February 9, 2016

UPDATE: Top 4 carriers combine for 15.9 TB of cellular data use at Super Bowl 50

New Verizon Wireless under-seat DAS antenna placement at Levi's Stadium. Photo: Verizon Wireless

New Verizon Wireless under-seat DAS antenna placement at Levi’s Stadium. Photo: Verizon Wireless

UPDATE, 2/8/16, 1:50 p.m. — We now have data totals in from all four of the major U.S. cellular carriers, and at Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, fans combined to use 15.9 terabytes of data on the networks in and directly around Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Leading the way in usage was Verizon Wireless with a claim of 7 TB used by its customers; AT&T was next with 5.2 TB of claimed usage, followed by T-Mobile with a report of 2.1 TB, and Sprint with 1.6 TB. All the carriers’ numbers are well above figures from last year’s Super Bowl, where by our reporting Sprint, AT&T and Verizon had a combined 6.56 TB of cellular data consumed during the big game. (We did not have any T-Mobile reports from last year.)

For all the carriers, the data apparently includes both traffic on the in-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) network was well as any macro deployments outside the stadium in parking lot areas. The final total was well over double the 6.56 TB of cellular traffic seen at last year’s big game in Glendale, Ariz. We are still waiting for Wi-Fi numbers from the Levi’s Stadium networking crew but it’s a good bet the 6.23 TB number from last year’s game will be eclipsed and we will have a new single-game Wi-Fi record as well so stay tuned.

Though we did hear and see some scattered reports of network connectivity issues during the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers it appears the upgrade of the DAS Group Professionals DAS install at Levi’s Stadium with its gear mainly provided by JMA Wireless stood up to the biggest-ever test of traffic. Congrats to all involved.

Thanks also to the Verizon and AT&T crews who supplied us with tweet reports and emails Sunday night, it made for some entertaining in-game stats. Some tweets embedded below.

Commentary: Super Bowl 50 and the pursuit of stadium network statistics

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi's Stadium new turf grows silently behind him in this 2014 photo. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi’s Stadium new turf grows silently behind him in this 2014 photo. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

If there’s one person who didn’t get enough recognition in the run-up to today’s Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, it’s Dan Williams, the former director of information technology for the Niners and the man who was largely behind the venue’s celebrated network design.

From our standpoint, Williams deserves credit not just for leading the deployment of a stadium network that set the standard for the future of connected venues, but also for being among the first to openly talk about the network’s performance, sharing statistics both good and bad during his short stay at Levi’s Stadium. His honesty helped open the door wider on a potentially rich stream of information that we think could greatly assist stadium network professionals everywhere, especially if more teams followed his lead and shared stats openly and honestly.

But the pursuit of meaningful network statistics remains a challenging process on many levels, and it’s one that is ironically likely to get more confusing today as multiple parties are set to release live network statistics from Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T are planning to release live game-day performance figures for their cellular networks in and around the venue today, and we also expect to get Wi-Fi network statistics from the San Francisco 49ers, if not during the game then shortly thereafter.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4) during the first preseason game at Levi's Stadium, July 2014

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4) during the first preseason game at Levi’s Stadium, July 2014

While we salute the change of heart (especially from Verizon) to make more information available, we’d also like to make a plea here for more independent access to venues on game day, so there can be an independent, objective voice on hand to counter the “sanitization” or simple non-reporting of less-impressive data that is almost sure to occur when interested parties are talking about themselves. But unless team, league or venue IT representatives band together and craft recognized standard methods of reporting the most-interesting data, we’re going to be left to sift through an ever-increasing mix of figures provided by those with their own agendas on what’s important and what should remain hidden. We’ll do our best on that front, but it’d be better if we had some industry-wide help.

Out of school behavior provides the most interesting info

Like many other stadium network professionals we’ve been fortunate enough to meet and spend time with — a list here that includes folks like the San Francisco Giant’s Bill Schlough, Madison Square Garden’s Katee Panter, the Dallas Cowboys’ John Winborn, and Chip Foley, formerly with the Barclays Center, among many others — Williams from the start showed a passion for making the network better, so it could better serve the fans who used it. Our first face to face meeting came during the first preseason football game at Levi’s Stadium, when I tweeted that I was having problems connecting to the Wi-Fi network. William’s response? An email asking me where I was sitting, followed quickly by an in-person visit. Now that’s customer support.

