October 6, 2015

Buffalo on top of NFL… in AT&T DAS usage, anyway

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium

These numbers are over a week old but it’s still interesting to peruse the DAS data sent our way by the folks at AT&T, who found that Buffalo Bills fans (or at least the people at the Buffalo Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 20) used 1.226 terabytes of wireless data on the AT&T network at the stadium.

Granted, the Bills fans in the audience may not have been thrilled at the 40-32 victory for the visiting Patriots, but having the defending Super Bowl champs in town is probably a very likely reason there was more device use there than at any other stadium with an AT&T DAS that weekend. According to the AT&T totals, Kansas City was second in DAS use for the NFL games weekend of Sept. 17-21 with 876 GB used, followed by New Orleans (852 GB), Chicago (645 GB) and Washington, D.C. (627 GB). Remember, these totals reflect ONLY the AT&T customer use on the AT&T networks at the stadiums in the cities mentioned.

Any other large wireless carriers out there who would like to send us their stats, we will print them. Just sayin’.

On the collegiate side of things that weekend we have an old favorite and a new rising star at the top of the AT&T DAS list, with the University of Miami’s OT thriller 36-33 win over Nebraska at Sun Life Stadium racking up 1.228 TB of data.

Scoreboard, Kyle Field

Scoreboard, Kyle Field

With its new seats, Sun Life seems to have kept its old great network, which last year recorded some of the highest data totals anywhere, for both college and pro games.

In second place was Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, where (as far as we can tell) the new fiber-based DAS and Wi-Fi network isn’t even fully functional yet, but it still recorded a healthy 1.030 TB on the AT&T DAS network during a 44-27 Aggies win over Nevada. We are looking forward to seeing stats from Oct. 17, when Alabama comes to town (and all network systems should be fully functional).

Rounding out the top-five list for college stadiums on the AT&T network that weekend was Alabama with 993 GB used; LSU (927 GB) and Oklahoma (902 GB) were next in line.

Levi’s Stadium Monday Night Football debut sees 2.87 TB of Wi-Fi traffic, 874 GB on AT&T DAS

Levi's Stadium during its inaugural Monday Night Football game. Photo: Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium during its inaugural Monday Night Football game. Photo: Levi’s Stadium

For its first-ever Monday Night Football game, Levi’s Stadium saw 2.87 terabytes of data cross its Wi-Fi network, with an additional 874 GB traversing the AT&T cellular DAS network during the Niners’ somewhat surprising 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

With the confirmed numbers bumping up against the 4 TB mark — and if you add in the probable (but unreported) 1 TB or more that was used by Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile customers on the Levi’s Stadium DAS — it’s readily apparent that usage of wireless data inside stadiums is only continuing to grow, with no top end yet in sight.

Though the Wi-Fi mark didn’t hit the same heights as the 3.3 TB number recorded at the first regular-season opener at Levi’s Stadium last fall, it’s impressive nonetheless because of the game’s somewhat lower profile given the modest expectations for a Niners team that has suffered through an exceptionally strange offseason that saw its high-profile coach Jim Harbaugh leave for the University of Michigan, and a number of top players retire, like star linebacker Patrick Willis, or depart, like running back Frank Gore, who went to Indianapolis.

And with the new-car buzz somewhat gone from Levi’s Stadium if almost 3 TB of Wi-Fi is a “regular” mark you have to start wondering what the totals are going to be like when Super Bowl 50 comes to the venue in February. On the DAS side of things, the cellular traffic generated by AT&T customers at Levi’s Stadium Monday night was the second-highest in the NFL venues measured by AT&T, trailing only the traffic at namesake AT&T Stadium, where AT&T saw 1.107 TB of DAS traffic during the Cowboys’ opening-game victory over the New York Giants. According to AT&T, DAS traffic at NFL stadiums during the first week of games was up 46 percent compared to the first week of games in 2014. We’ll have a separate post on college DAS traffic tomorrow, which is also up. Thanks to the Niners for the data chart below.

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Levi’s Stadium app adds more ticketing, social media features for 2015 season

Levi's Stadium app showing direct link to 49ers team app. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Levi’s Stadium app showing direct link to 49ers team app. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

You aren’t yet allowed to order up a touchdown or click a link to guarantee a 49ers victory, but new enhancements to the Levi’s Stadium app should make the game experience even better this season for all fans who visit Santa Clara for NFL games.

