January 30, 2015

Big DAS news: CommScope buys TE Connectivity’s telecom and wireless business for $3 Billion

It’s a little bit industry insider baseball but in the world of DAS big deals like this don’t come along that often. Yes we’re talking about the deal that went down Wednesday, with communications infrastructure supplier CommScope acquiring the telecom, enterprise and wireless businesses of former rival TE Connectivity for $3 billion.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 7.38.26 PMThere’s more to the businesses of both CommScope and TE Connectivity than DAS, but if you read MSR you know TE and CommScope as major players in the DAS infrastructure and gear business. In fact, for the last two big stories on our pages — the upcoming Super Bowl and the College Football Playoff championship game — TE Connectivity and CommScope were the gear providers behind the scene, with TE gear being used at the University of Phoenix DAS and CommScope at the core of the AT&T Stadium DAS.

We asked Rick Aspan, vice president for corporate communications at CommScope, to provide some quick details on a deal we’re sure to talk more about in the future. For now here’s a quick email Q and A which focuses on the DAS side of the deal:

Mobile Sports Report: What percentage of the deal has to do with DAS? Was DAS a big/small/medium part of the reason?

Rick Aspan: The Wireless business of TE Connectivity, which is almost entirely their DAS business, was $164 million in sales for the year ending September 2014. The other two businesses we’re acquiring were Enterprise ($627 million) and Telecom ($1.1 billion). So the DAS/wireless business is by far the smallest piece. That said, we’re excited about adding all three to our existing business. We feel they all are very complementary and will contribute to our growth and ability to serve customers.

Mobile Sports Report: What specifically was a fit? Talent, technology or customers?

Rick Aspan: All of the above. TE Connectivity has a strong engineering culture and a record of innovation. Post-acquisition, we will add approximately 7,000 patents and patent applications from them, giving us nearly 10,000 overall. And those TE businesses have some great customer relationships with key industry players that will help strengthen CommScope’s position across multiple markets, including DAS.

Mobile Sports Report: How much does CommScope see the overall DAS market growing, and how will this help?

Rick Aspan: DAS remains one of our fastest growing businesses, reflecting the accelerated drive from operators and building owners/managers to add capacity and coverage indoors and within large venues. We can’t provide specifics yet on the TE DAS business and how it will help, but we feel it’s a great complement to our existing market position in DAS.

Sonim’s rugged LTE phones get public-safety trials at Super Bowl, World Ski Championships

Sonim XP7 handset

Sonim XP7 handset

The new XP7 ruggedized LTE smartphone from Sonim Technologies will get some on-the-scene testing by public safety professionals at both the Super Bowl as well as the upcoming World Ski Championships in Vail, Colo., according to Sonim, a San Mateo, Calif.-based maker of ruggedized devices.

Expected to be publicly announced Friday, the news that Sonim’s newest ruggedized LTE handset will be tested by firefighters from the Phoenix Fire Department during their Super Bowl deployments is significant for those concerned with public-safety operations around large public venues, since it offers a new way for industry-standard applications to be shared in a potentially “extreme” environment. With support for both standard wireless-carrier LTE networks as well as the emerging “FirstNet” public safety LTE frequency, the Sonim XP7 also offers one potential path toward the long-desired goal of having communication devices that can allow different first-responder agencies to communicate with each other, or to more simply share information from different devices, applications or networks.

While the Phoenix test deployment of XP7 handsets will use AT&T LTE airwaves, a similar test process scheduled to take place in Vail and Beaver Creek at the Feb. 2-15 FIS World Ski Championships will use a demonstration version of the Band Class 14 LTE public safety broadband network, according to a release from FirstNet Colorado.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 3.15.18 PMThe Vail demonstration will make use of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) that was built for the town of Vail by neutral host provider Crown Castle, as well as the Sonim phones, among other devices and services.

