September 29, 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.

‘Super Bowl’ atmosphere produces 4.32 TB of Wi-Fi use at Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium regular-season opener

Overhead photo of the Vikings' regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

Overhead photo of the Vikings’ regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

A “Super Bowl” atmosphere with plenty of built-in social media sharing moments helped push the NFL regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium to a total of 4.32 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network, according to Minnesota Vikings networking officials.

The Vikings’ 17-14 win over the rival Green Bay Packers on Sept. 18 christened the stadium in fine fashion, with 66,800 fans packing the new arena. Even without any promotion for the network or the accompanying team app, almost 32,000 of the fans present logged on to the Wi-Fi network at some point of the game day, according to Tod Caflisch, vice president and chief technical officer for Minnesota Vikings Football. The network also saw a peak concurrent-user mark of 17,500, according to Caflisch.

In addition to the exciting game, the first regular season NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium saw extensive pregame activities, including historic Vikings player introductions, a mock Viking ship with a fire-breathing dragon, and former Vikings coach Bud Grant blowing the Gjallarhorn. The day also included a halftime show with an orchestra and a Prince tribute, a list of events that no doubt produced multiple selfies, photos and videos shared quickly over social media via the in-stadium network.

No promotion for Wi-Fi, app or food ordering

“I’m not surprised [at the data and connection numbers],” said Caflisch, citing all the festive happenings. Adding to the network usage was also the fact that many fans may have been visiting the stadium for the first time, and recording those moments, a process that had Caflisch worried beforehand about Wi-Fi coverage near the main entry.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

“My biggest concern was the huge crowds waiting outside the security area before the start of the game,” Caflisch said. As part of their deal with team app provider VenueNext, U.S. Bank Stadium is also using the firm’s ticket scanners, which run on Wi-Fi.

“We have Wi-Fi there for the ticket scanning, but I was a little concerned about how the sheer density of people would affect the scanning,” Caflisch said. As it turned out, all systems were go, even with the big number of fans coming in the large glass-door gateways.

“It was a non-factor,” Caflisch said.

Other than a few small issues with specific Wi-Fi APs, Caflisch said the Cisco gear-based Wi-Fi and IPTV networks “really worked well” for the home opener, perhaps the sternest test yet for the new deployment from network design and deployment firm AmpThink. Caflisch, who joined the Vikings’ tech team this past summer from the Detroit Red Wings’ Joe Louis Arena, said he initially “had my reservations” about the stadium’s use of railing-mounted APs as the main delivery system in the seating bowl.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

“I had not heard of a railing solution being the main plan — mostly I’d seen it as a retrofit,” said Caflisch. “But the numbers we’ve seen shows it’s working very well.”

While he didn’t provide a number, Caflisch also said that use of the express food ordering service in the team app doubled from preseason totals, again without any external promotion. Right now, the service, which lets fans order and pay for concessions via their phone and then pick up the food and drink at an express window, is only available to certain parts of the stadium.

“We haven’t promoted the app, the ordering or the Wi-Fi to wait and see what the stress loads were,” Caflisch said. “We’re definitely planning to promote all three now.”

Melbourne Cricket Ground breaks its own top mark for concurrent Wi-Fi connections

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Credit: MCG

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Credit: MCG

Fans at a recent Australian Football League game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground set a new record for concurrent connections to the venue’s Wi-Fi network, with 16,500 fans able to connect at the same time. According to venue officials, the new internal record was set during the AFL Qualifying Final between Geelong Cats and Hawthorn on Sept. 9 at the 100,000-seat plus arena.

Previously, the Wi-Fi network from Cisco, IBM and other partners had seen a concurrent connection top mark of just under 10,000 connections at MCG, according to stadium representatives. The stadium has approximately 800 Wi-Fi APs, as well as a DAS deployment from Telstra for enhanced cellular connectivity. Though many U.S. stadiums have seen much higher concurrent-user totals, the new MCG record is believed to be the highest recorded in Australia, according to club officials.

