April 29, 2016

Churchill Downs picks VenueNext for new Kentucky Derby app

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Fans at this year’s Kentucky Derby will be able to find their way around historic Churchill Downs and place bets on races via a new venue mobile app, designed by VenueNext, the app developer for Levi’s Stadium and other football, baseball and basketball teams.

Most of the standard features of the VenueNext app platform, including interactive wayfinding and digital ticketing support, will be available to all fans for the May 7 Derby Day, according to Churchill Downs Racetrack general manager Ryan Jordan. Additionally, a small number of premium-seat ticketholders will be able to order food and drink for delivery to their seats via the app, a sort of “beta test” of one of the other VenueNext app services that Jordan said Churchill Downs plans to expand for future races.

“We’re very excited to roll this app out” on Derby Day, said Jordan in a phone interview. Though the racetrack has previously had some mobile apps, Jordan said they were mainly focused on the social element of the event, with links back to the Derby website. The VenueNext-powered app infrastructure, he said, “really translates well to our venue and we think will significantly improve the fan experience at the Kentucky Derby.”

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

For VenueNext, the big-name deal is its first outside of stadium sports, and the sixth app deal overall, following deals for apps for the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Vikings. VenueNext also designed a special Levi’s Stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50.

Wayfinding, betting, and more

One of the top features from the VenueNext app package that “excites” Jordan is the app’s ability to use a beacon infrastructure to support a live interactive wayfinding map, where app users can track themselves in “blue dot” fashion similar to Google maps for driving. Since Churchill Downs is an old, sprawling facility, Jordan said that helping fans find their way was always a challenge.

“There’s been 142 years of building this place out, and it’s not like a bowl stadium where you can just keep walking in a circle to find things,” Jordan said. “To be able to use a mobile app to find your seats, find your car after the race, and find amenities like betting windows is very exciting. We have lots of signage, but there are lots of different buildings and signs, and it can be hard to find your way around.”

For several years now, the Derby has been building its own mobile betting app, which allows fans to place bets from anywhere at the track. That app, called Twinspires, is now also integrated within the new VenueNext app, which means that fans don’t have to exit and find another app to place wagers.

Wayfinding map screenshot

Wayfinding map screenshot

To make sure fans can stay connected anywhere on the grounds, Churchill Downs and partners Mobilitie and AT&T upgraded the venue’s DAS again this offseason, adding more capacity for AT&T 4G LTE services. Though Churchill Downs does have a small amount of Wi-Fi for the main buildings like the clubhouse and the towers, Jordan said that service is mainly for race days other than the big event.

“For regular race days [when fans are mostly in the main buildings] we may have 10,000 to 20,000 people here,” Jordan said. “For the Derby, we will have 170,000.”

Starting slow with food delivery

Also included in the app is the ability for fans to order food and drink to be delivered to their seats, or to be picked up at an express window at a nearby concession stand. Jordan said that during the offseason Churchill Downs retrofitted several kitchen areas to support the delivery and express pickup options, but that the track will start small with the service and expand from there. In addition to the Turf Club and its 500 seats where delivery will be an option, another 15 sections of seats will be able to use the app for express pickup orders, Jordan said.

“There’s a lot of employee training and infrastructure [for deliveries] that’s new to us,” said Jordan, explaining the start-slow approach. “The good news is, there’s lots of opportunity to keep expanding as we go.”

(more app screenshots below)

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Mobilitie, AT&T beef up DAS coverage at Churchill Downs ahead of Kentucky Derby

White DAS antennas visible on the overhangs at Churchill Downs. Photo: Mobilitie (click on any photo for a larger image).

White DAS antennas visible on the overhangs at Churchill Downs. Photo: Mobilitie (click on any photo for a larger image).

Since it’s legal in horse racing, how about a bet? Who thinks the final AT&T DAS traffic total from the Kentucky Derby weekend will pass 10 terabytes this year? After hitting 5.1 TB during last year’s two days of racing, what are the odds on wireless data used there doubling down again? Anyone want to bet against growth?

