Vikings hit peak of 4.32 TB for Wi-Fi use at U.S. Bank Stadium, with average 43 percent take rate

Game day at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com (click on any photo for a larger image)

Game day at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com (click on any photo for a larger image)

While the football season may not have gone exactly to Vikings’ fans wishes, the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium performed well during its inaugural NFL season, with a peak single-game data total of 4.32 terabytes used, part of a season average of 2.89 TB used during Vikings games.

According to statistics provided to MSR by Tod Caflisch, vice president and chief technical officer for the Vikings, the biggest data-use day was Sept. 18, 2016, during the regular-season home opener for the Vikings against the rival Green Bay Packers, a 17-14 Vikings victory. That contest also saw season highs for unique Wi-Fi users, with 31,668 fans connecting to the Wi-Fi at some point of the game day, and for most concurrent users, with 17,556 users connected at the same time. The 31,668 number represented a 49 percent take rate, with the game’s reported attendance of 64,786.

Even though Caflisch said the Vikings didn’t heavily promote the AmpThink-designed Wi-Fi network — which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear in mostly handrail-mounted AP locations to serve the main bowl seating areas — the average take rate during the season was at the high end of numbers we’ve seen, with a 43 percent average over the two preseason and eight regular-season Vikings games.

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 11.41.21 AMAnd even though the total data-used number only crested 3 TB one other time in the season — a 3.16 TB mark during a 30-24 Vikings win over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 20, 2016 — the average mark of 2.89 TB per game showed solid, consistent use.

Caflisch said that the Vikings and U.S. Bank Stadium were also able to correct the train-snafu issue that arose at some of the early events at the new venue, which has a light-rail station right outside the stadium doors. While some of the first events had big lines of riders and not enough trains, Caflisch said that during the season extra trains were held in reserve at the transit station that is close to Target Field (a few stops down the line from U.S. Bank) and then filtered in as Vikings games neared their end.

“We were able to clear the [train] platform in 40 minutes after the last game,” Caflisch said. “The fans really loved the trains.” (More U.S. Bank Stadium images below)

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Vikings fans gather outside the stadium for pregame activites.

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Great nighttime view with city skyline visible through windows.

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A look at the handrail Wi-Fi antenna mounts (this photo credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR)

Will stadiums soon be able to rent their Wi-Fi networks from equipment vendors?

Nationwide Arena. Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

If it costs too much to buy a Wi-Fi network for your stadium, why not rent one instead?

A fairly common option in the world of enterprise networking, the ability to rent, or lease a fully operational Wi-Fi network may soon be coming to the world of sports stadiums and other large public venues, if it isn’t here already. Three of the largest Wi-Fi gear suppliers, Cisco, Aruba and Ruckus, already have public offers of network leasing arrangements, where venue owners could pay some kind of monthly or recurring fee for network setup and operation, instead of buying equipment outright. And Cisco, another leader in the marketplace, is rumored to be offering full-control lease-type arrangements for stadium Wi-Fi networks, possibly beginning with the new Wi-Fi network being built at the SAP Center in San Jose.

Though no large sports stadium has yet publicly announced a deal to lease, or in networking lingo, to buy a “Network as a service,” or NaaS, the idea is potentially attractive to stadium owners and operators, many of whom have struggled with the return-on-investment question ever since the idea of putting wireless networks in stadiums has emerged. While cellular carriers have so far borne the lion’s share of the costs of deploying enhanced cellular systems like DAS (distributed antenna system) in stadiums, the question of “who will pay for the Wi-Fi” is still a big one for many venues, especially those that are only filled several times a year.

The benefits of moving to opex vs. capex

Bart Giordano, vice president of business development for the Ruckus business unit at Brocade, said the idea of leasing a stadium network could be attractive especially to venue owners who don’t have the upfront capital necessary to pay for Wi-Fi, a cost that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Under new parent Brocade, Ruckus Wi-Fi gear can be obtained via something called the Brocade Network Subscription, a NaaS program that Giordano said “converts it all to opex — you subscribe to the network and pay a monthly service fee.” Under the subscription program, Giordano said Brocade/Ruckus will actually own the equipment, allowing the venue owner the flexibility of being able to return it or upgrade it as needed.

With many stadiums that deployed Wi-Fi several years ago already going through significant upgrades, the idea of a leased network that could be more easily refreshed with new technology might soon gain favor. Though no Ruckus stadium subscribers have yet been announced, Giordano said “some are coming.”

Aruba, now a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has a similar subscription model plan for enterprise wireless deployments, one which company representatives said could be used by stadiums as well. Both companies said such deals could possibly come via consulting partnerships, where the consultant firm manages the relationship and deployment/operation details.

