May 25, 2015

RootMetrics debuts tests of cell service inside stadiums

Screen shot of RootMetrics reporting app.

Screen shot of RootMetrics reporting app.

RootMetrics, a Bellevue, Wash.-based concern that has made a name for itself by conducting tests of wireless services in cities and airports across the nation, is now starting to test wireless networks in sports stadiums, which may give fans a heads-up on how their provider is performing inside stadium walls.

Though it only has visited a handful of arenas so far, RootMetrics eventually plans to test more than 100 stadiums this year, according to the company. For each venue, RootMetrics sends an unspecified number of testers to track data performance of the top four wireless carriers in the U.S., a list that includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. RootMetrics’ venue testers also check performance of the internal Wi-Fi network if one is available, but it does not let Wi-Fi compete for its “RootScore Award,” which it bestows upon the carrier with best performance in the combined categories of speed and “data reliability,” basically a measurement of the ability to make and hold a connection during any wireless data request or action.

RootMetrics also doesn’t take into account whether or not any of the carriers has preferential deals inside a venue, which may give that provider a leg up on the competition. For its report on the Staples Center, for instance, RootMetrics gives its award to Verizon, which is not surprising to us since Verizon built both the Wi-Fi and the DAS network at the facility. But RootMetrics makes no mention of the business agreements at Staples or anywhere else, which is by design, according to the company.

Why can’t Wi-Fi win?

RootMetrics CEO Bill Moore said in a recent phone interview that such details about contracts and preferred suppliers really don’t matter to consumers — what really matters, he said, is how well each carrier performs in the venue.

While the “scoreboard” mentality does perform a service by presenting just what data the testers find, the RootMetrics venue surveys have some gaps that may need to be filled or changed in the future to present a fully accurate picture of stadium network performance. One big reporting gap is the fact that RootMetrics doesn’t use any iOS devices in its stadium tests, a strange omission since most stadium networks say they still see a majority of iPhones among the devices being used on stadium networks. RootMetrics also seems to unfairly leave Wi-Fi networks out of the scoring, even though in many cases so far the local Wi-Fi networks far outperform the carrier cellular links.

Screen shot of RootMetrics' test results for the Moda Center in Portland.

Screen shot of RootMetrics’ test results for the Moda Center in Portland.

For Portland’s Moda Center, for instance, RootMetrics gives its RootScore award to Verizon, since in their testing Verizon was found to have better data reliability and better data speeds than the other cellular carriers. But the stadium’s in-house Wi-Fi network was 3 Mbps faster than Verizon on the download side and more than five times faster than Verizon on the upload side — yet Wi-Fi wasn’t mentioned in the venue “scores” and only got a footnote at the bottom of the results page.

Founded in 2008, RootMetrics has (apparently) built a good business in its chosen field, since it was acquired last month by the Englewood, Colo.-based IHS, a large information and analytics concern that recorded $546 million in revenue for its most recent quarter.

In the industry, RootMetrics is well known for its wireless coverage performance map and its “RootScores,” which attempt to determine winners and losers in the wireless service game for major U.S. metropolitan areas and the nation’s busiest airports. The basic RootMetrics premise is that they measure exactly what service levels consumers see in real life, providing an independent way for customers to evaluate services in a given area. While consumers can see the high-level results of its tests — which include both internal testing as well as data “crowdsourced” from consumers who download the RootMetrics reporting app — RootMetrics also sells its information directly to carriers and other infrastructure providers.

NBA stadium tech reports — NBA East, Southeast Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY 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 Chris Gallo

NBA EAST: Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Philips Arena
Seating capacity: 18,118
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Philips Arena features a different kind of video board this season. The court. That’s right, the Hawks are using a 3D projection system to display video on the hardwood and create an experience fans can’t find anywhere else. Atlanta can even use the projection system to bring tweets and Instagram posts from fans on the floor. Imagine seeing your selfie on the court, how cool is that?

The experience is even better after Boingo Wireless outfitted the 16-year-old facility with Wi-Fi and a robust neutral DAS system. The upgrades couldn’t have come at a better time given how the Hawks are performing on the court this season.