The Melbourne Cricket Club had promoted the idea of trying to break the Wi-Fi connectivity record, with a promotion that offered a chance at winning free tickets to an upcoming Guns N’ Roses concert for fans who participated.

melb2According to the team, the Wi-Fi network has seen more than 150,000 unique connections since its installation late last year, part of a $40 million tech upgrade that also saw new scoreboards, LED signage, televison screens and the DAS installed in the venue.

“We significantly bettered the MCG’s previous record for the most concurrent Wi-Fi connections, with approximately 16,500 fans able to connect at the same time,” said Rey Sumaru, general manager for IT and innovation at the Melbourne Cricket Club in an email reply. “We are confident that this is the highest number of concurrent Wi-Fi users achieved in Australia, and the figure represents roughly 20 percent of the total match attendance.

“We are certainly pleased with this outcome and have gained some valuable insights and learnings about the Wi-Fi system as a result of this load testing,” Sumaru continued. “We will now be working with our technology partners Cisco and IBM to improve even further, to ensure fans have experience world-class connectivity every time they visit the ’G.”

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

Wi-Fi network powers rich data collection at Mall of America

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

If you’re shopping for mobile customer data, why not just go to the mall?

That’s what Minnesota’s Mall of America did, not by finding a service that sells such information, but by investing in a massive and complex Wi-Fi network, designed and deployed by AmpThink using Cisco gear. And the service is free for Mall visitors. While being an attractive guest feature, the service simultaneously provides the Mall with enough data to fill digital warehouses with information about what people do both online and in the real world while on the property.

According to Janette Smrcka, IT director for Mall of America, though the Mall is only at the start of its data analysis program, it is already seeing interesting results that will likely help the Mall better connect with its visitors and, in all likelihood, improve business results for Mall tenants. A recent month-long sampling of customer behavior data gave the Mall a tremendous amount of insight on how activities such as promotions and events affect visitor behavior, information the Mall wouldn’t have had without its Wi-Fi network.

“We’re just at the beginning of being able to use all of this valuable data and translate it into actionable information,” said Smrcka in an interview at Mall of America, located in Bloomington, nine miles south of Minneapolis.

Almost a Super Bowl of data every week

How much data are we talking about? In the world of stadium networks, the most recent Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. set a single-day record with 26 terabytes of wireless data used – 15.9 TB on cellular networks and 10.1 TB on the stadium Wi-Fi. At Mall of America, from the launch of their Wi-Fi network during Thanksgiving weekend last year until May 2016, nearly 320,000 unique Mall visitors connected to the network, using a total of 486 TB of traffic – almost a Super Bowl of data per week.

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

While the Mall might not match the single-day crush of a Super Bowl, the steady stream of visitors (Mall officials estimate that the six million square-foot facility sees an average of 109,000 visitors on weekdays and 160,000 on weekends) produces some staggering numbers. According to a recent public presentation about the network, Mall of America claimed that one month of Wi-Fi usage on its network equaled a full year of Wi-Fi activity on an NBA-sized stadium network.

According to Smrcka, the Mall knew it needed Wi-Fi connectivity as a table stakes amenity, but it was mindful of fitting performance to price, while achieving return on investment justification in the process.

“We knew we needed something but the challenge was the cost,” Smrcka said. “We knew we couldn’t charge for the service.” Smrcka also said the Mall has seen other malls try and fail with initial Wi-Fi deployments due to subpar service, prompting guest disdain.

“We’ve seen some of our peers put Wi-Fi in, and not do it very well, and get lots of complaints,” Smrcka said. “It’s like airport Wi-Fi. Sure it’s there, but just try using it.”

With AmpThink, Mall of America found a partner who knew the need for high-quality deployments. The design and install company has been behind the Wi-Fi networks at several Super Bowls, as well as recent networks built in stadiums like Kyle Field at Texas A&M and US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Wi-Fi 'ball' visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi ‘ball’ visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

However, this massive Wi-Fi network, along with the unique challenges of implementing it at the Mall, also needed the elusive component of return on investment.

