Spiking the Surface: Why Microsoft’s NFL deal got thrown for a loss

Bill Belichick’s very thorough takedown of the Microsoft Surface slapped a fried egg on the face of Microsoft’s $400 million deal with the NFL to use the tablets on game-day sidelines. In the latest STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST, co-hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka explore why the deal was flawed from the beginning, and whether or not wireless technology can be counted on to perform in NFL sideline environments.


Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

Texas A&M sees 8.2 TB of Wi-Fi + DAS traffic at Kyle Field for Tennessee game

Texas A&M student recording the halftime show at a 2015 season game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Texas A&M student recording the halftime show at a 2015 season game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The wireless networks at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field continue to prove their heralded capability, as the school reported seeing 8.2 total terabytes of wireless traffic on its stadium Wi-Fi and DAS networks during the Aggies’ exciting 45-38 double-overtime victory over Tennessee on Oct. 8. Of that number, approximately 4.4 TB was recorded on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, with another 3.8 TB recorded on the cellular DAS, which carries traffic from AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Perhaps even more impressive than the total tonnage numbers are the number of unique connections reported during the four-hour span during which Texas A&M recorded statistics: According to a press release from A&M, just more than 52,000 fans connected to the Wi-Fi network at some point, 49 percent out of a total of 106,248 attending the Oct. 8 game. The Wi-Fi network also saw nearly 32,000 fans connected to the Wi-Fi network at the same time, with both numbers surpassing Kyle Field’s previous high totals for both metrics.

Last year, the new Wi-Fi network at Kyle Field saw 5.7 TB of Wi-Fi use for a home game against Alabama, with 37,823 unique clients recorded during pre-game and game time, as well as a 26,318 peak concurrent user count.

No upgrades needed

We are still hoping to circle back with A&M folks to hear more about the second year of Kyle Field’s networks, but sources close to the operation said that so far, neither the Wi-Fi network nor the DAS network has needed any system upgrades since the networks went live last year.

On the DAS side of things, AT&T reported that it saw 2.2 TB of DAS traffic on its Kyle Field networks for Oct. 8; though it’s not confirmed by Verizon, A&M reported a total of 3.8 TB of DAS usage, and since Sprint and T-Mobile are not yet on the DAS, it seems safe to say there was 1.6 TB of Verizon traffic on the DAS Oct. 8. AT&T and Verizon both paid $5 million each to help build the networks at Kyle Field, which had a total price tag of just north of $20 million according to school officials.

World Series fans will have Wi-Fi + DAS at Cleveland’s Progressive Field; cellular only at Wrigley

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 11.00.32 AMIf you are lucky, loaded or devoted enough to have tickets to any of this year’s World Series games, you will have more connectivity choices at Cleveland’s Progressive Field than at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Thanks to a Verizon-built Wi-Fi and a separate DAS network that both came online in 2014, the home of the AL champion Indians should be ready for the bucket-list traffic pressures that come with hosting World Series games.

When the series moves to Chicago later this week, the Wrigley cell network will need to carry the full load, as renovations that are bringing new Wi-Fi and DAS systems to the Friendly Confines are not yet in place (and may not be finished until 2018, according to the Cubs).

However, the cellular networks at Wrigley Field seem to be working just fine — according to AT&T, during the three league championship series games in Chicago, fans who are AT&T customers used 2.6 terabytes of data on the AT&T networks at the ballpark. For the three games at Dodger Stadium, AT&T said it saw a total of 2.0 TB used on its networks. Fans at Progressive Field, meanwhile, used a total of 340 GB during games 1 and 2 of the ALCS on AT&T networks. Expect that number to grow this week.

For fans attending the games in Cleveland (Game 1 is Oct. 25 and Game 2 is Oct. 26; games 6 and 7, if necessary, will also be in Cleveland) there should be plenty of local cellular capacity thanks to the beefing-up brought by carriers ahead of this summer’s Republican convention; we are also guessing that all the big wireless providers are doing their usual big-event preparations, which usually means portable cellular equipment for placement around the stadiums and in other fan areas. Anyone attending the games, send us a speedtest… so we can keep score on the networks!

