July 28, 2014

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talks stadium Wi-Fi

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi's

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi’s

Two years ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made news by calling for Wi-Fi networks in all NFL stadiums. While that wish is not yet a reality, the public debut of the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium Thursday allowed the commish to stop by for a very short press conference, where he did have some interesting points to make about Wi-Fi in stadiums.

While we’ve embedded the entire answer via video below, Goodell’s main point when asked about all the technology in the stadium was to highlight Wi-Fi, about which he said that when you put Wi-Fi in a stadium, “you allow people to use a technology they already know.”

Having more technology available to fans, Goodell went on to say, “is the best experience.” Whether or not the NFL as a league will help pay to bring that technology to individual stadiums that don’t yet have it is a story for another day.

video credit: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

Stadium Tech Report: An MSR Geek Sneak Peek finds fast Wi-Fi, lots of cell antennas at Levi’s Stadium

A Wi-Fi access point near a section sign.

A Wi-Fi access point near a section sign.

The historic idea that big, open-air stadiums are bad places for wireless connectivity may have finally met its match. Though it still needs a test when it’s full of fans, a sneak peek at the incredibly robust Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments in the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium should mean, at least for Niners fans, that poor connections at football games are a thing of the past.

Granted, our tour of the new stadium during its ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday wasn’t any kind of official unveiling of the much-hyped Wi-Fi and cellular networks inside. There weren’t any tech reps on hand, and there were many places throughout the building where it was clear that parts of the network weren’t yet turned on (along with many flat-screen TV mounts still waiting for their electronics). But just walking around inside the concourses and clubs, a trained eye could see Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas just about everywhere you looked. And, wow — in areas where the network was live, the download speeds were off the charts — we recorded several readings of 60 Mbps or higher, including on the Levi’s sustainable-garden rooftop court.

On one hand, it’s fair to say that our walk-around tests don’t mean a thing, because the real chore for the Levi’s network is not to impress a few random guests, but instead to handle the huge loads brought on by a sellout crowd of 68,500 iPhone-toting football fans. Over the next month or so we’ll get some more chances for proof points, especially at the Niners’ preseason games, when we hope to see the ambitious on-demand instant replay app being put through its paces, while at the same time Niners fans use their phones to order food delivered to their seats. That’s a lot of potential bandwidth and interactions. But after our tour Thursday, we’re perhaps a bit less cynical than we were before about the network’s ability to handle such loads.

SpeedTest results from Wi-Fi network inside Levi's Stadium.

SpeedTest results from Wi-Fi network inside Levi’s Stadium.

Designed for networking from the ground up

Why? Mainly, it’s the fact that Levi’s looks like the proof of what is possible when you design a stadium from the ground up with connectivity in mind. Though we could in fact see many, many exposed APs and DAS antennas, none were overly obtrusive — in fact, they all looked like they had been mounted somewhere that was expressly designed for them to be there. I’m no network engineer, but the simple lack of a lot of exposed cabling around those antennas and APs says to me that the guts of the building may be as smart as the network. Under one overhang I did see a cable run that reminded me of a data center — a wire basket carrying fiber, with plenty of room for expansion, leading into holes in the concrete that weren’t close to being filled. Again: I carry no union card. But if I can see such things and figure them out, it seems like a lot of thought went into the Levi’s network that’s perhaps not as obvious as the APs and antennas. Which, of course, is a great thing for administrators and even better for users.

Watching the British Open live on a TV inside an elevator at Levi's Stadium.

Watching the British Open live on a TV inside an elevator at Levi’s Stadium.

What else did we see that was amazing, technology-wise? The sheer number of flat screen digital displays, especially when combined with the numerous large, comfortable lounge and club areas says to us that fans won’t miss much action even if they’re not in their seats. In the plush big-bucks clubs and even in the proletariat concrete concourses there was flat screen after flat screen (or at least the mounts where more TVs will be). It’s a simple but profound way to improve the fan experience, maybe a lesson learned from Candlestick, where fans congregated outside the few concession stands with TVs just to watch replays. Sure, the phone app may be one way to get there but my take from walking through Levi’s is that if you want to stand around and enjoy a beverage with friends you will still be kept up on the action even if your phone’s in your pocket.