Not easy to build inside a mall

On a recent early morning tour of the Mall, AmpThink president Bill Anderson showed Mobile Sports Report some of the challenges inherent to one of the world’s biggest shopping venues. For starters, there was the need for custom enclosures that fit with the facility’s overall aesthetics as well as cutting through double firewalls (the real kind of firewalls, not the software kind) to keep safety codes intact.

To cover one of the Mall’s more unique spaces, the 7-acre theme park in the center of the facility, AmpThink had to design and build enclosures that look like big lollipops. This “Wi-Fi ball on a stick” design fit the park’s design aesthetics while providing coverage in and around the various rides and amusement spaces. AmpThink also figured out how to fit a Wi-Fi AP inside digital sign kiosks, so the kiosks could connect to the network and therefore the Cisco StadiumVision system for digital display management. In many places, the APs included beacons inside, setting up the network for device proximity capabilities.

From an RF perspective, Anderson said one of the toughest challenges was keeping interference to a minimum between APs on different floors of the multi-level mall. Another large challenge was simply the logistics of construction, with separate scheduling needed for the many hundreds of Mall tenants.

The mall's many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

The mall’s many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

“We own the space above their ceilings, and would need to get in the stores to run cable through,” said Smrcka. Coordinating construction was a challenge at times, like when teenage clerks didn’t relay scheduling messages to their store managers, further complicated by the need to have security officers present to keep an eye on inventory.

Anderson said that AmpThink deployment teams also needed to make sure they cleaned up after putting in APs, as any drywall dust found on store facades could result in complaints from store owners. Despite the extra hurdles, deployment of the network, composed of more than 600 APs, started in July of last year and launched just before Thanksgiving. Then the data started pouring in. Now, what to do with all that information?

Putting students to work

To help figure out how to best use the stream of information coming its way, the Mall conducted a study of its data in a partnership with graduate students at the Carlson Analytics Lab at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. By mapping visitor behavior using Wi-Fi and beacon activity – tracking where shoppers arrived, where they walked and how long they spent in different areas of the Mall – Mall of America and the student researchers were able to uncover interesting stats on things like in-mall promotions, events and store appeal.

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

According to the Mall’s presentation at the recent SEAT Conference in Las Vegas, one analysis showed that if visitors were offered free admission to the amusement park, they actually spent 40 percent of their time at the Mall somewhere other than the amusement park — a sign that free amusement park entry could spur more shopping. The analysis also showed that during events at the Mall – according to the Mall, it hosts more than 400 special events a year – visitors stayed at the Mall on average 1.4 times longer than visitors who did not attend an event. The Mall also found out that 39 percent of event attendees visited the Mall’s food courts, compared to 25 percent of non-event visitors.

During its presentation, the Mall also showed screenshots of interactive “heat maps” showing exactly where visitors entered, where they walked, and how long they stayed. This information was gathered by the Wi-Fi AP beacons, which allowed for accurate device location tracking. With such information at their fingertips, the Mall sees a future where the network helps initiate new features for assisted shopping and custom experiences for visitors without resorting to historic feedback systems like surveys or focus groups.

Data driving the future

“This data is golden when it comes to describing shopper behavior,” said Smrcka, who also talked about the deployment at the SEAT Conference in Las Vegas. Shopper surveys, she said, have proven to sometimes not be reliable, and “who has the time to sit in a focus group for hours?”

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

This information enhances other Mall guest behavior and experience initiatives. “We already have a social media command team watching geo-located social media posts,” Smrcka said. They also employ a text messaging system, which visitors use to send messages to customized numbers to communicate if a bathroom needs servicing, set a reminder for their parking spot, or to find out where the closest gelato stand is.

And while Mall of America, like other bricks and mortar retailers, competes every day against online shopping, Smrcka said there are plenty of people who still want to see and feel the goods they are purchasing. Mall of America plans to use their Wi-Fi network’s data to make the guest experience even better and study the feasibility of possible future services like personal shopping, valet parking, curbside pickup and home delivery.

