November 27, 2015

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC North

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, now has Wi-Fi for fans. All photos: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field
Seating Capacity: 80,735
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Wi-Fi has finally come to the NFL’s frozen tundra, courtesy of a deployment from Extreme Networks and backed also by Verizon Wireless. Like in Seattle, fans in Green Bay will be able to access two separate Wi-Fi networks – one for Verizon customers, the other for all other cellular customers. Verizon is also the host of the neutral DAS, which counts AT&T as a customer. (See cover story profile.)

Chicago Bears
Soldier Field
Seating Capacity: 61,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

The home of Da Bears remains the only NFL stadium we know of that still charges for Wi-Fi use – the network, provided by Boingo Wireless, costs fans $1.99 per day. AT&T and Boingo also recently updated the already-robust DAS around the stadium, adding coverage for tailgating areas as well.

Detroit Lions
Ford Field
Seating Capacity: 65,000
Wi-Fi – Yes/limited (Verizon customers only)
DAS – Yes

Verizon customers at Ford Field will have access to Wi-Fi, but customers from other carriers are out of luck.

Minnesota Vikings
TCF Bank Stadium
Seating Capacity: 52,000
Wi-Fi – Limited / in select areas only
DAS – Yes

As Vikings fans wait for the opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium – which is supposed to have the latest in stadium Wi-Fi – they will spend one more year without Wi-Fi at TCF Bank Stadium, though an AT&T DAS upgrade of more than 300 antennas last season should help with connectivity.

Stadium Tech Report: Kansas State taps Boingo, Aruba for new Wi-Fi and DAS networks

Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

When Kansas State University took on the self-imposed challenge of delivering “the best fan experience in the Big 12″ a couple years ago, it was clear that something had to be done about the lack of wireless connectivity in its largest sports venues.

Before this football season, KSU took a big step forward in living up to its goals by partnering with Boingo Wireless and Aruba Networks to bring stadium-wide Wi-Fi and DAS networks for fans to the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, with plans to follow up with similar connectivity for Bramlage Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena. With 380 Wi-Fi access points and 200-plus DAS antennas in Snyder Stadium, fans there will no longer have to complain about not being able to get a signal, a problem that reached a tipping point last year, according to the K-State network staff.

According to Scott Garrett, the senior associate athletic director for external operations, the idea of fan-facing Wi-Fi or improved cellular via a DAS (distributed antenna system) had been talked about internally since 2008 or 2009, especially so when the stadium underwent significant construction revisions in 2012. Built in 1967, the football stadium had expanded to its current capacity of 50,000 fans, who in the last couple years started letting the school know that “no signal” was no fun.

“Our [yearly] fan survey, especially the last couple years, had a growing feedback about the inability to connect [at the stadium],” Garrett said. Back in 2010 and 2011, there really wasn’t a hue and cry, but “every year since then, the negative feedback [about connectivity] had doubled,” Garrett said. “It was really painful after last season.”

Antennas visible on top of stands

Antennas visible on top of stands

Building two networks at once

What fans didn’t know last year was that a plan was already in place to fix the issue, thanks to an RFP crafted by the athletics department and the campus telecom office. After sorting through several candidates, including carrier-driven DAS-only plans, Kansas State went with Boingo Wireless as the lead deployer for both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network, with rental revenues from the former helping offset the deployment costs of the latter.

“Boingo has a lot of experience in the [stadium] marketplace, and their financial model allows us to install a DAS and get money to build a Wi-Fi network,” Garrett said. Even though the deal was signed in 2014, the complexity of bringing new networks to older buildings was such that the target date for launch became the start of the 2015 football season.

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo, said there was a “boatload of synergy” in doing both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network deployment at the same time. “Just knowing where antennas will be placed for either one makes both better,” Lodder said.

The biggest deployment challenges for both networks were in both end zones of the stadium, both of which have only one section of stands with no overhangs, making it tough to locate antennas. Without using under-seat antennas (“we are firm believers that going up from under is a last resort,” said Lodder) Lodder said Boingo was able to make its design work — “we found enough ways to get the APs in,” he said.