Like we said — there is certainly more detailed information to come, and we are betting that the folks at Aruba Networks (the Wi-Fi gear supplier) and DAS Group Professionals (the neutral third-party DAS host) are chomping at the bit to talk about their deployments… let the free advertising of the antenna pictures below suffice for now. Though it’s just the start of our planned Levi’s Stadium network coverage, it was an impressive one, right down to the glasses of Iron Horse bubbly served at the post-ribbon-cutting reception. Salut, Levi’s and Niners!

(All photos credit Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. Copyright 2014, Mobile Sports Report. Please do not use without permission.)

Wi-Fi access points visible on outside concourse structure

Wi-Fi access points visible on outside concourse structure

Two DAS antennas above a concession stand

Two DAS antennas above a concession stand

DAS antennas mounted under overhang.

DAS antennas mounted under overhang.

A guess, but looks to us like directional Wi-Fi AP (on the solar panel roof of the rooftop garden court)

A guess, but looks to us like directional Wi-Fi AP (on the solar panel roof of the rooftop garden court)

A Wi-Fi AP mounting location that says "Death Star" to us

A Wi-Fi AP mounting location that says “Death Star” to us

Just some of the flat-panel displays in the United Lounge.

Just some of the flat-panel displays in the United Lounge.

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi's

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi’s

Rooftop garden view. Butterflies and 60+ Mbps Wi-Fi!

Rooftop garden view. Butterflies and 60+ Mbps Wi-Fi!

Cool/scary view of the field from behind the lights, again on the rooftop garden area

Cool/scary view of the field from behind the lights, again on the rooftop garden area

What's behind the red DAS head end door? First rule of head end rooms, don't ask about head end rooms

What’s behind the red DAS head end door? First rule of head end rooms, don’t ask about head end rooms

Stadium Tech Report: Minnesota Twins tap InSite and TE Connectivity to get DAS ready for All-Star Game

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

Even at a new stadium, getting the wireless network right is a constantly changing target. And for 4-year-old Target Field in Minneapolis, that meant an upgrade to the DAS not too long after the facility opened its doors.

“Nobody will ever have the perfect [network] install, and that’s part of the fun of it,” said John Avenson, vice president of infrastructure for the Minnesota Twins baseball club, in a phone interview with MSR. “The problem is not solvable as in, one year and you’re done. You need to be continuously improving.”

For the Twins, improving cellular connectivity was especially important since this year the club and the stadium will host baseball’s midsummer classic, the All-Star game. Thanks to help from InSite Wireless and DAS gear from TE Connectivity, Target Field’s DAS should be able to handle not just the overall growth in Twins fans’ wireless needs, but also the extra demands of a special event and all the selfies that go along with it.

“Fortunately, InSite and the carriers have been able to react quickly, and we should be ready for the test of the All-Star game,” said Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning, in the same interview. “We’ll be ready to fully test the system.”

Wi-Fi and DAS, a perfect double play

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

As a new facility, Target Field was ahead of the curve when it came to Wi-Fi. On opening day the park had free Wi-Fi service for fans, with 225 access points initially available. “Back then that was a big number,” Avenson said. And while some carrier execs have been voicing an opinion that DAS is all that’s needed in a stadium, Avenson isn’t convinced.

“At this point you need both Wi-Fi and DAS,” he said.

Though the Twins do a good job of promoting the Wi-Fi service, most fans in stadiums everywhere usually default first to a cellular connection, either because they don’t know about the Wi-Fi, or don’t want to be bothered with the process or aren’t sure how to connect. Since people still think they should be able to send pictures or watch videos over a cellular connection, even at a crowded ballpark, that means the DAS – the Distributed Antenna System – needs to keep pace with all the smartphones and tablets being used.

“Some fans put their phones away [when they come to the stadium] but the younger crowd does not do that,” Avenson said. “Nothing interrupts their need for a good [wireless] experience.”