While it has the first-glance look of a regular smartphone, the Sonim XP7 has a host of ruggedized features including long battery life, an extra-loud speaker, protection against drops and weather, a touchscreen accessible with gloves, and a screen viewable in bright sunlight. In a recent interview with Sonim CEO Bob Plaschke, MSR got to see and hold Plashcke’s XP7, a bulky device that certainly feels like it could stand up to extreme weather and rough handling. In addition to its obvious target market of first responders and other extreme-condition businesses, the XP7 is also being targeted at extreme athletes and outdoor-lifestyle customers, who should be able to purchase the device from major U.S. wireless carriers later this year.

In Phoenix, the Sonim phone will be compared to consumer-grade smartphones in a test using a custom-built firehouse alert app, according to Sonim. The Phoenix firefighters will also test the XP7′s ability to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and will also test its compatibility and interoperability with other mobile devices.

Super DAS, Part 2: Super Bowl stadium DAS expands to address increased demand for cellular connectivity

Editor’s note: This story is part 2 of a series of profiles of the providers of the extensive Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment for Super Bowl XLIX at and around the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. and other parts of the Phoenix city area as well. Stay tuned all week as we highlight how DAS will keep Super Bowl fans connected, no matter where they roam in and around Phoenix and Glendale this week and weekend.

DAS antenna inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit all photos: TE Connectivity

DAS antenna inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit all photos: TE Connectivity

Two years ago, the University of Phoenix Stadium had a pretty good distributed antenna system (DAS) network to handle cellular communications inside the building. But with Super Bowl XLIX coming to the Glendale, Ariz., facility this year, pretty good wouldn’t be good enough — so the stadium’s network operators expanded the DAS by almost 50 percent in preparation for the game-day network surge expected on Feb. 1.

For fans attending the big game with cellular devices in hand that information may be comforting enough; thanks to a bigger, better DAS that is built to service all the major U.S. wireless carriers, they should have no problem getting a signal. Stadium technology professionals, however, usually want to know more about such expansion plans: What does it really mean to increase DAS capacity? How does that new DAS stack up to others in different stadiums and arenas?

More sectors means more capacity

For the Crown Castle neutral-host DAS at the University of Phoenix Stadium, there is one quick measure of how much the DAS expanded: More sectors. In DAS parlance, a “sector” is an area that has a dedicated amount of base station capacity; for the University of Phoenix Stadium DAS, the number of sectors increased from 33 two years ago to 48 sectors now, according to John Spindler, director for product management at DAS gear maker TE Connectivity. TE’s FlexWave Prism and FlexWave Spectrum DAS gear are part of the infrastructure deployed by neutral host Crown Castle in the UoP network.

John Spindler, TE Connectivity

John Spindler, TE Connectivity

Without getting too deep into telecom physics, more sectors in the same amount of space means more capacity. And when it comes to all the different flavors of phones and carrier spectrum, there’s a lot that goes into a DAS to use up that capacity. With all four major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile) using the DAS, the infrastructure must support a full range of cellular spectrum, from 700 MHz LTE signals to LTE, CDMA, UMTS and EVDO signals in the 800 MHz, 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands. The DAS inside the stadium will use 228 remote antenna units, according to Crown Castle.

“More frequencies, more MIMO [multiple-in, multiple-out antenna-enhancement technology] and heavier sectoring,” is how Spindler described the general needs for most DAS upgrades, and for the UoP DAS, where Spindler foresees another big number for Super Bowl stadium DAS traffic on Feb. 1.

“I would expect to see record [DAS] numbers,” Spindler said.

One DAS to rule them all

DAS active integration panel

DAS active integration panel

Last year, the DAS situation at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was especially tough to explain, since both AT&T and Verizon built their own separate infrastructures. According to AT&T its DAS customers at Super Bowl XLVIII used 624 gigabytes of traffic, a record then but a figure that has been surpassed many times this past football season at both college and pro football venues (the recent College Football Playoff championship game, for instance, saw 1.4 TB of DAS traffic for AT&T customers at AT&T Stadium). Verizon claimed last year that its customers used 1.9 TB of wireless data during the Super Bowl, but Verizon never provided specifics whether that number represented just DAS traffic, or Verizon customer usage of the MetLife Wi-Fi network as well.

