Washington upgrades Wi-Fi backbone at FedExField

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 11.07.38 AMFans at FedExField now have more bandwidth to use on the stadium Wi-Fi network thanks to a recent upgrade that moved the backbone capacity to 10 gigabits per second, according to a release from the team.

Though it’s never been previously publicly announced by the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise, according to sources close to the team the reported network built by Verizon Wireless using Cisco Wi-Fi gear has been in full operation since last season, albeit under a sort of “soft launch” mode done without any promotion.

With more fans now using the network, the team saw a need to increase bandwidth from the 1 Gbps pipe that had been supplying all the Wi-Fi network needs. For many football-stadium Wi-Fi networks, 10-Gbps pipes are a popular choice, with several stadiums opting for multiple such connections. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home of the San Francisco 49ers, has four 10 Gbps pipes as part of its backbone configuration, while US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, has six 10 Gbps links.

For those who are new to stadium Wi-Fi (or who don’t know the difference between backhaul and actual end-user network speeds), the backbone bandwidth is shared by the entire network, which may have multiple tens of thousands of client devices running off any of hundreds of Wi-Fi access points. Typical user bandwidth speeds on Wi-Fi in large networks can range from single-digit megabits per second anywhere up to 20, 40 or even 60 Mbps, depending upon network configuration and density of users. Any fans attending games at FedExField who want to send us a speedtest please do!

T-Mobile Arena lights up on Vegas Strip

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Though we haven’t yet been to a live event at T-Mobile Arena, a summertime visit to the new venue revealed a sparkling 20,000-seat arena with a well-planned Wi-Fi network that seems ready to handle the expected crowds that will soon repeatedly fill the venue.

Thanks to a personal technology tour hosted by Cox Business, the entity behind the Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, we saw many of the 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs, including many that were housed in custom enclosures that the Cox team designed specifically for T-Mobile Arena. Both aesthetics and functionality came into play for the innovative enclosure designs, some of which can be tilted for more exact event-by-event tuning. The arena, a $375 million joint project between AEG and MGM Resorts, opened on April 6, 2016.

Getting ready for the Golden Knights

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which includes more stadium profiles as well as looks at Wi-Fi at the Mall of America, and analytics software being used by the Cleveland Browns. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

With two 10-gbps pipes providing backhaul, the arena’s network should be able to easily handle the traffic generated by its upcoming list of events, which will be heavy on concerts until the NHL expansion franchise (recently announced as the Vegas Golden Knights) arrives. There is also a cellular DAS inside the venue, built with equipment from JMA Wireless.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Construction details that we saw that you may not have heard about include the fact that a large percentage of the bowl seats are on moveable tracks, allowing for maximum flexibility in configuration. To compensate for the lack of fixed infrastructure the Cox team used the hanging scoreboard as a prime placement area for Wi-Fi APs, helping solve the traditional bottom-of-the-bowl coverage issues.

Another place where T-Mobile Arena has turned stadium design on its head is with its two “sky lounges” and another exclusive-seating club area at the very top of the building, changing the old “nosebleed seats” section into ultra-lounge type areas that should prove popular for both sporting and entertainment events. The sky lounges in particular are striking, twin triangular decks that jut out over the lower-bowl seats.

From a technology perspective there is also a section of premium seats with tabletop-mounted small TV screens, as well as extra wireless coverage for the press box section. MSR is looking forward to attending a live event at T-Mobile Arena soon, to fully test the impressive looking network installed there. Enjoy the following photo essay: Credit all photos, Paul Kapustka, MSR.

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Panoramic view of the arena seating bowl.

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One of the distinctive “sky lounges” that juts out over the lower seats.

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Close-up of an AP enclosure with the “skyline” art in the background.

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A Wi-Fi antenna points down from the rafters.

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Wi-Fi APs (and speakers) visible on the bottom of the main center scoreboard.

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A Wi-Fi AP enclosure for outdoor lounge area.

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Inside that same AP enclosure.

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One of the under-seat AP enclosures.

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See you soon!

Colorado passes on full-stadium Wi-Fi or DAS for Folsom Field

View of the west stands at Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado football team. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

View of the west stands at Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado football team. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

With a No. 9 ranking in all the major polls, the University of Colorado football team is experiencing a resurgence this season, which may lead to a rare CU sellout for this weekend’s final home game against Pac-12 rival Utah.

While the Buffs’ on-field performance in 2016 may have ended years of fan frustration, the 50,000+ fans expected to be in attendance at Folsom Field this Saturday may still experience another form of frustration, mainly in trying to get their mobile devices to connect to the Internet. According to school officials, there is no full-stadium, fan-facing Wi-Fi or cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) network in Folsom Field, and no plans to bring either to the venue anytime soon.

