July 30, 2015

Huge jump in stadium Wi-Fi deployments, according to our latest State of the Stadium Technology Survey

2015_SoS_thumbA clear trend toward greater Wi-Fi and DAS deployments is the main point our “State of the Stadium” research tells us this year, especially with Wi-Fi, where now more than half of the venues surveyed said they have fan-facing Wi-Fi services to all seating areas.

To be precise, a full 65 percent of our respondents said they now have full-seating Wi-Fi services in their venues – a huge increase from the 35 percent number we saw in last year’s survey. Full-stadium DAS deployments increased as well, with 80 percent of respondents claiming stadium-wide DAS deployments this year, up from 71 percent in the 2014 survey.

Input for the survey came from more than 100 respondents representing arenas that host the top U.S. professional league teams, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, as well as top U.S. university facilities for basketball and football, European and U.S. professional soccer teams, professional golf and car-racing venues. The data provide a clear snapshot of how teams are deploying technology to both improve the fan experience while helping increase business opportunities.

And thanks to a sponsorship from Mobilitie, the entire report can be downloaded for free from our website.

Why more Wi-Fi?

Why the sudden shift to more Wi-Fi deployments? Most likely it was the maturation of plans that had been in the works for several years, speeded up no doubt by the ever increasing demands for mobile data connectivity. Even facilities that have had Wi-Fi services for years noticed that over the past year data usage has climbed even as the number of connected users plateaued; what that tells us is that the trend of devices and apps to stay well ahead of the networks’ ability to keep up still has legs, and will likely keep climbing for the near future.

For more analysis and a breakdown for each category, download the report now to get the only independent, numbers-based research available for the stadium technology marketplace.

Digital Bridge acquires ExteNet Systems in $1B recapitalization deal

Telecom investment group Digital Bridge Holdings has acquired DAS deployer ExteNet Systems in a recapitalization deal valued at around $1 billion, a move that buys out all previous investors and makes ExteNet a part of Digital Bridge’s pool of telecom-infrastructure companies.

A good writeup of the deal can be found over at RCR Wireless but from a stadium-infrastructure standpoint there doesn’t appear to be any change in ExteNet’s existing strategy path, since CEO Ross Manire will be staying to lead the company. ExteNet, which installs neutral host DAS deployments in stadiums and also provides DAS infrastructure deployments for cities, has installed networks at ballparks like the Miami Marlins’ Marlins Park.

We’re hoping to speak with ExteNet folks sometime soon to try to find out how much of the $1 billion went toward buying out previous investors, and how much will remain on hand to help run the business. Stay tuned on yet another big-bucks consolidation event in the stadium tech marketplace.

Wi-Fi deal at Houston’s NRG Stadium looks like it’s going to 5 Bars… is Ruckus involved as well?

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.43.48 PMWe knew the Houston Texans were getting Wi-Fi put in at NRG Stadium this year, but until we saw this report on HoustonChronicle.com by reporter David Barron we didn’t know that integrator 5 Bars will be leading the deployment, with stadium management firm SMG chipping in for some of the projected $2.9 million cost, according to the story.

The report from Houston, which apparently got its information from a meeting of the directors of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., says that the deal for 5 Bars still has to be ratified in August, so we may not be at the end of this story yet. Industry sources recently interviewed by Mobile Sports Report have tabbed Ruckus Wireless as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier for the 71,500-seat NRG Stadium deployment, which makes sense since Ruckus and 5 Bars worked together for the recent Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Neither Ruckus nor 5 Bars would confirm any details, however (like the cost — does $2.9 million for Wi-Fi sound low to anyone?), so the Ruckus part of the story remains a rumor until we hear more.

We’ll try to round up more details on this story after we recover from a whirlwind couple days at the recent SEAT 2015 conference in San Francisco — according to another Houston Chronicle report, Verizon has installed a new DAS at the stadium, which will be the host venue for Super Bowl LI in February of 2017.

All-Star Wi-Fi: Cincinnati crowds used 4.3 TB over All-Star Game activities

Fans at All-Star Game taking pictures of Pete Rose. Photo: Screenshot courtesy Fox Sports/Cincinnati Reds

Fans at All-Star Game taking pictures of Pete Rose. Photo: Screenshot courtesy Fox Sports/Cincinnati Reds

Like a player added to the roster just before game time, the new Wi-Fi network at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati handled some all-star traffic levels, carrying a total of 4.3 terabytes of data over the three separate events that made up Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game festivities earlier this week, according to IT execs at the ballpark.

Though it only came online a couple weeks before the big event, the GABP Wi-Fi network held up admirably for the big game, carrying 2.36 TB during Tuesday night’s main event, according to Brian Keys, vice president of technology for the Cincinnati Reds. Almost another 2 TB was recorded during the ancillary events, the futures game and the Home Run Derby, proving once again that “big event” crowds like their Wi-Fi and are adept and finding and using in-stadium wireless networks. We don’t have DAS stats yet but it’s an easy guess that all four DAS deployments inside the stadium also carried significant traffic loads during the All-Star activities.

In a phone interview Friday, Keys said that the peak concurrent Wi-Fi user number hit 9,700 at one point during the actual All-Star Game, with a total of 12,000 unique Wi-Fi connections over all of Tuesday night. And even though the game attracts a national audience, the hometown fans provided the biggest traffic surges during Cincinnati Reds-specific moments — like at the end of Monday’s Home Run Derby when local hero Todd Frazier won in dramatic fashion, and when former Reds star Pete Rose had a brief pre-game introduction.

