February 12, 2016

Stadium Tech Report: Connectivity soars at Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Panoramic view of Sports Authority Field at Mile High from the top seats. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Panoramic view of Sports Authority Field at Mile High from the top seats. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

On most of our stadium visits, we have to wait until we get inside the venue to start testing the network. At Sports Authority Field at Mile High, however, we barely got out of the car before the Wi-Fi auto-connected — at superb speeds. Nothing like a network that announces itself before you get in the door.

The parking-lot connection — at a download speed of 45.48 Mbps and an upload speed of 53.35 — was the first clue that football fan connectivity is taken seriously in Denver, especially so if you have Verizon service. While the stadium’s Wi-Fi network is currently only available to Verizon customers — more on this later — full DAS participation by the three other major U.S. wireless carriers means that pretty much any visitor to the venue is going to have good, if not great, connectivity for their mobile device, no matter which service they use.

Inside the stadium, a trained eye can spot many different types of DAS and Wi-Fi antenna placements, under overhangs, on towers, on ceilings and on walls; and thanks to a first-person stadium tech tour conducted by Russ Trainor, vice president of information systems for the Denver Broncos, we got to learn about a wide range of not-so-noticable antenna deployments, including in railing enclosures and on field-level walls, all part of an ongoing plan to try to stay ahead of the still-growing demand for mobile data from sports fans who come to the games.

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

The day we visited, during the last regular-season game on Jan. 3, was important for the Broncos as a team since their 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers gave Denver home-field advantage through the playoffs, an edge that helped the team reach its eighth Super Bowl. But even as he celebrated his team’s win, Trainor was happy for another reason: the bye week gave him and his team more time to light up some new Wi-Fi and DAS antenna placements, to better handle the expected and eventual playoff data crush.

“You can never have enough APs,” Trainor said.

Good Wi-Fi, but still only for Verizon customers

Opened on Aug. 11, 2001, with a concert by the Eagles, the then-named Invesco Field at Mile High replaced the old Mile High Stadium in basically the same spot, sitting at 5,280 feet above sea level. Seen by many on TV when it hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention and the acceptance speech of then-Sen. Barack Obama, the “new” Mile High has seen more than 12 million fans come through its doors since it opened for a variety of sports and entertainment events.

But true high-speed wireless for fans didn’t take root until 2012, when a revamp led by Verizon Wireless and the Broncos’ IT staff added a Cisco-based Wi-Fi network to the stadium with 500 access points, designed to serve 25,000 concurrent users and also designed to be “open,” allowing any other carrier to provide access to its customers by negotiating a deal with Verizon. While Trainor said the option still remains open and talks with some of the other carriers are underway, none have yet signed on — making the Wi-Fi network a fast playground for Verizon customers, who apparently are in the vast majority in the Denver region.

Sorry, AT&T customer, no soup for you

Sorry, AT&T customer, no soup for you

We don’t have any exact proof of that thinking, but statistics from the recent AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field — a 20-18 Denver victory over the New England Patriots — seem to show Verizon customers in a bit of a majority. According to Verizon, its customers at the game used a total of 2.87 terabytes of data, with 1.7 TB on the Wi-Fi network and another 1.17 TB on the Verizon LTE DAS network. AT&T, by comparison, said its customers used 819 GB on the AT&T DAS network that day. So either there are more Verizon customers at the stadium on game days, or Verizon customers use more data because they have more network options; take your pick.

With our Verizon iPhone 6 Plus in hand, we found great connectivity on Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere we roamed. After finding our way from the parking lot to the press box, we got a signal of 46.46 Mbps down and 46.90 up, this from the regular fan network in the stands and not from the press-only Wi-Fi network.

While roaming through the plush United Club we got a speed test of 33.36/35.19, a figure that Trainor said could change on any given game day — “when it gets cold outside, this place fills up,” he noted — and then later when we walked up to the top, 5th-level concourse, we still got a Wi-Fi signal of 34.96/30.40 on the walkways behind the seats. During second-quarter action we even sneaked up to the nosebleed seats in section 501, one of the ski-slope steep sections near the stadium’s top edge — and still got a Wi-Fi signal of 10.28 Mbps/5.00 Mbps.

According to Trainor, the upper seats are among the toughest challenges for Wi-Fi reception, especially those in the “bulge” areas in the middle of the stadium where on both sides the sections curve upwards, adding more seats. Though the light structures that wind all the way around the stadium do provide good spots for antenna mounts, the bulge areas are harder to reach, and in the near future Trainor and his team will keep experimenting with other methods of deployment, like railing enclosures and row-end mounts they have used successfully for both Wi-Fi and DAS in other areas of the stadium.

