April 17, 2014

AT&T’s DAS and Wi-Fi network traffic for Final Four hits multiple Terabit levels

AT&T StadiumWant to host a big sporting event? You better have a big network. Down in Texas, where everything’s big, AT&T had to go as large as possible to keep fans at the recent Final Four connected. According to AT&T, traffic on its cellular and Wi-Fi networks in and around AT&T Stadium surpassed terabit levels during college basketball’s biggest weekend, with just over a terabit of traffic on cellular and more than 4 terabits on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.

Granted, holding the final games of the college basketball season in a football stadium is sort of a guaranteed way to push the envelope when it comes to fan-phone traffic. With 79,444 fans at the semifinal games on April 5, this year’s event set a new record for most people at a college hoops game. Understandably, cell phone traffic also set records as according to AT&T its total data usage on cellular networks inside the stadium for all three games was 885 GB, up from 667 GB used at last year’s tourney in Atlanta and up from 376 GB used 2 years ago in New Orleans. When you throw in data usage at connected areas like the stadium parking lots, AT&T reported 1,268 GB of traffic, which is a massive amount of selfies.

And remember, this is JUST AT&T traffic. No telling how much T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon customers generated. Anyone at those companies want to let us know, please do so and we’ll add it all up.

In its press releases before the game AT&T made some noise about how it was doing cool things to prepare for the tournament crowd, like putting “stealth” DAS antennas below the court. Any hoops/hockey stadium IT director knows what’s going on there; when you put a basketball court into a facility that has normally wider fields (football or hockey rinks) you have a huge problem bringing connectivity to the VIP courtside seats. Hence, the solution for the Final Four: antennas below the court. Something that will probably be copied in a lot of arenas around the country.

On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T has one of the bigger and better Wi-Fi networks inside its namesake stadium, and it was put to heavy use as well. According to AT&T its stadium Wi-Fi network carried 4,035 GB of traffic total for the three games. Is your network ready for that kind of pressure? How high will this usage surge go? Have we seen the top yet or are connected fans just getting started?

Stadium Tech Report: Orlando Magic will use Wi-Fi to improve connections with fans

Amway Center prior to NBA opening night, 2013-14 season. Credit: Orlando Magic

Amway Center prior to NBA opening night, 2013-14 season. Credit: Orlando Magic

Here’s how fast things have moved in the world of sports fans using mobile devices: When the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center opened in 2010, it was considered a state of the art facility, with sustainable design and lots of creature comforts like bigger seats and 42-foot high main video screens on its center scoreboard. But for the new smartphones fans were starting to bring to games, there was no Wi-Fi network. So, like at many new arenas, the Amway Center tech team went back to the drawing board, to figure out how to best add the connectivity that is in demand at large public venues everywhere.

“When the Amway Center opened it was one of the most technically advanced buildings in the world,” said Jack Elkins, business innovations manager for the Orlando Magic, in a recent phone interview. Though the arena had Wi-Fi connectivity for luxury suites and for media, and a neutral-host DAS, there wasn’t a high-bandwith Wi-Fi network to service the balance of attendees at the 20,000-seat facility.

“At the time, public Wi-Fi for stadiums wasn’t [economically] viable,” Elkins said. But like smartphone design, Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment got cheaper, better and faster, and the arena team started making plans to deploy a network as quickly as possible, with an important caveat: They wanted to own the network themselves, to better take advantage of its ability to collect and share information with the fans who would be using it.

Amway Center outside shot. Credit: Amway Center

Amway Center outside shot. Credit: Amway Center

Owning your own Wi-Fi network

“We wanted to be one of the first teams [to put in Wi-Fi],” and by the 2012-13 season, the deployment was “financially palatable” to the building’s owner and operator, the central Florida city of Orlando. According to Elkins the Magic teamed with wireless infrastructure specialist AmpThink to help design and deploy the network, which the team wanted to own and operate instead of merely allowing a cellular carrier or another third party to run it.

“When we went to put in Wi-Fi we saw it as a capital investment — we wanted to own the network,” Elkins said. Jeff Lutes, vice president of technology for the Magic who also participated in the recent phone interview, said the team entered into a “unique relationship” with AmpThink, basically “giving them the arena as a testbed for new technology work.” What was the Magic’s overall goal? “Getting better analytics out of Wi-Fi,” Lutes said.

