September 16, 2014

Niners: More than 1,000 fans used in-seat food delivery at 2nd Levi’s Stadium preseason game

Screen grab from Levi's Stadium app showing in-seat food delivery option. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

Screen grab from Levi’s Stadium app showing in-seat food delivery option. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

One of the more unique features the San Francisco 49ers are introducing at their new home this year is the ability for all fans to have food and drink delivered to them, no matter which one of Levi’s Stadium’s 68,500 seats they are in. And according to the Niners, the feature is quickly catching on, with more than 1,000 in-seat orders delivered at the second preseason game at Levi’s on Aug. 24.

At a Levi’s media technology tour Wednesday, the Niners’ tech staff provided an in-depth and up-close look at some of the new stadium’s network infrastructure, including a quick glimpse of one of the several data-center rooms. Dan Williams, vice president of technology for the Niners, said that at the first preseason game at Levi’s on Aug. 17, more fans used the “express pickup” service to order food that they could then pick up at concession stand windows than the seat-delivery feature. But at the second game against the San Diego Chargers, more fans went for the in-seat option, perhaps a sign that Niners fans are learning and testing the new stadium services as they go.

“It’s going to be an ongoing education process,” said Martin Manville, business operations analyst for the Niners and one of the key tech leaders on the Levi’s app team. Manville said the Niners had learned a lot about food delivery in test situations at Candlestick Park last season — and some of those lessons are now evident in the Levi’s delivery menu, which is stripped down to ensure the food runners can get grub to fans before it gets cold (or warm, in the case of cold beverages). According to Manville the average delivery time at the Aug. 24 game was between 10 and 12 minutes, but the team expects that “normal” delays during the regular season will be closer to 15 to 20 minutes per order.

Still, that’s not a bad option if you don’t want to leave your seat and you don’t mind the extra $5 delivery charge. One early interesting stat from the food-delivery process is that the Niners found more orders coming from the “cheap seats” in the north and south stands at Levi’s than from the 50-yard-line seats where the high rollers sit. According to Manville, since the fans in the club seats have easy access to numerous uncrowded concession stands they may not see the need for the in-seat options.

Wi-Fi APs: 600 in Levi’s bowl seating

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Levi's Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Levi’s Stadium.

Some other news nuggets from the tech tour day: According to Williams, of the 1,200 Wi-Fi access points at Levi’s, 600 of those are distributed in the seating areas (aka “the bowl”), with the other 600 placed in suites, concourses and other stadium areas. Williams said the Aruba Networks Wi-Fi antennas are basically split into three types — regular enterprise-type APs for suite and office areas, regular outdoor APs for concourse areas, and more specialized versions (including the under-seat APs) for bowl placements.

– For the app itself, the Niners said that there have been 80,000 downloads so far, with almost half of the season ticket holders having put their ticketing information into the app. The “NiNerds,” the geek-dressed help squad that provides fans with personal assistance with the app, is now at about 50 or 60 strong at each event (originally the team had said it wanted to hire 150 such Wi-Fi coaches). The Niners said the NiNerds will be doing more pro-active app education going forward, doing things like approaching fans in concession lines to see if they know about the express line or in-seat ordering options.

– Though Comcast’s 10-year deal with the Niners calls for the cable provider to bring in two 10-gigabit backbone pipes, the Niners are often quoted as saying they have 40 GB of backbone bandwidth. We solved this mystery today: According to Comcast, the other two 10-GB pipes are a redundant channel from another (unnamed) provider. So: the stadium does have four 10 GB bandwidth pipes, by far the most capacity in any stadium we’ve heard of.

– More traffic stats: Though we will break these down in a separate post, the Niners said that for the Aug. 24 game fans used 1.96 Terabytes of Wi-Fi traffic, just a bit lower than the 2.13 TB used at the first preseason game on Aug. 17. The team also provided some DAS stats, claiming fans used another 1.02 TB of cellular data at the two preseason games combined.

Tech tour photos follow… including a sighting of some (shhhh!) Cisco equipment in the data center racks… click on photos for larger images.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams (left) and COO Al Guido kick off the Wednesday tech tour.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams (left) and COO Al Guido kick off the Wednesday tech tour.

Ted Girdner, Comcast VP of business services for California, talks stadium networking.

Ted Girdner, Comcast VP of business services for California, talks stadium networking.