More antennas on an overhang

More antennas on an overhang

For the Wi-Fi network, Boingo used gear from Aruba Networks, a choice made in part because Aruba gear was already in use in other parts of the Kansas State campus.

For the DAS, Boingo used Teko gear from JMA Wireless. Currently Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are on the DAS, with Garrett “hoping to add AT&T” sometime soon.

Another classic issue for many deployments in older stadiums, where to locate the head-end room, was solved for this season with a temporary structure since the proximity of the basketball arena — according to Garrett it sits about 30 yards beyond the football stadium’s south end zone — was just one of several factors putting a crimp on available head-end real estate.

“We’re still trying to figure out a permanent place for the head end,” Garrett said. “We just didn’t have room for it on the [existing] site.”

Soft launches and a new app

With construction taking place over the summer, Kansas State knew it couldn’t keep its network a secret. On Aug. 12, athletic director John Currie posted a letter on the K-State website, which in part told fans about the new networks being installed, as well as the availability of a new game day application, built by SportsLabs, a 2-year-old startup based in Boulder, Colo.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Garrett said the “teaser” letter from the AD helped alert fans to the new connectivity options, and some started taking and sharing photos of the antennas during pre-season activities at the stadium. But just to make sure the launch didn’t overset expectations, Garrett said the KSU staff kept mostly silent through the first game of the season on Sept. 5, allowing them to have a bit of a “beta” type soft launch.

The go-slow start helped, he said, because it allowed network administrators to identify and correct a logon issue before the next home game. Garrett said Kansas State also monitors social media in real time, allowing for on-the-spot fixes when fans are having problems.

“We once saw two tweets about a problem in Section 9 [of the stadium] where some fans got kicked off the Wi-Fi,” Garrett said. “We were able to test and monitor and provide immediate feedback.”

Throughout the season, Garrett and his staff stepped up the promotion of the network, and drove fans to download the new game-day app, which includes interactive stadium maps and integrated access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so fans can follow and post directly from the KSU app.

Rebecca Cameron, senior account director for SportsLabs, said that in addition to in-stadium use there is also a lot of app usage for fans who aren’t at the game, with the live game audio being the app’s most popular service. According to Cameron more than 4,000 fans have downloaded the app so far this season.

Garrett said KSU and SportsLabs will continue to add to the app, with a future eye on support of services like mobile concession ordering and instant replays. Garrett said Kansas State is a bit unusual for a big NCAA school in that it controls its own media rights, allowing it to make final decisions on technology providers.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“We were looking for a more sophisticated digital effort, and we really liked what SportsLabs had to offer,” Garrett said. Though not widely known, SportsLabs is making a name for itself in the sports app and websites field, having already secured the College Football Playoff series as a customer, along with the University of Kentucky and the ACC and West Coast Conference.

The new network and all its trappings, Boingo’s Lodder said, places Kansas State among the leaders in the collegiate connectivity race, ahead of many larger schools in bigger media markets.

“A lot of Pac-12 schools haven’t put in Wi-Fi yet,” Lodder noted. “It’s interesting to see who is taking that first step.”

Kansas State’s Garrett is happy that the initial problem of no signal is solved, and is enjoying seeing what a high-definition network can produce.

“It’s incredible to go from having no ability to text or call at all to having that problem totally solved,” Garrett said. “Now it’s great to see how many people are getting on Facebook and Twitter, sharing with friends. We’re looking forward to expanding and seeing what other new things we can add.”

IBM formally launches sports consulting practice to bring tech to stadiums

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

IBM formally cemented its entrance to the sports-stadium tech deployment market with the announcement of a sports and fan experience consulting practice, and a “global consortium” of tech and service suppliers who may help IBM in its future stadium and entertainment venue deployments.