Instead, most fans at the on-campus stadium will rely on one of two nearby macro sites, one each from top wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless. According to Jeff Lipton, director of real estate for CU, the school decided to pass on bringing Wi-Fi or DAS to Folsom for a number of reasons, including the cost of the systems, the infrequent use of the facility, and potential loss of network control to prospective suppliers.

Hard to justify cost of connectivity for lightly used venue

“Nationally, stadiums are challenging” when it comes to cost justifications for installing wireless networks, Lipton said in a recent phone interview. While Lipton claimed that CU “hasn’t been sleeping on this,” saying the school has been reviewing wireless stadium options for several years, he added that CU had concluded that a cellular DAS wasn’t a good fit for Folsom, which has been the home of CU football since 1924.

Error message shown while trying to connect to ESPN's website at Folsom Field on Nov. 19.

Error message shown while trying to connect to ESPN’s website at Folsom Field on Nov. 19.

One of the main problems is, Lipton said, justifying the cost to bring connectivity to a venue that is only used a handful of times a year. In 2016, Colorado had six home games on its football schedule, the main use of 53,613-seat Folsom Field. This past summer there were two concert dates with the Dead and Company band that filled the stadium, and the stadium is also used as the finish line for the annual Bolder Boulder 10k on Memorial Day.

Though the crowds that do come to Folsom would no doubt enjoy better connectivity, right now it’s not in the cards, Lipton said, especially from a cellular DAS perspective.

“We looked at DAS for the main part of the stadium but determined it was not cost effective, and the vendors wanted a connectivity exclusive” for the rest of the campus, a deal Lipton said CU definitely did not want to agree to.

“We like to control our own [wireless] destiny on campus — we’re not going to give that up in a deal to get DAS,” Lipton said. And, Lipton said that “I’m not sure that [technically] in the long term, DAS is the solution” for stadium networks.

The right way to Wi-Fi

What’s more interesting to CU is finding some way or waiting for new technology to emerge to make owning and operating a Wi-Fi network inside Folsom something that makes sense. When it comes to Wi-Fi, Lipton said that CU has been aggressively installing it in many of the 12 billion square feet of building space it manages at the Boulder, Colo., campus.

Around Folsom, there is free public Wi-Fi available at the new Champions Center (an indoor practice field and offices building located adjacent to the east side of Folsom Field) as well as in the attached parking structure. There is also some free Wi-Fi available for suites and club spaces in the newer structures on the east side of Folsom Field, but nothing for the balance of bowl seating in the stadium.

Folsom's east side structure, which does have some Wi-Fi inside suites and club areas.

Folsom’s east side structure, which does have some Wi-Fi inside suites and club areas.

“We have pretty ubiquitous Wi-Fi throughout campus, and we installed it and run it,” said Lipton. In terms of bringing Wi-Fi into the Folsom Field bowl — as well as to the stands at the Coors Event Center, the school’s 11,00-seat basketball facility — that idea is still being studied by an internal working group, Lipton said.

“We recognize that long term, there are some real revenue opportunities [around Wi-Fi networks] that could pay for this later on,” Lipton said. “But it’s not there yet.”

Any Wi-Fi network that does end up getting built inside Folsom would also have to surmount the non-trivial challenge of bringing wireless networks to a facility with parts that are nearly 100 years old. Part of the bowl also sits in the ground, bringing another degree of difficulty to the idea of getting cables underneath the stands (for possible under-seat or railing-based antenna options). But for newer parts of the stadium, including the north end zone structures and the new east side, bringing connectivity to the stands outside wouldn’t be as difficult.

At the 11,064-capacity Coors Event Center, Lipton said there is some CU Wi-Fi inside the building, but it was not designed for full-stadium crowd access down into the seating bowl.

Unable to send texts, or get Internet access

Though Lipton claims that the two Folsom macro sites — one atop the roof on the stadium’s west side building and another on a building across the street — are working “much better” this season, an MSR visit to Folsom for the Nov. 19 home game against Washington State saw almost zero connectivity, on both the cellular and Wi-Fi front.

A look at the newer north and northeast structures at Folsom Field from the east stands.

A look at the newer north and northeast structures at Folsom Field from the east stands.

Though our tests were sporadic, with only one phone in one part of the stadium, our not being able to send a text message with a photo of the stunning Colorado Rockies backdrop was probably something many others experienced inside Folsom last week, where 48,658 fans saw CU beat WSU 38-24. On the Verizon network, we were almost always looking at a “1x” number for connectivity, which pretty much guaranteed no signal all day long.

Even inside the east building’s 5th-floor club area, where we detected the CU campus Wi-Fi network, our phone couldn’t connect, briefly showing a link but then dropping it as soon as we tried to do anything. There was no visible promotion of the CU Wi-Fi, or any instruction about whether fans should use one of two visible SSIDs, one with a “guest” label and one without. Back out in the stands, we tried to get to the ESPN website to see other college scores, but again our device failed to connect.

