December 21, 2014

Washington dropping Huawei for Cisco/Verizon Wi-Fi at FedEx Field, report says

Ming He, Country General Manager for Huawei in the U.S. (left), and Rod Nenner, Vice President of the Washington Redskins (right), pictured together when Huawei announced the team sponsorship and partnership.

Ming He, Country General Manager for Huawei in the U.S. (left), and Rod Nenner, Vice President of the Washington Redskins (right), pictured together when Huawei announced the team sponsorship and partnership.

According to a report from Bill Gertz at the Washington Times, the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise is apparently scrapping a recent deal with Chinese networking gear supplier Huawei to put fan-facing Wi-Fi into FedEx Field, turning instead to U.S. companies Cisco and Verizon.

Gertz, in the “Inside the Ring” column at the Times, said the Washington team’s senior vice president Tony Wyllie said in an email that “We [Washington] are in the process of deploying a stadium-wide Wi-Fi network working with Verizon and Cisco.” Gertz said the team did not elaborate on why the recent deal with Huawei was apparently scrapped before it got started.

Huawei, which claims to have installed Wi-Fi networks in many stadiums worldwide, had not had any large-scale installations at major U.S. venues before announcing the FedEx Field deal. A major competitor to large U.S. networking firms like Cisco, Huawei has been at the center of controversy in recent years, including being tabbed as a security threat by U.S. government officials, and later as a reported target for N.S.A. surveillance.

Under the announced terms of the deal, Huawei was supposed to install Wi-Fi in suite areas this December; a company spokesman said that while there was no official deal announced, Huawei was also supposed to follow that install up with a full-stadium deployment before the 2015 season started. In the initial announcement, the team announced Huawei Enterprise USA as a multi-year team sponsor and “Official Technology Partner.”

We have got calls and emails in to all the interested parties, and will update this story as we hear more.

Niners add in-seat merchandise delivery, transit info to Levi’s Stadium app

Screen shot of new merchandise ordering feature in Levi's Stadium app. Credit: VenueNext

Screen shot of new merchandise ordering feature in Levi’s Stadium app. Credit: VenueNext

As previously reported by Mobile Sports Report, the San Francisco 49ers have added in-seat merchandise ordering and public transportation information to the Levi’s Stadium app, ahead of Saturday night’s game between the Niners and the San Diego Chargers.

While the new features were hinted at during a recent technology summit at the stadium, application developer VenueNext made the upgrades official today. Here are the official new features the app will have by Saturday:

— Now Levi’s Stadium app users can order jerseys, novelties and other 49ers apparel to their seat, anywhere in the stadium, paying with credit card or Apple Pay.
– Faithful49 loyalists can redeem yards to purchase food, beverage and merchandise right in the app.
– Users can also get up-to-the-minute transit information for their ride home with TransitScreen (which includes every possible mode of public transport in real time, viewable on one screen)

Photo of directions function in Levi's Stadium app. Credit: MSR

Photo of directions function in Levi’s Stadium app. Credit: MSR

Fans should upgrade their Levi’s Stadium app before coming to the next game, since only the latest version of the app will support the new features. According to the VenueNext press release, the Levi’s app also offers in-stadium access to the NFL Network’s RedZone channel, something which we hadn’t seen in several trips to Levi’s this season.

We’re interested in hearing from any fans who are at the next games at Levi’s about whether or not the transit feature is helpful; while we think it could be a big timesaver (so far at all our visits we regularly see people getting off the light rail train wondering where to go next) we wonder if enough people are aware of all the functionality in the app. Even Niners CEO Jed York has been somewhat surprised at the light takeup of things like the app’s ability to show multiple camera-angle replays.

AT&T: Bills fans using almost 400 GB of data per game on Ralph Wilson Stadium DAS

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium

The new DAS deployment at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium is getting a workout from Bills fans, according to data from DAS operator AT&T. According to AT&T, fans on AT&T’s cellular network are using an average of 397 gigabytes of data per game so far this season, a figure that might drift a bit higher after the Bills’ big upset of Green Bay this past weekend.

The DAS, part of a $130 million stadium renovation project at Ralph Wilson Stadium for this season that also saw the installation of new HD video boards (but no Wi-Fi), has 33 sectors with 11 cell sites worth of AT&T equipment, according to news reports.

One of just 10 NFL facilities that doesn’t have fan-facing Wi-Fi, Ralph Wilson Stadium clearly now has less of a “no signal” problem, if fans are finding ways to use nearly 400 GB of data per game. We’ll circle back with the Buffalo folks to see if there is any news on future Wi-Fi plans.

Stadium Tech Report: THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL ISSUE looks at university Wi-Fi deployments

collegethumbIf there was a college football playoff for stadium wireless network deployments, which four teams would be in? Electing myself to the committee, I think my top picks would be the same venues we’re profiling in our latest Stadium Tech Report – Baylor, Nebraska, Stanford and Texas A&M. All four are pursuing high-end networks to support a better fan experience, leading the way for what may turn out to be the largest “vertical” market in the stadium networking field – sporting venues at institutions of higher learning.

To be sure, network deployments at major universities in the U.S. are still at the earliest stages — in our reporting for our latest long-form report, we found that at two of the top conferences, the SEC and the Pac-12, only four schools total (two in each conference) had fan-facing Wi-Fi, with only one more planned to come online next year. Why is the collegiate market so far behind the pro market when it comes to network deployment? There are several main reasons, but mostly it comes down to money and mindset, with a lack of either keeping schools on the sidelines.

