Super Bowl LI Wi-Fi sees drop in average per-fan use total

Under seat Wi-Fi APs visible down seating row at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

Under seat Wi-Fi APs visible down seating row at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

While Super Bowl LI in Houston set records for most total Wi-Fi used in a single day event, the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan actually dropped from the previous year’s game, from about 370 megabytes per user at Super Bowl 50 to about 333 MB per user for Super Bowl 51.

Using official totals provided by the NFL’s official analytics provider, Extreme Networks, there was a total of 11.8 TB of data used on the Wi-Fi network at NRG Stadium in Houston during Super Bowl 51, compared to 10.1 TB used during Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

While the total Wi-Fi data number represents approximately a 17 percent increase from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51, the most recent game had 35,430 users who connected at least once to the network, an almost 30 percent leap from Super Bowl 50’s 27,316 unique users. So while Super Bowl 51 had more unique users (and more peak concurrent users as well) and a higher data total, the average amount of data used per connected fan decreased, from about 370 MB per user to about 333 MB per user.

Data for Super Bowls in years past is thin (mainly because stadium Wi-Fi didn’t really exist), but it’s certainly the first time in very recent history that the per-user average has dropped from one Super Bowl to the next. Super Bowl 49, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., saw a total of 6.23 TB of Wi-Fi used, with 25,936 unique users, for a per-user average total of 240 MB. We don’t have any stats for unique users at Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium, but with the total Wi-Fi used there at 3.2 TB the average was also presumably much lower as well, unless there were also 50 percent fewer connected users.

Did autoconnect drop the average?

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

The drop in per-user average data for Wi-Fi is curious when compared to the huge leap in overall DAS stats for the last two Super Bowls, with Super Bowl 51 checking in at 25.8 TB of data, a figure that does not include statistics from T-Mobile, which is declining to report its data total from the game. At Super Bowl 50, all four top wireless carriers combined saw 15.9 TB, so the total for Super Bowl 51 is about 62 percent higher — and if you add in the estimated 3-4 TB that was likely recorded by T-Mobile, that leap is even bigger.

Unfortunately cellular carriers do not provide the exact number of connected users, so there is no per-user average data total available. It would be interesting to know if the expanded DAS preparations made at Super Bowl 50 and at Super Bowl 51 actually connected more total users, or allowed users to use more data per user. We have a request with Verizon for more stats, but it may be a long wait.

One theory we have here at MSR is that it’s possible that a large number of autoconnected devices may have increased the unique-user total while not necessarily adding to the overall Wi-Fi data-used total. In our reporting about the NRG Stadium network we noted that Verizon, which helped pay for the Wi-Fi deployment, had reserved 40 percent of the Wi-Fi capacity for its customers, many of whom could have been autoconnected to the network even without them knowing. We have asked both Extreme and Verizon for a breakdown on Verizon users vs. other wireless customer users on the Wi-Fi network, but have not yet received a response.

Update: Super Bowl LI breaks 37 TB wireless mark

NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. Credit: AP / Morry Gash/ Patriots.com

NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. Credit: AP / Morry Gash/ Patriots.com

It’s official now, and without any doubt Super Bowl LI broke the single-day wireless data use mark, with at least 37.6 terabytes used.

The official stats for Wi-Fi at NRG Stadium are finally in, with a mark of 11.8 TB, which is a bit more than the 10.1 TB recorded at last year’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, the previous top mark. The official stats were reported Thursday by Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks, which posted them on the company website.

New DAS records even without any T-Mobile stats

On the cellular side Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint all set new records, with Verizon reporting 11 TB of use and AT&T reporting 9.8 TB, while Sprint (which ran on its own DAS at NRG Stadium) hit 5 TB. At last year’s Super Bowl Verizon (7 TB) and AT&T (5.2 TB) had set their respective previous high-water marks, while Sprint had reported 1.6 TB at Levi’s Stadium. Even without numbers from T-Mobile the current DAS count is 25.8 TB, much higher than the 15.9 TB cellular total from Super Bowl 50.