Either way, the guess is that the DAS at the University of Phoenix Stadium will set new Super Bowl traffic records on Feb. 1, and by all accounts the infrastructure seems ready to handle it. Spindler, for one, said the Crown Castle DAS is “definitely well designed.” And Travis Bugh, senior wireless consultant for CDW (which installed the new Wi-Fi system at UoP), said he was also impressed by the performance of the Crown Castle DAS, which he said seems more than ready for the coming Super Bowl crush.

NEXT: What are the carriers doing to supplement the DAS coverage?

Championship games traffic stats: AT&T DAS hits high-water marks; Seahawks Wi-Fi sees 1.6 TB of data

Just a quick update on some wireless usage statistics from the recent NFL championship games in New England and Seattle: According to AT&T, the AT&T customers on the DAS networks at both stadiums hit high-water marks for the host teams this season, well above the traffic averages. And maybe due to their team’s lackluster play for most of the game, fans at CenturyLink Field in Seattle didn’t give the stadium’s new Wi-Fi network a record workout, but did end up using about 1.6 terabytes of data during the Seahawks’ come-from-behind win over the Green Bay Packers.

On the DAS side, AT&T said that the two championship games “resulted in the two greatest data traffic increases of the 10 playoff games compared to their regular season data traffic averages.” During the Patriots’ blowout of the Colts, AT&T customers on the DAS at Gillette Stadium used 444GB of data, a 44 percent increase over the regular-season average at Gillette; and in Seattle, AT&T DAS customers used 496GB, 53 percent higher than the regular-season average at CenturyLink. Remember, these stats are for AT&T customers only, on DAS networks in stadiums where AT&T has a DAS deployment; Mobile Sports Report requested similar data from Verizon Wireless, but Verizon did not respond. AT&T summed up its playoff DAS findings in this press release page.

According to Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks, the CenturyLink Wi-Fi networks saw 20,064 unique users during the NFC championship game, with a peak concurrent user number of 16,078. At CenturyLink there are actually two fan-facing Wi-Fi networks, one exclusively for Verizon customers and the other for all other device users; according to Suttles there was 1.2 TB of data consumed on the main CenturyLink Wi-Fi network, and 198 GB used on the Verizon-only network. Interestingly, media at the game used more data than the Verizon customers, with 223 GB of Wi-Fi traffic used by press, according to Suttles. We also requested statistics from the Wi-Fi operators at Gillette, but have not heard anything back yet.

Super DAS: Crown Castle’s neutral host infrastructure aims to keep Super Bowl XLIX fans connected, inside and outside the stadium

Editor’s note: This story is part 1 of a series of profiles of the providers of the extensive Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment for Super Bowl XLIX at and around the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. and other parts of the Phoenix city area as well. Stay tuned all week as we highlight how DAS will keep Super Bowl fans connected, no matter where they roam in and around Phoenix and Glendale this week and weekend.

University of Phoenix Stadium getting its Super Bowl on. (Click any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

University of Phoenix Stadium getting its Super Bowl on. (Click any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

When is a big air-fan vent not an air-fan vent? When it’s a fake vent covering a hidden cellular antenna, put there to keep people from noticing the technology that’s keeping their cell phones connected. Before kickoff at Super Bowl XLIX Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., many fans outside the University of Phoenix Stadium will walk right by a faux vent and its sheltered equipment, never knowing the attention to detail that goes into a major-venue Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment.

But to stadium technology connectivity professionals, such leaps of aesthetic deception are just part of a day’s, or perhaps month’s, DAS deployment work. For neutral host DAS provider Crown Castle, the fake vents on the shell of the University of Phoenix Stadium — and the powerful antennas behind — are just one part of a massive project to ensure there is excellent mobile-device connectivity both inside and outside the Super Bowl stadium, so that fans never get a dropped signal anywhere between the parking lot and their prized seat.