AllstarlogoAccording to Avenson, even before the facility opened the IT team new that they wanted a neutral host partner to lead the DAS effort.

“It just made sense to us,” said Avenson of having a neutral host DAS supplier, since as he said, carriers can be like siblings who have to share a bedroom. “InSite really enables the carriers, so they don’t have to fight with each other [over technology deployments].

Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the two biggest cellular carriers in the U.S., were on the neutral host DAS at the start, and were later joined by Sprint and T-Mobile. And even though the park is fairly new, Avenson said everyone involved realized quickly that wireless demands were growing, meaning that an upgrade was needed sooner rather than later.

According to the team, the most recent upgrades were to add MIMO capability for 1900 and AWS 2100 MHz bands, as well as adding four additional sectors in the bowl for AT&T. The new DAS can also support newer 4G LTE technologies, the Twins said.

“It’s just part of the evolution of DAS,” said Starkey. “Once we realized we needed additional coverage and capacity, InSite and the carriers acted quickly.”

Suite view of Target Field

Suite view of Target Field

The downtown difference

Like many other stadiums and large public facilities, Target Field had to be creative in finding space for the DAS head end equipment.

“In 2008 and 2009, we thought we’d fit it [the DAS head end] in a corner but it grew to a larger space and then that wasn’t big enough,” said Avenson, who added that AT&T and Verizon each have 10 to 12 cabinets of back-end gear for their DAS operations. “When the building was being built in 2008, the architects were not aware that we’d be needing more space. It’s amazing how much space and power a DAS takes at the head end.”

Adding to the complexity of the Target Field deployment is the fact that the field is in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, with large office buildings peeking over the roof of the stadium. According to Avenson, carriers and the team had to perform a series of reconfigurations to antennas both inside the park and out, so that the macro metro cellular network didn’t interfere with the DAS network inside the stadium.

“When the macro network wants to invade [the stadium] you have to push the macro network out,” said Avenson. “If you’re Miller Park [the baseball field in Milwaukee] and you have a big parking lot around the stadium you can control your own destiny. Parks in the middle of cities have a much different challenge.”

Editor’s note: This profile was originally published on May 1, 2014. It is also included in our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which you can download for free from our site.

Fox to live stream baseball’s All-Star game

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Fox Sports Go will live streaming online coverage of Major League Baseball’s All-Star game on Tuesday, starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, according to Fox. Good news for those of you who prefer commentary in Spanish, Fox will also provide a stream with commentary from the FOX Deportes telecast. (No word on whether we can also get an “anybody but Joe Buck” version of the play-by-play, but Spanish or mute should work if not.)

P.S. — if you look here I think the home run derby is live online right now.

Like previous Fox Sports Go online efforts, the stream will be available to subscribers of “participating video providers,” so if your cable or TV provider is listed here, you just authenticate and you are good to go. According to Fox, here is the list of devices and URLs where you can watch the stream:

“FOX Sports GO is currently available for iOS, Android, and Kindle phones and tablets, select Windows devices, and on desktops through FOXSportsGO.com.”

According to Fox this is the first time the MLB All-Star game is being streamed live online, but our guess is it won’t be the last. If you’re not near a TV, please enjoy Bud Selig’s “meaningful” game. Also if you are at the game live please send us a Wi-Fi and/or DAS network report from the new Target Field network … good luck Twins hosts!

Report excerpt: At Bat app driving the MLB digital experience bus

Editor’s note: The following excerpt from our MLB technology deployment analysis comes from our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which includes a wealth of information, research and analysis about the stadium tech marketplace. With a focus on Major League Baseball technology deployments, the report is available free for download so get your copy today. Enjoy the excerpt that follows.

At Bat driving the application bus

If there is one other thing that defines MLB’s digital advantage, it’s the league-wide requirement to use the MLB.com’s At Bat app as the only in-stadium app offered by every team. Though there is some grumbling heard from time to time from teams who want to innovate at a faster pace, for these early days of digital in-stadium experience having At Bat as a base is most likely a huge bonus, since it makes it easier for fans to learn how to find and use the features, no matter which stadium they are in.