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi's Stadium new turf grows silently behind him.

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi’s Stadium new turf grows silently behind him.

Mystery Cisco gear inside Levi's Stadium data center. Alert! Intruder!

Mystery Cisco gear inside Levi’s Stadium data center. Alert! Intruder!

Brocade router at Levi's Stadium data center. One of many. As in, many many.

Brocade router at Levi’s Stadium data center. One of many. As in, many many.

Wi-Fi gear in Levi's Stadium data room.

Wi-Fi gear in Levi’s Stadium data room.

Franks and DAS: DGP DAS antennas above food station.

Franks and DAS: DGP DAS antennas above food station.

Screenshot of food feature on Levi's Stadium app. Note the green light buttons to show expected wait times for express option.

Screenshot of food feature on Levi’s Stadium app. Note the green light buttons to show expected wait times for express option.

Obligatory Levi's Stadium selfie. MSR shirts complete the style.

Obligatory Levi’s Stadium selfie. MSR shirts complete the style.

Dallas Cowboys, AT&T add more tech to AT&T Stadium, add fuel to ‘most-connected stadium’ debate

AT&T Stadium, North Texas, USA

AT&T Stadium, North Texas, USA

During last Sunday’s first “real” football game at Levi’s Stadium, I was asked several times if I thought the San Francisco 49ers’ new home was the “most connected” venue ever. I hesitated and hedged my answer a bit, because when it comes to wireless networks and tech innovations I think AT&T Stadium — home of the Dallas Cowboys — needs to be mentioned in the same sentence as Levi’s.

This week AT&T and the Cowboys announced more enhancements to AT&T Stadium’s already powerful network, and a new toy for fans to interact with. First on the network side, AT&T said from last summer until now it has increased the capacity of the stadium’s DAS by 50 percent, with 1,300 DAS antennas now in place. On the Wi-Fi side the stadium now has more than 1,500 access points, which may be the most in any stadium anywhere, to the best of my knowledge. (According to the Niners’ press guide, Levi’s has 1,200 Wi-Fi APs.) Throw in the big TV hanging from the center of the roof and AT&T Stadium has to be part of any discussion about “the most connected stadium” in football, if not in all of sport.

AT&T Stadium's new "Fan Experience Board" in louvering position. Credit all photos: AT&T/Dallas Cowboys.

AT&T Stadium’s new “Fan Experience Board” in louvering position. Credit all photos: AT&T/Dallas Cowboys.

(I’d also include AT&T Park in San Francisco in that argument, which has somewhere north of 1,200 Wi-Fi APs in a much smaller venue; from what we hear the two AT&T-sponsored stadiums have a friendly competition when it comes to tech deployments.)

On the new-toy side it should be fun to see the new 130-foot “AT&T Fan Experience Board” in action — according to AT&T and the Cowboys this contraption is built of 40 mirrored louvers which can rotate in sync, and can show ads, fan pictures and will also be part of what the team and AT&T are calling the “Unite this house” feature on a new fan app. We’ll let the Cowboys blog explain how this will work, on plays where Tony Romo is throwing to teammates instead of to opponents:

The “Unite the House” fan interaction feature on the app will alert fans at pivotal moments of the game through their mobile devices. As the stadium app vibrates, a message will be displayed providing the particular context and immediacy of the action. Fans will be guided to unlock their phones, hold their fingers on the Dallas Cowboys star and as more phones power up, the stadium will be full of strobes, not only from mobile devices, but also on the ribbon displays and the HD video board. The visual will gain intensity and speed as more fans join in, energizing the stadium and culminating in a final eruption of light and motion provided by the louvers that will canvas the entire stadium.

AT&T Stadium interactive screens

AT&T Stadium interactive screens

AT&T and the Cowboys also announced some large interactive screens — the Cowboys blog called them “life-sized iPhones” — where fans can swipe to learn more about Cowboys players, or Cowboys cheerleaders. Our guess is that both will be immensely popular. At Levi’s, there are some interactive displays and features — one, sponsored by Yahoo!, asks fans to answer trivia questions. While it’s neat to see these things emerge, I wonder if instead of fluffy features some interactive boards could be converted into things that could help you — like with stadium maps, or an app that would let a phone-less fan send a message to someone else’s device. Our guess is that you will see more, not less, of these interactive screens in the near future.