Pacers get new Wi-Fi network from Ruckus to replace SignalShare

Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 1.15.36 PMThe Indiana Pacers have signed a 3-year deal with Ruckus Wireless and Wi-Fi analytics and deployment firm Purple to put a new Wi-Fi network into Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home of both the NBA’s Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

The new network, which the firms said would use 437 Ruckus Wi-Fi APs, will replace a Wi-Fi network installed at Bankers Life Fieldhouse by SignalShare, a Wi-Fi deployment firm that recently went bankrupt in the middle of legal issues that alleged fraudulent practices. According to Ruckus, the new network should be live by early December; stay tuned for a more thorough profile of the new deployment.

So far, all of the teams that we’ve contacted who were caught up in the SignalShare snafu (under which some of the network leases were being offered for auction before the SignalShare bankruptcy put a halt to things) seem to be coming out of the mess OK. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new manager for their Wi-Fi network, and the Pacers will have a new Ruckus-gear network.

It’s still a little unclear as to what is happening at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena, but press representatives there said the building will have an Extreme Networks Wi-Fi deployment up and running for this season; previously, SignalShare had run the network using Extreme gear so our best guess is that Extreme somehow took over the SignalShare lease. Neither the Warriors nor Extreme would comment on any SignalShare matters.

In Indianapolis, the press release said that Purple, previously known as Purple WiFi (a “cloud-based marketing and analytics WiFi software company,” according to the firm), will be providing analytics from the Wi-Fi network to the Pacers. Terms of the deal were not diclosed, so it is unknown if Purple is paying for the Wi-Fi gear and making money off analytics and advertising sales; again, stay tuned for more details when we speak to the Pacers IT team in more detail.

Verizon upgrading Wi-Fi at Lions’ Ford Field

Screen Shot 2016-10-21 at 10.52.24 AMVerizon Wireless is upgrading the Wi-Fi network it originally installed at the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field, but is keeping specifics about its upgrade to itself.

In a widely quoted press release Verizon said it is adding capacity to the Wi-Fi network it first installed at Ford Field back in 2013, a network that was only open to Verizon customers. According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, the new network (which won’t be operational until the end of the current NFL season) will be open to all fans, not just Verizon customers. However, like in other stadiums, Verizon customers will be able to access the Wi-Fi over a separate SSID, Verizon said. The Ford Field upgrade joins other NFL stadiums getting a Wi-Fi revamp this season, including the Carolina Panthers, the New England Patriots, the Houston Texans and others.

Verizon would not answer questions about how many Wi-Fi access points the new deployment would have, instead only claiming that coverage would be “quadrupled” from the previous installation. Verizon also claimed it now has Wi-Fi networks in 11 NFL stadiums, but declined to provide a list of which stadiums have Verizon Wi-Fi. MSR has previously reported that the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field has a Verizon network, as does FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.. Verizon also claims it will install Wi-Fi in two other NFL stadiums this year, but again declined to name the stadiums.

Kings turn to startups Built.io, Cartogram for Golden 1 Center app development

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For an arena that seeks to redefine the fan experience at a large public venue, it’s somehow fitting that the Sacramento Kings have turned to startups for two of the core parts of the new stadium app for their new home, Golden 1 Center.

With a main app platform developed by stadium-newcomer Built.io and mapping features provided by Seattle-based startup Cartogram, the Kings have produced a stadium app they hope will help give fans a better game-day experience, by reducing “pain points” in areas like transit, parking and ticketing, while also providing features like concession-ordering and delivery via the app. There are also plans for a wide range of content including replays and stats, and the ability to purchase seat upgrades. Though the new Golden 1 Center is already open, the stadium-app features will likely not be fully tested until the Kings’ first regular-season opener, scheduled for Oct. 27 against the San Antonio Spurs.

And while the app is a centerpiece of the Kings’ very public campaign to tout Golden 1 Center as one of the most technologically advanced stadiums every built, to even begin to reach that title the Kings must first conquer the biggest hurdle most stadium apps have, that being just getting fans to download and use the app in the first place. Ryan Montoya, chief technical officer for the Kings, thinks the app’s focus on services will help drive adoption, especially for a brand-new place where all fans will need help finding there way there, and around once inside.

Flexibility to add more services quickly

“We wanted to build features [in the app] that were actually useful to fans,” said Montoya in a phone interview. “We wanted to push the boundaries, to remove friction and help the arena become more intuitive.”

