December 1, 2015

AT&T upgrades DAS deployments at Florida, Kansas, Purdue, Washington State and Kentucky

The University of Kansas' Memorial Stadium

The University of Kansas’ Memorial Stadium

AT&T customers at a number of collegiate sporting venues may have been pleased by better connectivity this football season, thanks to a slew of upgrades to the AT&T network on distributed antenna networks in those stadiums.

According to AT&T, the carrier recently upgraded its DAS deployments at Ben Hill Griffen Stadium at the University of Florida, at Martin Stadium at Washington State University, and at the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium. AT&T also installed neutral-host DAS deployments at the University of Kansas’ Memorial Stadium and at Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University.

On the pro football side, AT&T and Boingo Wireless recently added an outdoor DAS to their combined coverage at the home of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC North

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. 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 Paul Kapustka

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field
Seating Capacity: 80,735
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Wi-Fi has finally come to the NFL’s frozen tundra, courtesy of a deployment from Extreme Networks and backed also by Verizon Wireless. Like in Seattle, fans in Green Bay will be able to access two separate Wi-Fi networks – one for Verizon customers, the other for all other cellular customers. Verizon is also the host of the neutral DAS, which counts AT&T as a customer. (See cover story profile.)

Chicago Bears
Soldier Field
Seating Capacity: 61,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

The home of Da Bears remains the only NFL stadium we know of that still charges for Wi-Fi use – the network, provided by Boingo Wireless, costs fans $1.99 per day. AT&T and Boingo also recently updated the already-robust DAS around the stadium, adding coverage for tailgating areas as well.

Detroit Lions
Ford Field
Seating Capacity: 65,000
Wi-Fi – Yes/limited (Verizon customers only)
DAS – Yes

Verizon customers at Ford Field will have access to Wi-Fi, but customers from other carriers are out of luck.

Minnesota Vikings
TCF Bank Stadium
Seating Capacity: 52,000
Wi-Fi – Limited / in select areas only
DAS – Yes

As Vikings fans wait for the opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium – which is supposed to have the latest in stadium Wi-Fi – they will spend one more year without Wi-Fi at TCF Bank Stadium. UPDATE: According to AT&T, the DAS installed in 2014 was upgraded this season, from 10 to 17 sectors. Several Vikings home games this season have seen 200+ gigabytes of data on the AT&T network on the DAS, according to AT&T.

Stadium Tech Report: Kansas State taps Boingo, Aruba for new Wi-Fi and DAS networks

Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

When Kansas State University took on the self-imposed challenge of delivering “the best fan experience in the Big 12″ a couple years ago, it was clear that something had to be done about the lack of wireless connectivity in its largest sports venues.

Before this football season, KSU took a big step forward in living up to its goals by partnering with Boingo Wireless and Aruba Networks to bring stadium-wide Wi-Fi and DAS networks for fans to the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, with plans to follow up with similar connectivity for Bramlage Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena. With 380 Wi-Fi access points and 200-plus DAS antennas in Snyder Stadium, fans there will no longer have to complain about not being able to get a signal, a problem that reached a tipping point last year, according to the K-State network staff.

According to Scott Garrett, the senior associate athletic director for external operations, the idea of fan-facing Wi-Fi or improved cellular via a DAS (distributed antenna system) had been talked about internally since 2008 or 2009, especially so when the stadium underwent significant construction revisions in 2012. Built in 1967, the football stadium had expanded to its current capacity of 50,000 fans, who in the last couple years started letting the school know that “no signal” was no fun.

“Our [yearly] fan survey, especially the last couple years, had a growing feedback about the inability to connect [at the stadium],” Garrett said. Back in 2010 and 2011, there really wasn’t a hue and cry, but “every year since then, the negative feedback [about connectivity] had doubled,” Garrett said. “It was really painful after last season.”

Antennas visible on top of stands

Antennas visible on top of stands

Building two networks at once

What fans didn’t know last year was that a plan was already in place to fix the issue, thanks to an RFP crafted by the athletics department and the campus telecom office. After sorting through several candidates, including carrier-driven DAS-only plans, Kansas State went with Boingo Wireless as the lead deployer for both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network, with rental revenues from the former helping offset the deployment costs of the latter.

“Boingo has a lot of experience in the [stadium] marketplace, and their financial model allows us to install a DAS and get money to build a Wi-Fi network,” Garrett said. Even though the deal was signed in 2014, the complexity of bringing new networks to older buildings was such that the target date for launch became the start of the 2015 football season.

