October 4, 2015

Buffalo on top of NFL… in AT&T DAS usage, anyway

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium

These numbers are over a week old but it’s still interesting to peruse the DAS data sent our way by the folks at AT&T, who found that Buffalo Bills fans (or at least the people at the Buffalo Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 20) used 1.226 terabytes of wireless data on the AT&T network at the stadium.

Granted, the Bills fans in the audience may not have been thrilled at the 40-32 victory for the visiting Patriots, but having the defending Super Bowl champs in town is probably a very likely reason there was more device use there than at any other stadium with an AT&T DAS that weekend. According to the AT&T totals, Kansas City was second in DAS use for the NFL games weekend of Sept. 17-21 with 876 GB used, followed by New Orleans (852 GB), Chicago (645 GB) and Washington, D.C. (627 GB). Remember, these totals reflect ONLY the AT&T customer use on the AT&T networks at the stadiums in the cities mentioned.

Any other large wireless carriers out there who would like to send us their stats, we will print them. Just sayin’.

On the collegiate side of things that weekend we have an old favorite and a new rising star at the top of the AT&T DAS list, with the University of Miami’s OT thriller 36-33 win over Nebraska at Sun Life Stadium racking up 1.228 TB of data.

Scoreboard, Kyle Field

Scoreboard, Kyle Field

With its new seats, Sun Life seems to have kept its old great network, which last year recorded some of the highest data totals anywhere, for both college and pro games.

In second place was Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, where (as far as we can tell) the new fiber-based DAS and Wi-Fi network isn’t even fully functional yet, but it still recorded a healthy 1.030 TB on the AT&T DAS network during a 44-27 Aggies win over Nevada. We are looking forward to seeing stats from Oct. 17, when Alabama comes to town (and all network systems should be fully functional).

Rounding out the top-five list for college stadiums on the AT&T network that weekend was Alabama with 993 GB used; LSU (927 GB) and Oklahoma (902 GB) were next in line.

Husker Wi-Fi: Nebraska fans use 4.2 TB of Wi-Fi data during Sept. 12 home game

It looks like we have an early leader in the (unofficial) college football Wi-Fi usage race, as the University of Nebraska folks are claiming that fans at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., used 4.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi data during the Huskers’ Sept. 12 victory over South Alabama.

Thanks to Chad Chisea, IT operations manager for the Huskers and Dan Floyd, Nebraska’s director of IT for athletics, we’ve got some stats and tweets to share — of the 4.2 TB, approximately 3.0 TB was downloaded data and 1.2 was uploaded, according to network stats sent to us via email. But if you look at the embedded tweet below, the numbers that really jump out at us are the 34,439 unique connected devices and the 28,290 peak connections at a single time — those are numbers that rival anything we’ve seen in NFL stadiums, and are dwarfed only by Super Bowl or college playoff championship game numbers.

With 89,822 in attendance to watch Nebraska whup up on South Alabama 48-9, it’s perhaps no surprise that there are pro-type numbers being put up on the Wi-Fi scoreboard. With a top deployment from Cisco and CDW put in last year, the Memorial Stadium Wi-Fi should be on par with any other large football stadium, and so far the numbers from Nebraska look to be proof of that idea. The Huskers also seem to have a good handle on promoting the Wi-Fi network, as witnessed by the two tweets below that direct fans to the network and let them know they also have game-day help available.

We’re looking forward to getting some hard stats from other top college venues — so far we’ve heard anecdotal evidence that the fiber-based network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is rocking, but no numbers yet — so send them our way, and let’s see how the stadium networks stack up. Right now it’s Big Red in the lead, but if DAS numbers from AT&T are any indication, there is lots more data being used this year in stadiums so let’s start adding up the scores.

Levi’s Stadium Monday Night Football debut sees 2.87 TB of Wi-Fi traffic, 874 GB on AT&T DAS

Levi's Stadium during its inaugural Monday Night Football game. Photo: Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium during its inaugural Monday Night Football game. Photo: Levi’s Stadium

For its first-ever Monday Night Football game, Levi’s Stadium saw 2.87 terabytes of data cross its Wi-Fi network, with an additional 874 GB traversing the AT&T cellular DAS network during the Niners’ somewhat surprising 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

With the confirmed numbers bumping up against the 4 TB mark — and if you add in the probable (but unreported) 1 TB or more that was used by Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile customers on the Levi’s Stadium DAS — it’s readily apparent that usage of wireless data inside stadiums is only continuing to grow, with no top end yet in sight.

Though the Wi-Fi mark didn’t hit the same heights as the 3.3 TB number recorded at the first regular-season opener at Levi’s Stadium last fall, it’s impressive nonetheless because of the game’s somewhat lower profile given the modest expectations for a Niners team that has suffered through an exceptionally strange offseason that saw its high-profile coach Jim Harbaugh leave for the University of Michigan, and a number of top players retire, like star linebacker Patrick Willis, or depart, like running back Frank Gore, who went to Indianapolis.

