October 25, 2014

Confirmed: KC has MLB-provided Wi-Fi, part of plan to bring Wi-Fi and DAS to all MLB stadiums

KC fans at seriesThe rumored Wi-Fi network at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium is now a confirmed entity, according to Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and CTO for MLB.com. In a phone call Thursday, Inzerillo said the Royals’ new network is part of a league-wide effort to bring Wi-Fi to all MLB parks, a task he thinks may take another year or two to complete.

As MLB.com has stated publicly before — but maybe not spelled out in so much detail — it has a program under which Major League Baseball teams can “opt in” to have MLB.com and the nation’s top four wireless carriers participate in the funding and building of both Wi-Fi and DAS networks in MLB stadiums. Though he wouldn’t divulge the specific financial commitments for specific deals, Inzerillo said that under the program “everyone has some skin in the game,” though he did allow that the league and the carriers, not the teams, foot the bulk of the bills.

Still, Inzerillo stressed that individual teams play a huge role in the Wi-Fi deployments, from design to deployment to management on site. “It’s not just like we show up and we’re the Wi-Fi fairies,” Inzerillo said. “This program wouldn’t be possible without the teams and the work they do.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.27.54 PMGiven MLB’s synchronized digital strategy of having the same app — and only the same app — available for fans in each ballpark, Inzerillo said that having high-quality cellular and Wi-Fi networks in each stadium was a key necessity, especially to make MLB app functions like seat upgrades and concession purchases work.

“You need to have the right [network] plumbing in place or none of the other stuff matters,” Inzerillo said.

Kauffman Stadium’s network, Inzerillo said, was just one of about a dozen MLB Wi-Fi projects that got underway this year. That it was finished in time for postseason play was just luck, and not some last-minute installation due to the Royals’ on-field successes. “It was just a fortuitous thing that it was ready,” said Inzerillo, who said that construction of Wi-Fi at Kauffman had been ongoing for the past 5 to 6 months.

Though the network wasn’t promoted on the team’s website or anywhere else on the Internet, Inzerillo said the Royals were promoting it at the stadium. Even without a lot of advertising, fans found the network, he said, claiming “tens of thousands” of Wi-Fi connections during the Royals’ postseason run. However, Inzerillo also said some extra cellular trucks were brought in by some of the carriers for the Royals playoff games because the DAS at Kauffman isn’t quite finished yet.

Inzerillo said that anywhere from 22 to 26 teams will eventually end up using some combination of league-provided Wi-Fi and/or DAS. The league’s goal of having every stadium fully wired should be nearly complete by opening day of 2015, he said, with a more likely “final” goal of complete coverage reached sometime in 2016. In 2014, Mobile Sports Report research showed that 10 of the 30 MLB stadiums didn’t have fan-facing Wi-Fi; some of those teams (like Kansas City) will be getting MLB networks, while some other program participants are upgrading existing systems, Inzerillo said.

Under the MLB network deal, the DAS in each stadium will be a neutral-host deployment hosted by one of the four major U.S. cellular carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile — depending on things like regional/historical market share and existing contracts, Inzerillo said. While the carriers will operate the MLB DAS deployments, the Wi-Fi networks will be deployed, run and monitored by MLB, either from its New York City or San Francisco network operation centers, Inzerillo said. Wi-Fi gear will come mainly from Cisco, though Inzerillo said there is also a small percentage of Meru Networks gear based on teams that had previously installed Meru equipment.

Though Inzerillo said MLB may make some overall announcement once the league-wide project is completed, he didn’t necessarily think that having working Wi-Fi and DAS in stadiums was such a big deal.

“It’s kind of a weird thing to think about bragging about,” said Inzerillo, who compared Wi-Fi and DAS to plumbing as a basic stadium necessity, not an amenity. Having high quality networks, he said, “are table stakes for a modern facility.”

Giants: NLCS stadium Wi-Fi usage at AT&T Park quadrupled since 2012

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

If you build a better stadium network, they will come… and use it even more. That’s what the San Francisco Giants are finding out, with stadium Wi-Fi data usage more than quadrupling this year compared to the last time the Giants were in the NLCS in 2012.

