October 21, 2014

Stadium Tech Report: Nebraska adds Cisco-powered Wi-Fi, IPTV to Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska might not have a professional football team, but University of Nebraska fans now have a pro-style wireless experience at home games thanks to a high-density Wi-Fi network and IPTV features recently installed by the school at the 85,000-plus seat Memorial Stadium.

Combined with a new mobile app that delivers multiple live video streams and replay options, the loyal Cornhusker fans — who’ve come to Lincoln, Neb., and filled Memorial Stadium to the brim every game day since the 1960s — now have a wireless fan in-game experience among the best anywhere, collegiate or pro. Installed for use this season by CDW, the new network features Cisco Wi-Fi gear and Cisco’s StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile systems, as well as a new app developed by NeuLion and additional video-streaming capabilities from EVS.

“We have the most loyal fans in the country,” said Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the University of Nebraska athletic department. Part of putting in a high-definition wireless network, Mosier said, was to meet growing fan connectivity needs and to “stay ahead of the curve” in stadium experiences. “We wanted to reward the fans for being so loyal, and give them a new experience to brag about,” Mosier said.

A look at video options in the Husker app

A look at video options in the Husker app (click picture for bigger view)

One of the first collegiate programs to install big TV screens in its stadium, Nebraska now has a Wi-Fi network with more than 800 access points, both inside Memorial’s seating bowl as well as outside, at entrance and parking areas. In addition to synchronized IPTV broadcasts on stadium flat-panel screens, Nebraska fans also have access to a wide range of live video and video replays of game-day action, thanks to the new game-day app.

According to Dan Floyd, director of information technology for Nebraska athletics, the new network is already a hit, with a peak of 25,000 simultaneous users during the second game this fall. And even though Floyd and Mosier are aware of some problem areas, as Floyd said there has already been “a lot of positive feedback” from the technology upgrades.

Better sound, better connectivity

The network deployment was part of a recent $12.3 million upgrade to the football facility, which has been the home of the Huskers since 1923. Included in the total spend was also a revamp of the public-address and sound systems, but according to Mosier “the biggest chunk” of the spending went to cover the Wi-Fi deployment.

The need for better connectivity became apparent a few years back, Mosier said, and it set in motion a “very long process” of a couple years in length in which Nebraska officials looked at other existing stadium deployments and technology choices before making their decisions. One of the easier picks was selecting Cisco as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier, since Mosier said that most of the rest of the school’s campus was already wired with Cisco networking gear. And a recent deployment of Cisco stadium Wi-Fi at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb., where the Husker basketball team plays, helped further push the football decision toward using Cisco.

“We wanted to provide a seamless experience for fans between multiple venues, and to play well with the rest of the campus,” Mosier said. “It was just a no-brainer to use a Cisco [Wi-Fi] product.”

Also in Cisco’s favor was its StadiumVision digital display system and its StadiumVision Mobile product, which both bring advanced IPTV features to static stadium screens as well as to mobile apps. StadiumVision allows for synchronization of programming across a wide array of networked displays, while StadiumVision Mobile supports several live broadcast channels that can be used to provide live content to mobile apps. The Brooklyn Nets use StadiumVision Mobile to bring live action channels to fans who visit the Barclays Center for games.

“We wanted to not just provide the networking infrastructure, but on top of that provide something extra,” Mosier said. “Our fans are pretty savvy, and they are looking for things beyond what the casual fan might be looking for. StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile makes sense for our fan base. The ‘extra screen’ approach really lets them control their own video experience.”

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

On the Huskers’ game day app, Mosier said, fans at the start of the season could choose between three StadiumVision Mobile-powered “channels” that showed the big-screen broadcast, an alternate angle view, and an “all-22″ camera that is like what coaches view to see the players across the entire field. A “phase II” of the app live video, which had not yet launched at the time of our interview, will include further user-controlled selections for more camera angles and replays. According to Mosier, the Phase II capabilities are supported by the C-Cast system from EVS. The entire new app, he said, was built by developer NeuLion.

Though Mosier said the live video production for the app was “definitely a growing process” that will require further tuning and learning, he said the system already has impressive performance, with delays between live action and app action at “a second to a second and a half.” Mosier said that Nebraska also plans to bring more live action to the mobile app for basketball season, with multiple camera angles including a “slam cam” based near the rims.