For sure, operators of the wireless infrastructure at the track aren’t going to left behind for lack of trying — according to neutral-host DAS provider Mobilitie and DAS design partner AT&T, there will be approximately a 50 percent increase in AT&T’s cellular capacity at Churchill Downs this year, with double coverage in the 1900 MHz band compared to last year, according to AT&T.

Mobilitie president Christos Karmis said in a phone interview this week that “every year, the amount of data used has doubled,” at least since Mobilitie put in the first part of the DAS at the track for the 2013 event. Since then, Karmis said the DAS antenna count has grown from 253 to 290, and the network now has 55 sectors, in and around the track and seating areas as well as in the parking lots. In addition to AT&T, the DAS also carries traffic for Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, neither of which have reported traffic totals from the event. T

Biggest DAS in sports?

Where all the Kentucky Derby race-day social media posts go to find the Internet (aka the head end at the Churchill Downs DAS). Photo: Mobilitie

Where all the Kentucky Derby race-day social media posts go to find the Internet (aka the head end at the Churchill Downs DAS). Photo: Mobilitie

With race day drawing 170,513 fans last year, the Kentucky Derby may well be one of the most challenging events to provide wireless coverage to, with multiple spikes in traffic due to two full days of racing (there are 13 races scheduled for Friday May 6, the Kentucky Oaks Day, and 14 scheduled for Saturday May 7, the Kentucky Derby Day).

According to Karmis, the fans are mainly shooting video and taking pictures during the races, and then posting those images to social media networks during the breaks in between. And then there’s the betting, which can be done on premises via the twinspires app, which drives additional traffic. And then there’s the hats and fashion, which are worth lots of pictures themselves, especially if you see any celebrities during the red-carpet parade.

Though there is still a small amount of Wi-Fi in the main track buildings — at least there was a couple years ago when we did a profile on the new networks — the DAS is the workhorse at the venue, which spreads out far and wide and includes an infield area full of fans as well.

“It’s crazy to try to keep up” with the data demands, Karmis said.

With any luck on our side, we’ll be able to get Verizon and T-Mobile to send over their DAS stats after the event to see if the weekend of races can match the DAS total of 15.9 TB from Super Bowl 50. If the AT&T data alone has gone from 2 TB two years ago to 5.1 TB last year, what’s the total going to be for this year? Put your predictions in the comments below!

AT&T records 29.2 TB of cellular data during Coachella weekends

AT&T's new "drum" antennas at Coachella. Photos: AT&T.

AT&T’s new “drum” antennas at Coachella. Photos: AT&T.

For AT&T, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival isn’t about sounds but about bandwidth: For the past few years, the cellular giant has tested some giant antennas to help connect the 75,000 concert fans who invade the venue in Indio, Calif., for two weekends in April, and this year those fans used up a total of 29.2 terabytes of data, according to AT&T, a new record for the provider at Coachella.

Last year AT&T rolled out something it called the cheese wheel antennas, basically big spheres with the tops and bottoms cut off, and a lot of antenna gear inside. With back-to-back 12 TB weekends, the cheese wheels as well as some drive-up cell towers on wheels (COWS) helped keep music fans connected at the concerts. This year, AT&T added to its antenna arsenal a beefier version of the cheese wheel it called the drum set, which helped record 18.6 TB of data the three days of the first weekend, and another 10.6 this past weekend, for a event total of 29.2 TB. For comparison, Super Bowl 50 back in February racked up a total of 26 TB of wireless traffic, with 10.1 TB on Wi-Fi and 15.9 TB on DAS.

Coachella’s AT&T data is all cellular, no Wi-Fi. In 2014, AT&T brought out its “big ball” antenna at Coachella, where AT&T has seen data usage grow by 20 times since 2011, through last year’s show. With this year’s total of 29.2 TB eclipsing last year’s 24 TB, there still seems to be no end in sight to the mobile-data usage at big events.

T-Mobile Arena opens in Las Vegas, with 565 Wi-FI APs

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, on the official April 6 opening. All photos: Cox Business (click on any photo for a larger image)

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, on the official April 6 opening. All photos: Cox Business (click on any photo for a larger image)

If they build it, will professional hockey or basketball teams come? The first part of that question has already been answered, with the official opening of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on April 6, just in time for a kickoff concert from the Killers. With 565 Cisco Wi-Fi access points, the arena is well-enabled for wireless access; the big question is, will an NHL or NBA team soon call the place home?