According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO for the Giants, fans at AT&T Park for the recent National League championship series with the St. Louis Cardinals used more than four times the Wi-Fi data that fans used in the 2012 series. Schlough said that in 2012 (also facing the Cardinals) fans at the four AT&T Park NLCS games used an average of 302 Gigabytes per game; this year, in the three games in San Francisco, that number was 1,247 GB per game.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.26.21 PM

What makes the jump in data even more interesting is the fact that the number of overall users of the Wi-Fi network only increased about 19 percent from 2012 to 2014, with an average of 16,683 users on the network this year compared to 13,509 in 2012, according to figures from Schlough and the Giants. “It definitely shows how data per connection is what is really exploding,” said Schlough in an email.

Looking back another couple years is also instructive; in 2010, during the NLCS the AT&T Park network only saw an average of 6,511 fans using Wi-Fi per game. (The team did not track data usage at that time.) Though the World Series starts today in Kansas City, fans will have to wait until Game 3 in San Francisco Friday to use Wi-Fi since the Royals’ Kaufmann Stadium is one of the 10 MLB parks that don’t have fan-facing Wi-Fi.

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

Stadium Tech Report: Nebraska adds Cisco-powered Wi-Fi, IPTV to Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska might not have a professional football team, but University of Nebraska fans now have a pro-style wireless experience at home games thanks to a high-density Wi-Fi network and IPTV features recently installed by the school at the 85,000-plus seat Memorial Stadium.

Combined with a new mobile app that delivers multiple live video streams and replay options, the loyal Cornhusker fans — who’ve come to Lincoln, Neb., and filled Memorial Stadium to the brim every game day since the 1960s — now have a wireless fan in-game experience among the best anywhere, collegiate or pro. Installed for use this season by CDW, the new network features Cisco Wi-Fi gear and Cisco’s StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile systems, as well as a new app developed by NeuLion and additional video-streaming capabilities from EVS.

“We have the most loyal fans in the country,” said Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the University of Nebraska athletic department. Part of putting in a high-definition wireless network, Mosier said, was to meet growing fan connectivity needs and to “stay ahead of the curve” in stadium experiences. “We wanted to reward the fans for being so loyal, and give them a new experience to brag about,” Mosier said.

A look at video options in the Husker app

A look at video options in the Husker app (click picture for bigger view)

One of the first collegiate programs to install big TV screens in its stadium, Nebraska now has a Wi-Fi network with more than 800 access points, both inside Memorial’s seating bowl as well as outside, at entrance and parking areas. In addition to synchronized IPTV broadcasts on stadium flat-panel screens, Nebraska fans also have access to a wide range of live video and video replays of game-day action, thanks to the new game-day app.

According to Dan Floyd, director of information technology for Nebraska athletics, the new network is already a hit, with a peak of 25,000 simultaneous users during the second game this fall. And even though Floyd and Mosier are aware of some problem areas, as Floyd said there has already been “a lot of positive feedback” from the technology upgrades.

Better sound, better connectivity

The network deployment was part of a recent $12.3 million upgrade to the football facility, which has been the home of the Huskers since 1923. Included in the total spend was also a revamp of the public-address and sound systems, but according to Mosier “the biggest chunk” of the spending went to cover the Wi-Fi deployment.

The need for better connectivity became apparent a few years back, Mosier said, and it set in motion a “very long process” of a couple years in length in which Nebraska officials looked at other existing stadium deployments and technology choices before making their decisions. One of the easier picks was selecting Cisco as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier, since Mosier said that most of the rest of the school’s campus was already wired with Cisco networking gear. And a recent deployment of Cisco stadium Wi-Fi at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb., where the Husker basketball team plays, helped further push the football decision toward using Cisco.

“We wanted to provide a seamless experience for fans between multiple venues, and to play well with the rest of the campus,” Mosier said. “It was just a no-brainer to use a Cisco [Wi-Fi] product.”

Also in Cisco’s favor was its StadiumVision digital display system and its StadiumVision Mobile product, which both bring advanced IPTV features to static stadium screens as well as to mobile apps. StadiumVision allows for synchronization of programming across a wide array of networked displays, while StadiumVision Mobile supports several live broadcast channels that can be used to provide live content to mobile apps. The Brooklyn Nets use StadiumVision Mobile to bring live action channels to fans who visit the Barclays Center for games.

