October 6, 2015

New Report: Green Bay’s Lambeau Field leads new NFL Wi-Fi deployments

Wave the flag, Wi-Fi has come to Lambeau Field! Photo: Green Bay Packers

Wave the flag, Wi-Fi has come to Lambeau Field! Photo: Green Bay Packers

When most NFL fans think of the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field, they think of frozen tundra — of Vince Lombardi roaming the sideline in his thick glasses and peaked hat, with visible breath coming through the face masks of behemoth linemen on the field. In the stands, they see the venerable fans braving the cold of northern Wisconsin in their snowmobile suits, with mittens wrapped around a bratwurst and a beer.

But do they think of those same Packers fans pulling out their iPhones and Samsungs to take selfies, and posting them to Instagram or Facebook? Maybe not so much.

The reality of 2015, however, finds us with fans in Green Bay being just like fans anywhere else — meaning, they want to be able to use their mobile devices while at the game. As the cover story of our most recent Stadium Tech Report series, we explore the details of bringing Wi-Fi to historic Lambeau Field, where late-season texting might carry the threat of frostbitten fingers.

Our PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE has 50-plus pages of insight and how-to explanations that in addition to Green Bay’s work also cover some interesting Wi-Fi access point hiding tricks practiced by the IT folks at AT&T Stadium, and a recap of Levi’s Stadium plans as it gets ready to host Super Bowl 50. Plus team-by-team capsule descriptions of stadium tech deployments for all 32 NFL franchises. It’s all free to you, so download your copy today!

The NFL haves and have-nots when it comes to Wi-Fi

PRO_FB_ThumbWas it really three long years ago that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued an edict calling for Wi-Fi in all 31 NFL stadiums? While we’re almost there, it’s not quite everywhere yet and during the course of preparing this year’s PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE we found ourselves wondering how many of the current NFL stadium Wi-Fi networks are really up to snuff. Sure, there are leaders in the networking space, as teams with lots of money or recent Super Bowl hostings seem to be in a bit of an arms war when it comes to installing robust wireless networks. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers, the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots and a few others come to mind when you are making a list of top networks, and you can probably add Green Bay’s 1,000-plus AP deployment to that tally.

But what about the balance of the league, which now has some kind of fan-facing Wi-Fi in 25 of its 31 venues? While those that don’t have any Wi-Fi at all are somewhat understandable (mainly due to questions about imminent franchise relocation), what about the stadiums that put in Wi-Fi a few years ago, or only put in a limited amount of technology? With no end in sight to the increasing demands for wireless bandwidth, how soon will the older networks need revamping? Including the DAS deployments? Those are questions we’ll keep asking and looking to answer, as we’ve already seen some public reports about Wi-Fi networks falling down on the job. The best place to start, of course, is with the report, so DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY right now!

Thank the sponsors, who let you read for free

Reporting, writing, editing and producing all this content has a cost, but thanks to our generous (and increasing!) list of sponsors, our editorially objective content remains free for you, the reader. We’d like to take a quick moment to thank the sponsors of the Q3 issue of Stadium Tech Report, which include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, TE Connectivity, Aruba Networks, JMA Wireless, Corning, 5 Bars, Extreme Networks, ExteNet Systems. and partners Edgewater Wireless and Zinwave. We’d also like to thank you, our readers for your interest and continued support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, and whether or not the Wi-Fi at your local NFL stadium is a division winner.

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.

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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.