September 30, 2016

New Report: Carolina Panthers build new Wi-Fi and DAS; Mercedes-Benz Stadium update, and more!

Q3thumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the Q3 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our Q3 issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at Wi-Fi analytics at the Mall of America, and a story about how the Cleveland Browns found $1 million in ROI using new analytics software from YinzCam. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:

— Bank of America Stadium profile: An in-depth look at the Carolina Panthers’ decision to bring new Wi-Fi and DAS networks in-house;
— Mercedes-Benz Stadium profile: An early look at the technology being built into the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, with an emphasis on fiber;
— T-Mobile Arena photo essay: A first look at the newest venue on the famed Las Vegas Strip;
— Avaya Stadium profile: How the stadium’s Wi-Fi network became the star of the MLS All-Star game.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, DAS Group Professionals and Boingo Wireless. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your interest and support.

Cowboys hit 2+ TB, Texas A&M sees 1.8+ TB in first AT&T DAS stats for 2016 football season

dx1With the first few football games of the season now under our belts, stats from stadium wireless networks are filtering in with a refrain we’ve heard before: Fan use of wireless data is still growing, with no top reached yet.

Thanks to our friends at AT&T we have the first set of cellular network stats in hand, which show a report of 2.273 terabytes of data used on the AT&T network at AT&T Stadium for the Cowboys’ home opener, a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 11. That same weekend the AT&T network at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, saw 1.855 TB of data during Texas A&M’s home opener against UCLA, a 31-24 overtime win over the Bruins.

Remember these stats are for AT&T traffic only, and only for the AT&T network on the DAS installations in and around the stadiums. Any other wireless carriers out there who want to send us statistics, please do so… as well as team Wi-Fi network totals. Look for more reports soon! AT&T graphics below on the first week results. We figure you can figure out which stadiums they’re talking about by the town locations.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.21.50 AM

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.21.58 AM

Ookla shares Speedtest data from CenturyLink Field, other stadiums

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Anyone who follows Mobile Sports Report knows that I use the Speedtest app from Ookla to measure stadium network performance whenever I visit a sporting venue. While my one-man tests do show some measure of network power, I always dreamed of harnessing the results from many fans at the same game to see a better picture of the network performance.

Well, Speedtest’s creators think along the same lines, and conducted an experiment during an Aug. 25 Seattle Seahawks preseason game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. You can read their very thorough post and neat results here, with some interesting twists — for instance, the cellular networks are way faster than the CenturyLink Wi-Fi, according to the Ookla results.

UPDATE: Ookla responded to our email and let us know that on Aug. 25, there were 252 Speedtests at CenturyLink Field, a great sampling to draw results from. Ookla also talked about tests from 12 different events at CenturyLink Field, and said in the email that across those events it saw 1,143 tests conducted.

Ookla also published some test result totals from other stadiums as well, including Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium and Bank of America Stadium, but didn’t say when those tests were recorded, or how many tests were taken.

What we really like, however, is that Ookla’s tests show what our stadium tech report surveys have been showing — that overall, in-stadium network performance is steadily improving. Over time, more data like this can help dispel the still-lingering rumor that stadium networks don’t deliver good connectivity. Now if we could only get Ookla to partner with us to do league-wide or college-comparison speedtests… anyone ready for that idea?

Verizon drops data charges for live NFL streaming via NFL Mobile app

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 10.28.58 PMAre you ready for football? And are you ready for cellular company wars around viewing football on your phone? Verizon kicked off the 2016 NFL season with an announcement Friday that it would no longer charge its customers for data used while watching live NFL games via the NFL Mobile app, perhaps the biggest sign that the battle we predicted is now fully underway.

From our perspective, some of the most-read stories in Mobile Sports Report history have been posts wondering about how much data customers might use watching a live football game on their phones. The answer now, for Verizon LTE customers, is easy: It’s zero. You will still need to pay $1.99 a month this fall to watch RedZone on your phone (to us, RedZone is even better than specific live games), but watching the live local and national-broadcast games (like Sunday night games and Monday Night Football) won’t chew up any of the gigabytes in your data plan.