(Unfortunately, T-Mobile right now is refusing to provide a total data number — a spokesperson who didn’t want to be quoted claimed on a phone call that the total data number was “not relevant,” and that T-Mobile would not provide a final number. However, we did see a blog post from the company claiming it passed its 2.1 TB total from last year by halftime, so at the very least we could probably accurately add at least another 2.2 TB to the overall DAS total. So we may see a combined total of all cellular and Wi-Fi nearing 40 TB before it’s all counted up, approved or not.)

One of our close friends in the business was at the game, and was kind enough to send us a bunch of Wi-Fi speedtests from NRG Stadium (go check our Twitter timeline at @paulkaps to see the tests linked).

What was interesting was watching the speeds go down when “spike” events occurred, like touchdowns and the end of Lady Gaga’s halftime show. The incredible comeback by the New England Patriots to claim a 34-28 overtime victory kept the network busy through the night, and after the game as well during the awards ceremony.

Tom Brady with the Lombardi Trophy. Credit: AP / Patriots.com

Tom Brady with the Lombardi Trophy. Credit: AP / Patriots.com


New record for take rate

According to Extreme, fans at NRG Stadium also set new high-water marks for unique connections to the network as well as for peak concurrent connections. At Super Bowl LI Extreme said it saw 35,430 fans connect to the network, a 49 percent take rate with the attendance of 71,795. Last year at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium a total of 27,316 fans connected to the network out of 71,088 attending, a 38 percent take rate.

On the peak concurrent-connection side, Super Bowl LI set a new mark with 27,191 fans connected at one time, according to Extreme. At the Super Bowl 50, the top concurrent-connected mark was 20,300.

Extreme also released some social-media statistics, claiming that 1.7 TB of the Wi-Fi total was social media traffic. Leading the way in order of most users to fewer were Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Interestingly, Snapchat consumed almost as much data as Facebook, according to pie graphs in the Extreme infographic, which did not provide any actual numbers for those totals. Extreme also did not report what is typically the highest use of bandwidth in any stadium situation, that being Apple iOS updates and Google Gmail activity.

The NFL, which had its own game-day application for Super Bowl LI, has not released any statistics about app use.

Congrats to all the carriers, integrator 5 Bars and Wi-Fi gear supplier Extreme Networks.

THE NEW TOP 6 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
4. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
5. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
6. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB

THE NEW TOP 4 FOR TOTAL USAGE

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8; DAS: 25.8 TB**; Total: 37.6 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB; DAS: 15.9 TB; Total: 26 TB
3. Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB; DAS: 6.56 TB**; Total: 12.79 TB**
4. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB; DAS: 1.9 TB*; Total: 8.6 TB*

* = AT&T DAS stats only
** = AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint DAS stats only

Verizon goes under concrete to bolster NRG Stadium DAS for Super Bowl LI

Nodes on wheels, or NOWs, provide extra coverage for Verizon Wireless in Houston for Super Bowl LI. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Nodes on wheels, or NOWs, provide extra coverage for Verizon Wireless in Houston for Super Bowl LI. Credit: Verizon Wireless

In a slight twist from its strategy for last year’s Super Bowl, Verizon Wireless has installed DAS antennas underneath the concrete flooring of lower-tier seats at Houston’s NRG Stadium, to provide extra bandwidth for the expected high wireless data usage at Super Bowl LI.

Last year at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Verizon beefed up its distributed antenna system (DAS) with under-seat antennas it designed specifically for use in stadiums. The idea of mounting antennas under seats, a growing trend in the stadium Wi-Fi world, is gaining traction as another method of bringing signals closer to fans, especially in places (like lower bowl seats) where there are no overhangs or other places to mount gear.

