October 25, 2014

N.Y. Giants tap Ruckus for team headquarters Wi-Fi

It’s not a stadium deal but it is a win in the NFL Wi-Fi market — according to a press release out today, the New York Giants of the NFL are using Ruckus Wireless Wi-Fi gear to provide wireless connectivity at the team’s practice facility and administrative headquarters.

Unlike your average corporate office building, the Giants’ Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., has some characteristics common to football stadiums — mainly outdoor practice fields with bleachers, where fans attended preseason workouts. According to the news release, Ruckus channel partner Goodman Networks installed more than 90 Ruckus ZoneFlex indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points this summer to bring connectivity to the practice fields, as well as to all the inside meeting and office spaces. The Wi-Fi network, Ruckus said, was available to fans this past July.

“First and foremost, we wanted to provide reliable Wi-Fi access to our fans during training camp, even though it’s a short timeframe, because the team’s fans are so important to the franchise,” said Justin Warren, vice president of Information Technology for the New York Football Giants, in a prepared statement. “Offering Wi-Fi on the practice fields during training camp is intended to be as fan-friendly as it is important to the team’s football operations.”

According to the release, the Giants’ administrative and executive staff are able to cut cellular data costs by using the headquarters Wi-Fi instead; the network is also available for working media who are at the facility on weekdays.

Is mobile access to live NFL games the next battleground for AT&T and Verizon Wireless?

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Today’s news that DirecTV has signed a $12 billion deal with the NFL — priced at $1.5 billion a year for 8 years — to keep carrying its Sunday Ticket package has me thinking: Are we on the verge of a battle royale between the country’s two biggest cellular providers over mobile access to NFL games?

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to claim that mobile access to sports content and live NFL games are two of the hottest things going. Go look up any list of the most-watched live TV shows, and you will find various big NFL games dominating the list. Add that to stats like today’s news out of ESPN where the worldwide leader claimed it had 61.3 million unique mobile users during August and you can perhaps see another reason why AT&T might want to buy DirecTV: Because with Sunday Ticket, AT&T has a possible way to trump Verizon’s stranglehold on smartphone access to live NFL action, which it now shows via its exclusive contract with the NFL for its NFL Mobile app premium service.

Judging by traffic and search terms on our humble little site, people looking to find ways to watch live NFL action on their mobile devices is a pretty hot topic these days. Right now, the only way for most people to see any live action at all on a smartphone is to be a Verizon Wireless subscriber, and have the premium service for the company’s NFL Mobile app. Free to “More Everything” data plan customers and $5 a month for others, the premium NFL Mobile package provides access to Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games, as well as local Sunday games.

Sunday Ticket vs. NFL Mobile?

You can also watch the RedZone channel via NFL Mobile, but confusingly if you are on the More Everything plan you need to pay an additional $1.99 a month, a new process that helped mess up Verizon’s NFL Mobile access earlier this season. Non-Share Everything customers who pay the $5 a month fee have RedZone included for free. (For many true NFL fans, RedZone is often even better than having games streamed, since you get all the best action, even from blacked-out games or games not televised locally.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 2.37.08 PMWhere the battle might be joined is in the tablet space — since Verizon’s $1 billion agreement with the NFL only provides live game access to “phone-like devices” and not to tablets or computers, it will be interesting to see what happens if and when AT&T becomes the new owner of DirecTV. One of the more interesting options from DirecTV this year was the NFLSundayTicket.TV option, which allows a type of “cord-cutting,” providing all the options of Sunday Ticket without having to have satellite service. Right now the option (pricing starts at $199 for the season) is only available in a few cities, universities and apartment buildings, but with the heft of AT&T behind it who knows what might happen to both that deal and the regular Sunday Ticket package.

Though far pricer, the $329.94 Sunday Ticket Max plan offered by DirecTV currently allows for mobile viewing of all games, on “computer, tablet, phone or game console.” Anyone else see the possibility of AT&T offering free Sunday Ticket plans to purchases of new phones or tablets?

Verizon, which provides information about NFL Mobile subscriber stats just like Bill Belichick provides deep insights on the inner machinations of the New England Patriots, has not recently stated how many subscribers it has on the NFL Mobile premium package. But for $1 billion over 4 years you can bet the number of users is well into the millions, maybe even more than 10 million — and the exclusivity of NFL live action has certainly been a big selling point for Big Red. The good news for NFL fans is, if any battle begins, it will likely include more access for lower costs — that’s the kind of competition we can all cheer for.