Charlotte Hornets
Time Warner Cable Arena
Seating capacity: 19,077
Wi-Fi: Yes (120+ antennas)
DAS: Yes (524 antennas)

With a not-so new name, the Charlotte Hornets continue to benefit from having a cable giant’s name on the front of their arena. The franchise plans to make Time Warner Cable Arena a bigger attraction in the future, and it should have no trouble as the city of Charlotte approved an estimated $33 million renovation project over the next decade. The buzz is indeed back.

Miami Heat
American Airlines Arena
Seating capacity: 19,600
Wi-Fi: No
DAS: Yes

The Miami Heat depend on a powerful Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to keep fans connected during home games at American Airlines Arena. There’s no fan-facing Wi-Fi in the arena yet, but it’s something the franchise is considering for the future, possibly first in a new bar/gathering area attached to the arena. Despite losing LeBron James to free agency, fans are still finding their ways to games, as the Heat rank in the top 10 in the league in attendance this season.

Orlando Magic
Amway Center
Seating capacity: 18,846
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Orlando Magic in action at Amway Center. Credit: Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic in action at Amway Center. Credit: Orlando Magic

Only in its fifth year, the Amway Center is still one of the newest arenas in the NBA. Orlando partnered with AmpThink last year to give its Wi-Fi and DAS coverage a boost. This season, the Magic have joined forces with Chase and E15 Group to be one of the first NBA teams to incorporate Apple Pay into their home arena. Fans were able to make concessions and retail purchases from their phones throughout the arena.

Washington Wizards
Verizon Center
Seating capacity: 20,356
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Mobilitie brought upgrades to the Verizon Center’s Wi-Fi and DAS systems over the past year, and it’s helping the Wizards connect with fans. Already with free iPhone and Android mobile apps, the Wizards released a native iPad app to help encourage fans to use the franchise’s digital ticketing system. And as a unique thank you to fans, the Wizards placed over 3,000 names of season ticket holders in the baseline logo of the Verizon Center’s court. Nice touch, Wizards.

Stadium Tech Report: Los Angeles Angels and 5 Bars build ‘wireless halo’ of Wi-Fi & DAS for Angels Stadium

The iconic sign outside the "Big A," aka Angels Stadium of Anaheim. Credit all photos, even tilted ones: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The iconic sign outside the “Big A,” aka Angels Stadium of Anaheim. Credit all photos, even tilted ones: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Every baseball team wants to notch a win on opening day, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are no exception. So while the number of runs scored was important to Al Castro, the franchise’s IT director, his eye was also on wireless performance in Angels Stadium, since 2015 will be the first full season with both Wi-Fi and DAS technology in place. The Angels may have lost their opener against the Kansas City Royals, but their wireless networks scored big by handling more than 1.3 TB of data that afternoon.

“Fans expect connectivity these days,” Castro told Mobile Sports Report during a tour of Angels Stadium, aka the Big A, which was built in 1966. Once the home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the stadium went through and extensive renovation in 1997-98 and now seats about 44,000 for baseball and serves 3 million visitors annually. “If they’re going to come to a ballgame for four hours,” said Castro of today’s fans, “they won’t tolerate not being connected.”

Adding wireless to the ‘Big A’

To get the wireless ball rolling last year, teams of engineers on scaffolding started on the uppermost tier of the Big A (the “View Level”) to mount DAS and Wi-Fi antennas to the stadium canopy. Working from outermost edges of the C-shaped stadium, two sets at of scaffolding at each end leapfrogged each til they met in the middle – a five-week process, according to Castro.

Angels IT director Al Castro, in front of his wireless deployment map

Angels IT director Al Castro, in front of his wireless deployment map

The 15-zone DAS network went live in June 2014 with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile on board; Sprint is expected to add some antennas in the next several weeks. Currently, there are 122 DAS remotes in 33 locations. Angel Stadium Wi-Fi went live in September 2014 and now counts more than 400 access points around the stadium, according to team figures. Ruckus Wireless is the Wi-Fi vendor; the DAS gear is from Teko Telecom, now part of JMA Wireless.