And while Verizon has been preparing for Sunday’s big game at NRG Stadium for years, that didn’t stop the company from “continually tweaking” its network preparations, according to Leo Perreault, executive director of network operations for Verizon’s South Central market, a region that stretches from west of Florida to Arizona, including Houston. In a phone interview this week, Perreault said that Verizon installed the under-concrete antennas during the middle of the 2016 football season, giving the company “some good experience” with the deployment ahead of Sunday’s game.

Under concrete = easier install and maintenance

A view inside the head end room that runs Verizon's NRG Stadium DAS. Credit: Verizon Wireless

A view inside the head end room that runs Verizon’s NRG Stadium DAS. Credit: Verizon Wireless

It might not be well known outside of wireless networking circles, but signals will travel through concrete; many early stadium Wi-Fi designs (and some current ones, including a new network installed at the Pepsi Center in Denver) use antennas mounted under concrete floors, pointing up. Though fixed under-seat antennas can provide better coverage, Perreault said the ease of deployment made putting the additional DAS antennas underneath the floor a better option in Houston.

“This way [under the concrete] is non-intrusive,” Perrault said, noting that the devices are also not affected by stadium power-washing units. The decision may have been influenced by the fact that NRG Stadium’s new Wi-Fi network had a big issue with moisture in under-seat AP placements, forcing a mid-season rip and replace for all the under-seat Wi-Fi APs.

Even though antennas under concrete are not as powerful, Perrault said Verizon is “very pleased with the performance. It’s a good compromise.”

Biggest stadium DAS?

Between the game being the Super Bowl and it being in Texas, there’s no shortage of hyperbole surrounding the game and all its attendant facets, including the network technology. But when Perreault claims that the DAS Verizon has installed for NRG Stadium “might be the largest we have anywhere,” that might be true since it also serves adjacent properties including the NRG Convention Center, the NRG Arena and an outdoor DAS in the surrounding spaces. In addition to Houston Texans games, NRG Park (which includes the stadium) is also host to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which humbly bills itself as the “world’s largest livestock show and richest regular-season rodeo.”

An alien spaceship, or a temporary cell tower from Verizon? You choose.

An alien spaceship, or a temporary cell tower from Verizon? You choose.

Inside NRG Stadium, Perreault said the new Verizon DAS (built before the 2015 season) has more than 900 antennas. As neutral host, Verizon will also provide access to AT&T and T-Mobile on its network; Sprint, which built a previous DAS at NRG, will continue to run on that system.

Outside the stadium and around Houston, Verizon has done the usual big-event preparations, with lots of permanent and temporary macro network improvements, and portable units like COWs (cells on wheels) and smaller NOWs (nodes on wheels). You can review all the Verizon preparations in a company blog post.

As previously reported in MSR, Verizon also helped foot part of the bill for the new NRG Stadium Wi-Fi network, a deal that will give Verizon a reserved claim to 40 percent of the Wi-Fi network’s capacity, according to Perreault.

Whether or not Super Bowl LI breaks the wireless data consumption records set at last year’s game remains to be seen, but Perreault said there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down yet of the perpetual growth in wireless data use at stadiums, especially at big events like the Super Bowl.

“Fans just seem to find ways to consume whatever additional bandwidth you provide,” he said.

Sprint sees 797 GB at college playoff title game; will have separate DAS for Super Bowl

Ready for the playoffs and Super Bowl! Credit: 5 Bars

Ready for the playoffs and Super Bowl! Credit: 5 Bars

More results from fan wireless usage at the recent College Football Playoff championship game is trickling in, with Sprint claiming it saw 797 gigabytes of data traffic from its sites in and around Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Added to the 3.8 TB reported by AT&T on its networks, we now have a running total of approximately 4.6 TB of DAS usage for the Jan. 9 game between Clemson and Alabama, which Clemson won 35-31 on a last-second TD. We are still waiting for reports from Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, so stay tuned.