Directions and parking / transit options

Directions and parking / transit options

Though most of the leading team- and stadium-app platforms, such as those from YinzCam or VenueNext, provide the ability to integrate third-party features, the Kings said they were seeking a more agile app platform, one that Montoya said “would provide us flexibility in real time.” For that core, the Kings turned to a company called Built.io, a San Francisco firm with experience in “assisting large organizations with digital transformations,” but no public claims to team- or venue-app developments.

Neha Sampat, co-founder and CEO of Built.io, said that since its founding in 2007, her company has a lot of experience in helping enterprise company move to cloud-based operations, moves that include support for content management and mobile-device usage.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in a phone interview. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said Built.io’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs make it a perfect partner for the Kings, who want to expose multiple services and features through the combined Golden 1 Center/Kings app.

“When Vivek [Ranadive, Kings owner] said 2 years ago the ‘arena will check into you,’ we got excited because that was our vision,” Sampat said. Sampat compared the Kings’ ideas to services Built.io has helped deliver at other large public spaces, like connected cities and convention centers.

Ticketmaster integration

Ticketmaster integration

“The use cases are similar,” Sampat said. “If you’re at a conference, something can happen [to the event app] due to your location.”

Using the Built.io backend, the Kings have been able to add several well-known existing services to the new app, including Appetize for food ordering, and Parking Panda for parking services. There is also integration with Ticketmaster and some new “smart kiosks” from Skidata which Montoya said should be able to allow for up to 1,000 fans per hour to get into the arena, as opposed to limits of around 300 fans per hour via manual ticket-scanning techniques.

The important thing, Montoya said, is to have a backend system that allows for continuous additions to the application, a so-called “bus” theory “to allow us to integrate services seamlessly.”

Maps the way people want them

While the app certainly is pushing the envelope when it comes to functionality, perhaps the most important part of it at the start will be its wayfinding capabilities. With its intimate downtown setting — one placed right in the city center, and not surrounded by parking lots — Golden 1 Center will likely present a challenge for fans in just trying to get to and get inside the venue. Add into that the challenge for any fan simply to find their way around a brand-new facility, and you have an increased need for directions and assistance.

To help fans find their way, the Kings have built features into the app that include map-directed wayfinding to transit and to parking lots, and then into the building and to their seats. To power the wayfinding, the Kings selected Cartogram, a Seattle-based startup that uses Google Maps as its base to power maps that allow for directed searches both inside and outside buildings.

Indoor seating map

Indoor seating map

In a recent phone interview, Cartogram CEO Will Clausen said the Kings had been looking for a mapping solution that could integrate both exterior and interior views, mainly due to the aforementioned challenges of getting directions to a new stadium located in a downtown core. Having a Cartogram employee who worked previously with a Kings employee helped get Cartogram in the door, Clausen said, and now its system drives not only the wayfinding features in the app but other amenities like the ability to see how long lines are at concession stands or bathrooms.

Working closely both with Built.io as well as with the Kings’ wireless networking team, Clausen said the Cartogram software uses information both from Bluetooth beacons as well as from Wi-Fi access points to determine line lengths and wait times. While Bluetooth is great for providing granular location information for a single device, Clausen noted that while not all devices may have the app downloaded, almost all devices in a venue have Wi-Fi active, allowing the Kings’ system to detect density in local areas based on the number of devices its Wi-Fi network can see.

And while other stadium systems like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app have wayfinding features with live interactive maps, those maps are different than Google Maps, an app Clausen said most people know and like. Using Google Maps as its base, Clausen said, “gives end users the experience they’re used to.”

In the end, such familiarity may help the Kings’ Golden 1 Center app become more widely used than other stadium apps, which regularly trail social-media apps and email apps for most-used apps in any stadium game-day use measurements. And while relying on startups may be the team-app version of an NBA team relying on rookie players, the Kings’ Montoya is confident the new app will help the Kings deliver on their vision of an advanced fan experience.

“I think we’ve seen a transformation of what a [stadium] app is supposed to be,” Montoya said. “It’s a real evolution.”

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

For concerts -- who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

For concerts — who needs a lighter when the app can provide?