Whether or not this type of “free programming” will spark any net neutrality debate is best left for other outlets, though it’s hard to think of a type of programming more popular than live NFL action. In the meantime, our guess is that the wildly popular NFL Mobile app (Verizon never releases figures on how many users it has for NFL Mobile, but if you start your guessing between 5 and 10 million you might not be far off) will get even more popular, and the promotion should help sell a lot of fence-sitters this weekend on buying with Verizon, just to get even the app’s limited NFL schedule for basically free.

The promotion may not even cost Verizon much when it comes to minutes, since many NFL Mobile veterans I know (some of whom are already tweeting in agreement to the next statement) almost always seek a Wi-Fi connection when they are streaming NFL Mobile games, because better bandwidth and no data charges. But it’s a hell of a selling point and one we kind-of predicted when we foresaw cell-phone NFL battles between Verizon and its NFL Mobile deal and AT&T’s new ownership of Sunday Ticket thanks to its DirecTV purchase. Too bad the user numbers aren’t ever made public, because it’d be cool to see how many fans are streaming NFL action live on their phones.

We still haven’t been able to get an answer from the NFL or Verizon on another rumor we heard this summer, that RedZone action would be available for free to any fans inside NFL stadiums on game days. Many stadiums already have that ability via apps built by YinzCam, which has a rights agreement with the NFL to allow RedZone viewing in some stadiums. Maybe MSR readers across the country could chime in on whether or not they can see RedZone at their stadium, and we can crowd-source a list. Or we could all just watch more football. Stay tuned, because it’s our guess that this won’t be the last you hear on this front this season.

Remember: You can’t watch NFL Mobile live games on your tablet, because Verizon’s rights package only includes cellular phone-type devices. And be prepared for service to suck this Sunday, because these opening-day things never seem to work out for Verizon and the NFL. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Will cellular carrier aggregation matter in stadium networks?

Kauffman Stadium during 2015 World Series

Kauffman Stadium during 2015 World Series

Over the past few days, both Sprint and Verizon Wireless have made announcements about a technique called “carrier aggregation” (CA for short) for LTE cell networks that basically bonds together different frequency channels to bring more bandwidth to a mobile device. Though the premise sounds great, what we here at MSR HQ haven’t been able to ascertain yet is whether or not this technique will help solve the biggest problem in stadium network situations, namely providing enough capacity for users on the networks installed there.

Sprint has made the most noise this week, with claims of CA demonstrations at Soldier Field in Chicago and Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium that (they said) showed Sprint devices bonding three different frequency channels to hit download speeds of 230 Mbps, a score way off the charts for any existing stadium networks. (The fastest Wi-Fi and cellular speeds we’ve seen in our short history of stadium tests, by comparison, are in the 60 Mpbs range.) Verizon made a similar announcement about CA being put in across its network, without specifying if the service would be available in stadiums. Other carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile, are also exploring use of the CA technique. At the very least, some lucky users with newer devices may see leaps in performance thanks to CA deployments, a good thing on any level.

But our bigger question — which hasn’t been answered in the press releases and hasn’t (yet) been answered in email questions to Sprint or Verizon — is whether or not CA will help with overall network capacity, which to us seems to be a more pressing problem at most stadiums as opposed to simple download speeds. I mean, demos are great and it’s cool to see what the upper limits are for one device; but it’d be more impressive if Sprint could guarantee that 230 Mbps mark to every device in the park, should everyone there have a Sprint phone with the capability to perform the CA trick (not all devices in the market today can do so).

Finally using the Clearwire spectrum

What’s also not completely revealed in the press releases is what kind of gear is necessary on the back end of the network to make CA work, and whether or not it makes economic sense to have that gear placed inside stadiums to enable the technique for as many fans as possible. While we understand the basic premise probably better than most (since in a former life yours truly spent several years following and analyzing the Clearwire spectrum holdings at 2.5 GHz) it’s not clear if CA solves any congestion problems, especially for carriers other than Sprint, who only have a limited amount of licensed spectrum in each market they serve.

(Without getting too deep into spectrum geekiness, Sprint on paper probably has more room to grow in the CA space since its 2.5 GHz holdings dwarf other carriers’ licensed bands; but to make use of that spectrum, you need customers with devices that can use that spectrum, and enough cash for a wide network buildout, both of which Sprint may be challenged to find.)