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo, said there was a “boatload of synergy” in doing both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network deployment at the same time. “Just knowing where antennas will be placed for either one makes both better,” Lodder said.

The biggest deployment challenges for both networks were in both end zones of the stadium, both of which have only one section of stands with no overhangs, making it tough to locate antennas. Without using under-seat antennas (“we are firm believers that going up from under is a last resort,” said Lodder) Lodder said Boingo was able to make its design work — “we found enough ways to get the APs in,” he said.

More antennas on an overhang

More antennas on an overhang

For the Wi-Fi network, Boingo used gear from Aruba Networks, a choice made in part because Aruba gear was already in use in other parts of the Kansas State campus.

For the DAS, Boingo used Teko gear from JMA Wireless. Currently Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are on the DAS, with Garrett “hoping to add AT&T” sometime soon.

Another classic issue for many deployments in older stadiums, where to locate the head-end room, was solved for this season with a temporary structure since the proximity of the basketball arena — according to Garrett it sits about 30 yards beyond the football stadium’s south end zone — was just one of several factors putting a crimp on available head-end real estate.

“We’re still trying to figure out a permanent place for the head end,” Garrett said. “We just didn’t have room for it on the [existing] site.”

Soft launches and a new app

With construction taking place over the summer, Kansas State knew it couldn’t keep its network a secret. On Aug. 12, athletic director John Currie posted a letter on the K-State website, which in part told fans about the new networks being installed, as well as the availability of a new game day application, built by SportsLabs, a 2-year-old startup based in Boulder, Colo.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Garrett said the “teaser” letter from the AD helped alert fans to the new connectivity options, and some started taking and sharing photos of the antennas during pre-season activities at the stadium. But just to make sure the launch didn’t overset expectations, Garrett said the KSU staff kept mostly silent through the first game of the season on Sept. 5, allowing them to have a bit of a “beta” type soft launch.

The go-slow start helped, he said, because it allowed network administrators to identify and correct a logon issue before the next home game. Garrett said Kansas State also monitors social media in real time, allowing for on-the-spot fixes when fans are having problems.

“We once saw two tweets about a problem in Section 9 [of the stadium] where some fans got kicked off the Wi-Fi,” Garrett said. “We were able to test and monitor and provide immediate feedback.”

Throughout the season, Garrett and his staff stepped up the promotion of the network, and drove fans to download the new game-day app, which includes interactive stadium maps and integrated access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so fans can follow and post directly from the KSU app.

Rebecca Cameron, senior account director for SportsLabs, said that in addition to in-stadium use there is also a lot of app usage for fans who aren’t at the game, with the live game audio being the app’s most popular service. According to Cameron more than 4,000 fans have downloaded the app so far this season.

Garrett said KSU and SportsLabs will continue to add to the app, with a future eye on support of services like mobile concession ordering and instant replays. Garrett said Kansas State is a bit unusual for a big NCAA school in that it controls its own media rights, allowing it to make final decisions on technology providers.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“We were looking for a more sophisticated digital effort, and we really liked what SportsLabs had to offer,” Garrett said. Though not widely known, SportsLabs is making a name for itself in the sports app and websites field, having already secured the College Football Playoff series as a customer, along with the University of Kentucky and the ACC and West Coast Conference.

The new network and all its trappings, Boingo’s Lodder said, places Kansas State among the leaders in the collegiate connectivity race, ahead of many larger schools in bigger media markets.

“A lot of Pac-12 schools haven’t put in Wi-Fi yet,” Lodder noted. “It’s interesting to see who is taking that first step.”

Kansas State’s Garrett is happy that the initial problem of no signal is solved, and is enjoying seeing what a high-definition network can produce.

“It’s incredible to go from having no ability to text or call at all to having that problem totally solved,” Garrett said. “Now it’s great to see how many people are getting on Facebook and Twitter, sharing with friends. We’re looking forward to expanding and seeing what other new things we can add.”

IBM formally launches sports consulting practice to bring tech to stadiums

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

IBM formally cemented its entrance to the sports-stadium tech deployment market with the announcement of a sports and fan experience consulting practice, and a “global consortium” of tech and service suppliers who may help IBM in its future stadium and entertainment venue deployments.