Handrails and fan interference of Wi-Fi signals

While the 800 Wi-Fi APs give Nebraska pretty good coverage throughout the facility, Floyd said the IT team knew it would have connectivity challenges in the north and south end zone stands, since neither of those sides have any structural overhangs.

“Since the north and south sides [of the stadium] don’t have overhangs we knew they would be problematic,” Floyd said. One option used in venues including AT&T Park and Levi’s Stadium, the under-the-seat access point, wasn’t an option at Memorial Stadium, Floyd said, because the seats there aren’t high enough to meet safety requirements for keeping bodies away from the antennas.

One creative way CDW and Nebraska brought Wi-Fi to the north and south stands is via Wi-Fi antennas inside railing enclosures, but those are not without their own challenges. Though the railing antennas get a signal close to fans, the long rows of seats at Memorial Stadium — up to 30 in between rows — means that the “waterbags,” or human bodies, can act as signal-blockers for fans in the middle of the rows.

“The first 10 or 12 people on either side get a pretty good signal,” said Floyd, but he added that the fans in the middle are still a challenge to reach. Both Mosier and Floyd said Nebraska will continue to seek ways to upgrade the Wi-Fi network, including possibly putting APs on top of towers or in other creative deployments.

“We knew it would need tuning, and some tuning is easier than others,” Mosier said. “We know we still have pockets of [connectivity] problems. We knew that when we put in a system like this, it wasn’t going to be perfect on day 1.”

Something to brag about

According to Floyd, Memorial Stadium has had a Verizon DAS in place for several years, which fulfilled most of the fans’ basic cellular connectivity needs since he said that “70 to 75 percent” of Cornhusker fans were Verizon customers. However, the new sound system, with its big speaker arrays, has also given room for AT&T and U.S. Cellular to add some DAS equipment of their own, with antennas mounted right inside the speaker enclosures.

Unlike other schools or teams, the Cornhuskers are not pressed to make money off their wireless network, given the stadium sellout streak that dates back to Nov. 3, 1962. But Mosier said that even the Huskers aren’t immune to the lure of the living room couch, with its comfort, HD screen and close-by food and drink.

“We definitely have a blessed situation [with the sellouts],” Mosier said, while allowing that some fans might still prefer sitting at home. “But you can’t match the experience of being at the venue,” he added. “If we can address the connectivity issues, plus add to the stadium experience [with technology], it’s a win-win for us.”

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

AT&T Park networks averaged 1.24 Terabytes per game during NLDS

attparksign1As the San Francisco Giants get set to host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS today (weather pending!) we can be reasonably assured that AT&T Park’s wireless networks will be able to handle whatever load the fans throw at them. According to AT&T, the park’s DAS and Wi-Fi networks carried an average of 1.24 Terabytes of traffic for the two most recent postseason contests, the NLDS games against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 6-7.

According to a recent AT&T local blog post, the DAS network at AT&T Park carried an average of 314 GB of traffic between the two games, with a high of 338 GB on the Oct. 7 game. Remember, these stats only reflect traffic of AT&T customers at the park — the actual total of DAS traffic would include usage from customers of Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, but none of those companies have (ever) reported DAS traffic usage. Still, the AT&T number is pretty impressive all by itself.

On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T said there was an average of 926 GB of data used per game — again, impressive when you consider that AT&T Park is a baseball stadium that only seats about 41,500 folks when it’s sold out. Since the Wi-Fi network is free and open to any wireless service customer, the 926 GB number reflects total data use. Combining the two gives you a figure of 1.24 TB average traffic per game. Now let’s see if Giants fans top that number this week.

UPDATE: We just got some fresh stats from AT&T for Tuesday night’s NLCS game at AT&T Park, and no surprise, more data was consumed. According to AT&T the fans at the Oct. 14 afternoon game used 1.38 TB of total data, with 1,067 GB on Wi-Fi and another 318 GB on the cellular DAS (remember those stats are AT&T customers only on the DAS). We’ll do another roundup after the three games are played this week to get averages.

Stadium Tech Report: Mobilitie adds Wi-Fi to DAS at Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Like a team adding a star player to its roster, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena will kick off their NHL All-Star Game showcase season this week with a new fan-facing Wi-Fi network from Mobilitie, adding to the DAS deployment previously installed by the same company.