As we understand CA, by bonding channels you can make one device faster since it has more aggregate bandwidth to work with. But it’s not clear that using CA in a stadium environment would make the overall situation any faster than say, three phones using single channels by themselves. Also, since you can’t create new bandwidth, if one phone starts tapping three different channels doesn’t that actually leave less room for other devices that may want to also use those channels? Perhaps with CA the connections would be faster and wouldn’t last as long, thereby freeing up spectrum for other devices; again, there’s not a lot of information yet on the capacity side of the equation, especially in crowded stadiums or at big events where bandwidth needs escalate. If there are any cellular wizards in the audience with more knowledge of the situation, feel free to chime in.

We did get an email response from our old friend John Saw, formerly of Clearwire and now chief technical officer at Sprint. Here’s his explanation of why CA is a good thing for stadiums:

Essentially, sites with bonded channels will drive higher capacities. This will be especially timely and helpful in crowded spaces like Soldier Field where there are surges in capacity demand during live sporting events. Sprint customers with CA enabled phones will enjoy 2X (in the case of 2CA) or 3X (in the case of 3CA) their download speeds, which means that they will get a better data experience with a bigger pipe. But wait – CA will lift all boats and it will also benefit those Sprint customers who have not upgraded to CA enabled phones yet. While they may not enjoy the higher peak speeds enabled by CA phones, their phones will have access to more network resources which means they will also have a better data experience, with no stalling or without that dreaded “windmill effect” in a crowded stadium.

I kind of understand what Saw is talking about here, but I am still having a problem with the math that says all boats will be lifted through the use of CA. Plus, experience and interviews have taught us that across the country, Sprint is behind Verizon and AT&T when it comes to DAS deployments inside stadiums; and, it’s not clear (and hasn’t been answered) whether or not CA can work over a neutral-host DAS deployment where carriers share antennas and other infrastructure.

From an industry-wide standpoint, CA seems like a great thing for all cell phone users since as it progresses devices should be able to utilize whatever bandwidth is around to make performance better. It’s also good to see more technology advancements made on the network side of things, since infrastructure needs all the help it can get to keep up with devices. But right now, we’re not sure if CA is the answer to any of the capacity problems stadium network operators face. Anyone with views that can expand the explanation, feel free to hit the comments section below or send me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com.

Belmont, Saratoga race tracks to get VenueNext app in 2017

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Operators of the famed Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course horse-racing tracks have signed a deal with VenueNext to bring that company’s mobile app platform to both venues in 2017, with features including online betting integrated into the mobile app.

In an announcement Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it will use VenueNext’s platform and mobile app to provide a set of features to race-day fans including the ability to store digital tickets, to purchase food, beverage and merchandise and have those items delivered to seats, to have wayfinding maps to help fans find their way around the facilities, and to view live and archived content.

The VenueNext apps will also integrate the functionality of the NYRA Bets system into the app, so that fans can place wagers directly from their mobile devices, according to the companies. The VenueNext app will be available first at Belmont Park in the spring of 2017, followed by a summer rollout at Saratoga, the companies said.

What will be interesting to watch is whether or not either track updates its connectivity ahead of the app deployment; according to the Belmont website, that track does have free fan-facing Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse areas with limited access in the grandstands. The Saratoga list of amenities for fans does not include any Wi-Fi information.

“VenueNext has a proven track record for delivering innovative fan experiences to sporting venues across the country and we’re proud to partner with them,” said NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay, in a prepared statement. “This partnership is yet another step in our efforts to continuously improve the guest experience through the use of technology. By leveraging VenueNext at Belmont and Saratoga Race Tracks, integrating our new NYRA Bets wagering platform and our new HD Video mobile app, NYRA will create a new standard for the horseracing industry and provide the New York fan base that is so passionate about Belmont and Saratoga the very best experiences possible.”

VenueNext, the stadium app development company created to build the stadium app platform for the San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, now has seven announced customers for its various stadium-app and stadium-app management systems, including the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. VenueNext also provided the stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.