And with the new-car buzz somewhat gone from Levi’s Stadium if almost 3 TB of Wi-Fi is a “regular” mark you have to start wondering what the totals are going to be like when Super Bowl 50 comes to the venue in February. On the DAS side of things, the cellular traffic generated by AT&T customers at Levi’s Stadium Monday night was the second-highest in the NFL venues measured by AT&T, trailing only the traffic at namesake AT&T Stadium, where AT&T saw 1.107 TB of DAS traffic during the Cowboys’ opening-game victory over the New York Giants. According to AT&T, DAS traffic at NFL stadiums during the first week of games was up 46 percent compared to the first week of games in 2014. We’ll have a separate post on college DAS traffic tomorrow, which is also up. Thanks to the Niners for the data chart below.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 9.40.52 PM

DGP upgrades Levi’s Stadium DAS in preparation for Super Bowl 50

New 'chiclet' DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi's Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

New ‘chiclet’ DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi’s Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After deploying one of the biggest and most robust stadium DAS networks at Levi’s Stadium last year, what did DAS Group Professionals do for an encore?

How about completely re-deploying a new DAS at Levi’s Stadium during the football offseason, just about doubling the capacity in a construction project that took place at a “live” venue instead of one under construction?

The ambitious renovation of the not-quite-1-year-old Levi’s Stadium DAS was all done in the name of Super Bowl 50, the NFL’s big game that is coming to Levi’s Stadium in February 2016. According to DGP president Steve Dutto, the huge jump in wireless traffic statistics at Super Bowl XLIX last February got the major wireless carriers working early to assure that the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl would have enough cellular capacity.

In addition to new antennas from DAS gear supplier JMA Wireless that can be more finely tuned, and more antennas and remote units to beef up coverage and support more cell sectors inside Levi’s Stadium, DGP and stadium owner the San Francisco 49ers also increased the DAS footprint outside the stadium in the adjacent parking lots, addressing what Niners COO Al Guido told MSR was a “primary concern” heard from fans during the inaugural Levi’s Stadium season.

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Though work on the DAS will likely continue throughout the season, most of the construction and deployments were expected to be in place for the Niners’ regular season opener tonight versus the Minnesota Vikings.

Ready for another ‘Super’ cellular day

Though the unofficial totals for DAS traffic at the last Super Bowl that were in excess of 6 terabytes were the highest we’ve ever seen reported, DGP’s Dutto said that the top wireless carriers are expecting as much as 2.5 times that amount of traffic at Super Bowl 50, a load that might have swamped even the previously robust Levi’s Stadium DAS.

“The [cellular] traffic at the Super Bowl this past year was greater than anything anybody had seen,” Dutto said in a recent interview at Levi’s Stadium. All the carriers, he said, were “amazed” at the traffic jump from the year before, when AT&T and Verizon Wireless reported a combined total of about 2.5 TB of cellular data at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. (For what it’s worth the Wi-Fi traffic also just about doubled, from 3.3 TB to 6.23 TB.)

The DGP team at Levi's for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

The DGP team at Levi’s for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

So even though the Levi’s Stadium DAS performed exceedingly well — according to Dutto “we turned it on and from day one it exceeded expectations” — and that there wasn’t any capacity problems during the Niners’ 2014 season, the expected impending crush coming in February spurred what Dutto called “carrier-driven upgrades” that included the need to take over some previous storage-room space to house the increased amount of head-end gear.

Under seat DAS antennas part of the upgrade

Inside the stadium itself, Dutto said that Verizon will expand its coverage from 60 to 80 sectors, while AT&T will increase from 45 to 54 or more sectors. DGP will increase its “zones” of coverage in the main seating bowl from 23 to 40, and will go from 250 antennas to 400, and from 330 remote units to 450. There will also be plenty of new antennas from JMA that Dutto said have “greater gain and sharper patterns” to enhance coverage.

“It’s almost like deploying twice the network in the same amount of time,” Dutto said. The other big difference from last year, however, was that Levi’s Stadium was open for events this past football offseason, from WrestleMania 31 to a NHL Stadium Series game to concerts with the Grateful Dead and Taylor Swift.

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Though there was more than enough cabling areas and pathways to make the retrofit easier, Dutto said working around the live events increased the deployment degree of difficulty. But even with new head end rooms and extras like under-seat DAS antennas (a new deployment method at Levi’s Stadium for DAS), 20-plus new antenna placements in the parking lot and the accomodation of new 2.5-GHz spectrum for Sprint, Dutto said that the new network was expected to be at least “90 percent complete” before the season’s start.

