September 3, 2015

Wi-Fi for the Frozen Tundra: Extreme, Verizon bring Wi-Fi to Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers (click on any photo for a larger image)

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers (click on any photo for a larger image)

Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers’ historic home, now has full fan-facing Wi-Fi services thanks to a deployment led by the Packers, Extreme Networks and Verizon Wireless.

Much like the deployment last year at the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field, the Lambeau network will be ready for this season’s games and will feature separate Wi-Fi SSIDs for Verizon customers and for all other subscribers, according to the Packers and Extreme. The network, which was installed earlier this year, has approximately 1,000 access points in and around the venue, many on handrail enclosures to provide service to the large bowl seating areas where there are no adjacent overhangs.

Lambeau bench seating with railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs

Lambeau bench seating with railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs

According to the Packers, the network was live in a “testing” mode for some pre-football season events this summer, including a Kenny Chesney concert and the Brett Favre Packers Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Wayne Wichlacz, director of IT for the Packers, said the network wasn’t advertised at those events but was still found and used by fans in attendance.

Like at other Extreme deployments, the Packers will put together a group of “Wi-Fi coaches,” network-savvy people who will roam the stands on game days to help fans connect. According to the Packers they will partner with and help train local high school children to be the “coaches,” a unique twist.

Green Bay is the second NFL franchise to announce a new network built by Extreme for the upcoming season, following the news of an Extreme network being installed at the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. By our unofficial count this is the eighth NFL stadium to get an Extreme Wi-Fi deployment.

Wi-Fi APs visible on press box structure

Wi-Fi APs visible on press box structure

Verizon, which does not comment publicly on its Wi-Fi deployments, has also backed Wi-Fi networks for NFL stadiums in Seattle and Detroit, as well as at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. If the Green Bay network is like Seattle’s, Verizon customers can set their devices to automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network when it is detected. There will be no extra charge for non-Verizon users at Lambeau, and again if the network works like Seattle’s there won’t be any difference in performance between Verizon and non-Verizon customers on the Wi-Fi network. Verizon also built the DAS at Lambeau, which was already operational prior to this season. It’s not known if other carriers are on the Verizon DAS or not.

The deployment at Lambeau was no doubt a special challenge, given the historic nature of the venue and the lack of overhang space for APs for much of the bowl seating. Look for a more detailed profile of the network deployment in our upcoming Stadium Tech Report next month!

Taylor Swift shows card 3+ TB each, and push Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi past half-million user mark

Taylor Swift at Levi's Stadium. All photos: Levi's Stadium (click on any picture for a larger image)

Taylor Swift at Levi’s Stadium. All photos: Levi’s Stadium (click on any picture for a larger image)

Because her humungous stage kept Levi’s Stadium from filling to capacity, Taylor Swift’s Aug. 14 and 15 shows didn’t come close to setting a Wi-Fi capacity record at the venue, as some had predicted. But with almost 20,000 unique users the first night and almost 24,000 the second, the “1989″ tour events pushed the cumulative Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi user number past the half-million mark, just more than a year after the venue officially opened.

Thanks to Levi’s Stadium owners and operators, the San Francisco 49ers, we have some very interesting statistics about Wi-Fi use at large outdoor stadiums. Now that 509,524 unique users have logged in to the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network during its numerous football and other events, the networking team has some interesting observations, including the fact that concertgoers use more bandwidth than football fans.

Over the 28 events hosted at the stadium in the 54 weeks (not counting this past weekend’s preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys) the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network has carried a total of 56.88 terabytes of data, according to figures sent to us by Roger Hacker, senior manager, corporate communications for the Niners. One of the more interesting tidbits was the sustained connectivity during concert events; from Hacker, these direct notes:

Concerts generate up to 65% more load per fan than sporting events.

o For 2014 NFL season, the average fan on Wi-Fi used 100MB.

o For One Direction and Taylor concerts, the average fan consumed 164MB.

Concerts are generating higher sustained loads on the network than sporting events.

o For One Direction, the network was over 2 Gbps for 1 hour and 15 minutes continuously.

o For Taylor the network was over 2 Gbps for a total of 1 hour and 10 minutes continuously.

At many venues with Wi-Fi, the so-called “take rate” or the number of users actually logging in to the network is one key piece of data about how well the system is working. The idea is, the better it works, the more people log on. At the Taylor Swift concerts, the take rates were among the highest we’ve seen: For the first show with attendance of 50,393, there were 19,963 unique users on the Wi-Fi network; for the second show the numbers were 23,885 out of 52,479 in attendance.