With no deal announced for either league it’s an open-ended question. For now, the 20,000-seat venue, located just west of the strip near the New York New York hotel/casino (right next to the freeway) will have to be satisfied hosting all kinds of events from concerts to one-off sports events like the Harlem Globetrotters (April 19) and a WWE event in June. Fans at any event will be able to use free Wi-Fi provided by Cox Business, which is the “exclusive Technology Integration/Telecommunications Services Provider,” according to a press release from the official opening ceremonies.

While we haven’t visited the arena yet — we are looking forward to a hosted tour during this summer’s SEAT Conference in July — the $375 million multi-purpose venue, owned by a joint venture between AEG and MGM Resorts International, looks pretty cool with its overhanging lounges and outdoor plaza with real, live trees, a rarity on the strip. Inside, the tech underpinnings sound state of the art, beginning with a 10-Gigabit fiber optic network that serves as the arena’s backbone.

Special shrouds for the Wi-Fi APs

Custom shroud for Wi-Fi APs at T-Mobile Arena

Custom shroud for Wi-Fi APs at T-Mobile Arena

According to figures provided to us by Cox Business folks, the 565 Wi-FI APs include a mix of indoor and outdoor models from Cisco, some designed for office-type settings and some designed to withstand outdoor temperatures and weather. According to Cox its on-site engineers also designed a “vanity cover” type of shroud, which is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye while also helping keep the AP safe from “disruptions,” like possibly being bumped or some other physical intrusion.

The arena will also use Cisco’s StadiumVision system to provide synchronized content feeds to the 767 4K-capable digital displays throughout the venue. Thanks to the Cox sponsorship, that content could include “all 60 channels of high-definition news, sports and entertainment content from the Cox cable channel lineup as well as live in-house feeds from the arena,” according to Cox.

We have also heard reports, but have not confirmed with the company, that Mobilitie will be providing the in-venue DAS. Mobilitie’s involvement is not a big surprise, given that the company partnered with MGM in the past to bring Wi-Fi to the resort company’s casinos. Back when the T-Mobile naming sponsorship was announced, there were reports of special discounts and VIP access for T-Mobile customers, but so far none of that information was easily discovered on the arena’s website. Stay tuned for more updates as we get them on the DAS/cellular side of things; anyone who visits the arena soon should take a speedtest and post the results here in the comments.

Jeff Breaux, vice president of western operations, Cox Business, (left) and Derrick R. Hill, vice president, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, gesture toward the exterior digital signage at T-Mobile Arena.

Jeff Breaux, vice president of western operations, Cox Business, (left) and Derrick R. Hill, vice president, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, gesture toward the exterior digital signage at T-Mobile Arena.

UPDATE: WrestleMania 32 sets new Wi-Fi mark at AT&T Stadium; total Wi-Fi + DAS hits 8.6 TB

The Undertaker arrives at AT&T Stadium for WrestleMania 32. Photo: WWE.com

The Undertaker arrives at AT&T Stadium for WrestleMania 32. Photo: WWE.com


UPDATE: Fixes an MSR calculation error on DAS figures.

The 101,763 fans who filled AT&T Stadium Sunday for WrestleMania 32 set new stadium records for Wi-Fi, according to figures provided by AT&T Stadium and AT&T, with 6.77 terabytes of Wi-Fi traffic and an additional 1.9 TB on the AT&T network on the stadium’s DAS for a total wireless figure of 8.6 TB.

The Wi-Fi numbers put Sunday’s signature WWE event (also the biggest WrestleMania by attendance) into second place in our unofficial record-keeping of the largest single-day Wi-Fi traffic stadium events. Only Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium earlier this year was bigger, with 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi traffic. So far, WrestleMania 32 is also now third in combined Wi-Fi and DAS figures, trailing Super Bowl 50 and Super Bowl XLIX (see charts below).