For industry watchers, the Nov. 19 debut of the IBM “Sports, Entertainment and Fan Experience” consulting practice was not a surprise, since its leader, Jim Rushton, had already appeared at tech conferences this past summer, talking about IBM’s plans to deploy a fiber-based Wi-Fi and DAS network at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium being built for the Atlanta Falcons. IBM was also publicly behind a similar network build over the last two years at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. For both networks, IBM is using Corning optical gear.

Still, the formal creation of the IBM practice (you can read all about it at the new IBM sports website) means that the 800-pound gorilla is now firmly inside the competitive ring of the stadium-tech marketplace, a landscape that currently has multiple players, many of which have multiple stadium deployments under their belts. However, IBM’s vast experience in big-time sports technology deployments — Big Blue is behind such endeavors as the truly wonderful online experience of The Masters, as well as technical underpinnings of three of tennis’ Grand Slam events (Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open) — as well as its considerable tech and monetary resources probably makes it a No. 1 contender for all of the biggest projects as well as possibly smaller ones as well.

Artist's rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Artist’s rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Rushton, who spoke with Mobile Sports Report earlier this year in one of his first public appearances as an IBMer, said in a phone interview this week that IBM’s fiber-to-the-fan network model isn’t just for large-scale deployments like the one at 105,000-seat Kyle Field or the Falcons’ new $1.4 billion nest, which will seat 71,000 for football and up to 83,000 for other events after it opens in 2017.

“That type of system [the optical network] is scalable,” Rushton said, and even in smaller venues he said it could potentially save customers 30 percent or more compared to the cost of a traditional copper-based cabled network. The flip side to that equation is that purchasers have fewer gear suppliers to choose from on the fiber-based side of things, and according to several industry sources it’s still sometimes a problem to find enough technical staffers with optical-equipment expertise.

How much of the market is left?

The other question facing IBM’s new consulting practice is the size of the market left for stadium tech deployments, an answer we try to parse each year in our State of the Stadium survey. While this year’s survey and our subsequent quarterly reports found a high number of U.S. professional stadiums with Wi-Fi and DAS networks already deployed, there are still large numbers of college venues as well as international stadiums and other large public venues like concert halls, race tracks and other areas that are still without basic connectivity.

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

With its new “global consortium” of companies that supply different parts and services of the connected-stadium experience, IBM could be an attractive choice to a customer that doesn’t have its own technical expertise, providing a soup-to-nuts package that could conceivably handle tasks like in-stadium IPTV, DAS and Wi-Fi, construction and stadium design, and backbone bandwidth solutions.

However, IBM will be going up against vendors who have led deployments on their own, and league-led “consortium” type arrangements like MLBAM’s project that brought Wi-Fi to almost all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and the NFL’s list of preferred suppliers like Extreme Networks for Wi-Fi and YinzCam for apps. Also in the mix are third-party integrators like CDW, Mobilitie, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and others who are already active in the stadium-technology deployment space. And don’t forget HP, which bought Wi-Fi gear supplier Aruba Networks earlier this year.

Certainly, we expect to hear more from IBM soon, and perhaps right now it’s best to close by repeating what we heard from Jared Miller, chief technology officer for Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s namesake AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) group, when we asked earlier this year why the Falcons picked IBM to build the technology in the new Atlanta stadium:

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“IBM is unique with its span of technology footprint,” Miller said. He also cited IBM’s ability to not just deploy technology but to also help determine what the technology could be used for, with analytics and application design.

“They’ve looked at the [stadium] opportunity in a different manner, thinking about what we could do with the network once it’s built,” Miller said.

From the IBM press release, here is the IBM list of companies in its new “global consortium,” which IBM said is not binding, meaning that none of the companies listed is guaranteed any business yet, and others not on the list may end up in IBM deployments, like Kyle Field, which uses Aruba gear for the Wi-Fi:

Founding members of the consortium, include:

· Construction and Design: AECOM, HOK, Whiting Turner

· Infrastructure Technology/Carriers: Alcatel/Lucent, Anixter, Commscope, Corning, Juniper Networks, Ruckus Wireless, Schneider Electric, Smarter Risk, Tellabs, Ucopia, Zebra Technologies, YinzCam (IPTV), Zayo, Zhone

· Communications Solutions Providers: Level 3, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, AT&T

· Fan Experience Consulting & Data Management Integration: IBM

Tap.in2 scores food-delivery deal for Cincinnati Bengals’ club seats; could more YinzCam deals follow?