Lots of antennas visible in this overhang area

Lots of antennas visible in this overhang area

One interesting architectural quirk of the stadium — its use of metal decking instead of concrete — actually helps the wireless deployment team, Trainor said. Installed to mimic the metal upper deck at the old Mile High Stadium — where Broncos fans would do the “Denver Stomp” to produce thunderous noise — the metal construction acts as a barrier to keep Wi-Fi signals from the bowl from interfering with those from antennas inside suites and concourses, Trainor said.

While most of the stadium has favorable locations for overhead antennas — there are three main levels of seating, providing two expansive overhangs covering about 80 percent of the seating area — some typical problem places like seats near field level and in the no-overhang South stands have required some creative thinking, an excercise that never really ends.

“We started with 500 Wi-Fi APs, and we’re now at 640, and by the time we get it [the current plan] all built out we’ll have about 850 to 900 total,” Trainor said.

DAS deployments a mix of connectivity

On the DAS side, Trainor said that the four major carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — are all present inside the stadium, with different antenna placements in different numbers. In some instances, all the carriers use “neutral” antennas, mainly in areas where there isn’t enough room for exclusive deployments. But in other areas, the carriers have installed their own antennas, an arrangement that allows them to replace and upgrade them as necessary at their own discretion, Trainor said.

Field-level Wi-Fi AP (small white box next to right leg of Peyton Manning fan)

Field-level Wi-Fi AP (small white box next to right leg of Peyton Manning fan)

We didn’t have a Sprint or T-Mobile device on hand, but our AT&T Android phone had good connectivity everywhere we measured, including a 4G LTE signal of 27.94 Mbps down and 6.86 up in the press box, and signals of 47.83/6.37 on the same 5th-level concourse area where we tested the Verizon Wi-Fi.

All the carrier back-end gear is housed in a brick building built outside the southeast side of the stadium, Trainor said, since there wasn’t room inside the stadium structure itself. DAS and Wi-Fi antennas also exist in great number in the vast parking lots that directly surround the stadium, as well as in the “fan zone” gathering area outside the South stands.

Like with the Wi-Fi, Trainor and his team are always planning for more DAS capacity, even if contracts aren’t signed yet. On the new railing enclosures they are installing, the Denver IT team builds in enough space for both DAS and Wi-Fi, even if only one network is using the deployment to start with. Again, you can never have enough antennas — or enough places to put them.

YinzCam app and Cisco SportsVision

Rounding out the mobile-device offerings is not one but two YinzCam team apps, one for use at outside the stadium and the other one for live game-day offerings, with a geocache feature that allows the team to provide content it has stadium rights to, like the NFL’s RedZone channel. Both apps have live links to the Broncos radio coverage from KOA Radio, and the in-stadium instant replay feature worked superbly during our visit, showing plays in seconds and often before they appeared on the stadium’s big screens.

In the concourses we recognized the split-screen capabilities of Cisco’s StadiumVision technology, which can direct programming to all the TV screens inside a stadium. Another nice touch in the United Club was a circular charging station, with tabletop space so fans could have a place to put food and drink while waiting for their devices to juice back up. “We are always looking for ways and configurations to allow fans to recharge their devices,” Trainor said.

With all its different parts, the wireless deployment at Sports Authority Field at Mile High adds up to a favorable fan experience, one that clearly has the ability to keep getting better on an incremental basis. But like their Super Bowl team, Denver fans should be happy with what they have right now.

MORE PHOTOS BELOW

mihi7

Railing antenna enclosure. Some of these have both Wi-Fi and DAS.

mihi11

App promo on the scoreboard

mihi13

Panoramic view of the stadium and the city

mihi4

South stands have a horse and Wi-Fi antennas on the top of the scoreboard

mihi20

Cisco SportsVision in action on 6-panel display

mihi22

DAS antennas on end-of-row railing area

mihi24

Game on, phones out!

mihi25

Antennas covering the concourse area on second level

mihi26

More SportsVision and Wi-Fi deployment in the United Club

mihi14

Only accept on the scene reporting!