First came the difficult procedure of ripping into those brand new stadium walls to add technology, which included all the Wi-Fi access points and infrastructure.

“We had just opened this new and gorgeous building, and had to find ways to put up a Wi-Fi network incorporating antennas the size of 17-inch monitors in as an aesthetically pleasing way as possible,” said Elkins, expressing a frustration no doubt felt in many other existing facilities who are adding new stadium technology. “That was a very difficult thing for our venue.”

A strong partner means a deeper technical bench

On the technical side, the Magic’s tech team was able to rely on the bench strength of partners like AmpThink and Cisco, who made sure the deployment was forward-thinking enough to embrace the latest technologies, like the newer 5 GHz channels for Wi-Fi connectivity.

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

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

“The NBA is telling teams they’ll need to upgrade [networks] every 2 years but we won’t have to,” Elkins said. “Thanks to the foresight of Cisco and AmpThink, we have clients on both radios [2.4 GHz and 5 GHz] right now and as fans get newer devices they’ll be able to go to 5 GHz without us doing anything new.”

The fewer walls torn apart, the better.

“We had limited internal staff, many of whom needed to stay focused on day to day issues,” Elkins said. “AmpThink opened the door to keep us forward thinking.”

So far, Lutes said the Magic sees an average of about 2,700 fans using the Wi-Fi network during NBA games. Concerts usually see a higher use rate, something that also happens during “big” games — like when former Magic star Dwight Howard returned to Orlando a year ago while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. According to Lutes, the network saw 4,000 users on the night Howard returned.

App rollout and future connectivity goes both ways

Part of the future of the team’s extended connectivity with fans is just getting underway, with the rollout of an official in-stadium app. And when fans access the network for the first time, they are presented with a registration page that gives the team the ability to fine tune its marketing and outreach messaging, a key part of its overall strategy going forward.

“Fans have to opt in [to the marketing program] and it’s very valuable for us if they do,” Lutes said.

In addition to Magic games, the Amway Center also has concerts and minor league hockey games, averaging about 150 events during a calendar year. Since the city attracts tourists from all over the world for conventions and its theme parks, Lutes said the arena also attracts an interesting out-of-town crowd who may be taking in an NBA game during their visit to the city. So it’s important for the team and city ownership to know as much as possible about who is coming through the arena doors.

With the team’s analytics implementation, the Magic can tailor marketing messages for specific types of fans. Though people might worry about getting a bunch of spammy email if they opt in, Lutes said the team’s system works in the opposite manner.

“Our business analytics group can quickly tell if a marketing campaign is effective, and if it’s not we shut it down,” Lutes said. “We don’t blast a lot of messages. It’s less intrusive and more effective.”

And it’s all based on data accumulated via the network the Magic made sure it owned.

“We wouldn’t have access to this type of information if we didn’t own the Wi-Fi network,” Lutes said. “It sets the stage for more personalized messages down the road.”

NBC offers (limited) free live streaming as part of huge Winter Olympics online effort

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NBC has a pair of apps that enable live streaming of the XXII Winter Olympics games that will start today and has worked to smooth the way for users with a temporary free pass that will enable them to watch the games prior to proper verifications.

The free viewing time is a bonus one that diminishes the more it is used, but it should be plenty of time for a viewer to go through the verification process while not missing an event, or at least part of an event. Unverified viewers will initially start with a one-time 30-minute temporary pass the first time they start streaming a live event. After that it is just a courtesy, really just showing you what you are missing by allowing 5 minutes of viewing per day for unverified users.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE MAIN NBC OLYMPICS SITE

Campbell Foster, director of product marketing for Adobe Primetime, the infrastructure software being used by NBC for the Olympics online streaming, said that the free verification trials are designed to simply help people watch more sports, faster.

“When you don’t require the [verification] login, the engagement rate is 3x,” Foster said in a phone interview. He also noted that even many paying subscribers either aren’t aware they even have a cable contract password, and if they are aware, many don’t know it. The grace periods, he said, lets people start watching action online while they look up their subscription records, instead of reversing that process.