If nothing else, the Cowboys and AT&T seem to be showing that even off the field, the NFL is a competitive league — we will be interested to see how the technology deployments at other stadiums, like Jacksonville, play out. Look for more coverage and anlysis in our upcoming Q3 Stadium Tech Report issue, which will focus on… football. AT&T technology photos to follow.

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

Message board showing photo compilation

Message board showing photo compilation

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL West

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 for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. 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.

NL WEST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

attparksign1San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park
Seating Capacity: 41,503
Wi-Fi: Yes, 1,289 access points
DAS: Yes, 196 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

The San Francisco Giants continue to be a pioneer in stadium connectivity. The club calls AT&T Park home, where it features over 1,289 Wi-Fi access points throughout the stadium. The park seats more than 41,000 fans, which means there is one Wi-Fi access point for every 32 fans when at full capacity.

AT&T has also installed 196 DAS antennas as part of its wireless network. Combined with Apple’s iBeacon technology, fans can easily order concessions or upgrade tickets with the MLB At the Ballpark app. When it comes to stadium connectivity, the San Francisco Giants set the standard.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodger Stadium
Seating Capacity: 56,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, 1,000+ access points
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

For the second consecutive year, Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten promised fans Wi-Fi would be installed by opening day. And the second time proved to be a charm. Dodger Stadium now includes more than 1,000 access points transforming the half-century old ballpark into one of the baseball’s most well-connected parks.

The 52-year-old stadium underwent a $100 million renovation a year ago, including improved connectivity and a cellular distributed antenna system. Fans can even take advantage of the MLB At the Ballpark app using their smartphone to pre-pay for parking and tickets to get into the game with iBeacons installed in Dodger Stadium.

San Diego Padres
Petco Park
Seating Capacity: 42,455
Wi-Fi: Yes, 423 access points
DAS: Yes, 460 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

After a significant upgrade in 2012, Petco Park features more than 400 Wi-Fi access points and more than 400 DAS antennas throughout the stadium. The San Diego Padres were also one of the first teams to install iBeacon technology.

The club is rolling out the technology slowly and experimenting with the MLB At the Ballpark app. When strolling through Petco Park, Padres fans can receive the day’s lineup card and real-time coupons for the team store. Backed by Qualcomm, the Padres are bringing a consistent connected experi- ence to its fans.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Field
Seating Capacity: 49,003
Wi-F: Yes, 278 access points
DAS: Yes, 460 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

One of the more versatile stadiums in baseball, Chase Field turns 16 this season. Since 2011, the Diamondbacks have partnered with AT&T to make it easier to fans to enjoy the ballpark and game.

This season fans are encouraged to be part of the Ultimate Dbacks Digital Experience. This includes logging on to one over 200 different AT&T hot spots to order concessions with MLB At the Ballpark and watch instant replays of Mark Trumbo’s home runs using MLB At Bat.

Colorado Rockies
Coors Field
Seating Capacity: 50,455
Wi-Fi: Yes, 600 antennas (by July 15)
DAS: Yes for AT&T; Undergoing renovation and will have VZW and T-Mobile soon. Beaconing: Yes – Install will be complete by June 30.
The lone team in the NL West without Wi-Fi over the past few seasons, the Colorado Rockies are going to change that in 2014. The club plans to install more than 600 Wi-Fi access points by July 15. But that’s not the only upgrade to the 19-year old park.
The Rockies removed 3,500 seats in an $11 million dollar project to build the Rooftop Party Deck. This 38,000 square-foot area is open to all fans to socialize, grab a bite to eat, and watch the game. The best news is Rockies fans should be able to stay connected with iBeacon installs and improved DAS antennas also planned for deployment by this summer.

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.

Stadium Tech Report: AT&T brings Wi-Fi and IPTV to Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 12.36.29 PMThe University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium, a facility built before those things called telephones were in widespread use, is finally getting the technology it needs to let current-day mobile devices stay connected: A high-speed Wi-Fi network and a stadium-wide IPTV system, which will both be deployed by AT&T before the first kickoff this fall.

While few people probably had any kind of working telephone when Camp Randall was built in Madison, Wisc., in 1917, things are a lot different now, as most people own at least one mobile device. Prior to this season, visitors to the 80,321-seat Camp Randall experienced the frustration familiar to many who visit crowded public spaces: the dreaded “no signal” notice, or calls or texts that went nowhere.