The new network, which will use 263 access points from Wi-Fi gear vendor Aruba Networks, is set to go live for the Blue Jackets’ home opener on Oct. 11 against the New York Rangers. According to Jim Connolly, director of IT for the Blue Jackets, having the necessary wireless infrastructure in place is just the first step in a gradual expansion of features designed to enhance the fan experience inside Nationwide Arena. It also corrects a familiar problem with many existing large public facilities, the not-able-to-get-a-signal issue.

“Three or four years ago we noticed a big increase in mobile device use by our fan base,” said Connolly in a recent phone interview. “On the business side of the house we also realized that when the building was full, we had communication issues. You would try to make a [cellular] call, and it would never go through.”

Neutral host the only direction forward

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Connolly said the decision to go with Mobilitie, with its extensive history of neutral-host DAS deployments, was in part due to the organization’s desire to steer clear of carrier-specific DAS infrastructures. Even though most major carriers will say they are capable of hosting other carriers on a DAS, there are also many known cases of carriers not working well together.

“If you go with a carrier DAS, you have the possibility of isolating part of your fan base,” said Connolly, explaining the team’s desire to use a neutral host for its DAS. What helped seal the deal for Mobilitie was its willingness to also build the Wi-Fi network for no cost to the team. Though DAS helps eliminate most cellular connectivity issues inside large venues, Connolly said the Blue Jackets were “leaning” to having both Wi-Fi and DAS.

“Bringing both Wi-Fi and DAS really elevated their [Mobilitie's] bid,” Connolly said.

Ready for the All-Star Game

After deploying the DAS in April of 2013, Mobilitie and the Blue Jackets got the Wi-Fi installed over the last offseason, just in time for the year the team will be hosting the NHL All-Star Game and associated celebrations, on Jan. 24-25, 2015.

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

“The All-Star Game was definitely a motivator” to get the network finished, Connolly said. “We want to showcase the arena, let fans share via social media and not have any problems with connecting.”

Following the All-Star Game, Nationwide Arena will also host second- and third-round games for the 2015 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, just another of the 200 to 225 events that fill the 18,500-seat arena (it seats more for basketball and concerts) on a yearly basis.

Opened in 2000, the facility was new enough that network installation wasn’t a huge issue, Connolly said.

“It’s a beautiful building — the DAS and Wi-Fi deployments were pretty straightforward, with room for conduits and space available for the head end room,” Connolly said. “It was relatively painless. We were fortunate enough to have adequate space.”

Building in features as you go

Another plus to having a combined provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi is the ability to have a more integrated view of what fans are using the networks for, via analytics.

“We want to be able to see who’s in the building, and who’s doing what,” Connolly said. “Do they want social networking? Do they want food and beverage deals? Do they want to see replays? The analytics will be able to tell us what’s going on.”

While the current Blue Jackets team app is mainly static information — there is a live audio feed and some live stats available — Connolly said that now that the Wi-Fi network is live, more features like live video and in-seat food ordering, or seat upgrades, can be considered.

“We’ll be trying to figure out how to incorporate more in-game aspects, such as giving more access to those who are here in the arena,” said Connolly, also mentioning the possibilities of adding live video, replays, or online concessions. “Over the course of the first year, that’s something we will be figuring out.”

Drop the puck, hockey's back!

Drop the puck, hockey’s back!

5 Bars helps Angel Stadium get Wi-Fi and DAS to full strength for playoffs

Angel StadiumIn addition to a packed house and a top-performing team, the Angel Stadium of Anaheim will have a fully functional Wi-Fi network and a full-strength DAS on hand when the American League divisional playoffs begin there Thursday.

Just as the Los Angeles Angels oF Anaheim built their American League West division-winning record all summer, networking infrastructure provider 5 Bars brought the connectivity in the team’s stadium to the top this season as well, completing the neutral-host DAS in June and finishing the Wi-Fi network in time for the last regular-season homestand, according to the company. As the Angels get set to host the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 2, the 400-plus antenna DAS and the 300-plus Wi-Fi access point network should be able to handle the expected crush of selfies, Vines and other fan-based wireless communications that will course the airwaves during game time at the 45,050-seat facility.

While we hope there’s still time this season to get down to Anaheim for a live visit and test, for now we’ll let some quotes from the prepared press release let you know how the team feels about having better-than-average connectivity for its fans:

“We want to bring the best possible Major League Baseball experience to fans attending our games, and we’re confident this new, high-performance Wi-Fi network will fully meet those expectations when our fans come to Angel Stadium,” said John Carpino, President of the Angels, in a prepared statement.