Cisco also has a leasing option available for wireless networks, but so far has not made any public announcements of such deals in the sports stadium marketplace. However, there are reports of Cisco taking a more active role in the ownership, deployment and operation of stadium networks, like the Cisco-powered Wi-Fi currently being installed at the SAP Center in San Jose, home of the NHL’s Sharks. So far, neither Cisco nor the Sharks will comment on any business specifics of the new Wi-Fi network other than its use of Cisco gear.

Can leasing work for stadiums?

While the leasing idea for stadiums isn’t new, the business model has met some challenges along the way of the short history of wireless networks in large venues. So far, third-party integrators like Mobilitie, ExteNet Systems and Boingo have crafted lease-like deals in which the venue does not pay the full cost of the network but instead allows the operators to run networks (typically both DAS and Wi-Fi), earning money by leasing space on those networks to wireless carriers or by selling advertising or sponsorships.

Another leasing model, one that crashed and burned, was the one employed by SignalShare, a company now in bankruptcy proceedings with legal claims of fraudulent business practices against it. SignalShare, which also offered venues networks for a monthly cost, may have been hampered by a lack of financial resources, something that shouldn’t be an issue for companies the size of Cisco, HP and Brocade, who will mainly be offering leases on equipment they manufacture themselves. The larger equipment vendors may also not be under as much pressure as SignalShare was to earn revenues on the network operations, which may make them better able to succeed in the NaaS space.

And while the idea sounds good in theory, there are still unanswered questions about how the leases would work, and whether they will make good business sense for both sides. Unlike enterprise operations in traditional offices, stadium networks are far more complex to install and operate, especially those being retrofitted in stadiums built decades ago. Stadium networks also have a much different operational profile, with traffic coming in large spikes rather than daily workday routines.

But stadium networks can also act as public advertisements of sorts, gaining more attention for vendors in PR than perhaps in direct profits. As the market matures and vendors seek out potential customers who have shied away from Wi-Fi in the past due to upfront costs, leasing may be a way forward for both sides — as long as both can find a benefit to the deal.

Washington upgrades Wi-Fi backbone at FedExField

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 11.07.38 AMFans at FedExField now have more bandwidth to use on the stadium Wi-Fi network thanks to a recent upgrade that moved the backbone capacity to 10 gigabits per second, according to a release from the team.

Though it’s never been previously publicly announced by the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise, according to sources close to the team the reported network built by Verizon Wireless using Cisco Wi-Fi gear has been in full operation since last season, albeit under a sort of “soft launch” mode done without any promotion.

With more fans now using the network, the team saw a need to increase bandwidth from the 1 Gbps pipe that had been supplying all the Wi-Fi network needs. For many football-stadium Wi-Fi networks, 10-Gbps pipes are a popular choice, with several stadiums opting for multiple such connections. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home of the San Francisco 49ers, has four 10 Gbps pipes as part of its backbone configuration, while US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, has six 10 Gbps links.

For those who are new to stadium Wi-Fi (or who don’t know the difference between backhaul and actual end-user network speeds), the backbone bandwidth is shared by the entire network, which may have multiple tens of thousands of client devices running off any of hundreds of Wi-Fi access points. Typical user bandwidth speeds on Wi-Fi in large networks can range from single-digit megabits per second anywhere up to 20, 40 or even 60 Mbps, depending upon network configuration and density of users. Any fans attending games at FedExField who want to send us a speedtest please do!

T-Mobile Arena lights up on Vegas Strip

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Though we haven’t yet been to a live event at T-Mobile Arena, a summertime visit to the new venue revealed a sparkling 20,000-seat arena with a well-planned Wi-Fi network that seems ready to handle the expected crowds that will soon repeatedly fill the venue.

Thanks to a personal technology tour hosted by Cox Business, the entity behind the Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, we saw many of the 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs, including many that were housed in custom enclosures that the Cox team designed specifically for T-Mobile Arena. Both aesthetics and functionality came into play for the innovative enclosure designs, some of which can be tilted for more exact event-by-event tuning. The arena, a $375 million joint project between AEG and MGM Resorts, opened on April 6, 2016.

Getting ready for the Golden Knights

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which includes more stadium profiles as well as looks at Wi-Fi at the Mall of America, and analytics software being used by the Cleveland Browns. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

With two 10-gbps pipes providing backhaul, the arena’s network should be able to easily handle the traffic generated by its upcoming list of events, which will be heavy on concerts until the NHL expansion franchise (recently announced as the Vegas Golden Knights) arrives. There is also a cellular DAS inside the venue, built with equipment from JMA Wireless.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Construction details that we saw that you may not have heard about include the fact that a large percentage of the bowl seats are on moveable tracks, allowing for maximum flexibility in configuration. To compensate for the lack of fixed infrastructure the Cox team used the hanging scoreboard as a prime placement area for Wi-Fi APs, helping solve the traditional bottom-of-the-bowl coverage issues.