Wi-Fi Whispers: Standing fans and marching band interference; NFL sideline Wi-Fi fixed?

Baylor students standing at football game. Photo credit: Rod Aydelotte, WacoTrib.com

Baylor students standing at football game. Photo credit: Rod Aydelotte, WacoTrib.com

Welcome back to another posting of Wi-Fi Whispers, our once-active “notes” column that I think makes sense to start back up again. What I like most about this feature is that it gives me a chance to comment and “move the ball forward” on other stadium Wi-Fi (and DAS) stories I’ve seen out there, or to correct/comment/criticize as needs be.

STAND UP FOR WI-FI: First up is a story about the Wi-Fi network at Baylor University’s new McLane Stadium, and how it ran into some unexpected interference — namely, the fact that a lot of Baylor students like to stay standing during the game, something that messed with the initial access point and antenna deployment.

According to a story by Regina Dennis at WacoTrib.com, Baylor will be tweaking the Wi-Fi antennas to compensate for the standing fans, which is apparently a Baylor tradition (and something we’ve seen at other schools). One of the more interesting quirks of Wi-Fi reception is the fact that water is a big blocker of signals in the unlicensed bands used by Wi-Fi; and since human bodies are mostly water, a standing fan could become a sort of Wi-Fi shield. Here’s a quote from the story that tells more:

“There’s really no issue with the design, it works absolutely perfect — as long as people are either sitting in their seats or standing on the ground,” said Pattie Orr, Baylor’s vice president of information technology. “It doesn’t ruin the reception, but it makes the angles of the antenna not the best option.”

The story also notes that the Wi-Fi signals were degraded in the area where the Baylor band sits, in part because of the large instruments used. Extreme Networks, supplier of the Wi-Fi gear in McLane Stadium, will help Baylor fine-tune the system, according to the story. And we are sure we’ll hear some interesting stories about “tuba interference” at next year’s SEAT conference.

SIDELINE WI-FI IS FINE, SAYS NFL: While it’s a little tough getting tech information out of the NFL these days due to the public-relations siege the league is facing, we did get a source to comment on background about an article saying that the league’s sideline Wi-Fi isn’t working well. The article is basically a late follow-up to an issue that “surfaced” early in the season, when New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick complained that the new system of Microsoft Surface tablets and league-provided Wi-Fi wasn’t up to snuff.

The follow-on article at TechTarget’s SearchNetworking site says in its headline that “NFL’s Cisco-based stadium Wi-Fi frustrates tablet-toting coaches,” but it only has one coach, Belichick, complaining, and it doesn’t have any new reactions or information other than the original Boston Globe story. What it does have is confirmation that Cisco equipment is used in the sideline Wi-Fi deployment, then several reactions from industry analysts — none of whom have any actual information about the system or any actual, proven or reported failures.

While it’s possible that there have been more glitches, our question is, why write an article about it if you can’t find more than the single episode, from someone you haven’t really talked to in order to find out what really happened? Our league source, who would only comment on background, said there were issues with network interference during the preseason, but that now the systems are working in all stadiums. Of course, if any coaching staff types beg to differ you can always let us know here at MSR, but our guess is that if the systems were failing you’d hear complaints since NFL head coaches aren’t the silent type.

Why can’t the sideline networks just tap into the stadium Wi-Fi, especially in places where the new networks are powerful? According to Dan Williams, the vice president of technology for the San Francisco 49ers, the sideline networks need to be separate for security and objectivity reasons — meaning, so you can’t accuse the home team of screwing up the network to gain advantage. As soon as we can, we’ll get a more thorough report together on the deployments, which we think are pretty interesting — and probably a lot better than running photos down a wire from the press box, like they used to in the old days.

LEVI’S STADIUM ANNOUNCES JMA AS DAS GEAR SUPPLIER: You may have read our feature about Levi’s Stadium DAS deployer DAS Group Professionals, but for a little deeper inside-baseball dive there is a press release from the Niners today announcing that JMA Wireless is one of the gear suppliers behind the DGP DAS. JMA, also known inside the industry for the Teko Telecom products it uses, is behind other stadium DAS deployments, including at the Anaheim Angels’ ballpark.