While Lipton admitted that “traffic on [football] game days can overwhelm” the macro sites, he still thinks any advanced connectivity has to make fiscal sense. As the one who says he signs contracts for such deployments at CU, Lipton said “there’s an art to every deal.” For Folsom Field connectivity, however, that deal hasn’t yet been done.

5 Bars, JMA Wireless, Cisco part of Wi-Fi and DAS at new Colorado State stadium

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Network components haven’t yet been installed at the new under-construction football stadium at Colorado State University — but when they do, integrator 5 Bars and wireless suppliers JMA Wireless and Cisco will all be part of the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS networks, according to the companies.

Scheduled to open in time for next year’s football season, the yet-unnamed new stadium is a busy construction scene, as you can tell from the photos we took during a sneak peek at the venue last week (thanks to CSU, Mortenson, 5 Bars and JMA Wireless for the access).

Though specifics on numbers of APs aren’t set yet, 5 Bars said it will be using Cisco equipment in a mixed design of overhead and under-seat AP deployments, depending upon the area of the stadium. JMA Wireless will handle the DAS.

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

As you can see from the photos, parts of the stadium have good overhang coverage for mounting, while other parts of the planned 40,000-seat venue are open-bowl construction, which will need under-seat APs for optimal coverage. 5 Bars and JMA reps on hand also said that the distinctive light towers (especially on the east side of the stadium) will also provide antenna mounting sites for top-down coverage.

Unlike Hughes Field, the three miles west-of-campus football facility that just hosted its last game this weekend, the new stadium sits right in the middle of the campus in Fort Collins, Colo. According to our first glances, it looks like there will be sevearl open-terrace type areas inside the stadium as well as a beer garden (or so we heard rumored) outside one of the main entrances. According to CSU, Hughes has been used for football since 1968.

What will be interesting to see is how CSU handles parking for the new venue, which won’t have any large lots surrounding it. We’ll have more updates between now and next football season, so stay tuned!

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A look at the west side stands with press box and suites above

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A look underneath the west side overhang — lots of antenna room

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This shot of the north end of the east stands shows the proximity to campus

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Before long, this tray will be filled with cable and fiber

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Panoramic view of the east and south stands

Seahawks see 4.1 TB of Wi-Fi usage for Monday Night game vs. Bills

Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field during Nov. 7 game. Credit: Seahawks.com

Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field during Nov. 7 game. Credit: Seahawks.com

With the Seahawks starting to gain momentum for another playoff push, the Wi-Fi network at their home of CenturyLink Field is getting a good workout as well, with 4.10 terabytes of data used during Seattle’s 31-25 win over the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 7.

The Monday Night Football game, an exciting, close contest, also saw a total of 35,808 unique clients and a peak concurrent user number of 23,281 on the Extreme Networks-powered Wi-Fi network at the stadium, according to Seahawks IT officials. The game set an attendance record for CenturyLink Seahawks games, with 69,084 in the seats, breaking the old record of 69,080 from last season.

According to information from all the games so far this season (see below), the CenturyLink Field Wi-Fi has been seeing strong and growing usage, with unique numbers starting out in the high 20,000-user level and edging up each week. Upload totals also seem to be growing, with maybe the team’s improved record as the impetus.

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Verizon: Series fans used 5.3 TB of cellular data at Wrigley Field, 15.4 TB at Progressive Field

Cubs victory celebration in Chicago's Grant Park. Credit: KIICHIRO SATO/AP from Cubs.com.

Cubs victory celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. Credit: KIICHIRO SATO/AP from Cubs.com.

We now have the Verizon Wireless stats for cellular usage by fans at Chicago’s Wrigley Field during the recent World Series, and according to Verizon fans on its cellular network in the stadium used a total of 5.3 terabytes of data for the three games at the Friendly Confines. Verizon also said that for the four games at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, Verizon saw a combined 15.4 TB of wireless data on its cellular network.

Combined with AT&T’s previously announced total of 3 TB on its network over the three games gives us a total of 8.3 TB of DAS usage for the top two wireless carriers for the three Chicago Cubs home games during the Fall Classic. For the Cleveland games, the 15.4 TB on Verizon and 2 TB on AT&T comes to 14.4 TB combined.

Outside the games, Verizon added that Chicagoans used another 6.5 TB of data along the World Series celebration parade route last Friday. According to a published report, AT&T’s network in Chicago saw 10.5 TB of traffic during the parade; we haven’t been able to confirm that number with AT&T directly but with 5 million fans estimated taking place in the celebration, 17 TB of combined data usage sounds about right.