wi-Fi for you to tweet while fans there watch the next Cliff Lee strikeout.

New York Mets
Citi Field
Seating Capacity: 45,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, ~ 500 access points
Beaconing: Yes

Built in 2009, Citi Field was one of the first big league stadiums to be outfitted with Apple iBeacons. Installed last September, Mets fans can use beacons to download the MLB At the Ballpark app to use their smartphones as a ticket to get into the game and receive a coupon for a hot dog.

The experience is even more useful now that Citi Field has more than 500 Wi-Fi access points and multiple DAS antennas distributed throughout the stadium. Now when the home run apple lights up, fans can take photos and share instantly across social networks.

Miami Marlins
Marlins Park
Seating Capacity: 37,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, 254 access points
DAS: Yes, 246 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

Marlins Park is the newest stadium in all of Major League Baseball and welcomes fans with increased connectivity in 2014. There are 254 Wi-Fi access points courtesy of Meru Networks and 246 DAS antennas put in by neutral host provider ExteNet Sysyems than host the five major cellular carriers to accommodate Marlins fans.

This season the Marlins worked with Major League Baseball to install iBeacons at every gate and entrance to Marlins Park. The MLB At the Ballpark app allows fans to pay for parking and use their phone for tickets to get to and from the game with ease.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.