“If you worked in the stadium, on game days it was hard to get online, or even send a text,” said Justin Doherty, Wisconsin’s associate athletic director for external relations, in a recent phone interview. According to Doherty, recent fan surveys showed that improving wireless service was a top request. After issuing an RFP, Wisconsin chose AT&T as its partner in the reported $6.2 million networking project, which will also include the deployment of 700 high-definition TV screens throughout the stadium. On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T will provide a 10 Gigabit backbone connection and will install approximately 750 Wi-Fi access points throughout the facility.

Wi-Fi access point at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: University of Wisconsin

Wi-Fi access point at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: University of Wisconsin


Combining Wi-Fi with DAS

Though AT&T executives have stated publicly that DAS can sometimes take care of all the connectivity needs in a stadium, the phone provider giant also said that installing DAS and Wi-Fi together can create “the optimal user experience” by allowing both technologies to do what they are best at. In the stadium network world, that usually means allowing DAS to handle simpler communications like phone calls and texts, while allowing Wi-Fi to handle heavier bandwidth loads, like streaming video.

In a somewhat interesting twist, AT&T — which has deployed numerous DAS systems in stadiums — does not run the DAS at Camp Randall Stadium. According to Doherty, the Camp Randall DAS is run by Crown Castle, with AT&T and Verizon as customers. The AT&T Wi-Fi installation, however, will significantly increase the amount of available wireless bandwidth, taking a lot of congestion away from the cellular network as a critical first task.

Beyond providing pure bandwidth, Wisconsin doesn’t yet have solid plans on how it expects to use the Wi-Fi network. Doherty said that innovative ideas like instant replay and food-ordering apps being installed at some other venues are things Wisconsin will be looking to deploy in the near future.

“There’s a lot on the plate, but we want to walk before we run,” Doherty said. “We’re going to be in a little bit of a learning mode [early on], trying to understand how to run the network. By the seventh game [this season] we should be a lot better.” According to Wisconsin and AT&T, the network is expected to be ready by the time of the first home game this season, Sept. 6 vs. Western Illinois.

AT&T taps Cisco for Wi-Fi and video

IPTV install at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: University of Wisconsin

IPTV install at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: University of Wisconsin

Though it wasn’t spelled out in the press release, Doherty said that AT&T will be using Cisco Wi-Fi hardware, along with Cisco’s StadiumVision system to provide the video feeds to the in-house digital displays. One of the features of the StadiumVision system that is of great interest to Doherty is the ability for administrators to split the screen in different ways, such as including an L-shaped advertising border around the edges. Though in the future that might be used to sell advertising, Doherty said Wisconsin will most likely use the displays to promote other sports.

“You might see a game feed on the main part of the screen, and then in the L-wrap area we might promote ticket sales for hockey games,” Doherty said. “We also might use it for social media feeds. We’re going to be heavy on internal messaging this fall.”

According to Doherty, the Wisconsin IT team scouted some other school and pro facilities to get ideas of how to best implement wireless deployments. Among the venues visited were the Rodgers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, home of the Denver Broncos.

“All those people we visited were very helpful,” Doherty said. “You have to pull little pieces from what they have done, and make it your own.”

And then, you have to let the fans know that it’s OK to try to use their phones in one of the nation’s oldest sporting facilities.

“We want people to know the network is there, and we’re going to actively promote it,” Doherty said. “We’ll have signage and we have a good greeting services staff who will be armed with the information on how to get on the network. We’re going to do everything we can to get people connected.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Aruba Networks as the Wi-Fi gear provider for the Camp Randall Stadium project. MSR regrets the error.

Wi-Fi APs seen above the seating area. Credit: University of Wisconsin.

Wi-Fi APs seen above the seating area. Credit: University of Wisconsin.

Stadium Tech Report: Niners President Marathe confident that Levi’s Stadium network, apps will deliver as promised

Niners president Paraag Marathe (center) at Intersport Activation Summit panel.

Niners president Paraag Marathe (center) at Intersport Activation Summit panel.

So, Paraag Marathe — will the network at Levi’s Stadium live up to its considerable pre-launch billing and be ready to go when the stadium opens later this year?