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi + advanced stadium app helps Philadelphia Eagles ‘Linc’ with fans

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

With victories in their first three games, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a fast start this NFL season. And from a networking standpoint, Eagles fans are keeping pace, with Wi-Fi connections at Lincoln Financial Field already surpassing last year’s totals.

Now in the second season of having full-stadium Wi-Fi available for fans, the Eagles’ technology team is pushing the needle forward, much like the high-powered offense head coach Chip Kelly runs on the field. An already advanced stadium app will soon get even more video features, including instant replay, to further enhance the game experience for the 69,176 fans who fill the “Linc” on home-game Sundays.

According to Anne Gordon, the Eagles’ senior vice president for media and communications, there were more than 21,000 fans using the in-stadium Wi-Fi network at the team’s Sept. 7 opening game, a total that surpasssed the 19,671 users on the network at the Eagles’ final game last season, a 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in a wild card game on Jan. 4, 2014.

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Along with the growth in user numbers is an even greater jump in the amount of data being used; according to Gordon, the Eagles’ Extreme Networks-powered Wi-Fi network carried 946 Gigabytes of data in the Sept. 7 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, up from around 400 GB used during the playoff game in January. Unlike some other stadiums with Wi-Fi networks, Gordon said that the Linc network regularly sees fans download more data than they upload — a reflection of the team’s strategy to provide a wide range of custom content for fans to help improve the game-day experience.

“We want to help them become better fans, and improve their enjoyment of the game,” said Gordon in a recent phone interview. “That was our vision from the beginning.”

But to get to that vision, the Eagles first had to give fans a way to get the content. That meant using some of the $125 million in recent renovation fees to build out the stadium-wide Wi-Fi network, which Gordon said eliminated past connectivity headaches for Philadelphia fans.

Build it, and show them how to use it

Screen shot of Eagles' stadium app

Screen shot of Eagles’ stadium app

“Prior to the 2013 season, there were real issues trying to connect mobile devices in the stadium,” Gordon said. “You might get a signal, but then walk 20 steps and lose it. When we talked to fans, improving the wireless network [in the stadium] was high on their list.”

Working with partner Extreme Networks, which now runs Wi-Fi networks in four other NFL stadiums, the Eagles had stadium-wide coverage ready to go before the 2013 season kicked off. But unlike some venues, which do little to promote their in-stadium networks, the Eagles and Extreme brought some more NFL flavor to their wireless experience in the form of “Wi-Fi coaches,” network-savvy people who roamed the stands in readily identifiable clothing, offering personal assistance to fans trying to connect.

“We put notes in the cup holders the first few games of last season, and then had the coaches with jackets that said ‘ask me’ on them,” Gordon said. That little bit of assistance, she said, spreads quickly.

“If you connect one person, that fan shows six more people in the row [how to connect],” Gordon said. “Our fans took to the network immediately.”

And just in case fans need a refresher, the team’s website has perhaps the league’s best help pages, with simple screen shots showing how to install, open and use the most popular features on the team app.

Out front with app features

As we found out in our recent report on NFL stadium technology deployments, there are many teams with stadium Wi-Fi networks, but the level of application and content delivery varies from team to team. With a feature lineup that includes in-stadium access to the NFL’s popular RedZone channel alongside a live feed from the stadium’s large video boards, the Eagles’ app was clearly among the league leaders when it launched last year. And soon, Gordon said the Eagles will add more live camera views and replay choices to the menu, developments made possible in part by the team’s close relationship with app designer YinzCam Inc.

“We have a unique relationship with YinzCam, and work hand in hand with them [on new developments],” Gordon said. “We’re blessed in that we get a lot of things in our app first.” The Pittsburgh-based YinzCam, which has designed team and stadium apps for a long list of sports-team customers, is a preferred team-app partner of the NFL, which was an early investor in the company.

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

With a long history of full houses, Gordon said the team doesn’t need to use its network or app strategy to try to put people in seats.