Moreover, Smrcka and her team can better segment and target its visitors and their entertainment, dining and shopping needs.

“What we’re able to do [from analytics] is still changing from month to month,” Smrcka said. “But the data really empowers a team like ours.”

Commentary: Venues need to think of connectivity beyond the stadium walls

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

Last month, if you wanted a seat inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis you needed a getup like the one I’m wearing in the picture – including what you can’t see, the steel-toed shoes and the gloves that kept me from scratching any of the already-finished surfaces. Almost ready to open its doors, I can tell you that US Bank Stadium is a beauty, and that we’ll have a full report soon. For now enjoy the “sneak peek” photo essay we posted earlier.

Outside the architecturally angled walls of the stadium, what really impressed me during a recent quick visit to Minneapolis was how well the stadium operators are working with entities like the city, state and other large public gathering places, to ensure that the large streams of humanity traveling to and from the 67,000-seat facility have the best experience possible, both before and after events.

Like most travelers, my experience with Minneapolis’ integrated infrastructures started at the airport, where I took the simple and easy to understand light rail directly into downtown. I noticed that the train already stops directly at one of the US Bank Stadium doors, unlike some other stadiums where mass transit connections are a sometimes-lengthy walk away. That the stadium already has its own stop even before it opens shows that at the very least, people were thinking and talking even before the concrete was poured.

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR


Mass transit a priority for US Bank Stadium

Editor’s note: This editorial is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!
With no large parking lots right next to the stadium and only some scattered lots (as far as I could tell) downtown, the light rail is clearly going to be an integral part of getting fans to and from the venue, both for regular-season Minnesota Vikings games as well as for Super Bowl 52 a couple Februarys from now. To make that trip easier, the light rail also extends past the airport to the Mall of America, a key link in the integrated civic infrastructure.

Why is the mall a part of this? Mainly because it is also a transit center (it has a large space where buses, trains and car parking are all together) and because it offers free parking – meaning that fans can simply park at the mall and spend a couple bucks taking the half-hour train to US Bank Stadium (or also to Target Field, which is just a few stops farther through downtown). Courtesy of a recent deployment there is now high-quality Wi-Fi in the mall itself, and at many places in Minnesota proper there is free civic Wi-Fi. There are also plans afoot to bring Wi-Fi to the light rail trains themselves. While it might not seem like much, the idea of being able to be highly connected all the way from parking at the mall to your seat in the stadium is a fan’s dream come true, enabling all the connectivity wants or needs that can happen during a game or event day.

Having witnessed some other stadiums opening without much coordination, it’s impressive and great to hear that the Vikings and Minneapolis are already planning for things like overcrowded trains after games (since more people leave at the same time than arrive at the same time), with plans to close off one of the stadium’s bordering streets and to have dozens of buses on hand to handle the overflow. There’s also plans to have stadium TVs show mass transit schedules as fans depart, and also options to remain downtown for post-game eating or celebrations.

VTA line following Levi's Stadium hockey game in 2015.

VTA line following Levi’s Stadium hockey game in 2015.

How else are the Vikings, the city and the state planning to work together? In our interviews we heard about plans to use real-time traffic mapping to close off crowded exits and to direct fans to faster paths to and from the stadium, and to perhaps be able to communicate such directions to fans via the team’s new mobile app. While it all still needs to be done in real time on a real game day, just the thinking about the fact that a “game day” doesn’t start or stop at the stadium premises is a refreshing one, especially for a venue that will host a Super Bowl in just over a year and a half.

While we’ve heard of other, similar plans to extend connectivity beyond the stadium walls – here we are thinking of the downtown plan around Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and new plans for “fan plazas” outside such venues as Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field – the Vikings seem to have looked even farther out, to try to ensure that the connected fan experience goes as far as it possibly can. Again, the proof will be in the execution, but like the view from outside US Bank Stadium, the ideas hatching in Minnesota look pretty good.