The Angels worked closely with technology partner 5 Bars, a builder of turnkey wireless networks for sports venues’ wireless needs. Castro would not disclose the budget for the wireless upgrades at Angels Stadium.

In addition to using Major League Baseball’s Ballpark app, Angels fans can post to social media, surf the Web and check email from the stadium’s wireless networks. On the stadium’s club level, spectators can wirelessly order food and beverage from their seats; Legends, which operates the stadium’s concessions, uses an unpublished SSID for 150 wireless-enabled moveable cash registers and more than two dozen handheld point-of-sale devices. Similarly, TicketMaster has its own invisible SSID for wireless scanning of tickets at the stadium’s entry gates; the SSID for the press box is also masked, according to Castro.

Hiding in plain (or painted) sight

The DAS antennas and APs have been strategically installed and well concealed; they’re as discrete as chameleons. Working with Ruckus gear, 5 Bars installed narrow-beam, sectorized-beam and high-capacity APs, all centrally managed by Ruckus’s SmartCell Gateway 200.

A nice view of the field -- with antennas in silhouette

A nice view of the field — with antennas in silhouette

The Angels also use SmartCell Insight, a reporting and analytics package that helps the team track number of unique connections to the Wi-Fi during the course of a game, device types, total and average data uploaded and downloaded, and their speeds, Castro said.

Angel Stadium Wi-Fi has been engineered for 20,000 simultaneous users; there’s no throttling of user bandwidth and no filtering for streaming media like Spotify — “yet,” Castro was quick to add with a laugh. Download speeds vary depending on crowd size, according to Tommy Taylor, senior manager, engineering services for 5 Bars. For a game with 36,000 in attendance, for example, average download speed for devices using 2.4 GHz bandwidth is 8-12 Mbps, while 5 GHz connections can run as fast as 18-24 Mbps. On the traffic side, currently the network is seeing upload volume of about 20 percent of the download average volume, Taylor said, in an email to Mobile Sports Report.

The Angels will continue to fine-tune the network and add or re-point APs as necessary. “We are in the process of adding additional APs to cover some areas that, when the stadium is full, do not receive the high level of coverage we are targeting to provide,” Castro said. Those additions should be done by mid-June. Management has an eye on monetizing the network through sponsorships, and extending the in-seat ordering system beyond the club level of the ballpark, according to Castro.

He also wants to add streaming video to the network so that fans can watch replay from multiple angles, which Castro described as “a good incentive — something you can’t get at home.” He also intends to expand his use of analytics and report generation on a game-by-game basis. It’s the sort of thing that the owners and managers of the team are increasingly interested in, Castro added.

AT&T: Kentucky Derby DAS traffic doubled from last year, hits 5.1 terabytes

The iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Credit all photos: Churchill Downs

The iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Credit all photos: Churchill Downs

An upgrade to the Mobilitie-run DAS at Churchill Downs let AT&T record record wireless traffic at this year’s Kentucky Derby, as horse racing and hat fashion fans used 5.1 terabytes of cellular data over the racing weekend, according to AT&T.

The total wireless traffic (which is only AT&T customers on AT&T networks) for the events including the Friday Kentucky Oaks race as well as the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby or Run for the Roses on Saturday, May 2, was more than double last year’s total of 2 TB of overall traffic, according to AT&T. This year’s gathering also saw a new AT&T record for the most data used in a specific hour on an AT&T in-venue mobile network during any sporting event, when 474 GB of data crossed the AT&T networks between 5 and 6 p.m. Eastern time during Saturday’s races.

AT&T did not specify what it exactly did to upgrade the Churchill Downs DAS, but it did say that it also deployed a cell on wheels (COW) to help with the traffic crush from the 170,513 fans who watched the race. The hour-long record, which happened just before the race’s start, included data only on the in-venue DAS network, AT&T said.