During a recent press tour, a small team of Crown Castle employees showed off some of the upgraded DAS network deployed at the University of Phoenix Stadium as well as in the surrounding Westgate Sports and Entertainment District, a sort of open-air mall that stretches from the UoP Stadium past numerous attached restaurants and stores, also encompassing the Gila River Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL. Over the past year or so, Crown Castle has been upgrading the DAS inside and outside the arena, throughout the mall areas as well as into the huge parking lots that surround it and the football stadium, bringing connectivity to phones being used by customers from all the four major U.S. wireless carriers.

Since the mall and all its food outlets are conveniently located a short stroll from the stadium, it’s a good bet that a large portion of the Super Bowl crowd will spend time wandering around the Westgate area before and after the big game. Thanks to Crown Castle’s efforts, there shouldn’t be many connectivity problems, as antenna deployments on light poles, building rooftops and — yes, even behind fake vents — should be able to keep devices on the cellular networks without a glitch.

Game day connectivity starts in the parking lot

Since we couldn’t actually spend much time wandering around the stadium itself — even three weeks before the big game, the facility was already on NFL security lockdown — most of the Crown Castle tour consisted of walking around the Westgate mall/neighborhood, hearing about the various methods Crown Castle used to locate the necessary DAS antennas. In all, there are five separate DAS networks Crown Castle is responsible for in the area around the stadium: The football stadium itself; the Gila River Arena (which we will profile in an upcoming feature on hockey stadiums); the Westgate shops and restaurants; the nearby Renaissance Hotel; and the surrounding parking lots.

Parking lot light poles, Westgate entertainment district. Can you spot the DAS?

Parking lot light poles, Westgate entertainment district. Can you spot the DAS?

The curious start of the tour in a far-flung parking lot made sense when we found ourselves next to a small DAS equipment box and a light pole with multiple antennas (which had not yet been covered with their final aesthetic sheaths). Aaron Lamoureux, program manager for Crown Castle’s small cell solutions, served as tour guide, and said that for the Westgate area alone there were 18 individual node locations, with about 52 antennas total. Some were located on light poles, some on rooftops, and some along walkways between buildings, to conquer the unique RF characteristics of the open-air/large building outdoor mallish area that is Westgate. (See photos for DAS geek views)

For the University of Phoenix Stadium itself, Crown Castle deployed 228 DAS antennas inside (more on this in an upcoming profile) and at 21 different locations outside the stadium, 13 of those on parking lot poles and 8 mounted on the building itself. Why building-mounted antennas? If you’ve never been there, the University of Phoenix Stadium has a large plaza area on one side, which is used for pre-game activities like rallies, bands and other walk-up amenities where fans gather before entering. The challenge for Crown Castle was finding places to deploy antennas at a low enough height to cover crowds of people standing in one location. While some parts of the building allowed for regular antenna placements, a big part of the plaza faces part of the stadium wall that is a sheer sheet, with no aesthetic place to mount a DAS antenna — unless you add a fake vent or two to the existing design, that is.

Keeping everyone happy is part of the neutral host job

See the big air vents? Nobody would tell us which ones were 'faux vents,' there to hide DAS antennas

See the big air vents? Nobody would tell us which ones were ‘faux vents,’ there to hide DAS antennas

To people outside the industry it might seem silly to go to such lengths just to keep folks from noticing antennas, but anyone who’s deployed a network for a detail-oriented building owner knows why aesthetics are important. That’s why you paint antenna enclosures to match the surrounding walls, or build sheaths to keep wires and other obvious gear out of main sight. It’s part of the art of wireless network deployment, and not as simple as it sounds. Experience counts.

The complex owner and operator relationships involved in the stadium and surrounding-area DAS also seem tailor-made for a big, experienced provider like Crown Castle, which has a long history of deploying and operating multiple-tenant networks. With five different landlords and four different carriers, being the neutral DAS host for this year’s Super Bowl is a task with many moving parts; but, as Mike Kavanagh, president of sales for Crown Castle’s small cell solutions, said, “We understand how to run networks, how to manage them and deal with carriers. It’s high touch and very fluid. But we know that business.”