Two apps: One for live coverage, one for highlights

If you want to watch the games online from a mobile device, here is the official explanation from NBC about which app you want — NBC Sports Live Extra, or NBC Olympics Highlights and Results:

“For the first time ever, the NBC Sports Live Extra app will live stream every Winter Olympics competition. In all, the app will live stream more than 1,000 total programming hours, including all 15 sports, the awarding of all 98 medal events and exclusive event rewinds. NBC Sports Live Extra will also live stream the Olympic content that airs on NBC and the four NBCU cable channels carrying coverage of the Sochi Games — NBCSN, MSNBC, CNBC and USA Network. The app will also feature full event replays, exclusive highlights, events schedules, TV listings, and customizable event alerts.”

And:

“The NBC Olympics Highlights and Results app is the exclusive home for NBC Olympics’ award-winning coverage, including short-form highlights, television and streaming schedules, and NBCOlympics.com columns. The NBC Olympics Highlights and Results app provides real-time official event results, medal winners, interesting facts, team rosters and bios on Team USA Olympians for the most comprehensive coverage of the Sochi Games.” You can find both apps via your respective device app store.

The games, which run from Feb. 6 to the 23, are being used by NBC, in part, of a larger effort to push the idea of TV Everywhere, something that includes mobile digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

NBC Olympics has, in conjunction with its partners in the cable/satellite/telco industry, enhanced the verification process and added new features in recent days as the games approached. There is now In-Home Verification started on Feb. 6 that enables auto-verification of devices by customers of Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Cox Communications, Cablevision’s Optimum TV and Midcontinent Communications (Midco). It is able to do this because it has the ability to recognize customers’ IP addresses and cross-references those addresses with subscriber accounts.

“If you are using a device on the home network that is the same as your paid TV subscription, you won’t have to log in,” said Adobe’s Foster. “It’s just part of NBC Sports setting the vanguard for a better user experience.”

A second and very interesting feature is the addition of cross domain verification. What this does is accept the registration of customers that had previously verified their subscriptions with Adobe Pass on NBCUniversal network websites and applications.

Overall NBC will be streaming all competition from the 15 sports that are at this Winter Olympics, a total of 98 events. They will be available from either NBCOlympics.com or via the NBC Sports Live Extra app.
To verify follow these simple steps:

1. Go to NBCOlympics.com/LiveExtra
2. Click the “Verify Now” button or the “sign in” link
3. Select your cable, satellite or telco provider
4. Enter the username and password that corresponds with your account
5. Upon verification of your subscription to an Olympics-eligible package, you will be signed in throughout the Games on that device. (You must validate each device once)

Additional reporting by Paul Kapustka.

Adobe research finds mobile sports viewing driving huge growth in digital video

One namesake trend we focus on here at Mobile Sports Report — watching sports online or on mobile devices — is the primary driver of the continued worldwide growth in digital video consumption, according to the latest comprehensive study put together by software giant Adobe.

In the Adobe Digital Index Benchmark Report for Q4 2013, the survey looked at digital video, spanning 2012 and 2013 and using aggregated and anonymous data from more than 600 media and entertainment sites. According to Adobe the survey analyzed 22.5 billion online video starts, half a billion mobile video starts as well as 574 million authenticated streams from cable providers’ “TV Anywhere” implementations. The survey also asked 400 sports fans about their viewing habits. While there’s lots of chewy bits to digest, the killer line from the research says, in part: “The trends outlined in this report clearly demonstrate that sports viewing is the engine behind digital video growth.”

Well WE could have told you that. But it’s nice to see solid data backing up our directive assumptions.

Just how potentially big is online and mobile sports viewing? While the Adobe report is just one (albeit comprehensive) set of data, some points jump out, like the one that found that sports video streams increased 640 percent, year over year, compared to an overall growth of 440 percent for all types of content. On the TV Everywhere side, sports events accounted for 37 percent of all streams, compared to 32 percent for news programs and 28 percent for TV shows. Again, no surprise to us: People like the ability to watch sports live, whenever they can. And mobile devices help them do just that.

Campbell Foster, director of product marketing for Adobe Primetime, the company’s TV publishing infrastructure platform for service providers, said the data back up what many other industry observers have noted about sports: It is engagement viewing that fans don’t want to miss, so they use whatever device they can to watch.