For industry watchers, the Nov. 19 debut of the IBM “Sports, Entertainment and Fan Experience” consulting practice was not a surprise, since its leader, Jim Rushton, had already appeared at tech conferences this past summer, talking about IBM’s plans to deploy a fiber-based Wi-Fi and DAS network at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium being built for the Atlanta Falcons. IBM was also publicly behind a similar network build over the last two years at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. For both networks, IBM is using Corning optical gear.

Still, the formal creation of the IBM practice (you can read all about it at the new IBM sports website) means that the 800-pound gorilla is now firmly inside the competitive ring of the stadium-tech marketplace, a landscape that currently has multiple players, many of which have multiple stadium deployments under their belts. However, IBM’s vast experience in big-time sports technology deployments — Big Blue is behind such endeavors as the truly wonderful online experience of The Masters, as well as technical underpinnings of three of tennis’ Grand Slam events (Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open) — as well as its considerable tech and monetary resources probably makes it a No. 1 contender for all of the biggest projects as well as possibly smaller ones as well.

Artist's rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Artist’s rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Rushton, who spoke with Mobile Sports Report earlier this year in one of his first public appearances as an IBMer, said in a phone interview this week that IBM’s fiber-to-the-fan network model isn’t just for large-scale deployments like the one at 105,000-seat Kyle Field or the Falcons’ new $1.4 billion nest, which will seat 71,000 for football and up to 83,000 for other events after it opens in 2017.

“That type of system [the optical network] is scalable,” Rushton said, and even in smaller venues he said it could potentially save customers 30 percent or more compared to the cost of a traditional copper-based cabled network. The flip side to that equation is that purchasers have fewer gear suppliers to choose from on the fiber-based side of things, and according to several industry sources it’s still sometimes a problem to find enough technical staffers with optical-equipment expertise.

How much of the market is left?

The other question facing IBM’s new consulting practice is the size of the market left for stadium tech deployments, an answer we try to parse each year in our State of the Stadium survey. While this year’s survey and our subsequent quarterly reports found a high number of U.S. professional stadiums with Wi-Fi and DAS networks already deployed, there are still large numbers of college venues as well as international stadiums and other large public venues like concert halls, race tracks and other areas that are still without basic connectivity.

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

With its new “global consortium” of companies that supply different parts and services of the connected-stadium experience, IBM could be an attractive choice to a customer that doesn’t have its own technical expertise, providing a soup-to-nuts package that could conceivably handle tasks like in-stadium IPTV, DAS and Wi-Fi, construction and stadium design, and backbone bandwidth solutions.

However, IBM will be going up against vendors who have led deployments on their own, and league-led “consortium” type arrangements like MLBAM’s project that brought Wi-Fi to almost all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and the NFL’s list of preferred suppliers like Extreme Networks for Wi-Fi and YinzCam for apps. Also in the mix are third-party integrators like CDW, Mobilitie, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and others who are already active in the stadium-technology deployment space. And don’t forget HP, which bought Wi-Fi gear supplier Aruba Networks earlier this year.

Certainly, we expect to hear more from IBM soon, and perhaps right now it’s best to close by repeating what we heard from Jared Miller, chief technology officer for Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s namesake AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) group, when we asked earlier this year why the Falcons picked IBM to build the technology in the new Atlanta stadium:

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“IBM is unique with its span of technology footprint,” Miller said. He also cited IBM’s ability to not just deploy technology but to also help determine what the technology could be used for, with analytics and application design.

“They’ve looked at the [stadium] opportunity in a different manner, thinking about what we could do with the network once it’s built,” Miller said.