Breaking 3 TB twice in a row

Let it be said, that even though the Swift concerts didn’t beat the all-time Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi mark of 4.5 TB set by WrestleMania 31 back in March, each of the shows passed the 3 TB total mark, with 3.31 TB used on Aug. 14 and 3.807 TB used on Aug. 15. And remember, that’s with just a little more than 50,000 fans in the house, far fewer than the 76,976 who crammed in for the wrassling on March 31.

But even at other events that might not be as high on the “gotta do it” list, fans at Levi’s used the Wi-Fi in high numbers, as another of Hacker’s notes spells out:

On average, nearly 40% of people attending an event at Levi’s use the Wi-Fi.

For the first year, the average attendance at all events was 46,400 based on the VenueNext valid scans. (including smaller events as well as bigger events)

For the first year, the average unique wifi users per event was 18,200 (or 39% of attendance)

On-field Aruba Networks Wi-Fi AP at Levi's Stadium

On-field Aruba Networks Wi-Fi AP at Levi’s Stadium

Part of what might have made the Swift audience bigger users of Wi-Fi was a new, improved temporary Wi-Fi network for the field seats, an innovation crafted by Wi-Fi gear supplier Aruba Networks and the Levi’s Stadium networking team. By putting temporary Wi-Fi APs on both the walls surrounding the field level, on railings in the temporary seats and even underneath the temporary flooring, the stadium provides service to the premium-seat customers, a challenge for NFL stadiums who must keep regular Sunday-game networks from bleeding into the field area (because that’s where the league operates its own Wi-Fi network for game operations). For what it’s worth, we also heard from DAS supplier DAS Group Professionals who said they were going to have temporary DAS antennas on the field as well for the Swift concerts. No DAS stats yet, however.

Earlier this summer at the annual SEAT Conference, we had a very interesting panel discussion about which stats really matter when it comes to stadium Wi-Fi usage — though I will always remain a sucker for top-line totals, I do agree that there should probably be separate categories for events like the Swift concerts, the WrestleMania events, and regular football games. What is catching my attention more lately are numbers like the sustained connectivity and the unique and concurrent numbers of users, since in the end the bottom line on stadium Wi-Fi network performance has to be how many people are using it. A year in, it looks like the Levi’s Stadium network has passed a crucial test, in that people are both finding it and using it, even if they are not regular attendees or season-ticket holders. Those facts say a lot about how well the Levi’s Stadium system works, and should be numbers stadium tech professionals look to when assessing their own deployments.

More Swift shots below. Enjoy.

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Boingo, Aruba behind new Wi-Fi deployment at Kansas State’s football stadium

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. All photos: Kansas State website. (click on any photo for a larger image)

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. All photos: Kansas State website. (click on any photo for a larger image)

So far we haven’t seen any press releases but a web-posted letter to Kansas State supporters from Athletic Director John Currie confirms that Boingo Wireless and Aruba Networks are part of a new Wi-Fi and DAS deployment at the Bill Snyder Family Stadium that will have at least 300 antennas of some kind bringing service to the 50,000-seat venue.

Bill Snyder, still the head coach at the stadium that bears his name, will lead the Wildcats into the 2015 football season knowing that fans in Manhattan — Manhattan, Kansas — will now have sufficient bandwidth to stay connected while they cheer on the team. While the letter from AD Currie wasn’t clear on details and specifics — at least not to the MSR level of clarity — it did say that “When you arrive for Fan Appreciation Day this weekend [last weekend] you’ll likely notice a few of the 300-plus new Wi-Fi and Distributed Antenna System (DAS) fixtures being installed around Bill Snyder Family Stadium as we work to address connectivity for cell phones and other personal electronic devices throughout the stadium.” So we’re not sure if that means 300 APs for Wi-Fi and then a DAS, or if that means 300 antenna systems for both. We’ve got messages out to everyone involved, so watch for a follow-up with some more details as they are available.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

The letter from Currie went on to say that the network will be in a testing mode the first couple games, and then the school and its new communication partners will move on to bring similar connectivity to Bramlage Coliseum, the K-State hoops arena, before the basketball season starts.

New app as well

K-State also has a new gameday football app, built by the Boulder, Colo.-based Sportslabs, the first big program we’ve heard of that is using Sportslabs. We haven’t yet seen the app in action but according to the K-State website plug it seems like it will have most of the usual bells and whistles, but not anything fancier like instant replays or food ordering. Stay tuned as we get more info.