The outcome of that interaction was a revelation that the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network hadn’t prepared adequately for older devices that were still using the 2.4 GHz unlicensed bands; what was cool to me was not just that I kind-of discovered it by accident, but that Williams and his team admitted it publicly, then went about fixing it. The combination of objective reporting and honest confirmation, I think, worked to the benefit of all. But not everybody sees such things in the same light.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

For instance, during the rest of Levi’s Stadium’s first year of operation, Williams shared with us not just raw “tonnage” numbers of Wi-Fi use but also interesting stats from the app, like exact numbers of replays watched and in-seat food delivery orders. Since those numbers were kind of low — in the low thousands for food deliveries and a decline in replay use after the season opener — they weren’t necessarily flattering to the owners of the system, even if you took into account the fact that some of this (like delivering to any seat in a 68,500-seat stadium) had never been tried before. In the end, even Niners CEO Jed York admitted that some elements of the stadium hadn’t performed as expected, as the stats we’d been seeing had borne out.

After Williams left the team, the Niners took control of the network stats reporting and hugely trimmed down the list of things they were willing to report, though we would also note that Roger Hacker and the Niners communications team are still at the top of the list when it comes to consistent, repeated reporting of the network stats they feel comfortable talking about. When there are big numbers to report, all goes well because everyone loves to talk about systems that deliver for fans as promised. But I can also tell you that when things go south, so does a lot of the honest communication, an unfortunate if understandable situation.

Who will tell you when things don’t work?

For Levi’s Stadium, the darkest night for the network came on Feb. 21, 2015, at the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. In what has easily been our highest-traffic post ever, we described in detail some of the big problems that surfaced that evening, which included breakdowns of the delivery service, the Wi-Fi network, the light rail boarding process, and part of Verizon’s cellular network. What’s funny about our reporting is that I hadn’t planned on “working” that night — I had bought full-price tickets for myself and my brother, and as longtime hockey nuts we proudly wore our Blackhawks jerseys to represent our hometown team.

Screen shot of Levi's Stadium app during hockey game issues

Screen shot of Levi’s Stadium app during hockey game issues

My plan was just to relax, take CalTrain and VTA to the stadium and show off the network by ordering us food and drink to be delivered to our seats, but when some obvious and incomprehensible network breakdowns were evident, I went into reporting mode, and eventually found out mostly what went wrong. My point here is that, without independent, objective reporting live from the scene, it’s doubtful that parties with vested interests — like cellular providers or owners of the stadium network — are going to honestly and quickly talk about breakdowns or failures. Yet it’s always the lessons learned from problem times that help the most; my worry is that with more “sponsored” or in-house statistics flooding the zone, the more valuable objective data will get lost or devalued.

How can this be fixed? For starters, teams and leagues that spend an inordinate amount of time and money promoting technical features of stadiums should at the very least credential some reporters who are interested in following up to see how said deployments perform. While we’re grateful for the few forward-thinking organizations that have given us the same access that sports reporters get, more often than not our requests for media access to events are denied.

Since we can’t be at every stadium, we also rely on teams, venues and network operators to provide stats when possible, and we encourage more participants to join the growing list who do provide us with network performance figures, like the IT teams at Nebraska and Texas A&M, among others. While we have also drawn some industry criticism for our headline focus on such stats, our response is that the more data we get and the more opinions on which data matter, the better we will get over time. We also encourage any and all interested parties to attend the SEAT Conference this summer in Las Vegas, where you can be sure we will have discussions about this topic and how to make stats reporting more useful for those to whom it matters most — the professionals who install and operate these networks so that fans can stay connected at events.

MSR on the scene at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in January

MSR on the scene at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in January

NFL’s CIO sees Levi’s Stadium as leader in connected-stadium future

NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle (Twitter profile photo)

NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle (Twitter profile photo)

Even though Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 has long meant a packed schedule for her, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle is happiest this week about what she and her team didn’t have to do — namely, they didn’t need to supervise any technology makeovers to Levi’s Stadium since the well-connected venue was “big game” ready from the moment it opened its doors.

“This is the first Super Bowl since I’ve been here where the league didn’t have to do significant [technology] upgrades,” said McKenna-Doyle in a phone interview. In a way, McKenna-Doyle has seen the future of connected stadiums rise from the ground up, since after joining the league as its chief information officer in 2012 she was able to watch Levi’s Stadium get built, one of the first large venues where connectivity was not an afterthought. With several new NFL stadiums slated to open in the near future, McKenna-Doyle said infrastructures like Levi’s will become the rule, not the exception, as fans and the sport itself increase the need for more connectivity.

“It [connectivity] is as important as electricity and water,” McKenna-Doyle said. “The game is more connected, the fans are more connected. No longer is the idea that you go inside a concrete bowl and are disconnected from the world.”

Super Bowls, stadium apps and staying out of the way

But even as she talks about the future of a game-day experience that relies more heavily on mobile, digital technology, McKenna-Doyle is also trying to make sure that technology works for the benefit of all, and isn’t just there for technology’s own sake. Proof of this thinking is evident in her office’s call to remove the in-seat food delivery feature from the regular Levi’s Stadium app, instead only allowing beverages to be available for the stadium’s unique deliver-to-any-seat service.