As is regular with lead-ups to Super Bowls, there will likely be even more network tweaking and adjustment up until the last minute before kickoff on Feb. 7, 2016.

A ‘heart-attack” moment and hot dog machines

With any luck, the new network will work as well as the old one, and will hopefully light up without the “heart attack moment” that happened just before opening day last fall. Dutto and his team of Derek Cotton, director of engineering, and Vince Gamick, DGP’s vice president and COO, told of coming to Levi’s Stadium for the regular season opener last September and almost keeling over when they couldn’t detect the DAS network anywhere inside the building.

As it turns out, Dutto said that the major wireless carriers had forgot to turn down the power on their macro towers at the cell sites that surround Levi’s Stadium, which basically overwhelmed the internal network since Dutto said the outdoor cell sites operate at 80 watts, compared to the 2-watt in-stadium DAS network.

“There are six cell sites within hundreds of feet [of Levi's Stadium] and since they hadn’t turned them down, we couldn’t see the network in the stadium,” said Dutto, whose pulse was revived when the situation was quickly rectified.

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

At least the Levi’s Stadium DAS couldn’t be turned off by stadium workers or blacked out by hot dog machines, problems that DGP encountered at the Niners’ old home, Candlestick Park, where DGP deployed a test DAS in the 49ers’ final season there in 2013. According to Dutto, for some reason the DGP network was connected by utility PG&E to the same electrical routes as the cookers for stadium hot dogs — and when those were turned on one Sunday the system was overloaded, bringing the DAS down with sausages.

The Candlestick DAS also suffered an outage when the park rangers who lived at the stadium thought the equipment air conditioners were too loud, so they turned them off — setting off multiple alarms for Dutto and his network administration team.

Safe to say, similar problems aren’t expected to arise as DGP and the Niners prepare Levi’s Stadium’s cellular network for Super Bowl 50, a tough task but one with rewards on both a personal and business level.

“This has been fun, and the Niners have been great to work with,” said Dutto.

Buffalo Bills tap Extreme Networks for Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 9.14.59 AMAdd the Buffalo Bills to the list of teams that installed Wi-Fi into their stadiums this offseason, as the Bills tapped NFL favorite Extreme Networks for a deployment at Ralph Wilson Stadium that was live for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, a game the Bills won 27-14.

We’ll try to circle back with the team to get more details, but according to a press release on the Bills’ website the team picked Carousel Industries, Extreme Networks and Frey Electric for the deployment, which began in May this year. The Bills said the network went through beta-type testing this summer, at concerts for the Rolling Stones and One Direction, and during the Bills’ preseason schedule.

By our count, this is the ninth NFL stadium to use Extreme gear for its fan-facing Wi-Fi, a signal that Extreme’s preferred-supplier deal with the league is working well for all concerned. So far this season the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers have announced Wi-Fi deployments from Extreme. Last year Ralph Wilson Stadium had a DAS upgrade that has no doubt been upgraded again recently, so for all types of wireless communications the Buffalo fans should be well served this season as they enjoy the Rex Ryan ride.

Stadium Tech Report: Los Angeles Dodgers hit it out of the park with Cisco, Aruba Wi-Fi

Dodgers Stadium, the SoCal baseball shrine. All photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Dodgers Stadium, the SoCal baseball shrine. All photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Norwalk, Ralph Esquibel recalled playing outdoors while inside the Dodger game was on the radio. “I knew from the kinds of noises coming out of the house how the game was going,” he laughed. Esquibel, now vice president of IT for the Los Angeles Dodgers, may have wished for some similar indicators or guideposts as he began the wireless retrofitting of Major League Baseball’s third oldest stadium (after Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) in early 2011.

Esquibel faced multiple challenges with Dodger Stadium. First, there was all that concrete to push signals through or around. There was the size of the Chavez Ravine venue and its far-flung parking lots, spanning more than 350 acres. The stadium also has few overhangs, a favorite place to attach Wi-Fi access points or distributed antenna system (DAS) gear. Then there’s Dodger Stadium’s capacity — 56,000 seats – the largest in the league and almost 30 percent larger than the average MLB stadium (42,790).

Esquibel’s biggest hurdle? ” Trying to achieve the network that we wanted but also maintain an appropriate budget for the solution,” he said. While Esquibel would not specify what the Dodgers spent, he did allow that it was “an 8-figure project.”

Coverage challenges in the best seats

Initially, the best seats in the house presented a coverage challenge; field and club level seats along the third- and first-base lines and the dugout lack any overhangs. So while phones in those sections could receive a short, directional beam sent from across the outfield, the upstream signal couldn’t get back to the AP across the field, said Esquibel.

Ralph Esquibel, VP of IT for the Dodgers, with the new Wi-Fi relief pitcher mobile.