The K-State deal is a return to the public eye for Boingo, which had a spate of venue announcements a year or so ago and then pulled back out of the spotlight until coming back a bit recently with an NBA announcement. Boingo using Aruba gear is also a new twist for us, but not surprising as HP’s recent acquistion Aruba has been steadily winning new stadium deals and continues to innovate at already-deployed venues (watch for an upcoming report about the temporary on-field Wi-Fi network that Aruba and the San Francisco 49ers deploy for concerts and other events at Levi’s Stadium).

Are you ready for some football?

Are you ready for some football?

Chicago Cubs tap NFL deployment expertise of Extreme, DGP for new Wi-Fi, DAS at Wrigley Field

Artist rendering of the proposed fan plaza outside Wrigley Field. Renderings courtesy of the 1060 Project.

Artist rendering of the proposed fan plaza outside Wrigley Field. Renderings courtesy of the 1060 Project.

The video boards above the historic ivy-covered outfield walls are only the first clue that this isn’t your grandpa’s Wrigley Field anymore.

And though you won’t be able to see it, new Wi-Fi and DAS networks are coming soon to the Friendly Confines, as part of the Ricketts Family’s ambitious remake of Wrigley Field and its surrounding area. And according to Cubs IT executives, the team is tapping firms with NFL stadium expertise to bring not just fast and thorough wireless coverage to fans, but also back-end ownership and analytics so that the team can more effectively track online activity to improve the fan experience as well as improve the team’s return on infrastructure investment.

Though Wrigley Field has had full fan-facing Wi-Fi for longer than most Major League Baseball stadiums — the AT&T-built network arrived in 2012 — with the major overhaul of not just the park itself but the surrounding areas outside beginning this offseason, it was time to rethink the team’s overall approach to wireless connectivity, said Andrew McIntyre, senior director of information technology for the Chicago Cubs.

As part of the team’s ongoing 1060 Project the Ricketts family (which owns the Cubs) is not only adding more concessions and other fan amenities to Wrigley, they are also building a fan plaza outside the main gate as well as building a retail/office building and eventually a boutique hotel on the edge of the famed ballpark property at Chicago’s somewhat slanted corner of Clark and Addison. (If you don’t get the “1060″ label, we suggest you ask Elwood Blues what the address of Wrigley Field is.)

“As it all starts looking more like a campus, it changes the dynamics” of how you provide wireless coverage to all areas, said McIntyre. As a regular attendee, speaker and steering council member of the SEAT Conference — the premier gathering of stadium technology professionals — McIntyre was well aware of all the new trends for large-venue Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, some of which were taking place in football stadiums across the country.

“We understood what was happening with other leagues in regards to Wi-Fi and DAS from what we saw at SEAT,” said McIntyre, in an interview at this summer’s SEAT Conference in San Francisco. “We started to evaluate those deployments and ideas as we were getting ready for our restoration.”

The Winners: Wi-Fi with a heavy side of analytics, and team-owned DAS

Cubs fans know how to enjoy a day at the park. Photo: Lisa Farrell, MSR

Cubs fans know how to enjoy a day at the park. Photo: Lisa Farrell, MSR

As major construction took place this past offseason, the Cubs de-activated the AT&T Wi-Fi network that had previously served fans inside the ballpark. Even though it doesn’t sound very old, McIntyre notes that many other stadiums around the country have had to completely overhaul Wi-Fi networks built just several years ago, due to the ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth and the rapid introduction of new phones and devices that fans are bringing to games.

“AT&T had previously controlled both the DAS and the Wi-Fi, and [to them] the Wi-Fi was kind of a ‘check the box thing,’ ” McIntyre said. “The scope [of the network] was just for Wrigley Field only. When we took down the Wi-Fi while we replaced the bleachers, we looked more toward the future.”

What McIntyre and the Cubs IT team saw was a future where Wi-Fi was used not only to provide connectivity, but to also provide a deep link between venue owners and operators and the digital activities of their visitors, through advanced analytics of Wi-Fi traffic. In the end the Cubs selected Wi-Fi provider Extreme Networks for the Wrigley project, in no small part due to Extreme’s experience in deploying Wi-Fi networks and Wi-Fi analytics inside numerous NFL stadiums.

“We saw patterns emerging in other leagues, and especially in the NFL, where the league and teams called out analytics,” said McIntyre. Extreme, which has a partnership deal with the NFL as its preferred provider of Wi-Fi analytics for its Purview software, has provided analytics help at recent Super Bowls in addition to being part of stadium Wi-Fi deployments for the New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks, among others.