“It better work, since we’ve been talking about it,” said Marathe Friday, during a panel discussion at the Intersport Activation Summit presented by SportsBusiness Journal/Daily in San Francisco. “We better be right.”

Even though the short history of in-stadium networks suggests that any new endeavor be launched with words of caution, Marathe and the San Francisco 49ers are instead confident — very confident — that their new stadium will launch with a network second to none, and have game-changing services like food and beverage delivery to seats and on-demand instant replay that will redefine the game-day experience.

Paraag Marathe, president, San Francisco 49ers

Paraag Marathe, president, San Francisco 49ers

In both his panel discussion at the Ritz-Carlton hotel and in an additional interview afterward, Marathe provided some additional details about plans the Niners have talked about previously for the technology features at the new stadium, which is located in Santa Clara, Calif., smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. Though Marathe said the stadium’s location — quite literally next door to several high-tech company campuses — made technology “part of the DNA,” he stressed Friday that the Niners are seeking to use technology to improve the fan experience, and not just to have cool stuff.

“It’s not technology for technology’s sake,” Marathe said. “It’s to enhance being at the game.”

But he did add that the stadium’s Wi-Fi network will be the base for much of the innovation.

Wi-Fi is ‘the master key’

An under-the-seat access point. Credit: Aruba Networks

An under-the-seat access point. Credit: Aruba Networks

The Wi-Fi network, which Marathe said “will absolutely be working” when the park opens, is “the master key that unlocks everything,” he said. Currently being built with Wi-Fi access point gear from Aruba Networks and back-end network equipment from Brocade Networks, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network will also have twin 10-Gigabit broadband pipes provided by Comcast to provide what Marathe said will be throughput “30 times more than any other stadium.”

Marathe said the Wi-Fi network is being built with what he calls a “spider web” of access points, though neither the Niners nor Aruba have yet said just how many access points will be used to create the network. There will also be a neutral-host cellular DAS at the stadium, built by DAS Group Professionals (DGP). Already, DGP has signed up the “big four” carriers of AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, to use the DAS at the stadium.

What will the networks be used for? Marathe outlined four main points of technology innovation during his talk, including high-definition, on-demand replays via the new Niners stadium app; in-seat delivery of food and beverages to every seat; way-finding features to perform tasks like locating friends, finding parking spots, and to tell which bathroom lines are shortest; and paperless tickets, based on RFID and near-field communication to fans’ devices. Of the four, the replay idea and the food-delivery service stand out as massive technical and industrial challenges.

Promised: Better replays than those on TV

If there is one promise that has many in the stadium technology industry shaking their heads, it’s Marathe’s pledge of Levi’s being able to deliver “better replays than what the coaches are seeing,” since team coaches only get to see replays provided by the network broadcasts. The Niners, Marathe said, will have “a massive [internal] production crew” working on the replay feature, since replays not only need to be picked out of the video stream, they also need to be coded to work over the Internet and to be delivered to handsets. Though Marathe admitted that the video quality may dip a bit below true HD if a lot of fans try to watch replays at once, he told the conference crowd that the Niners’ stadium app is going to deliver “HD, slo-mo [replays] within seconds after a big play.”

While other stadiums, like Barclays Center in the NBA, use technologies like Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile to deliver separate “channels” of live video and replays, Marathe said the Niners’ app will allow fans to choose their own replays and when they want to watch them. “If you have a [replay] channel, you’re subject to whatever is on that channel,” Marathe said.

The food-delivery feature, Marathe said, is more than putting a menu in an app — “it’s an immense industrial engineering exercise,” he said, to figure out things like how many runners are needed and when and how food needs to be prepared. In addition to food delivery — an option he said will be available to every seat in the 68,500-seat stadium — the Niners will also have “express pickup” lanes for digitally placed orders at concession stands, an idea that Marathe said helps eliminate or significantly reduce two of the three things that make concession interactions a time-consuming act.

“There’s decision time, transaction time, and preparation time,” Marathe said. “If you can eliminate two of three variables, that’s a few more minutes fans have to watch the game.” Waiting until fans show up at a stand to prepare the food will help keep the order fresh, he added.

Wayfinding, paperless tickets and the 9-Nerds

If there’s one idea that’s already gotten a lot of press, it’s the plan to have wayfinding technology assist features like the one that will let fans know how long the bathroom lines are. Marathe said the idea was to make it simple — “red light, yellow light, green light” — to let fans know that if they have to go, it might be faster to try the bathroom one section over.