“We wanted to not just provide the networking infrastructure, but on top of that provide something extra,” Mosier said. “Our fans are pretty savvy, and they are looking for things beyond what the casual fan might be looking for. StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile makes sense for our fan base. The ‘extra screen’ approach really lets them control their own video experience.”

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

On the Huskers’ game day app, Mosier said, fans at the start of the season could choose between three StadiumVision Mobile-powered “channels” that showed the big-screen broadcast, an alternate angle view, and an “all-22″ camera that is like what coaches view to see the players across the entire field. A “phase II” of the app live video, which had not yet launched at the time of our interview, will include further user-controlled selections for more camera angles and replays. According to Mosier, the Phase II capabilities are supported by the C-Cast system from EVS. The entire new app, he said, was built by developer NeuLion.

Though Mosier said the live video production for the app was “definitely a growing process” that will require further tuning and learning, he said the system already has impressive performance, with delays between live action and app action at “a second to a second and a half.” Mosier said that Nebraska also plans to bring more live action to the mobile app for basketball season, with multiple camera angles including a “slam cam” based near the rims.

Handrails and fan interference of Wi-Fi signals

While the 800 Wi-Fi APs give Nebraska pretty good coverage throughout the facility, Floyd said the IT team knew it would have connectivity challenges in the north and south end zone stands, since neither of those sides have any structural overhangs.

“Since the north and south sides [of the stadium] don’t have overhangs we knew they would be problematic,” Floyd said. One option used in venues including AT&T Park and Levi’s Stadium, the under-the-seat access point, wasn’t an option at Memorial Stadium, Floyd said, because the seats there aren’t high enough to meet safety requirements for keeping bodies away from the antennas.

One creative way CDW and Nebraska brought Wi-Fi to the north and south stands is via Wi-Fi antennas inside railing enclosures, but those are not without their own challenges. Though the railing antennas get a signal close to fans, the long rows of seats at Memorial Stadium — up to 30 in between rows — means that the “waterbags,” or human bodies, can act as signal-blockers for fans in the middle of the rows.

“The first 10 or 12 people on either side get a pretty good signal,” said Floyd, but he added that the fans in the middle are still a challenge to reach. Both Mosier and Floyd said Nebraska will continue to seek ways to upgrade the Wi-Fi network, including possibly putting APs on top of towers or in other creative deployments.

“We knew it would need tuning, and some tuning is easier than others,” Mosier said. “We know we still have pockets of [connectivity] problems. We knew that when we put in a system like this, it wasn’t going to be perfect on day 1.”

Something to brag about

According to Floyd, Memorial Stadium has had a Verizon DAS in place for several years, which fulfilled most of the fans’ basic cellular connectivity needs since he said that “70 to 75 percent” of Cornhusker fans were Verizon customers. However, the new sound system, with its big speaker arrays, has also given room for AT&T and U.S. Cellular to add some DAS equipment of their own, with antennas mounted right inside the speaker enclosures.

Unlike other schools or teams, the Cornhuskers are not pressed to make money off their wireless network, given the stadium sellout streak that dates back to Nov. 3, 1962. But Mosier said that even the Huskers aren’t immune to the lure of the living room couch, with its comfort, HD screen and close-by food and drink.

“We definitely have a blessed situation [with the sellouts],” Mosier said, while allowing that some fans might still prefer sitting at home. “But you can’t match the experience of being at the venue,” he added. “If we can address the connectivity issues, plus add to the stadium experience [with technology], it’s a win-win for us.”

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

Texting from games: A look back 10 years ago today, great Red Sox win and a first-ever live view of a fan sending a text

I want to thank the esteemed Jon Brodkin for reminding me that 10 years ago today a very special night in Boston baseball history was also a watershed moment for me from both a sports fan and a professional capacity. Along with being there live to watch the start of baseball’s greatest playoff comeback ever, I saw for the first time, someone sending a text message during a game.

Yeah, we’ve all come a long way.

To refresh — it was 10 years ago today on a chilly Boston night when the all-hope-lost Red Sox rallied to win Game 4 of their ALCS series against the hated Yankees.