“The nature of the content [in sports] is perishable, so sports is something people want to watch live,” said Foster, in a phone interview to discuss the report’s findings. Another nugget from the report is that one quarter of all sports digital viewing now happens on mobile devices, a 73 percent year-over-year increase. And though tablets lead all forms of non-TV devices for video viewing, streams on smartphones and gaming consoles are also growing rapidly, a finding we take as meaning that the top of mobile and online viewing is a long way away.

Some other interesting points from the report include:

– Facebook leads the way with social referred video starts
– Half of visits referred from Facebook or Tumblr to sports related sites result in a video view (vs. 39 percent for YouTube, and 25 percent for Twitter)
– Most video starts come directly from search to branded sites, with social referrals accounting for just 6 percent of all streams
– Apple iOS devices are still killing the competition, with more than a 50 percent market share

It will be interesting to see how other industry outlets react to the Adobe report, which we think has the chance to become the online video industry’s informational equivalent of the Cisco Visual Networking Index. At the very least, Adobe’s attempt to quantify the surge of online sports video use we see in our reporting and analysis every day is admirable, and it puts some stakes in the ground for further discussions about audience value, ROI of mobile, and potential new businesses that can be crafted from the idea that a new audience type is not only emerging but continuing to expand.

Adobe chart showing growth in sports streams. (click for larger view)

Adobe chart showing growth in sports streams. (click for larger view)

Breakdown of video streams for TV Everywhere (click for larger view)

Breakdown of video streams for TV Everywhere (click for larger view)

Norwegian soccer league signs with Cisco for stadium Wi-Fi, StadiumVision Mobile

In a business agreement unique because of its breadth, Cisco has signed a league-wide deal with the Norwegian Professional Football League to put Cisco’s Connected Stadium Wi-Fi infrastructure and its StadiumVision Mobile video system in possibly as many as 16 different stadiums.

In taking a quick look at some video on the league’s site it doesn’t appear that the NPFL has huge stadiums, but signing league-wide deals for its stadium technology is always a win for a provider like Cisco. With many teams, especially smaller operations, not having a lot of technology expertise on staff can mean that banding together as a league makes sense to strike better deals and to help figure out the technology in a way that benefits everyone.

Working with a local integrator called Datametrix, Cisco said it has four teams signed up already to implement the technology, with two scheduled to be finished before the end of the season. Though the overall deal is managed through the league, each team is responsible for funding its own infrastructure so the schedule of deployments is open-ended.

Though Cisco has been the equipment provider for Wi-Fi services in many stadium deployments worldwide, its StadiumVision Mobile technology — which “broadcasts” as many as four separate channels in-venue, which in the sports world is usually live camera feeds or replays — is fairly new. A signature deployment of StadiumVision Mobile is at the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center, where the stadium app shows live video from different camera angles.

Stadium Tech Report: Verizon, AT&T DAS upgrades at MetLife Stadium await Super Bowl Sunday

Verizon branded gate at MetLife Stadium. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Verizon branded gate at MetLife Stadium. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Super Bowl foes the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos have only had two weeks to prepare for each other. But Verizon Wireless and AT&T have been preparing for the roman-numeral date at MetLife Stadium for more than a year. Will the Verizon Wi-Fi and DAS, and AT&T’s separate DAS be able to handle the wireless needs of the fans at the NFL’s biggest game? Tune in Sunday to see!

We might be one of the only news outlets who care more about the wireless networking at Super Bowls than the game itself, but for many in the stadium tech industry the biggest single game in America’s most popular sport is always somewhat of a wireless watershed. Perhaps at no other event do attendees spend so much time shooting selfies and posting them as they do from the site of Super Bowl Sunday. Even in the expected cold, it should be no different this week at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where game time is scheduled for around 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

But well before that, fans will be testing the Verizon-built Wi-Fi network and both of the big carriers’ DAS deployments inside MetLife. According to reps from both companies that we spoke with last week, the carriers are ready.

Verizon spokesman David Samberg told us via email last week that an upgrade of the Verizon DAS in MetLife this past season means there are now more than 500 DAS antennas inside the facility. See some of the photos provided by Verizon that show the clever hiding spots Verizon engineers have found over the last 18 months as they’ve added capacity to a network built just a few years ago.