Though we here at MSR are more in favor of an eventual open infrastructure – say, a package of MLB-approved APIs that third-party developers could use to bolster the At Bat ecosystem – in these days when fans are still learning how to connect to Wi-Fi and are still getting familiar with the idea of using their phones to purchase in-game seat upgrades or to order concessions, it’s probably not a bad idea to limit choices.

The interesting thing to watch may be to see if, in a few years, MLB has metrics to back up its all-for-one strategy, or whether the MLB digital team decides (like Apple and the iPhone) that opening up the platform could lead to more innovation. The good news for fans is, with better connectivity and more apps, going to games should be easier and more fun as time goes on.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park's main DAS head end facility.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park’s main DAS head end facility.

DAS upgrades are good news

Maybe the best news on the DAS front is what seems to be (finally) some benefit from the always-improving pace of technology – accord- ing to several teams we’ve talked to recently, a pleasant surprise that comes about during DAS upgrades is the fact that head end equipment footprints are actually decreasing, meaning that the space crunch often caused by DAS may be easing somewhat.

Of course, some of those space savings may be eaten right back up by additional carriers joining in, or by existing carriers adding more coverage support. A continued issue that we will keep watching is whether or not more teams and stadium owner/operators choose neutral third- party hosts for their DAS, or whether they trust that a single carrier will be able to balance the needs of all. In our interview with AT&T’s John Donovan for this issue he said that he doesn’t think any carriers want to use DAS deployments as a strategic advantage over others; we will track your stories and what happens in the wiring closet to see if his opinion reflects reality.

To read the rest of our analysis, download your free copy of our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014.

StadiumPark touts ‘EZ Pass for stadiums’ parking app idea

Screen shot of a potential StadiumPark app. Credit: StadiumPark.

Screen shot of a potential StadiumPark app. Credit: StadiumPark.

At first blush, it’s an idea so simple you wonder why it hasn’t been thought of before: Why not build a system that mimics highway EZ Pass functionality to make parking at sports events easier?

That’s the simple but powerful idea behind StadiumPark, a Rochester, N.Y. startup that has developed an app that will let fans pay for parking with their phones, in the hopes of curing one of the main pain points of live game interactions with a faster, easier experience that can benefit teams and stadium owners as well. Though StadiumPark doesn’t yet have any announced customers, it’s a good bet that before long some stadium owners and operators will take a chance on the idea, which is designed to also automatically open parking-lot gates, further reducing human overhead.

In a recent phone conversation with StadiumPark’s 26-year-old founder, Jeremy Crane, we learned the skill sets behind StadiumPark’s insights: According to Crane, part of his work background includes time spent with a large parking-lot company in Rochester that handled concerns like apartment buildings and some stadium lots. An interest in learning more about mobile parking payment systems opened Crane’s eyes to the idea of parking-payment methods other than people in vests taking cash payments through a car window.

A request from Syracuse University, Crane said, to develop an “EZ Pass type app” for parking at the school’s Carrier Dome spurred him into entrepreneurial action, and StadiumPark was born. The combination of an app (which requires users to pre-register with a credit card) and the wireless technology smarts to open parking-lot gates is the main selling point for StadiumPark, which Crane said is in discussions with several potential clients.

If the system works as advertised, it could potentially cut down on the amount of time fans spend in parking-lot lines, one of the banes of live-game attendance. For stadium owners and operators, there is an extra possible incentive of having greater control over parking payments, as well as potentially having more data on fan attendance beyond ticket sales.

“For the venue, the idea is to enable a better experience,” said Crane. “We see a clear advantage to both the stadium and the fans.”

StadiumPark’s business plan is to charge users a small convenience fee, while not charging stadiums or venues. For the system to work well it must clearly have buy-in and promotion from the arena owners and operators, to steer traffic to the StadiumPark-enabled lots. But if the quick rise in mobile parking payments for other places — like airports or shopping areas — is any indicator, a simple app that lets you park quickly and conveniently is one of the uses of technology that could probably gain rapid adoption from fans who just want to get to their seats.