Since Voice over IP was one of my main beats then, I was flying in to Boston that night to attend the VON Conference — and when I got out of Logan I asked the cabbie if the Yankees had finally eliminated the Sox. He told me that even though it was late — around 8 p.m.? — the game hadn’t started yet, because it was scheduled to start after the NL game (St. Louis against Houston). So I dumped my bag in my Back Bay hotel room and hoofed it to Fenway, where I found someone selling one seat in the bleachers for face value. For $50, I was in for the baseball night of my life.

Who texts on a phone?

You probably all know how the game ended — as a Cubs fan I was not attached emotionally to the outcome, but sitting in the Fenway bleachers I was carried along with the agony and eventual ecstasy of the home crowd. What I remember most is: 1. You don’t get up when you’re sitting in the Fenway centerfield bleachers, because it bugs everyone else when you do. (I limited myself to one beer, one bad hot dog and one relief session, all on the same trip, so as not to fall out of favor with my very vocal seatmates.) 2. Boston bleacher fans probably know more baseball than any other place I’ve been (Wrigley, Candlestick, AT&T Park), including the minor-league history of not just their team’s players, but the opposition’s as well. 3. Everybody in the park knew Roberts was going to steal, and he did it anyway. 4. I’ve never before or since heard a fan eruption like the one that happened when Big Papi’s walk-off cleared the fences.

So yeah, greatest baseball game I’ve ever been to, no contest. But something else happened that night — that very cold night where I was glad to have remembered a wool cap and gloves — when I saw, during one inning break, a 20-something woman in the row in front of me doing something with her phone that seemed way more involved than dialing a number. Since she wasn’t talking but staring at her flip phone I had to ask what was up.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 12.15.22 PM“I’m sending my friend a text message,” she said. I had only a vague idea what she was talking about. I mean, I think I knew it was possible to send a message to someone else using those three-tap spelling tricks, but I didn’t know anyone personally who did that. I also knew that anyone who pulled out a cell phone during a game was subject to ridicule, especially if you held the phone to your ear and waved when you knew you were on TV.

She explained that her friend had moved to New Orleans (for work or school, can’t remember) and was part of a loyal group of Bosox fans… and she was keeping him in the loop on how it felt to be in the bleachers, letting him know he was missed. I thought the idea was pretty cool, but it didn’t register with me that more people might want to do the same thing.

Fast forward to last night, when my Facebook feed lit up with friends’ video clips from the Giants’ walk-off NLCS win from AT&T Park. Yeah, we’ve come a REAL long way in 10 years.

I usually tell people my a-ha moment for starting Mobile Sports Report came at a CTIA conference in 2011, where AT&T CTO John Donovan told the crowd that for the first time ever at the Super Bowl earlier that year, there was more wireless traffic leaving the stadium than coming in — meaning that fans were sending texts and pictures out in great number, perhaps more so than ever thought before. That trend, of course, is what’s fueling the current wave of stadium network deployments, and that Super Bowl was certainly a watershed moment. But when I think a bit I remember that night in Boston 10 years ago and think… people have wanted to share these special moments for quite some time. Good to see more people getting the chance.

AT&T Park networks averaged 1.24 Terabytes per game during NLDS

attparksign1As the San Francisco Giants get set to host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS today (weather pending!) we can be reasonably assured that AT&T Park’s wireless networks will be able to handle whatever load the fans throw at them. According to AT&T, the park’s DAS and Wi-Fi networks carried an average of 1.24 Terabytes of traffic for the two most recent postseason contests, the NLDS games against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 6-7.

According to a recent AT&T local blog post, the DAS network at AT&T Park carried an average of 314 GB of traffic between the two games, with a high of 338 GB on the Oct. 7 game. Remember, these stats only reflect traffic of AT&T customers at the park — the actual total of DAS traffic would include usage from customers of Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, but none of those companies have (ever) reported DAS traffic usage. Still, the AT&T number is pretty impressive all by itself.

On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T said there was an average of 926 GB of data used per game — again, impressive when you consider that AT&T Park is a baseball stadium that only seats about 41,500 folks when it’s sold out. Since the Wi-Fi network is free and open to any wireless service customer, the 926 GB number reflects total data use. Combining the two gives you a figure of 1.24 TB average traffic per game. Now let’s see if Giants fans top that number this week.