THE NEW TOP 3 TOTAL USAGE

1. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB; DAS: 15.9 TB; Total: 26 TB
2. Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB; DAS: 6.56 TB**; Total: 12.79 TB**
3. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB; DAS: 1.9 TB*; Total: 8.6 TB*

* = AT&T DAS stats only
** = AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint DAS stats only

THE NEW TOP 5 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
2. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
3. Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
4. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
5. College Football Playoff championship game, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 12, 2015: Wi-Fi: 4.93 TB

Wi-Fi not to blame for stadium entry issues

John Winborn, chief information officer for the Dallas Cowboys Football Club, said in an email that the reported claims of the Wi-Fi being offline Sunday — and that being the reason why entry lines were long and slow — were not true. While Winborn did admit that one single Wi-Fi AP (out of the more than 2,000 in the stadium’s network) was offline and there were “a couple issues” with ticket scanners, he said “there were no Wi-Fi issues that would have had a significant impact on ingress.” Other reports have claimed the doors were opened later due to extended show rehearsals, while commenters on MSR’s posts have claimed that a lack of wristbands for stadium-floor seating also led to seating issues even for fans already inside the main building entrances. So far, we have not seen any official explanation for the delays other than the official apology from the stadium and the WWE:

“To ensure the safety of WWE fans, increased security measures were put in place tonight. We apologize that it may have taken some fans longer than usual to get into AT&T Stadium.”

During Sunday’s event Winborn said the Wi-Fi network saw 20,462 concurrent and 34,951 total user connections, some via a network of 150 temporary Wi-Fi APs installed among the seats on the stadium floor.

Minnesota Vikings pick VenueNext for U.S. Bank Stadium app

Outside view of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Photo: USBankStadium.com.

Outside view of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Photo: USBankStadium.com.

Stadium app developer VenueNext has scored another NFL client, as the Minnesota Vikings announced today that they would use VenueNext technology in the app for the yet-to-open U.S. Bank Stadium.

According to VenueNext and the Vikings, the U.S. Bank Stadium app will support many of the same unique game-day features found in the app VenueNext built for the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, including beacon-based wayfinding, the ability to order food and drinks via the app for express pickup, digital ticketing and game-day upgrade availability, as well as “robust” video content and a loyalty program tied to game-day activity. One feature at Levi’s Stadium, the ability to have food and drink delivered to fans in their seats, is “still being explored” by the Vikings, according to VenueNext.

Due to open this summer ahead of the 2016 NFL season, U.S. Bank Stadium is slated to host Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018. A Wi-Fi network with approximately 1,300 Cisco access points will supply wireless connectivity to the 66,200-seat venue, along with a neutral-host DAS built by Verizon Wireless. Aruba is supplying the 2,000 beacons being used inside the venue, and overall network operations will be run by CenturyLink, which will oversee deployment of some 2,000 digital TV displays inside the stadium.

Screenshot of U.S. Bank Vikings app in development. Image: VenueNext

Screenshot of U.S. Bank Vikings app in development. Image: VenueNext

According to VenueNext, app development partners will include Ticketmaster, Aramark for food, point-of-sale solution Appetize, seat upgrade technology from Experience, fan loyalty programs from Skidata and content app developer Adept. The Vikings are the third NFL team to choose VenueNext technology, behind the Niners and the Dallas Cowboys. VenueNext also has built a stadium app for the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

“We look forward to launching this new, dynamically-upgraded app that not only will give all Vikings fans a better experience when consuming team content on their mobile devices but also will allow seamless access to the numerous amenities at U.S. Bank Stadium,” said Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf in a prepared statement. “Our goals are always to provide the best game day experience possible and to continue developing deeper engagement with all Vikings fans, and the VenueNext technology will help achieve both.”

“We’re excited to extend our reach in the NFL through this collaboration with the Vikings,” said John Paul, CEO & Founder of VenueNext, also in a prepared statement. “We want to become the standard for bringing Silicon Valley innovation to fan experiences, and implementing in a state-of-the-art development like U.S. Bank Stadium brings us closer to that goal.”

Interior look at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo: USBankStadium.com

Interior look at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo: USBankStadium.com