We also have yet to receive any reports of Wi-Fi traffic from Raymond James Stadium officials, so it’s still undetermined how “big” of a wireless event the college championship game was this year. In the past two years, the CFP championship was among the top Wi-Fi single-day usage totals, but so far the Raymond James Stadium folks haven’t responded to any calls or emails requesting information. Anyone who was at the game who wants to comment on the Wi-Fi performance, feel free to jump in to the comments below.

Sprint on its own DAS at NRG Stadium

We also learned from Sprint and from NRG Stadium officials that Sprint will be on its own DAS and small cell network for the Super Bowl, and not on the new Verizon DAS that was installed last year. In a Sprint blog post the company said it saw 637 GB of data on its NRG Stadium network for a December Houston Texans game, ahead of what it saw on its networks during last year’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

According to David Moore, manager of information services for NRG Park, Sprint installed the original DAS in the venue, ahead of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. AT&T and Verizon “migrated” to the new Verizon DAS last season, and T-Mobile will also be on the Verizon DAS, according to Moore.

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!

Stadium Tech Report: Carolina Panthers take ownership of DAS, Wi-Fi at Bank of America Stadium

James Hammond, director  of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

“The fan is the most valuable member of our team,” Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, is fond of saying.

And it’s become the virtual mission statement for the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Football League franchise. So even though its home field, the Bank of America Stadium, was built relatively recently (1996), technology has come a long way in two decades. And as the Panthers began a four-phase renovation in 2014, they did it with fans’ MVP status in mind, according to James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers. “It was time for some changes,” he said.

While Carolina was among the first NFL stadiums to install fan-facing Wi-Fi and enhanced cellular networks, the previous DAS and Wi-Fi systems weren’t keeping up with demand and that was starting to adversely impact the Panthers fan experience, Hammond said.

“We chose to perform a rip-and-replace on both DAS and Wi-Fi and take ownership in-house,” Hammond explained. Because the Panthers own and operate BofA Stadium, making those moves was a lot easier than if they were tenants.

Time for an upgrade

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!

The first “fan-centric improvements,” as Hammond called them, came in 2014 in the form of escalators, video big boards and a distributed audio system. As part of the second phase of upgrades, the Panthers then used the 2015 offseason to renovate the club-level suites and tore out the old DAS system while they were at it. And after a careful evaluation of different DAS solutions, they shortlisted two vendors: CommScope and Corning.

CommScope ultimately got the nod; the Panthers then had to decide between the vendor’s ION-B and ION-U DAS systems. “We went with the ION-U, which was quite new and cutting edge at that point, since it had NEMA-rated remotes,” Hammond said. Other systems lacked that kind of weatherproofing and would require additional enclosures – and expense.

CommScope's ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

CommScope’s ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

“We started over with all new fiber and coax. We did the decommissioning and construction in 90 days, which was pretty quick for a ground-up project,” he said. Beam Wireless Inc. did the design, integration and optimization and is handling the ongoing maintenance of the DAS system; Optical Telecom installed the DAS gear. BofA Stadium now has 256 DAS remotes and more than 600 DAS indoor and outdoor antennas.

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are the participating DAS carriers; T-Mobile is weighing whether to join the mix during the 2017 off-season.

The Panthers have divided BofA Stadium into 48 DAS zones: 16 zones for the upper bowl, 16 in the lower bowl, and another 16 for concourses, suites, clubs, and offices. Not all zones are used exclusively; carriers choose simulcast patterns that place multiple zones into sectors, and can change them as capacity requirements dictate, Hammond told Mobile Sports Report.

“With some minor design changes to the interior areas, we can accommodate nearly 70 zones,” he explained. “At present the most sectors in use by a carrier is 32. This means the carrier simulcasts across a mix of our 48 zones in order to match them up to 32 carrier sectors.”