From the IBM press release, here is the IBM list of companies in its new “global consortium,” which IBM said is not binding, meaning that none of the companies listed is guaranteed any business yet, and others not on the list may end up in IBM deployments, like Kyle Field, which uses Aruba gear for the Wi-Fi:

Founding members of the consortium, include:

· Construction and Design: AECOM, HOK, Whiting Turner

· Infrastructure Technology/Carriers: Alcatel/Lucent, Anixter, Commscope, Corning, Juniper Networks, Ruckus Wireless, Schneider Electric, Smarter Risk, Tellabs, Ucopia, Zebra Technologies, YinzCam (IPTV), Zayo, Zhone

· Communications Solutions Providers: Level 3, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, AT&T

· Fan Experience Consulting & Data Management Integration: IBM

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — AFC West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.37.01 PM
Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium
Seating Capacity: 76,416
Wi-Fi – Yes

On a quest to challenge the HD experience at home, Chiefs president Mark Donovan delivered Wi-Fi and a mobile app to Arrowhead Stadium in 2013. Kansas City continues to enhance its mobile experience for fans, and now has in-stadium NFL RedZone access, live video feeds during games, as well as video highlights and replays from every drive. New for 2015, the Chiefs added a “Chiefs Kingdom” rewards program that works via the app.

Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Seating Capacity: 76,125
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Connectivity is still kind of a mixed bag in Broncosland, with Wi-Fi in the stadium but still only available for Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all have separate DAS deployments, so most fans should be covered in one form or another.

Oakland Raiders
O.Co Coliseum
Seating Capacity: 56,057
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

With the team’s stay in Oakland still a matter of doubt, fans will have to cheer their team on without Wi-Fi for another year at O.Co Coliseum. Despite being available for A’s fans, when the stadium capacity increases by almost 20,000 people for football, Raiders faithful are left without any access, without any official explanation.

San Diego Chargers
Qualcomm Stadium
Seating Capacity: 70,561
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

The stadium that’s named after the wireless giant remains a mystery. Because Wi-Fi in Qualcomm Stadium, a facility whose sponsor’s fortunes come mainly from the sale of wireless-phone silicon, is still absent.

The stadium that hosted the Super Bowl over a decade ago does have DAS antennas courtesy of AT&T for improved cell coverage. Perhaps given the Chargers’ public statements about moving to a new stadium or Los Angeles means that they aren’t going to make a Wi-Fi investment at Qualcomm right now.

Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium beefs up Wi-Fi and DAS ahead of College Football Playoff championship game

University of Phoenix Stadium before Super Bowl XLIX. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

University of Phoenix Stadium before Super Bowl XLIX. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After just hosting a Super Bowl, one with record wireless traffic numbers, you might not think that the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., needed to upgrade its Wi-Fi and DAS networks. But with many more big events on the way soon, including hosting this season’s College Football Playoff championship game, the UoP Stadium isn’t sitting still, but instead is fine-tuning and expanding its networks to ensure fans stay connected as well as possible.

According to Mark Feller, vice president of technology for the Arizona Cardinals, more Wi-Fi has been added to the stadium networks for this football season, including lawn areas just outside the stadium and the Pat Tillman Plaza area on the north side of the stadium. For the Super Bowl last year the venue had extensive DAS coverage outside from a Crown Castle deployment, but in an email message Feller said adding Wi-Fi to the mix was always part of the plan. Here’s Mark:

“Our plan from the start was to have Wi-Fi outdoors for our fans to use and we are rolling it out as time allows. We have such good weather that there are thousands of people tailgating on game days. In addition, the Cardinals Mobile App (from Yinzcam) provides live Stadium Feeds, Replays, and the Red Zone Channel so our fans can keep up with the early games while they are outside.”

Outside UoP Stadium, where the architecture allows for DAS antenna placement under the fascia as well as behind speaker covers.

Outside UoP Stadium, where the architecture allows for DAS antenna placement under the fascia as well as behind speaker covers.

Inside the stadium, Feller said there are now Gimbal beacons deployed for “selective messaging” alerts that are tied to the stadium app. The team also added a separate Verizon Wireless SSID to its Wi-Fi mix, giving Verizon customers reserved bandwidth as well as the ability to autoconnect. The Wi-Fi network uses Cisco gear and is managed and supported by CDW. At the Cardinals’ most recent home game, a 26-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 26, the Wi-Fi network carried 1.445 terabytes of data, with 22,502 unique connections, according to numbers provided by Feller. Out of the 63,500-seat stadium a maximum number of 19,559 concurrent users was seen that day, with the top sites connected to by fans being Apple, Facebook, Google, iCloud, Yahoo, Instagram, Twitter and ESPN, according to Feller.