Screenshot of Tap.in2's food ordering and delivery service embedded in the Cincinnati Bengals' team app. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit: Tap.in2

Screenshot of Tap.in2′s food ordering and delivery service embedded in the Cincinnati Bengals’ team app. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit: Tap.in2

Startup Tap.in2 has signed up the Cincinnati Bengals as its second big-league client for its mobile-app service that enables in-seat food and beverage service in stadiums, with a deal to bring app-based deliveries to 8,000 club-level seats at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

Expected to be formally announced today, the deal has actually been in place all season, according to Tap.in2 representatives. The deal follows Tap.in2′s breakout contract with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to bring similar services to the lower bowl of Quicken Loans Arena. A product of a Cleveland-area startup incubator, Tap.in2 partnered for the second time with Aramark to facilitate the delivery service, which offers a full menu of stadium food and beverage for in-seat delivery.

And while the Bengals are no longer undefeated (losing 10-6 to the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football) select fans at Paul Brown can at least enjoy in-seat concession delivery for the remaining games this year by ordering directly from the team’s stadium app. To our knowledge it’s only the second NFL team to offer app-based food and beverage delivery services, following the San Francisco 49ers and their VenueNext-powered app which supports in-seat delivery to every seat in the 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium.

Let the food-delivery app battles begin

beng1What’s interesting about the Bengals deal is that it has Tap.in2 melding its services with an app built by sports-app giant YinzCam, which does not offer a food-delivery option in the current version of its app used by many NFL teams. However, YinzCam did just sign a big deal with the NBA to re-do 22 NBA team apps, with the option of adding concession delivery services mentioned in the press release; however, YinzCam has not yet stated publicly how it would add such services to its core stadium-app product. Could more deals with Tap.in2 be on the YinzCam horizon?

The well-funded VenueNext, meanwhile, has signed new deals with the NBA’s Orlando Magic as well as the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, to bring more VenueNext features (possibly including food delivery) to those teams’ stadium apps. While some VenueNext features have already crept into the AT&T Stadium app for this season, food ordering and delivery to seats is not yet available at that venue. VenueNext will also provide the app for Super Bowl 50, which will be held at Levi’s Stadium in February.

Though Tap.in2 has not released any actual figures about how many orders were actually taken at games this season, it does claim to have positive feedback from the fans who have used the service, and did claim that orders were being delivered in less than 5 minutes, on average. VenueNext, which did release some food-delivery numbers from Levi’s Stadium last season, is no longer making those statistics available. However the company did say that its app brought in nearly $800,000 in revenue last season, which may give you some idea why this service is hotter than a hot dog when it comes to increasing revenue inside stadiums.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — AFC West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. 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 Paul Kapustka

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.37.01 PM
Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium
Seating Capacity: 76,416
Wi-Fi – Yes

On a quest to challenge the HD experience at home, Chiefs president Mark Donovan delivered Wi-Fi and a mobile app to Arrowhead Stadium in 2013. Kansas City continues to enhance its mobile experience for fans, and now has in-stadium NFL RedZone access, live video feeds during games, as well as video highlights and replays from every drive. New for 2015, the Chiefs added a “Chiefs Kingdom” rewards program that works via the app.

Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Seating Capacity: 76,125
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Connectivity is still kind of a mixed bag in Broncosland, with Wi-Fi in the stadium but still only available for Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all have separate DAS deployments, so most fans should be covered in one form or another.

Oakland Raiders
O.Co Coliseum
Seating Capacity: 56,057
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

With the team’s stay in Oakland still a matter of doubt, fans will have to cheer their team on without Wi-Fi for another year at O.Co Coliseum. Despite being available for A’s fans, when the stadium capacity increases by almost 20,000 people for football, Raiders faithful are left without any access, without any official explanation.

San Diego Chargers
Qualcomm Stadium
Seating Capacity: 70,561
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

The stadium that’s named after the wireless giant remains a mystery. Because Wi-Fi in Qualcomm Stadium, a facility whose sponsor’s fortunes come mainly from the sale of wireless-phone silicon, is still absent.

The stadium that hosted the Super Bowl over a decade ago does have DAS antennas courtesy of AT&T for improved cell coverage. Perhaps given the Chargers’ public statements about moving to a new stadium or Los Angeles means that they aren’t going to make a Wi-Fi investment at Qualcomm right now.