Once the new DAS was built and the first couple of events were analyzed, carriers began asking for more frequencies and additional DAS sectors to continue meeting ever-growing demand. In response to the new carrier requests, the first round of DAS upgrades were implemented in the spring of 2016, Hammond said. During the 2015 season, DAS bandwidth was running around 2 GB during games. Hammond said, “With these latest DAS upgrades, we expect the bandwidth numbers to be even higher.”

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

The impact of the new DAS system was felt immediately upon its debut in July 2015. “It was a much better experience for fans who noticed the improved cellular experience,” Hammond said. Another unexpected benefit: The upgraded DAS helped mitigate bottlenecks with the old Wi-Fi system, which Hammond characterized as “under-designed.”

Going under seat for Wi-Fi upgrade

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to address any Wi-Fi upgrades before the 2015 football season began, but the Panthers issued an RFP for new Wi-Fi in August 2015 in preparation for Phase 3 renovations that would also include security upgrades and renovations to the upper concourse.

Interested vendors needed to ensure high bandwidth rates as well as high take-rates that allowed three different ISPs (Time Warner Cable/Charter, Level 3 Communications and Windstream) to deliver in excess of 10 GB, though Hammond said they’re starting at a 7-GB threshold.

The Wi-Fi award went to Aruba, now HP Enterprise, in December 2015, and construction began in January 2016 after the last postseason game, when the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC championship and a trip to Super Bowl 50.

Similar to Levi’s Stadium and the Dodgers Stadium, the Panthers chose underseat AP enclosures; BofA Stadium sports 770 AP enclosures in the upper and lower bowls out of a total of 1,225 APs, all to ensure maximum coverage and minimal dead spots. The Panthers selected AmpThink to do the Wi-Fi integration and construction; the turnkey contractor also designed and fabricated a custom enclosure for the APs.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

One other innovation in the Panthers’ Wi-Fi installation is that the underseat enclosure is mounted to the riser — the vertical part of the step — but looks like it’s on the tread, the horizontal part, which is intended as a waterproofing measure. “The riser is easier to seal and isn’t affected by pressure washers, which you’re doing constantly with an outdoor stadium,” Hammond said. “And by running pipe through the riser, you don’t have gravity working against you,” which helps keep out water, he explained.

Panthers fans access the stadium Wi-Fi through a portal page after accepting the team’s terms and conditions. From there, they are whitelisted and can automatically join the Wi-Fi network for the rest of the season. Hammond said a fan’s email is requested but not required by the portal page, and there’s a small incentive offered to encourage fans’ email subscriptions.

The new Wi-Fi system got a workout with a soccer game at BofA Stadium at the end of July 2016, then with a Panthers’ Fan Fest the following week. “All the indicators were good, and fan feedback about the system was excellent,” Hammond said. But he cautioned that the two events were not “full bowl” events with smaller attendance numbers (~50,000) than a regular season football game (75,000+). “We will continue to optimize and tune settings as we learn more during events with higher attendance,” Hammond said.

Total budget so far for the technology upgrades totals about $16 million; the DAS build-out was just under $10 million; Wi-Fi was a little more than $6 million, which included additional wired infrastructure, according to the team.

Beacons coming next

And the Panthers aren’t done making technology improvements to their stadium. Phase 4 looks to add Bluetooth beacons and do some refinement of the Panthers app. “My goal during the upcoming season is to look at options for location-aware services,” Hammond said. Some APs have beacons built in; other may need to be added to get the granularity the Panthers want for location awareness.

Hammond also wants to give fans more things to do with the Panthers app and also optimize it for push notifications, even with something as basic and useful as restroom and concessions location information. “As we learn more about fans individually, we can direct them to things of particular interest to them,” he added.

“So far, we are very pleased with the performance of the Wi-Fi and DAS systems,” Hammond said, noting the Panthers will continue to tune frequencies, add zones and increase bandwidth where needed. It’s the sort of attention that smart sporting franchises pay to their most valued team members.

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