“A lot of times talk about Wi-Fi is simply about coverage and capacity, and more, more, more,” McIntyre said. “The question of ‘what are you doing with the service’ becomes an afterthought.” McIntyre noted that in some cases, the NFL has deployed Extreme analytics on top of Wi-Fi infrastructure with gear from another manufacturer. “What they [Extreme] are able to provide [with analytics] is night and day compared to the competition,” McIntyre said.

Back of the iconic Wrigley bleachers, circa 2014. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Back of the iconic Wrigley bleachers, circa 2014. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

John Brams, director of Sports and Entertainment at Extreme Networks, called the coming Wrigley Field network “a signature deployment.” Wrigley Field itself is expected to have Wi-Fi service in time for the 2016 season, McIntyre said.

DAS: Neutral host instead of carrier-led

On the DAS side of the wireless equation, McIntyre and the Cubs team were impressed with the cellular network deployment at the San Francisco 49ers’ new venue, Levi’s Stadium, a deployment done by the lesser-known firm DAS Group Professionals, or DGP. While many may have first heard of DGP for its Levi’s Stadium deployment, DGP does have other large-venue experience, having built previous cellular networks for airports and the San Francisco Bay area’s BART light-rail service.

At Levi’s Stadium, DGP worked with the Niners to build a neutral-host DAS deployment that is owned and controlled by the team, an emerging trend for stadium owners and operators who don’t want to simply concede control to wireless carriers. Under a neutral-host deployment the owner or operator of the DAS typically builds a non-carrier-specific antenna infrastructure, and then charges wireless carriers to connect their systems to the back end of that network.

At a prior SEAT event McIntyre said the Cubs team talked to the Niners about why they went with DGP, and liked what they heard.

“The venue-owned DAS solution was a business model we liked,” McIntyre said, “It perfectly aligns with our strategy of being closer to the fan base and not one step removed.”

Steve Dutto, president of DGP, said the Cubs contract “validates our work at Levi’s Stadium.” The new DAS, McIntyre said, should be fully functional by 2017.

Artist rendering of the home plate view after all construction done.

Artist rendering of the home plate view after all construction done.

Huge jump in stadium Wi-Fi deployments, according to our latest State of the Stadium Technology Survey

2015_SoS_thumbA clear trend toward greater Wi-Fi and DAS deployments is the main point our “State of the Stadium” research tells us this year, especially with Wi-Fi, where now more than half of the venues surveyed said they have fan-facing Wi-Fi services to all seating areas.

To be precise, a full 65 percent of our respondents said they now have full-seating Wi-Fi services in their venues – a huge increase from the 35 percent number we saw in last year’s survey. Full-stadium DAS deployments increased as well, with 80 percent of respondents claiming stadium-wide DAS deployments this year, up from 71 percent in the 2014 survey.

Input for the survey came from more than 100 respondents representing arenas that host the top U.S. professional league teams, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, as well as top U.S. university facilities for basketball and football, European and U.S. professional soccer teams, professional golf and car-racing venues. The data provide a clear snapshot of how teams are deploying technology to both improve the fan experience while helping increase business opportunities.

And thanks to a sponsorship from Mobilitie, the entire report can be downloaded for free from our website.

Why more Wi-Fi?

Why the sudden shift to more Wi-Fi deployments? Most likely it was the maturation of plans that had been in the works for several years, speeded up no doubt by the ever increasing demands for mobile data connectivity. Even facilities that have had Wi-Fi services for years noticed that over the past year data usage has climbed even as the number of connected users plateaued; what that tells us is that the trend of devices and apps to stay well ahead of the networks’ ability to keep up still has legs, and will likely keep climbing for the near future.

For more analysis and a breakdown for each category, download the report now to get the only independent, numbers-based research available for the stadium technology marketplace.

Digital Bridge acquires ExteNet Systems in $1B recapitalization deal

Telecom investment group Digital Bridge Holdings has acquired DAS deployer ExteNet Systems in a recapitalization deal valued at around $1 billion, a move that buys out all previous investors and makes ExteNet a part of Digital Bridge’s pool of telecom-infrastructure companies.

A good writeup of the deal can be found over at RCR Wireless but from a stadium-infrastructure standpoint there doesn’t appear to be any change in ExteNet’s existing strategy path, since CEO Ross Manire will be staying to lead the company. ExteNet, which installs neutral host DAS deployments in stadiums and also provides DAS infrastructure deployments for cities, has installed networks at ballparks like the Miami Marlins’ Marlins Park.

We’re hoping to speak with ExteNet folks sometime soon to try to find out how much of the $1 billion went toward buying out previous investors, and how much will remain on hand to help run the business. Stay tuned on yet another big-bucks consolidation event in the stadium tech marketplace.