AT&T has also put in a brand-new DAS over the past year, with another 500-plus antennas of its own. “For the last year or so we’ve been working on our pre-game and game day network playbook in an effort to provide the best possible wireless experience for our customers,” said Michael Maus, assistant vice president of network services at AT&T, via email. “In anticipation of the huge volume of data and voice usage expected [for the Super Bowl], we’ve built a new state of the art antenna system inside the stadium, we’re rolling in portable cell sites both at the stadium, and to support the tailgate areas, and we’ve augmented coverage in New York City to support the activities there.”

Rooftop DAS equipment. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Rooftop DAS equipment. Credit: Verizon Wireless

For Verizon’s own customers, 4G LTE capacity at MetLife has been quadrupled since last year, according to Samberg, who said that all stadium upgrades were completed by October, giving Verizon multiple chances to test its system against crowds at New York Giants and New York Jets home games. So far, Samberg said, so good.

More traffic than last year’s Super Bowl already

While yours truly opined earlier this year that this year’s Super Bowl might not set a wireless traffic record, we didn’t take into account some simple numbers — mainly, that MetLife Stadium’s official capacity of 82,566 is bigger than the Superdome’s 72,003. So, even if it’s cold, having 10,000 more people on hand probably means more bandwidth consumed, even if this year’s game doesn’t have a power blackout in the second half. (And even if it does, Samberg said the network shouldn’t go down since Verizon has backup power supplies on hand.)

Find the DAS antenna! Credit: Verizon Wireless

Find the DAS antenna! Credit: Verizon Wireless

Our only problem with record wireless numbers from Sunday’s game is that we probably won’t ever see an actual number, since Verizon historically shies away from providing a score. Instead it just issues press releases saying things like “way more traffic this year than last!” and then expects us all to believe that without numbers. The good news for fans at the game is that the in-stadium Wi-Fi network, also built by Verizon, is free and open to customers of all carriers, or basically anyone with a device that has a Wi-Fi chip. But Verizon, like big competitor AT&T, has been beefing up its DAS installations significantly because most people try cellular first, even at stadiums, before instructing their phones to find a Wi-Fi network. AT&T, to its credit, usually does deliver a wireless scorecard quickly after big events. So at least from AT&T’s perspective we should find out if this year’s game sets another record.

Aside from the stadium improvements, Verizon will be showing a demonstration of a technology this week that could make DAS more of a competitor to Wi-Fi on the high bandwidth side of things. Called LTE multicast, the technology basically establishes set channels for LTE devices that will “broadcast” video, like a TV channel. (This idea is similar to the StadiumVision Mobile technology Cisco uses at stadiums like Barclays Center.) Theoretically, LTE multicast could let fans use a cellular connection to view multiple video streams, something you would need to use Wi-Fi for it to have any chance of working. But the multicast demo won’t take place at MetLife, but instead at Bryant Park in Manhattan this week. If you are in the city, check out the demo and let us know what you think.

No NFL Mobile at MetLife

And here’s something else you won’t be able to use at MetLife during the Super Bowl: Verizon’s own NFL Mobile app, which outside the stadium will be the only smartphone platform you’ll be able to watch the game on. (The Fox streaming site and app will only work with tablets and desktops or laptops, per the league’s rights agreement with Verizon.) Next year, the rights for NFL Mobile will change and if the local game (like, say, the Super Bowl) is on TV, you’ll be able to use NFL Mobile to watch it even if you’re at the stadium. But not this year! (To give one answer as to why, if you are at the game, you might want to watch it on your cell phone, we say: Bathroom or beer lines!)

More stadium infrastructure photos below:

AT&T DAS antennas at MetLife. Credit: AT&T

AT&T DAS antennas at MetLife. Credit: AT&T

AT&T's new head-end building at MetLife, where its DAS gear is housed. Credit: AT&T

AT&T’s new head-end building at MetLife, where its DAS gear is housed. Credit: AT&T

Inside the AT&T head-end building at MetLife. Cables! Credit: AT&T

Inside the AT&T head-end building at MetLife. Cables! Credit: AT&T