Verizon: Denver fans used 2.87 TB of wireless data during AFC championship; AT&T also sets DAS traffic records at both Sunday games

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, during Jan. 3 game vs. San Diego. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, during Jan. 3 game vs. San Diego. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

During their team’s exciting 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday, Denver Broncos fans who are Verizon Wireless customers used 2.87 terabytes of wireless data, according to Verizon. That total includes 1.7 TB used on the Verizon-only Wi-Fi network at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and another 1.17 TB of data on the Verizon LTE DAS network at the stadium.

Also on Sunday, at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., where the Carolina Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, Verizon Wireless customers there used 1.3 TB of data on the Verizon LTE DAS network, according to figures sent to us by Verizon.

According to AT&T, its wireless customers set DAS traffic records at both stadiums Sunday, with 819 GB used on AT&T’s DAS network at Sports Authority Field and 739 GB used by AT&T DAS customers at Bank of America Stadium. Both totals are the highest-ever marks seen by AT&T at the respective stadiums, according to AT&T; the Denver total Sunday was 34 percent higher than the total used in the team’s first playoff game this season against Pittsburgh, and was 52 percent more than the average data used during regular-season games. In Charlotte, the DAS traffic total Sunday was 16 percent higher than the number hit during the playoff game a week previous against Seattle, and 50 percent higher than the average regular-season game, according to AT&T.

On the AT&T Wi-Fi network at Bank of America Stadium, fans used 740 GB of data, which AT&T said is also the highest-ever mark for that network, 19 percent higher than the previous playoff game vs. Seattle and 36 percent more than the network saw for average regular season games. The Wi-Fi network at Bank of America Stadium will be replaced this offseason, with a new network built by AmpThink and Aruba.

In Denver, the network situation is somewhat unique since Verizon built the Wi-Fi network inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but so far only Verizon customers are allowed access to it. While we’ll describe the situation in more detail in a stadium-visit profile coming very soon, the word from stadium IT types is that the Wi-Fi is open to other carriers but none have yet signed on to allow their customers access to it. There are, however, separate DAS networks for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile inside the stadium as well, so at least from a DAS perspective most fans at Mile High are pretty well connected.

Stay tuned for more soon on the networks at Sports Authority Field at Mile High! In the meantime, some pictures from our Jan. 3 visit below.

mihi3

Count the antennas! See if you can spot the AT&T DAS antennas (slightly rounded) and the T-Mobile antenna (big square) among others in this overhang shot at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

mihi4

Denver’s south end zone scoreboard is topped by a horse… and two Wi-Fi antennas

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

T-Mobile buys naming rights to new MGM/AEG Las Vegas arena

Artist rendering of T-Mobile name across top of new Las Vegas Arena.

Artist rendering of T-Mobile name across top of new Las Vegas Arena.

The new 20,000-seat arena being built by MGM and AEG on the Las Vegas strip now has a title name — the T-Mobile Arena, thanks to a naming sponsorship bought by the wireless carrier for an undisclosed amount.

Set to open in April, the new multi-purpose arena will be draped in the familiar magenta hues of T-Mobile branding and also offer “unique benefits” for T-Mobile customers who attend events there, including unspecified “VIP” fast-track entrances and early notification of ticket sales. Alan Snel of the Las Vegas Review-Journal estimates that the rights fees are probably in the near-$6 million per year range, with a deal length of 10 years.

What’s unclear is whether or not the “un-carrier” will actually have any hand in the wireless deployments inside the venue, since the deal for backbone bandwidth and Wi-Fi for the Vegas arena was given to Cox Communications back in December. Among the stadiums we’ve reviewed over the past few years, T-Mobile has trailed other cellular providers in joining stadium DAS networks but it’s a good bet that T-Mobile will act differently in the first sports venue to carry its name.

On our quick trip to Vegas for CES we didn’t see the stadium, but that was because we were looking in the wrong place — it’s not being built next to the MGM but across the strip and somewhat behind New York New York, according to pictures of the building on the new arena website. More as we learn more…

T-Mobile Arena under construction in Las Vegas. All images: T-Mobile Arena.

T-Mobile Arena under construction in Las Vegas. All images: T-Mobile Arena.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL 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.

NFC WEST

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

View from the Levi's 501 Club section seats, 2014 season. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

View from the Levi’s 501 Club section seats, 2014 season. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

San Francisco 49ers
Levi’s Stadium
Seating Capacity: 68,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Though the San Francisco 49ers didn’t quite live up to expectations last year, the team’s new stadium delivered on its technological promise, especially on the Wi-Fi network front, where service was solid from day 1, supporting the innovative stadium-app features like food delivery to every seat and instant replays. And while there were no complaints about the stadium’s DAS, carrier customers paid deployment firm DAS Group Professionals to completely replace the system this offseason, to better handle even more traffic expected at Super Bowl 50, which will take place at Levi’s in February.