John Paul, CEO of Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext, laid out some of the improvements that fans will see when they use the stadium app starting at tonight’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Tops among the enhancements are greater integration with the Niners’ separate team app, better support for electronic ticketing, and some interesting social media features that include the chance to see yourself live on one of the new big-screen TVs installed over the football offseason.

Though the Levi’s Stadium app got a good workout in 2014, with somewhere north of 200,000 unique users, Paul noted that number means there’s still a lot of Levi’s Stadium visitors who still haven’t heard of or bothered to use the app. “We’d love for more people to be aware of it [the app],” Paul said, and one way the VenueNext team is hoping to increase that number is through one-click integration with the existing team app, which focuses more on content and team information, and not the stadium-specific things like food ordering and ticketing that the Levi’s Stadium app supports.

App showing ability to buy pricey parking ticket for your RV

App showing ability to buy pricey parking ticket for your RV

The integration will start with one-click logos on both apps that lead directly to the other one — in the Levi’s Stadium app case, there is now a 49ers logo in the upper right corner that takes you directly to the team app (or to the app store if you haven’t downloaded it yet). Paul also said that if fans log in to the team’s Faithful 49 loyalty program on either app, they will be logged in on the other app automatically, so that any of the points-earning activities are tracked more easily.

Easier ticket transfers

Paul also said the Levi’s Stadium app will support more and easier electronic ticketing features, like the ability to transfer multiple tickets in one transaction, instead of having to do transfers ticket by ticket as was required last year. The app this season will also support in-game purchases of tickets to ancillary events and services, like the pregame RedZone Rally party area or the postgame Michael Mina parties. Fans can also use the app now to purchase premium parking, Paul said, and be guided right to the reserved spots via the app.

New outward-facing TV screen at Dignity Health gate

New outward-facing TV screen at Dignity Health gate

A fun new program with the app could allow fans to see themselves on the new big TV installed at the Intel gate, provided they log in to social media accounts with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tag a picture of themselves with the #levisstadium hashtag. Paul said Niners interns will be scouting hashtagged photos and then trying to match them to fans who are identified by beacons outside the Intel gate. If it works, fans should get a text or message alerting them to their pending 7 seconds of fame. “That feature should be a lot of fun,” Paul said.

And behind the scenes, Paul said that the VenueNext team worked hard to improve the app’s functionality when it encounters variable network connectivity, such as when a fan is connected to the Wi-Fi network but gets up and moves, an action that can temporarily cause a loss of connection. This year, Paul said, such actions shouldn’t affect things like food orders that have already been activated, since the app will work better on the back end to preserve such actions even if the user gets disconnected.

Not yet ready for launch but coming soon are two other interesting app features: One, Paul said, will allow fans to pay for and send (via in-seat delivery) food and beverage orders to other people in the stadium, provided they know that person’s phone number and seat location. Another feature will allow fans to use the stadium’s beacon-powered location system to meet each other, with the app showing where people are en route to an agreed meeting location. The first feature, Paul said, might be operational by the second game of the season, Oct. 4 vs. the Packers; the meetup function, he said, might not surface until mid-season.

Paul could not comment on any other VenueNext stadium deployments — the company has said publicly that it will have 30 new clients before the year’s end, and at the recent SEAT conference this summer yours truly heard several well-placed rumors that said VenueNext had signed other NFL team deals, but none have yet been publicly confirmed. Watch this space for more info soon!

DGP upgrades Levi’s Stadium DAS in preparation for Super Bowl 50

New 'chiclet' DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi's Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

New ‘chiclet’ DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi’s Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After deploying one of the biggest and most robust stadium DAS networks at Levi’s Stadium last year, what did DAS Group Professionals do for an encore?

How about completely re-deploying a new DAS at Levi’s Stadium during the football offseason, just about doubling the capacity in a construction project that took place at a “live” venue instead of one under construction?

The ambitious renovation of the not-quite-1-year-old Levi’s Stadium DAS was all done in the name of Super Bowl 50, the NFL’s big game that is coming to Levi’s Stadium in February 2016. According to DGP president Steve Dutto, the huge jump in wireless traffic statistics at Super Bowl XLIX last February got the major wireless carriers working early to assure that the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl would have enough cellular capacity.