Leaders look for NFL-type experiences

But at our “playoff” schools, it’s clear that with some ready budget and a clear perspective, college stadiums don’t need to take a back seat to anyone, pro stadiums included. The networks, apps and infrastructure deployed for this season at Baylor’s McLane Stadium and Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium are among the tops anywhere in sports, and the all-fiber infrastructure being put in place at Texas A&M should make that school’s Kyle Field among the most-connected if all work gets completed on time for next football season. Read in-depth profiles on these schools’ deployments, along with team-by-team capsule technology descriptions and an exclusive interview with Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin in our latest report, available for free download from our site.

We’d like to take a second here to thank our sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to offer these comprehensive reports to you free of charge. For our fourth-quarter report our sponsors include Crown Castle, SOLiD, Extreme Networks, Aruba Networks, TE Connectivity, and Corning.

Extreme announces strategic partnership with IMG’s college division

In a move that could net Extreme Networks some more college stadium Wi-Fi deals, Extreme announced it had entered into a strategic partnership with marketing giant IMG, as the “Official Wi-Fi Provider of IMG College.”

Though the partnership doesn’t guarantee that Extreme will sell Wi-Fi gear, being the “preferred supplier” to IMG College’s stable of 90 collegiate “institutions” — a list that includes schools, conferences and venues — gives Extreme a leg up as those entities decide on providers for wireless network deployments. While IMG College might not be the final decision-maker when it comes to network deployments, its wide-ranging representation of media rights, licensing deals and other tasks for its clients certainly won’t hurt Extreme’s chances when it comes to picking a Wi-Fi gear supplier.

For what it’s worth, Extreme signed a similar non-binding deal with the NFL in January of this year, which did not require teams to purchase Extreme equipment. However, prior to this season four new teams — the Seattle Seahawks, the Tennessee Titans, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars all signed deals to use Extreme gear in their Wi-Fi deployments. We haven’t spoken to Extreme or IMG yet so we don’t know if the college partnership will offer IMG clients discounts on Wi-Fi gear, like Extreme does for NFL teams. Extreme recently also won the Wi-Fi gear bid for the new McLane Stadium at Baylor University, which is an IMG client.

Niners’ CEO gives Levi’s Stadium operations a ‘B’ grade

Jed York, Niners CEO, speaking at tech summit at Levi's Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Jed York, Niners CEO, speaking at tech summit at Levi’s Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, who caused a stir last week by apologizing for his team’s play on Twitter, on Thursday gave the operation of his club’s new Levi’s Stadium an above-average grade of “B” for the first four months of its inaugural season.

Speaking at a technology-focused fan-experience and innovation summit held Thursday at the stadium’s “501″ club, York said “I’d give us a ‘B’ on our execution [at Levi's Stadium] this year,” citing parking issues and foot-traffic flow into the stadium as problems not yet fully solved for the 68,500-seat facility in Santa Clara, Calif.

Given the new stadium’s complicated location — in the middle of a busy corporate-headquarters area and right next to the Great America theme park — it was probably somewhat of a given that there would be parking struggles the first season, as fans, police, traffic directors and stadium workers all figured out how to make the dance work. Though some progress has been made during the season, York said that “parking and just getting people here” remain the biggest issue he sees at Levi’s Stadium.

While the Niners have tried to use technology to solve the problems of getting fans inside (with app-based parking maps and wayfinding), York said that despite plans to funnel fans through the correct gates to get more quickly to their seats, many fans still just head for the gate that’s closest to their parking or train arrival spot, which has sometimes led to big backups at the check-in lines.

On the networking side of things, York said all seemed to be going well with the stadium’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks, which have performed well in a series of ad hoc tests conducted by MSR in visits this season.

“We haven’t had any [network] glitches, but we’ve been doing a lot of tweaking,” York said. The Levi’s Stadium app has been the center of most of that tweaking, with continual upgrades to add features and fix problems like an Android bug that surfaced in a mid-November revision. York said that the Niners have been careful to make sure the human engineering behind the technology is solid before launching new things, like having enough runners to support the feature that allows food to be ordered and delivered to seats.

Levi's Stadium ready for the Pac-12 championship game

Levi’s Stadium ready for the Pac-12 championship game

And though it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, York said the team might debut a planned feature of having team merchandise available for purchase and delivery to seats at the next home game, Dec. 20 vs. San Diego. John Paul, CEO of Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext, also spoke at the summit Thursday and said in an interview that the Dec. 20 game might also see the debut of a new feature that adds in mass transit and Uber wait times. (A good idea for fans going to the stadium is to check on game day morning for any updates to the app.)

On the app side, York said one surprise was the fairly low uptake of fans using the app’s instant replay features. After fans watched 7,800 replays during the regular-season home opener (the first game replays were available in the app), usage has gone down, with less than 4,000 replays watched during the last home game against Seattle.

“We thought that mobile replays would be absolutely a home run feature, but it hasn’t got that much traction,” said York. The culprit, he said, might be the twin HD displays above each end zone at Levi’s Stadium, which are somewhat stunning in their clarity. “We do have great video boards,” York said.

In his talk York also thought out loud about the possibility of using wearable technology to both better help prevent player injuries as well as being able to provide more rich detail for fans, like how hard a hit was on the field. But he also stressed that technology at Levi’s Stadium was not meant to be used for technology’s sake, but instead to improve the experience of being at the game. And improvement on the stadium staff’s execution, York said, will go a long way to making it all work together.

“When we get to an A, or A+, people will really be blown away,” York said.

Levi's Stadium at twilight

Levi’s Stadium at twilight