Arizona Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium
Seating Capacity: 63,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

If you want great Wi-Fi, by all means have your facility host a Super Bowl. The latest recipient of a high-fidelity network (using Cisco gear and deployed by CDW), the University of Phoenix Stadium set Wi-Fi records last February at the big game, with more than 6 terabytes of data used.

Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field
Seating Capacity: 72,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

CenturyLink Field, once a joke because it was a stadium named after a phone company that had poor connectivity, is now into its second year of a Wi-Fi deployment from Extreme and Verizon Wireless, where Verizon customers get their own part of the network. Watch for more innovation in Seattle on the app side, with multiple camera angles available for replays.

St. Louis Rams
Edward Jones Dome
Seating Capacity: 66,000
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

Still no Wi-Fi at the Edward Jones Dome, as the team continues to ponder its future and whether or not it will stay in St. Louis.
Fans should still have good cellular connectivity thanks to the Mobilitie neutral-host DAS installed last season.

University of Phoenix Stadium sees another 2 TB Wi-Fi game with big events on the horizon

University of Phoenix Stadium before Super Bowl XLIX. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

University of Phoenix Stadium before Super Bowl XLIX. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Call it maybe a warm-up before the storm hits? The University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, racked up another 2 terabyte Wi-Fi traffic event during a recent Thursday night game, but bigger wireless days are no doubt on the near horizon.

With playoff-consideration regular season home games coming up against the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, the beefed-up Wi-Fi and DAS at UoP is sure to get a workout, though there might be even bigger numbers chalked up during the Notre Dame-Ohio State clash at the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016, and the College Football Playoff championship game, scheduled for Jan. 11. According to Mark Feller, vice president of technology for the Arizona Cardinals, the two college events will use the stadium’s expanded seating, which increases capacity from the NFL-game level of 63,500 to 75,000.

Last February during Super Bowl XLIX, the University of Phoenix Stadium (located in Glendale, Ariz.) recorded the highest single-game Wi-Fi traffic mark, a figure of 6.23 TB, while the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game at AT&T Stadium hit 4.93 TB. With the Packers coming to town Dec. 27 followed by the Seahawks on Jan. 3, it might be interesting to see how much Wi-Fi traffic is carried at UoP in the two-week-plus span.

For the Dec. 10 Thursday night game against the Minnesota Vikings (won by the Cardinals, 23-20), Feller said the Wi-Fi network recorded 28,497 unique clients, an almost 45 percent “take rate.” The peak concurrent user number that night was 25,333, Feller said, occurring just before halftime. The total bandwidth used was 2.0 TB, Feller said.

We’ll be interested to see what happens in the “15 days of bandwidth,” a series of events Feller and his crew are facing with excitement, as well as probably some pots of coffee and/or energy drinks.

“We are excited to be hosting all these games, but won’t be sleeping much,” Feller said in an email.

Nebraska’s 2015 season Wi-Fi stats: Two 4+ TB games, 3.4 TB average

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

The high-density Wi-Fi network at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium saw a lot of action during the 2015 football season, racking up an average of 3.4 terabytes per game with two games going past the 4 TB mark.

According to figures provided to us by Chad Chisea, IT operations manager for Nebraska athletics, an early season game against South Alabama carded 4.2 TB and a Nov. 7 matchup against Michigan State (which Nebraska won, 39-38) hit 4.1 TB of Wi-Fi usage to set the high-water marks for the seven-game home schedule. Chisea noted that both 4+ TB Wi-Fi events were during night games, an interesting stat to ponder. The low Wi-Fi usage mark came during the final game of the season, a 28-20 Cornhuskers loss on Nov. 27, a day that Chisea said had temperatures that stayed below freezing in Lincoln.

The average number of unique devices connected per game was 31,358, an impressive “take rate” given that the average announced attendance during 2015 was 90,012 per game. The Michigan State game saw the highest single-game unique device total, 35,781, as well as the biggest number of peak concurrent connections, 29,666. For the entire seven-game season, the Nebraska network saw 219,504 unique devices connected, and it carried a total of 24.1 TB of traffic.

(Click on image to see larger version)

(Click on image to see larger version)