In addition to new antennas from DAS gear supplier JMA Wireless that can be more finely tuned, and more antennas and remote units to beef up coverage and support more cell sectors inside Levi’s Stadium, DGP and stadium owner the San Francisco 49ers also increased the DAS footprint outside the stadium in the adjacent parking lots, addressing what Niners COO Al Guido told MSR was a “primary concern” heard from fans during the inaugural Levi’s Stadium season.

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Though work on the DAS will likely continue throughout the season, most of the construction and deployments were expected to be in place for the Niners’ regular season opener tonight versus the Minnesota Vikings.

Ready for another ‘Super’ cellular day

Though the unofficial totals for DAS traffic at the last Super Bowl that were in excess of 6 terabytes were the highest we’ve ever seen reported, DGP’s Dutto said that the top wireless carriers are expecting as much as 2.5 times that amount of traffic at Super Bowl 50, a load that might have swamped even the previously robust Levi’s Stadium DAS.

“The [cellular] traffic at the Super Bowl this past year was greater than anything anybody had seen,” Dutto said in a recent interview at Levi’s Stadium. All the carriers, he said, were “amazed” at the traffic jump from the year before, when AT&T and Verizon Wireless reported a combined total of about 2.5 TB of cellular data at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. (For what it’s worth the Wi-Fi traffic also just about doubled, from 3.3 TB to 6.23 TB.)

The DGP team at Levi's for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

The DGP team at Levi’s for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

So even though the Levi’s Stadium DAS performed exceedingly well — according to Dutto “we turned it on and from day one it exceeded expectations” — and that there wasn’t any capacity problems during the Niners’ 2014 season, the expected impending crush coming in February spurred what Dutto called “carrier-driven upgrades” that included the need to take over some previous storage-room space to house the increased amount of head-end gear.

Under seat DAS antennas part of the upgrade

Inside the stadium itself, Dutto said that Verizon will expand its coverage from 60 to 80 sectors, while AT&T will increase from 45 to 54 or more sectors. DGP will increase its “zones” of coverage in the main seating bowl from 23 to 40, and will go from 250 antennas to 400, and from 330 remote units to 450. There will also be plenty of new antennas from JMA that Dutto said have “greater gain and sharper patterns” to enhance coverage.

“It’s almost like deploying twice the network in the same amount of time,” Dutto said. The other big difference from last year, however, was that Levi’s Stadium was open for events this past football offseason, from WrestleMania 31 to a NHL Stadium Series game to concerts with the Grateful Dead and Taylor Swift.

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Though there was more than enough cabling areas and pathways to make the retrofit easier, Dutto said working around the live events increased the deployment degree of difficulty. But even with new head end rooms and extras like under-seat DAS antennas (a new deployment method at Levi’s Stadium for DAS), 20-plus new antenna placements in the parking lot and the accomodation of new 2.5-GHz spectrum for Sprint, Dutto said that the new network was expected to be at least “90 percent complete” before the season’s start.

As is regular with lead-ups to Super Bowls, there will likely be even more network tweaking and adjustment up until the last minute before kickoff on Feb. 7, 2016.

A ‘heart-attack” moment and hot dog machines

With any luck, the new network will work as well as the old one, and will hopefully light up without the “heart attack moment” that happened just before opening day last fall. Dutto and his team of Derek Cotton, director of engineering, and Vince Gamick, DGP’s vice president and COO, told of coming to Levi’s Stadium for the regular season opener last September and almost keeling over when they couldn’t detect the DAS network anywhere inside the building.

As it turns out, Dutto said that the major wireless carriers had forgot to turn down the power on their macro towers at the cell sites that surround Levi’s Stadium, which basically overwhelmed the internal network since Dutto said the outdoor cell sites operate at 80 watts, compared to the 2-watt in-stadium DAS network.

“There are six cell sites within hundreds of feet [of Levi's Stadium] and since they hadn’t turned them down, we couldn’t see the network in the stadium,” said Dutto, whose pulse was revived when the situation was quickly rectified.