“Especially when Todd [Frazier] got up to bat, that really tested the limits of our [bandwidth] pipe,” Keys said. The Rose introduction, he said, put similar stress on the 576 Wi-Fi access points, but with Keys’ staff as well as a special group from Wi-Fi gear provider Cisco on hand to help out, the new network performed in big-league fashion, Keys said.

During construction, the IT team had to overcome one structural hurdle, namely the lack of any railings in the lower bowl to mount Wi-Fi APs on. Keys said some of that was solved by putting APs at the bottom of seating rows pointing up, and using overhang space for other antenna mounts. The Great American Ball Park did not use any under-seat APs, Keys said.

Pete Rose. Photo: Screen shot of Fox Sports broadcast courtesy of Cincinnati Reds.

Pete Rose. Photo: Screen shot of Fox Sports broadcast courtesy of Cincinnati Reds.

Though the ballpark had explored putting Wi-Fi in last season, the initial deployment was stalled last summer due to what Keys called contract issues. But with the All-Star game coming this season, the park re-started its Wi-Fi deployment, which was part of the Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) plan to bring Wi-Fi to all parks for this season. Keys said the new network deployment began in March and finished up on June 26, giving his team a few home dates to kick the tires and tune it up quickly for its big event.

Going forward, Keys said the four-DAS deployment — with four sets of antennas and four different headends — will be consolidated into a single, neutral host DAS operation. Keys is also looking forward to adding features enabled by the Wi-Fi network, like expanded food ordering and greater use of beacon technology. “It’ll be great to add more things to improve the fan experience,” he said.

All-Star Game has DAS Grand Slam: Four different DAS systems online at Great American Ball Park

Google Map screenshot of Cincinnati riverfront area, showing Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park. Somewhere in between is a DAS headend.

Google Map screenshot of Cincinnati riverfront area, showing Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park. Somewhere in between is a DAS headend.

Call it the DAS grand slam — to cover wireless customer demand, the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati has four separate DAS deployments, one for each of the major U.S. wireless carriers, which are probably all getting a workout at tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Brian Keys, vice president of technology for the Cincinnati Reds, confirmed Tuesday that there are four separate DAS (distributed antenna system) networks in the ballpark, one each for AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. Through several interviews Mobile Sports Report was able to confirm that Solid is providing the gear for the Verizon DAS, and another source said that ADRF is providing the DAS for Sprint.

We also had a long interview with the folks at TE Connectivity, who initially installed a 2G/3G/4G DAS in the venue in 2011, and recently upgraded that DAS, adding support for the 2100 MHz AWS spectrum. And while TE Connectivity was not at liberty to name the carrier for which it provides the DAS, by process of elimination we are fairly confident that their customer is AT&T. T-Mobile, which is also on its own DAS in the park, is also believed to be a Solid customer but we haven’t yet confirmed that fact.

Why are there four systems in Cincinnati? We haven’t yet had a chance to talk to Brian Keys (he’s been a little bit busy this week) but it’s fairly likely that it was just a fairly normal occurrence in the DAS world — one big carrier doesn’t want to join a DAS already installed by another big carrier, so it just funds its own. At the Great American Ball Park, Verizon’s decision to build its own DAS may have been in part because the carrier already has a DAS headend facility nearby, serving Paul Brown Stadium, the GABP’s riverfront neighbor. In fact, the Solid folks told us Tuesday that both the baseball DAS and the football DAS for Verizon are served out of the same facility, which makes sense.

The TE Connectivity DAS, for the client it couldn’t name (AT&T!), was also recently upgraded to cover areas outside the stadium, including the parking lots, a trend we are seeing more of as venues realize that fans want connectivity the moment they arrive, not just when they’re in their seats. We’ll try to get more details on this somewhat unique DAS situation — which was also apparently approved by the technical and business folks at MLBAM, which helped bring a Wi-Fi upgrade to the park this past offseason — but for the meantime, let’s just be glad that customers of all four of the major U.S. carriers had DAS support at Tuesday’s All-Star Game — in their own private and separate ways.

MLB Stadium Tech and Wi-Fi Reports — AL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE BASEBALL (And Soccer!) 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.

AL Central

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium
Seating Capacity: 37,903
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Venerable Kauffman Stadium turned on its MLBAM-powered Wi-Fi network just in time for the Royals’ historic run to the World Series last year, where it was found and enjoyed by true blue fans even without any promotion. A new four-carrier neutral DAS is under construction for 2015.

Minnesota Twins
Target Field
Seating Capacity: 39,504
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Host of the 2014 All-Star Game, Twins fans can now enjoy the Wi-Fi and DAS networks installed last year. MLBAM helped install the Wi-Fi network, while the DAS includes gear and expertise from InSite Wireless and TE Connectivity.

Chicago White Sox
U.S. Cellular Field
Seating Capacity: 40,615
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the losers in the MLBAM program to bring Wi-Fi to all stadiums was Boingo Wireless, the previous provider of Wi-Fi at U.S. Cellular Field. For 2015, a MLBAM network will be in place with 550 new APs from MLBAM equipment provider Cisco.

Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park
Seating Capacity: 41,681
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Tigers fans are yet another group who have in-park Wi-Fi this season courtesy of MLB, with 600 APs installed for the 2015 season. A full-featured DAS is currently under construction, and is expected to be operational by mid-season with all four major wireless carriers participating.

Cleveland Indians
Progressive Field
Seating Capacity: 43,545
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Recognized as one of baseball’s most Twitter-friendly teams, the Cleveland Indians have stepped up their game with not one but two social media areas inside the stadium that will take advantage of the Verizon-powered Wi-Fi. Formerly known as the Social Suite, the Indians now have #Tribelive, which will have its own seating section inside a right-field bar; Cleveland will also have a Family Social Suite, in a more kid-friendly environment.