Another place where T-Mobile Arena has turned stadium design on its head is with its two “sky lounges” and another exclusive-seating club area at the very top of the building, changing the old “nosebleed seats” section into ultra-lounge type areas that should prove popular for both sporting and entertainment events. The sky lounges in particular are striking, twin triangular decks that jut out over the lower-bowl seats.

From a technology perspective there is also a section of premium seats with tabletop-mounted small TV screens, as well as extra wireless coverage for the press box section. MSR is looking forward to attending a live event at T-Mobile Arena soon, to fully test the impressive looking network installed there. Enjoy the following photo essay: Credit all photos, Paul Kapustka, MSR.

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Panoramic view of the arena seating bowl.

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One of the distinctive “sky lounges” that juts out over the lower seats.

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Close-up of an AP enclosure with the “skyline” art in the background.

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A Wi-Fi antenna points down from the rafters.

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Wi-Fi APs (and speakers) visible on the bottom of the main center scoreboard.

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A Wi-Fi AP enclosure for outdoor lounge area.

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Inside that same AP enclosure.

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One of the under-seat AP enclosures.

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See you soon!

5 Bars, JMA Wireless, Cisco part of Wi-Fi and DAS at new Colorado State stadium

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Network components haven’t yet been installed at the new under-construction football stadium at Colorado State University — but when they do, integrator 5 Bars and wireless suppliers JMA Wireless and Cisco will all be part of the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS networks, according to the companies.

Scheduled to open in time for next year’s football season, the yet-unnamed new stadium is a busy construction scene, as you can tell from the photos we took during a sneak peek at the venue last week (thanks to CSU, Mortenson, 5 Bars and JMA Wireless for the access).

Though specifics on numbers of APs aren’t set yet, 5 Bars said it will be using Cisco equipment in a mixed design of overhead and under-seat AP deployments, depending upon the area of the stadium. JMA Wireless will handle the DAS.

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

As you can see from the photos, parts of the stadium have good overhang coverage for mounting, while other parts of the planned 40,000-seat venue are open-bowl construction, which will need under-seat APs for optimal coverage. 5 Bars and JMA reps on hand also said that the distinctive light towers (especially on the east side of the stadium) will also provide antenna mounting sites for top-down coverage.

Unlike Hughes Field, the three miles west-of-campus football facility that just hosted its last game this weekend, the new stadium sits right in the middle of the campus in Fort Collins, Colo. According to our first glances, it looks like there will be sevearl open-terrace type areas inside the stadium as well as a beer garden (or so we heard rumored) outside one of the main entrances. According to CSU, Hughes has been used for football since 1968.

What will be interesting to see is how CSU handles parking for the new venue, which won’t have any large lots surrounding it. We’ll have more updates between now and next football season, so stay tuned!

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A look at the west side stands with press box and suites above

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A look underneath the west side overhang — lots of antenna room

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This shot of the north end of the east stands shows the proximity to campus

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Before long, this tray will be filled with cable and fiber

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Panoramic view of the east and south stands

The MSR Interview: San Francisco Giants CIO Bill Schlough

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

Who better to talk about stadium Wi-Fi than the guy who was there when it all started? Our guest for our first MSR Interview (part of our Stadium Tech Report Podcast series) is San Francisco Giants senior vice president and chief information officer Bill Schlough, who goes old-school talking about stadium Wi-Fi back in 2004… and brings it to the current day with stats from the most recent season at AT&T Park. Plus, his thoughts on game-day apps and why great connectivity is the real winner. Listen in now!

Hear Bill talk about:

— New Wi-Fi records set… during the Warriors’ playoff run

— Why going under-seat with Wi-Fi was a necessary thing to do

— How the Giants are experimenting with virtual reality

— Why he thinks great connectivity matters most (even more than stadium-app features)

Some story links that offer some history about AT&T Park’s networks from MSR:

S.F. Giants add more Wi-Fi, ‘virtual reality experience’ to AT&T Park for 2016 season

SF Giants fans used 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data at AT&T Park during 2015 season

Stadium Tech Report: World Series set new wireless records at AT&T Park

Stadium Tech Report: San Francisco’s AT&T Park lives up to its wireless reputation

Giants: NLCS stadium Wi-Fi usage at AT&T Park quadrupled since 2012

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST:

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!