“We are continuously sold out, so thankfully we don’t have to sell tickets [with the app],” said Gordon, noting that some fans have had season tickets in their families for several generations. That fact allows the Eagles’ tech team to make their digital strategy “100 percent about improving the game experience,” Gordon said. “We’re giving them a reason to download and consume.”

Not possible without the network

With more than 700,000 downloads of the stadium app so far, it appears as if the Eagles have a winning digital strategy to match the team’s recent on-field successes. Now the biggest challenge may be finding enough Internet bandwidth to keep the fans supplied with the in-game content.

“We are definitely bumping up against our [bandwidth] pipe threshold,” Gordon said. So far, it looks like the campaign to use content to improve the experience at the Linc is working — along with the network that links it all.

“If the [Wi-Fi] network doesn’t work, people get frustrated and don’t use the app,” Gordon said. “The network is what had to happen to make this vision possible.”

Stadium Tech Report: THE FOOTBALL ISSUE arrives, with extensive coverage of Levi’s Stadium launch and tech reports on all 31 NFL stadiums

STR3_ThumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the arrival of THE FOOTBALL ISSUE, our third Stadium Tech Report for 2014. As the title suggests this long-form report focuses on technology deployments at U.S. football stadiums, with an extensive inside look at the technology inside Levi’s Stadium, the new facility for the San Francisco 49ers. The report is available for free download from our site.

In addition to our Levi’s coverage, the Q3 issue of Stadium Tech Report also includes team-by-team reports on all 31 NFL stadiums, with a focus on Wi-Fi and DAS deployments. Our research found that while there are still 10 stadiums without fan-facing Wi-Fi, there is a lot of innovation going around league-wide, including big new digital displays in Jacksonville and Dallas, and new Wi-Fi and app deployments in other facilities.

Included in the report is an exclusive MSR interview with Michelle McKenna-Doyle, the NFL’s chief information officer, who talks about how the league office acts as a guide to helping teams with their tech deployments. We also have additional insight, analysis, and more tech profiles, and the good news is it is all free to read! Simply head to our report download page and get your free copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our report sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to offer such extensive original reporting and analysis free of charge. Our list for the Q3 2014 report includes SOLiD, Crown Castle, TE Connectivity, Extreme Networks, Aruba Networks, Mobilitie and DAS Group Professionals.

VenueNext, developer of Levi’s Stadium app, formally launches

Instant replay feature on Levi's Stadium app. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Instant replay feature on Levi’s Stadium app. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

VenueNext, the startup firm that developed the Levi’s Stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers, is formally hanging out its own banner Thursday, with announcements of not just application design but a full stadium-specific suite of analytic tools designed to give stadium owners and operators more control and better visibility into what’s happening when fans use the app. The firm will be seeking to license its software and develop apps for other stadiums and large public venues, like outdoor concert arenas.

We’ll have a longer profile with VenueNext soon — since there are no other customers yet other than the Niners, we have a little time to catch up. What’s most interesting is that the team actually helped create VenueNext, funding its start through Aurum Partners LLC, the investment firm of the team’s ownership. VenueNext is led by COO and founder John Paul, a name we remember well since we interviewed him way back in his days at networking pioneer Banyan (when yours truly worked for a publication called Unix Today!). Mr. Paul’s decorated tech career includes stops at Netscape and Slingbox, among others.

In a phone interview with Paul, he said VenueNext hopes to sign up as many as 30 customers for its app development efforts over the next year. The VenueNext team, which has offices in Palo Alto, Calif. and New York, has 25 engineers and is also seeking additional venture funding, Paul said.

John Paul, COO and founder, VenueNext

John Paul, COO and founder, VenueNext

“Jed [York, the Niners' CEO] is very open to us using Levi’s as a Petri dish,” Paul said. “Now the goal is to go license this to the world.”

Paul also corrected our reporting that the instant replay feature on the Levi’s app (which was live for the first time at Sunday’s home opener) didn’t have multiple camera angles available; the multiple angles were there, Paul said, in the upper left corner of the video window, visible when the player was stopped and a user tapped on the screen.

We did counter with an opinion that the feature was hard to find, and after a brief debate about application UI preferences Paul did say that the app was being constantly updated and that fans would “see enhancements” as the season continues.

As we said, look for a longer profile of VenueNext and its Levi’s app efforts soon.