Getting ready for the playoff championship

For both the biggest college game of the year (scheduled for Jan. 11, 2016) which like last year should be a big network event, as well as a host of other “big events,” like a U.S. Women’s soccer team game vs. China on Dec. 13 and the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, Feller said the UoP stadium team is continuing to expand the Crown Castle DAS as well, with more sectors in the stadium’s Club and Loft sections, as well as more coverage outside on the lawns. Portable Wi-Fi is also an option, Feller said, as the stadium adds temporary seating to expand for the big game of the collegiate season:

“Having the Super Bowl here did give us some ideas about increasing density in some areas where we put temporary seating. We tested some different WiFi portable enclosure systems that we could put up and take down quickly and figured out how to get cabling to them quickly as well. That will help us get set up for the CFP Championship.”

Kansas City Royals score with jump in postseason stadium Wi-Fi and DAS traffic

Royals fans at Kauffman Stadium enjoying the postseason. Credit all photos: Kansas City Royals (click on any photo for a larger image)

Royals fans at Kauffman Stadium enjoying the postseason. Credit all photos: Kansas City Royals (click on any photo for a larger image)

If you need a reason to justify Wi-Fi network installs or improvements in your stadium, here’s an optimistic rationale: If your team makes it to the playoffs and the championship, you can expect a big surge in postseason wireless traffic.

That idea was proven again this fall by the Kansas City Royals, who racked up big postseason Wi-Fi and DAS traffic numbers at Kauffman Stadium during their march to the 2015 World Series championship, including a 3.066 terabyte night on the Wi-Fi network for Game 1 of the World Series. That’s a 1 TB jump from last season, when Kansas City saw 2+ TB of Wi-Fi traffic during Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

According to numbers provided by Brian Himstedt, senior director of information systems for the Royals, the Kauffman Stadium Wi-Fi network saw an average of 1.9 TB of aggregate throughput for the eight home games Kansas City hosted in the playoffs.

Fans cheering the Royals at Kauffman Stadium

Fans cheering the Royals at Kauffman Stadium

The average peak user count over those games was 11,850, with a high peak of 13,900 during Game 2 of the World Series. The stadium’s capacity for the postseason games, Himstedt said, was 40,500.

The postseason Wi-Fi traffic, Himstedt said, was approximately 34 percent upload and 66 percent download. During the regular season, the Kauffman Wi-Fi network had upload/download averages of 22 percent and 78 percent respectively, meaning that during the playoffs fans were probably more busy sharing information than obtaining it.

Overall, the postseason Wi-Fi numbers were much larger than the Royals’ regular-season stats, Himstedt said. Here are some of the regular-season stats during a summer that saw the network serve more than 180,500 unique clients on the Wi-Fi network:

– Average throughput per game: 625 GB
– High throughput, single game: 1.05 TB (Sept. 26)
– Average peak concurrent users per game: 5,150
– High peak concurrent users, single game: 7,500 (Opening Day, April 6)

The average attendance of Kauffman Stadium during the regular season was 33,900, Himstedt said.

Sprint DAS numbers also jump

And while the DAS at Kauffman Stadium is still awaiting full participation by all of the top wireless carriers, hometown favorite Sprint was active on the new system deployed by Advanced RF Technologies before the start of the season, and according to Sprint there were huge increases in DAS traffic compared to 2014.

Here are some DAS numbers from Sprint about the playoff traffic at Kauffman Stadium:

– Total tonnage for the 2015 eight game post-season was 2.6 terabytes

– Average tonnage per post-season game increased 4,000% in 2015 compared to 2014

– Sprint fans talked on their phones a total of 178,954 minutes in the post-season

– LTE connection rates for the 2015 post-season improved by approximately 40% compared to 2014

According to Sprint, the DAS supported all the frequencies used by Sprint devices, including the 1.9GHz, 2.5GHz and 800MHz bands.