AT&T’s new antennas help deliver twin 12-Terabyte weekends at Coachella

The two "sliced" balls in the center are AT&T's new "Ten-Ten-Antenna," so called because it delivers 10x the cellular coverage of any previous such device. Credit all antenna images: AT&T

The two “sliced” balls in the center are AT&T’s new “Ten-Ten-Antenna,” so called because it delivers 10x the cellular coverage of any previous such device. Credit all antenna images: AT&T

We know Coachella’s not a stadium per se and it has little to do with sports but when you get big crowds of people together for an event the logistics of providing wireless access are pretty much the same. So we’re guessing that our normal readership crowd of stadium tech professionals is interested in a concert story, especially when it involves cool new antenna technology and 12 terabytes of data two weekends in a row — right?

The Super Bowl-type wireless data numbers were reported by AT&T on its mobile networks at the recent Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival (aka “Coachella”) outside Los Angeles, which this year once again attracted about 100,000 people during the second two weekends in April. If you’re a music fan you may have already heard some of the stories about performers like Drake and Madonna, but here at MSR we’re focused on the wireless stuff and AT&T had some interesting new gear at the event this year, including something it called the “Ten-Ten-Antenna,” which AT&T claims is “one of the largest cellular antennas in the world.”

When we asked why it was called the “Ten-Ten-Antenna,” here is the official response we received from AT&T:

The Ten-Ten-Antenna consists of two spherical balls with their tops and bottoms cut off (like a cheese wheel) that send out radio frequency (RF) signals in various directions based on how the network engineers attach transmitting elements to each antenna. This allows technicians to send the cellular signals even more precisely where they need to go, allowing them to be more efficient and provide customers with a better experience. The Ten-Ten-Antenna is able to offer a whopping 10x the capacity of a traditional, single-beam antenna – the most ever for an AT&T antenna or any cellular antenna we know of.

Coachella headliner AC/DC. Credit: Coachella website screen shot

Coachella headliner AC/DC. Credit: Coachella website screen shot

Last year AT&T brought out the “big ball” cellular antenna at Coachella, which is proving to be a pretty worthy testing ground for AT&T and cellular coverage of huge, connected crowds. It’s a good bet that folks attending all-day music festivals may be among the heaviest event data users, given the large amounts of downtime and the numerous chances to take pictures, videos and send messages about sights seen at an event with multiple big-name headliners and lots of crazy regular folk in the audience.

So maybe 12 TB each weekend for two weekends isn’t such a stunning number — but the other factoid that leaped out at us is AT&T’s claim that it has seen data rates at the festival increase 20 TIMES since 2011, a staggering increase that shows no sign of slowing down or plateauing.

Any other big festivals out there with wireless stories to tell? Send them our way!

Final Four final score: 11 Terabytes of total wireless traffic

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 6.37.28 PMWe finally have some final wireless results in from the Final Four, and the total wireless-traffic number of 11 terabytes used over the weekend is just another sign that mobile device use at “big” sporting events is still increasing, with no top in sight.

According to figures sent to us by Ryan Marketing Group Technologies — an official outlet for the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament tech operations — there was 9.47 terabytes of wireless data used over the Final Four weekend in and around Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with 5.3 TB of that running over the stadium’s Wi-Fi network and the balance running on the building’s DAS. According to Ryan Marketing Group they believe the DAS numbers only reflect Verizon Wireless customer traffic (we have asked Verizon to confirm the numbers, but have not yet received a response from Verizon). The NCAA numbers also include usage for attendees at the accompanying Fan Fest events, in addition to the Saturday and Monday night games.

Separately, AT&T had said that it saw 1.52 TB of cellular traffic on its own DAS for the Final Four games, so adding the figures together we get 10.99 TB of total data, a number that should give pause to stadiums or arenas with “big events” on the horizon. Following huge wireless traffic numbers from recent big events like the Super Bowl and the College Football Playoff championships, it’s clear that there is still no plateau in sight for mobile-device wireless usage at big events. And just when you thought networks might be able to keep pace with users, devices and apps, you have the recent emergence of livestreaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope to potentially swamp arena networks with even more data demands. So, big event holders… what’s in your network? Is it ready for the terabyte age?