COMING UP NEXT: What’s inside the network inside the stadium.

MORE PICTURES BELOW! (Click on any picture for a larger image.)

Sky Harbor Airport: Ready for Super XLIX

Sky Harbor Airport: Ready for Super XLIX

Verizon's NFL Mobile ads were in airport walkways well before the Big Game

Verizon’s NFL Mobile ads were in airport walkways well before the Big Game

If you stumble off the escalator, Bud Light is there to catch you

If you stumble off the escalator, Bud Light is there to catch you

The Westgate uber-mall should see a lot of fan activity (and connectivity) on game day

The Westgate uber-mall should see a lot of fan activity (and connectivity) on game day

Here's the official Super Bowl replay HQ (actually a place with DAS antennas on the roof that you can't see)

Here’s the official Super Bowl replay HQ (actually a place with DAS antennas on the roof that you can’t see)

Mama Gina's will offer you pizza and DAS on the roof

Mama Gina’s will offer you pizza and DAS on the roof

More DAS antennas, on a Westgate walkway

More DAS antennas, on a Westgate walkway

Outside UoP Stadium, where the architecture allows for DAS antenna placement

Outside UoP Stadium, where the architecture allows for DAS antenna placement

Close-up of that placement. Still pretty well hidden.

Close-up of that placement. Still pretty well hidden.

Parking lot light mounts. These will have sheaths by Super Sunday.

Parking lot light mounts. These will have sheaths by Super Sunday.

Here's the remote equipment box that powers the light pole antennas. Also scheduled for more concealment.

Here’s the remote equipment box that powers the light pole antennas. Also scheduled for more concealment.

Every artist leaves a signature...

Every artist leaves a signature…

YinzCam’s Super Bowl stadium app will have instant replays, Super Bowl commericals, stadium maps and more

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year's game.

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year’s game.

We’ve been waiting for official word on what the YinzCam-developed app for the Super Bowl will look like, and though there’s no press release the page where we are guessing it will eventually be available is offering some details, like the availability of instant replays from different camera angles, video of Super Bowl commercials, and stadium maps.

On the Seahawks.com site we found a good how-to story for fans going to the game, which included a link to this page, where we are guessing the Super Bowl stadium app will be available for download. Here is the boilerplate:

New for Super Bowl XLIX, the Super Bowl Stadium App Presented by Verizon aims to take the fan experience inside University of Phoenix Stadium to the next level. Features that will enhance Super Bowl ticketholders’ experiences include exclusive in-stadium video content such as Super Bowl commercials and replays from four different camera angles, stadium seating and concession maps, once-in-a-lifetime gameday opportunities visible only to fans inside the stadium and the option to receive up-to-the-minute gameday notifications. Available on iOS, Android and Windows. Goes Live 23rd January 2015

(Looks like the app is already available in the App Store and in Google Play, but nothing is live; we downloaded the app and the only three buttons available, for highlights, commercials and memories, all say they will be available on Feb. 1 at the stadium, so no idea what the “goes live” on the splash page above means yet.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 11.40.41 PMYinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan had told us earlier this year that a Super Bowl app was in the making, and apparently it will contain features found in some of the latest YinzCam app deployments, such as the Seattle Seahawks’ new stadium app, which has multiple camera angle replays. The Super Bowl app is different from the Arizona Cardinals’ regular stadium app, which was also built by YinzCam, which also features instant replays.

We were able to download the app for iPhone (it’s free) and apparently you will need to be connected to the stadium Wi-Fi (which has the clever SSID of “Stadium WiFi”) in order to view highlights and other video options.

The good thing for fans at the big game, there will be plenty of networking horsepower to keep the app running, no matter where you are. If you’re inside the stadium there is a new Wi-Fi network and a refurbished DAS deployment to keep fans connected; stay tuned next week for our big breakdown of DAS deployments and carrier plans to keep the Super Bowl crowds super-connected.