“We’re really just trying to be smart,” said Marathe. Other wayfinding apps might include a parking-spot locator, or a friend-finder feature.

The fourth area where Marathe wants Levi’s to innovate in is paperless ticketing, which he said wouldn’t be 100 percent this year but it will eventually get there. A future scenario described by Marathe might use RFID or near-field communications to let fans simply walk through a gate without having to show a ticket or even a bar code to be scanned. Some ski areas, like Aspen and Vail in Colorado, already use such technology to let skiers get on lifts without having to show anyone their RFID-equipped lift tickets.

“The idea is to have greeters who can actually greet you” when you walk in, and perhaps extend a personal offer for discount goods purchases or seat upgrades, Marathe said. “It’s a more human interaction,” fueled by technology.

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Extreme Networks

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Extreme Networks

Finally, to help fans figure out how to use the new network and apps, Marathe confirmed plans previously reported by Mobile Sports Report to hire a crew of “network coaches” to roam the stands. According to Marathe the coaches will be called “9 Nerds” (say it quickly) and will likely be college students, dressed in what Marathe called “Poindexter outfits.” The Niners are looking to hire 150 such network helpers, which would be the largest such crew we’ve heard of in the stadium networking marketplace.

“They’ll stand out,” Marathe promised.

Lots of network use — and a team ready for its launch

With all the hype about the network, Marathe expects that Levi’s Stadium wireless usage will far eclipse that at other stadiums, where often far fewer than half of the fans in attendance actually ever use things like Wi-Fi or stadium apps.

“Forget 10 percent [fan network use], we’re going to see something higher,” Marathe said. Even people who don’t have digital devices, he said, will probably borrow one “just to bring it to Levi’s to test it out.”

When asked why his team was so confident — in an industry where under-promising seems to be a sensible way to go — Marathe said that both the Silicon Valley heritage and the greenfield nature of the building gives the Niners and Levi’s a technological edge.

“Five years ago, we put together a kind of think tank with VCs and design people, and thought about what would be useful [at a new stadium], well before we ever put a shovel in the ground,” Marathe said. And even though the Niners’ CTO left the team earlier this year, Marathe is confident that his crew of 25 engineers (which he said also still gets some consulting help from the departed CTO, Kunal Malik) will deliver the network and apps as promised.

Having advanced technology in the new stadium, Marathe said, “was our mandate — the DNA of the building is all these tech companies that are around us. It’s who we are.”

Stadium Tech Report: Upgrades keep San Francisco Giants and AT&T Park at front of stadium DAS and Wi-Fi league

Outside AT&T Park. All photos, Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. (Click on any photo for larger image)

Outside AT&T Park. All photos, Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. (Click on any photo for larger image)

What’s it like when the best-connected park in Major League Baseball loses its cellular mojo for a month? This winter the San Francisco Giants found out how fun it isn’t to revisit the days of “no signal,” when a DAS upgrade meant about 30 days of little to no connectivity inside AT&T Park.

“It was painful,” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, during a recent in-person interview at AT&T Park. Though no big sporting events took place during the Feburary-to-March overhaul of the main AT&T distributed antenna system (DAS) head end, Schlough said during that time many of the roughly 200 to 300 employees who work at AT&T Park every day were forced to find daylight to make a call, just like the bad old days before DAS.

“We never really knew how much we rely on DAS [for internal operations], but having it down really drove it home,” said Schlough. The good news on the DAS front was that once the upgrade was complete, the Giants had a lot more space in their previously cramped head-end headquarters. According to Schlough, the new back-end equipment for AT&T’s DAS operations takes up less than 50 percent of the previous gear footprint, room that is likely to be filled with gear from yet another carrier slated to join the AT&T neutral-host DAS later this season.

Painful, but worth it.

Second major upgrade in 5 years of DAS

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park's main DAS head end facility.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park’s main DAS head end facility.

If you’re not familiar with a neutral DAS like the one at AT&T Park, it’s an implementation where there is one set of antennas and internal wiring, and then a “head end” where each carrier puts its cellular-specific networking gear, equipment that identifies and authorizes callers and then connects those calls or messages to fiber links back out to the Internet and beyond. As the lead provider of DAS and as the namesake sponsor of the park it makes sense that AT&T has the biggest DAS requirement on site. Verizon, which has been on the AT&T Park DAS for two years now, actually houses most of its head end gear in a separate facility nearby, and links to the AT&T Park system via fiber.