“That was our call,” said McKenna-Doyle about the decision to remove food delivery from the app. According to McKenna-Doyle, her staff monitored the service during home games for the San Francisco 49ers and saw that food delivery could at times cause “lots of foot traffic” as runners delivered orders.

“It (food delivery) is a cool option, but we saw it could cause a lot of traffic, with people going up and down stairs and passing food down the rows,” McKenna-Doyle said. “Since the Super Bowl is such a special moment, we didn’t want it [food deliveries] to be a distraction.”

Putting a Super Bowl game-day app together is a bit of art, as the league tries to blend what’s available in the existing venue app with the specific Super Bowl needs. What she likes a lot about the VenueNext-built regular Levi’s Stadium app is its focus on fan services, such as parking, ticketing and wayfinding, in addition to being able to order food ahead of time for “express window” pickup.

And though the Levi’s Stadium and the Super Bowl app will also support instant replay video, McKenna-Doyle thinks more app use may come from fans wanting to find out how to get around. At last year’s big game, McKenna-Doyle said that while half the fans in the stadium logged in through the game-day app, only 20 percent of that number used the app to watch replays. “Mostly, they used the app to check out what was going on,” McKenna-Doyle said. She also expects stadium-app use to be surpassed on Sunday by use of social media apps like Facebook and SnapChat, and by the inevitable Apple iOS and app updates, which happen because many fans have their devices set to run updates whenever they connect to Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi that’s great becoming the standard

Last year at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and the year before at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the league needed to oversee extensive Wi-Fi upgrades so that those venues would be ready for Super Bowl traffic. And even though the league still expects a jump from last year’s total of 6.23 terabytes used on Wi-Fi (a big step up from the 3.2 TB mark a year earlier), McKenna-Doyle is confident the Levi’s Stadium wireless network is ready for the game.

“I was at WrestleMania and that event certainly put the network through its paces,” McKenna-Doyle said of the event that holds the Levi’s Stadium top mark for single-day Wi-Fi use, at 4.5 TB. “I think we will surpass that [total] on Sunday,” she said.

From an overall league perspective, McKenna-Doyle said that with only a few stadiums without Wi-Fi (mainly those with ownership or location issues, like St. Louis and Oakland) she’s “very pleased with the progress” made over the past couple years. With new stadiums in Atlanta and Minnesota seeking to push the connectivity bar higher, and older stadiums getting upgrades, McKenna-Doyle said that league-wide there is full buy-in about the need for fan-facing connectivity.

“We have great support from the owners, and they know that it’s not good enough to have first-generation [networks],” McKenna-Doyle said.

For next year’s Super Bowl LI, it will be back to stadium Wi-Fi upgrades, as Houston’s NRG Stadium finally gets its first Wi-Fi network installed. That job (which won’t start until after this spring’s NCAA Men’s Final Four, which also takes place at NRG Stadium) may make McKenna-Doyle long for Levi’s Stadium, where good infrastructure goes beyond the fan-facing elements of the Wi-Fi, DAS and video boards inside the bowl.

“Levi’s Stadium overall has just so many things that make everything easier,” she said, including unseen elements like power and cabling for on-field and broadcast operations. “Just where the power is, how the cables are all protected. It’s fantastic.”

Arizona Cardinals: Fans used 2.9 TB of Wi-Fi at playoff game vs. Green Bay

Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers during the Jan. 16 playoff game. Photo: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers during the Jan. 16 playoff game. Photo: Arizona Cardinals

During the exciting 26-20 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers that sent the Arizona Cardinals to the NFC championship game, fans at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., used 2.9 terabytes of Wi-Fi on the stadium network, according to the Cardinals.

Mark Feller, vice president of information technology for the Cardinals, said that during the Jan. 16 game the network also saw 32,330 unique client devices attach to the Wi-Fi network, which Feller said was the highest such total ever and represented a nearly 50 percent take rate since the attendance that day was 65,089. Feller said the Wi-Fi network that day also saw a peak concurrent connected user total of 20,451.

The UoP stadium, which recently hosted the College Football Playoff championship, is still the holder of the single-day Wi-Fi data record, a number of 6.23 TB reached during Super Bowl XLIX last February. All eyes in the Wi-Fi world will be on Levi’s Stadium this Sunday, to see if the record Wi-Fi total number is eclipsed again.

Niners: All (tech) systems go at Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50

Levi's Stadium, ready for the Super Bowl. All stadium photos: Levi's Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

Levi’s Stadium, ready for the Super Bowl. All stadium photos: Levi’s Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

As far as the technology at Levi’s Stadium is concerned, it’s all systems go for Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, according to San Francisco 49ers chief operating officer Al Guido.

In a phone interview with Mobile Sports Report, Guido said the 2-year-old stadium’s vaunted technology underpinnings — especially the wireless connectivity for fans — is ready to go for the NFL’s biggest yearly event, after a second season spent mainly fine-tuning the different components.