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

At least the Levi’s Stadium DAS couldn’t be turned off by stadium workers or blacked out by hot dog machines, problems that DGP encountered at the Niners’ old home, Candlestick Park, where DGP deployed a test DAS in the 49ers’ final season there in 2013. According to Dutto, for some reason the DGP network was connected by utility PG&E to the same electrical routes as the cookers for stadium hot dogs — and when those were turned on one Sunday the system was overloaded, bringing the DAS down with sausages.

The Candlestick DAS also suffered an outage when the park rangers who lived at the stadium thought the equipment air conditioners were too loud, so they turned them off — setting off multiple alarms for Dutto and his network administration team.

Safe to say, similar problems aren’t expected to arise as DGP and the Niners prepare Levi’s Stadium’s cellular network for Super Bowl 50, a tough task but one with rewards on both a personal and business level.

“This has been fun, and the Niners have been great to work with,” said Dutto.

Buffalo Bills tap Extreme Networks for Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 9.14.59 AMAdd the Buffalo Bills to the list of teams that installed Wi-Fi into their stadiums this offseason, as the Bills tapped NFL favorite Extreme Networks for a deployment at Ralph Wilson Stadium that was live for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, a game the Bills won 27-14.

We’ll try to circle back with the team to get more details, but according to a press release on the Bills’ website the team picked Carousel Industries, Extreme Networks and Frey Electric for the deployment, which began in May this year. The Bills said the network went through beta-type testing this summer, at concerts for the Rolling Stones and One Direction, and during the Bills’ preseason schedule.

By our count, this is the ninth NFL stadium to use Extreme gear for its fan-facing Wi-Fi, a signal that Extreme’s preferred-supplier deal with the league is working well for all concerned. So far this season the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers have announced Wi-Fi deployments from Extreme. Last year Ralph Wilson Stadium had a DAS upgrade that has no doubt been upgraded again recently, so for all types of wireless communications the Buffalo fans should be well served this season as they enjoy the Rex Ryan ride.

Verizon makes live NFL action via NFL Mobile free to all customers; RedZone still $1.99 a month

Screen shot of NFL Mobile app showing possible live games to watch.

Screen shot of NFL Mobile app showing possible live games to watch.

If you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, watching live NFL action on your smartphone just got a lot easier and perhaps cheaper. For the 2016 pro football season, Verizon will give all its customers free access to the schedule of live NFL games available via the NFL Mobile app, eliminating a $5 fee that used to be charged to non-premium plan users.

Though every game isn’t available, the NFL Mobile live schedule is pretty good, as it includes Sunday Night Football games, Monday Night games, Thursday night games and Sunday local games and also preseason games like tonight’s action. Also free is non-live action programming from the NFL Network, but if you want the prize catch — the NFL Network’s RedZone Channel — you still need to pay an extra $1.99 a month, and it’s a good idea to register NOW as Verizon has a history of having technical difficulty when people call on opening day.

(Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)

And, as always, though the games are free the data usage is not, so if you are on cellular games will count against your service plan; our best suggestion is to find free Wi-Fi.

If you are a savvy NFL watcher, you know that the RedZone Channel is the “secret” extra window to live action, especially on the West coast where we would often see entire games shown on RedZone simply because there weren’t other games to switch back and forth to. If you are a customer of any other cellular service, you are mostly out of luck in getting live football on your phone, since Verizon has an exclusive $1 billion deal with the NFL to be the sole carrier of live action on phone-type devices for another 2 years.

What’s still a muddle is whether or not you will be able to watch live action via NFL Mobile when you are at an NFL stadium, something we are working on trying to find the answers to. Neither the league nor Verizon has ever offered up anything like a guide to whether or not you can use the app to watch other games while at a game, even though with fantasy football it’s a good bet that many NFL ticketholders would like to have access to games other than the one they are attending. You can blame local and stadium broadcasting rights for most of the places that block NFL Mobile live games, along with substandard wireless services, but our hope is that the situation will improve as more teams put in Wi-Fi and upgrade their DAS.

You may also see a message prompting you to sign up for a new $99.99 (or so) package called Game Pass, which is a new all-inclusive video subscription deal from the league that includes live game audio and a lot of other features, but no live game action. Look for more info on that package and a revamped NFL Mobile app next week, and let’s all cross our fingers and burn incense to hope that Verizon added a server or two so many of us aren’t frustrated when the footballs fly.