UPDATE: We just got some fresh stats from AT&T for Tuesday night’s NLCS game at AT&T Park, and no surprise, more data was consumed. According to AT&T the fans at the Oct. 14 afternoon game used 1.38 TB of total data, with 1,067 GB on Wi-Fi and another 318 GB on the cellular DAS (remember those stats are AT&T customers only on the DAS). We’ll do another roundup after the three games are played this week to get averages.

Stadium Tech Report: Mobilitie adds Wi-Fi to DAS at Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Like a team adding a star player to its roster, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena will kick off their NHL All-Star Game showcase season this week with a new fan-facing Wi-Fi network from Mobilitie, adding to the DAS deployment previously installed by the same company.

The new network, which will use 263 access points from Wi-Fi gear vendor Aruba Networks, is set to go live for the Blue Jackets’ home opener on Oct. 11 against the New York Rangers. According to Jim Connolly, director of IT for the Blue Jackets, having the necessary wireless infrastructure in place is just the first step in a gradual expansion of features designed to enhance the fan experience inside Nationwide Arena. It also corrects a familiar problem with many existing large public facilities, the not-able-to-get-a-signal issue.

“Three or four years ago we noticed a big increase in mobile device use by our fan base,” said Connolly in a recent phone interview. “On the business side of the house we also realized that when the building was full, we had communication issues. You would try to make a [cellular] call, and it would never go through.”

Neutral host the only direction forward

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Connolly said the decision to go with Mobilitie, with its extensive history of neutral-host DAS deployments, was in part due to the organization’s desire to steer clear of carrier-specific DAS infrastructures. Even though most major carriers will say they are capable of hosting other carriers on a DAS, there are also many known cases of carriers not working well together.

“If you go with a carrier DAS, you have the possibility of isolating part of your fan base,” said Connolly, explaining the team’s desire to use a neutral host for its DAS. What helped seal the deal for Mobilitie was its willingness to also build the Wi-Fi network for no cost to the team. Though DAS helps eliminate most cellular connectivity issues inside large venues, Connolly said the Blue Jackets were “leaning” to having both Wi-Fi and DAS.

“Bringing both Wi-Fi and DAS really elevated their [Mobilitie's] bid,” Connolly said.

Ready for the All-Star Game

After deploying the DAS in April of 2013, Mobilitie and the Blue Jackets got the Wi-Fi installed over the last offseason, just in time for the year the team will be hosting the NHL All-Star Game and associated celebrations, on Jan. 24-25, 2015.

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

“The All-Star Game was definitely a motivator” to get the network finished, Connolly said. “We want to showcase the arena, let fans share via social media and not have any problems with connecting.”

Following the All-Star Game, Nationwide Arena will also host second- and third-round games for the 2015 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, just another of the 200 to 225 events that fill the 18,500-seat arena (it seats more for basketball and concerts) on a yearly basis.

Opened in 2000, the facility was new enough that network installation wasn’t a huge issue, Connolly said.

“It’s a beautiful building — the DAS and Wi-Fi deployments were pretty straightforward, with room for conduits and space available for the head end room,” Connolly said. “It was relatively painless. We were fortunate enough to have adequate space.”

Building in features as you go

Another plus to having a combined provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi is the ability to have a more integrated view of what fans are using the networks for, via analytics.

“We want to be able to see who’s in the building, and who’s doing what,” Connolly said. “Do they want social networking? Do they want food and beverage deals? Do they want to see replays? The analytics will be able to tell us what’s going on.”

While the current Blue Jackets team app is mainly static information — there is a live audio feed and some live stats available — Connolly said that now that the Wi-Fi network is live, more features like live video and in-seat food ordering, or seat upgrades, can be considered.

“We’ll be trying to figure out how to incorporate more in-game aspects, such as giving more access to those who are here in the arena,” said Connolly, also mentioning the possibilities of adding live video, replays, or online concessions. “Over the course of the first year, that’s something we will be figuring out.”

Drop the puck, hockey's back!

Drop the puck, hockey’s back!