Part of this year’s DAS renovations include a new room specifically being built for Sprint’s DAS equipment, a sort of re-arrange-the-house construction project that saw the ballpark wall off half its painting services workshop to make space for Sprint’s gear. During our visit we saw workers putting up the racks that will hold the Sprint head end gear, as thick fiber cables snaked in the doorway.

Additional carrier(s) would likely be placed in the same room as AT&T and Verizon, on floor space that used to hold AT&T racks before those were un-drilled from the concrete floor and new racks were installed during the February-March overhaul. According to Schlough, the DAS upgrade (which required minimal tweaks to the previously installed DAS antennas) was the second major rip-and-replace action in the 5 years the DAS has been live at AT&T Park.

DAS performance improves over time; Wi-Fi is good too

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

Though Wi-Fi services in stadiums gets a lot of technology headlines, in many big arenas the DAS is an equal workhorse, connecting people who either don’t know how to or prefer not to connect to Wi-Fi services. Through the first 18 games of the 2014 season, Schlough said AT&T Park was seeing average AT&T traffic loads on the DAS of 150 Megabytes on the download side (fans requesting data) and 50 MB on the upload side (fans sending data). Figures for the Wi-Fi network (which is free to all customers) for the same span of games was an average of 400 MB download, 200 MB upload per game.

Schlough said performance stats for the AT&T portion of the DAS have improved vastly since the distributed antenna system was first put in.

“Just four or five years ago, 97 percent [connection rate] was actually relatively respectable,” Schlough said. Now, Schlough said network connect rates regularly hover in the “four nines” region, with a recent report showing a success rate of 99.9925 percent of all calls or texts going through.

The Wi-Fi network at AT&T Park, the first in any major sporting arena and still among the world’s most expansive, has more than 1,200 access points, many of which are now located beneath the seats. According to Schlough this coming offseason will likely represent the final phase of a stadium-wide deployment effort for the new, under-seat access points, which are installed symmetrically under the seats that are out in the open air.

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Since AT&T Park doesn’t have many railings alongside the seats “in the bowl” or those in the upper decks, the under-the-seat APs were the only choice to extend Wi-Fi connectivity, he said. Though the box-like antennas do take away some under-seat storage area from approximately every 40th seat, Schlough said there haven’t been many complaints from fans about the gear.

What he has seen, however, are many compliments about the network services, especially from fellow professionals in the sports IT world.

“I get friends in the business who come here and send me texts with Speedtests attached, showing how great the Wi-Fi is,” said Schlough. My own ad hoc testing before our interview (albeit during non-game hours) showed speeds of greater than 40 Mbps for Wi-Fi just outside the park near McCovey Cove, and speeds of 25+ Mbps just outside the main gate. Schlough also showed us some of the new iBeacon antennas, which are being tested at MLB parks this summer to provide near-field communication marketing opportunities, like automatically checking fans in to the official At Bat app when they pass by a beacon. It’s just another way the best-connected park in baseball seeks to continue to improve the fan experience.

According to Schlough, the connectivity at AT&T Park doesn’t hurt when it comes to ticket sales.

“People do come here more frequently, I think, because they know there will be good connectivity,” said Schlough. “There’s no compromise. I do think that’s part of why we’re currently riding the third longest sellout streak in MLB history.”

MORE PHOTOS BELOW — CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE LARGER VERSION

Can you find the iBeacon in the bowels of AT&T Park? It's the small grey box to the left of the other antenna.

Can you find the iBeacon in the bowels of AT&T Park? It’s the small grey box to the left of the other antenna.

Sprint's new DAS room at AT&T Park.

Sprint’s new DAS room at AT&T Park.

A close-up of the under-seat AP. Each AP requires holes drilled through concrete to provide wiring access. APs are weather-sealed, according to the Giants.

A close-up of the under-seat AP. Each AP requires holes drilled through concrete to provide wiring access. APs are weather-sealed, according to the Giants.

Bill Schlough's "old phones" collection. How many of these can you identify?

Bill Schlough’s “old phones” collection. How many of these can you identify?