“We couldn’t feel more confident, hosting the game,” said Guido, speaking specifically about the technology infrastructure at Levi’s Stadium. As he stated before the regular season began, the Niners didn’t do anything radical to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, which uses gear from Aruba, an HP Enterprise company, to bring the main wireless bandwidth to fans.

And while the stadium’s distributed antenna system (DAS) got a complete replacement over the summer, the new capabilities including under-seat DAS antennas for Verizon Wireless should only lead to better reception than the year before. According to Guido, representatives from Aruba as well as from “all the carriers” will be on hand Super Sunday just in case anything needs close attention.

“Everybody’s going to be at a high tech [support] level” on game day, Guido said.

Drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.

Drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.


No food, but in-seat beverage delivery as part of stadium app

The Super Bowl 50 stadium app, designed for the NFL by the Niners’ in-house app development company VenueNext, will have some but not all of the features Niners fans have available during the regular season. The most obvious omission is the lack of food delivery to all seats, something that makes Levi’s Stadium stand apart from any other large public sporting venue. Instead, the stadium app will only allow fans to order beverages for in-seat delivery, with the option to order food, beverage and merchandise that can be claimed at “express pickup” concession windows.

According to Guido, the decision to only have beverage deliveries at Super Bowl 50 was one reached jointly by the NFL, the Niners and VenueNext, and the catering company for the stadium, Centerplate. Guido said that the potential “amount of education” for all the fans new to the stadium and new to the app led the league, the Niners and the caterers toward a path of greater simplicity, namely just having beverages available for in-seat delivery.

“It was a risk-reward decision about the amount of fan education needed,” Guido said. “There’s so much going on at a Super Bowl and so many people new to the stadium that it didn’t seem worth it to us to risk someone not getting an order delivered because of their error, or our error.” Guido added that with all the extra breaks in action for a Super Bowl, and additional concessions stands, “there’s enough time to get around” to get food.

View of the temporary media towers on the Dignity Health concourse

View of the temporary media towers on the Dignity Health concourse

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NFL, told Sports Business Journal that the league was also concerned about game-day delivery traffic patterns being disrupted by the new media towers that have been built for the game in the corner plaza areas of the stadium. “We were worried about having to keep up with demand … and we need to keep the aisles clear, which is important to the security team,” McKenna-Doyle said in a story by SBJ’s Don Muret.

The app will, however, include its normal live wayfinding capabilities, which should prove useful to new visitors to Levi’s Stadium since they can watch themselves walk through a map of the facility as a familiar moving blue dot. Like it does for Niners games, the app will also have instant replays from multiple camera angles available, as well as Super Bowl extras like a “celebrity cam” and the ability to watch Super Bowl commercials right after they are broadcast on TV.

Guido said the Levi’s Stadium app performed well all season, with an average of about “2,000 to 2,500″ in-seat delivery orders per game. What was especially pleasing to the team was the number of fans who used the app’s ability to support digital ticketing, a feature that makes life somewhat simpler for fans but exponentially better for the team, which can gain valuable marketing insight from digital ticket-use statistics. According to Guido almost 35 percent of fans used digital ticketing during the past season.

Media towers save seats for fans

Niners fans watching Sunday’s game on TV might be surprised by the media towers, which Guido said were built in the Intel and Dignity Health concourse areas, which during regular-season games are simply open spaces. Guido said the decision to build temporary facilities for media means that the regular stadium seats will be saved for fans. At many other pro championship or playoff events, the overflow media are often housed in regular seating areas.

“The NFL made a great decision there” to put the media in the pavilions, Guido said.

If there is one thing that can’t really be controlled, it’s the traffic and transportation issues of bringing fans to the game. On Sunday fans coming to the game will confront Levi’s Stadium’s unique location in the middle of many Silicon Valley corporate headquarters buildings, which presents challenges that stadiums like AT&T Stadium in Dallas or the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. — which are surrounded by acres of stadium-controlled parking lots — simply don’t have. To help with Super Bowl traffic the planners are using multiple methods, including using Google employee buses as shuttles as well as signing Uber as a sponsor with its own dedicated pickup and dropoff lot. There is also light rail service which stops right outside the stadium, which intially in the past experienced lengthy delays especially after games, but has improved over time.

“Traffic and transportation is our largest concern,” Guido said.

Bring on the players and fans!

Bring on the players and fans!

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

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

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App promo on the scoreboard

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Panoramic view of the stadium and the city

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

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Cisco SportsVision in action on 6-panel display

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DAS antennas on end-of-row railing area

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Game on, phones out!

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Antennas covering the concourse area on second level

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More SportsVision and Wi-Fi deployment in the United Club

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Only accept on the scene reporting!