Ralph Esquibel, VP of IT for the Dodgers, with the new Wi-Fi relief pitcher mobile.

“We wanted to guarantee a premium experience, regardless of the seat,” said Esquibel, who joined the Dodgers 6 years ago after working in IT at Toyota and Honda. So by using what he calls “a hybrid approach,” Wi-Fi APs and antennas are installed overhead where possible, but also under seats and in staircase handrails that divide the stadium’s steep aisles.

All told, nearly 1,000 APs from Cisco and Aruba Networks blanket Dodger stadium, its concession areas and parking lots. Horizon Communications helped the Dodgers with design and installation of the Wi-Fi and DAS.

The under-seat APs/Wi-Fi antennas on the club level are housed in NEMA enclosures about every 15 seats, set eight rows apart. Esquibel was concerned about losing real estate under those seats; he also didn’t want to create any potential trip hazard for fans. In addition, the Dodgers use Cat 6A cabling, whose thickness and rigidity couldn’t run up a stepped incline. Consequently, they drilled through concrete to snake the cabling through from the clubhouse underneath. “There’s no visible conduit leading into the enclosure,” Esquibel explained. The profile and footprint of the enclosure still leaves space for fans to place belongings.

Handrail Wi-Fi enclosure

Handrail Wi-Fi enclosure

It’s the same modus operandi for the enclosures housed in the stair rails, except there are two APs in larger enclosures at the top of each staircase on the reserve level and upper deck, then a single AP per enclosure as the stairways descend. Some 290 APs offer coverage on the reserve level, which by itself has a greater capacity than nearby Staples Center (18,118 seats), Esquibel told Mobile Sports Report. After 2 years of use, there have been no issues with the AP enclosures. “We power-wash the seats and stands after games and [the enclosures] are very resilient against the sun, water and wind,” Esquibel said.

He also acknowledged some early challenges with Wi-Fi. Part of the issue was working with Cisco’s CleanAir technology, which is supposed to minimize RF interference, if not eliminate it altogether. If an AP starts broadcasting over a frequency in use by another AP, for example, CleanAir helps it find another frequency. It took a few months to fully tune the network; some directional antennas needed a 10-degree adjustment, Esquibel said. Another challenge was having APs from more than one vendor. “If your network is 100 percent Cisco and all leveraging the same controllers, [CleanAir] will work perfectly,” Esquibel said. “If you have a mixed environment that pushes Wi-Fi in certain locations, it becomes a problem — there’s competition for frequencies.”

Coordinating the APs

A third-party leveraging a non-public frequency would switch channels, for example, causing the APs for public use to also switch channels. “What we had was a lot of bouncing back and forth,” Esquibel said, which affected performance. “So we assigned channels and frequencies for each AP, which still requires a lot of coordination.”

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure

Since 2013, the stadium has been carved into 24 DAS sectors. AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless are the carriers presently using the DAS; Ericsson makes the DAS antennas. Stubborn Sprint relies on a tower adjacent to the stadium.

Dodger fans average anywhere from 500-655 megabytes of data use per game, according to Esquibel. During a busy game, the wireless networking accommodates 16,000 concurrent users; a slower event clocks in at 4,000-8,000. To test upload speed, Esquibel will push a 50MB video to Facebook. When there’s lots of available bandwidth, he gets 60 Mbps performance; on the low end, it’s closer to 4 Mbps. Esquibel said users are mostly streaming and posting videos and photos to social media; Dodger Stadium is the second most Instagrammed site in southern California, after Disneyland, Esquibel added.

The Dodgers have their own version of Ballpark, the in-stadium MLB app, which offers video replay and highlights; in-seat ordering of food and drink in certain areas; and stadium mapping. Check-ins on Ballpark are handled through a network of 44 iBeacons, which takes advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) technology. Between Ballpark and social media activity, Dodger fans have run up as much as 700 MB data usage during games — and the network is ready if more demand is needed.

“We don’t do any rate limiting, so if we consume all our bandwidth we get a free upgrade, thanks to a clause in our agreement with our ISP, AT&T,” Esquibel explained.

To ensure a family-friendly and wholesome environment, the Dodgers use Palo Alto Networks 5020 firewalls for content filtering. “As we developed our SLAs, it was one of the first issues to pop up — no sexual content, no malware/phishing, and no illegal drug sites,” he said.

What’s on his wish list for the future? “I’d like geo-fencing within the Wi-Fi network so if I see someone enter a club, I can say hi or welcome them, notify them of specials, or flag points of interest around the stadium,” Esquibel said, like the World Series trophy case or giveaway locations for promotional items. Alongside all the other applications, wireless can be used as guideposts for fans and visitors to Dodger Stadium.