Though the 5 Bars name is a new one in the stadium technology deployment marketplace (earlier this year the company was calling itself “5 Bars Inside,” but the inside is now dropped from the name), its leadership team claims “more than two decades of practical experience in developing and managing DAS networks for wireless service providers,” according to the press release announcing the Angel Stadium networks. For its neutral-host DAS 5 Bars is using the Teko DAS platform of products from JMA Wireless; according to 5 Bars both AT&T and Verizon will be active on the DAS on Oct. 2. On the Wi-Fi side, 5 Bars used gear from Wi-Fi supplier Ruckus Wireless. The Wi-Fi network will be free to all fans at the stadium.

UPDATE: The folks at Ruckus have an well detailed press release about the Angel Stadium deployment that is worth reading through.

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.

Niners’ home opener tops Super Bowl for Wi-Fi data traffic with 3.3 Terabytes

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse. Credit, all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse. Credit, all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The first regular-season home game for the San Francisco 49ers in their new home, Levi’s Stadium, produced more Wi-Fi traffic and far more actual fan-to-network connections than the most-recent Super Bowl, according to statistics from the Niners’ tech team.

Dan Williams, vice president of technology for the 49ers, said the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 3.3 Terabytes of data during Sunday night’s game between the Niners and the Chicago Bears, topping the 3.2 TB mark reported from Super Bowl XLVIII in February. According to Williams, out of the 70,799 that filled Levi’s Stadium Sunday, more than 30,000 fans connected to the Wi-Fi network at some point, with peak usage of 19,000 fans all connecting at one time occurring just before the 5:30 p.m. local time kickoff. According to the Super Bowl stats, the peak number of fans on Wi-Fi at that game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was 13,500.

“We’re pretty excited by Sunday,” said Williams, who said that the Wi-Fi network stood up well even under peak data transfer rates of 3.1 Gbps right before kickoff, and another 2.6 Gbps peak around 7:30 p.m. Around the peaks, network traffic stayed “well over 1 gig per second for three and a half hours,” Williams said.

North scoreboard screen at Levi's Stadium.

North scoreboard screen at Levi’s Stadium.

During the Niners’ first preseason game against the Denver Broncos, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 2.13 TB of data, and during the Aug. 24 preseason game against San Diego there was another 1.96 TB of Wi-Fi data. The figures do not include any reporting from the stadium’s DAS network, which carries cellular traffic from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile customer. If preseason games are any indication, Williams expects to see numbers in the terabyte range for DAS traffic as well.

The Wi-Fi numbers from Sunday showed that fans quickly figured out a name change in the network name (or SSID). During preseason games, the Wi-Fi network was identified as “Levi’s Stadium” in a device list of available networks; on Sunday the free stadium network used the name “xfinitywifi,” reflecting the brand of Wi-Fi sponsor Comcast. Some fans might have been confused since the “xfinitywifi” SSID is the same one used by Comcast for its public Wi-Fi networks.

“Some folks may have been scratching their heads,” said Williams. “We changed the name last Monday before the opener.”

Replay app gets 7,800 views

As previously reported by MSR, the instant replay feature of the Levi’s Stadium app had its debut Sunday, and according to Williams fans watched 7,800 replays via the app. The top replay view was of the early touchdown pass from Niners QB Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree, which Williams said was viewed more than 1,000 times.

Fans on southwest concourse take photos of live action.

Fans on southwest concourse take photos of live action.

As MSR reported, the replay feature was somewhat limited in functionality, not working at all until late in the first half and then only offering the last two plays plus some scoring highlights for viewing. Previously, team executives had said the replay feature would offer multiple camera angles and multiple replay reviews all at the same time. According to Williams, more features will be added to the replay function in the near future.

“It’s not the finished product, by any means,” Williams said. “You’ll see some more polish on it.”

The most-used feature in the stadium app, Williams said, continues to be the food and beverage features, which allow fans to either purchase concessions for express line pickup, or to have their orders delivered to their seats. Williams said the Niners delivered 2,100 food orders to fans Sunday, the most for the Niners so far.

Perhaps the best news for Williams was the lack of complaints about the wireless network, which the team had asked fans to tweet about if they were experiencing problems. Though some fans with older devices that only work on the 2.4 GHz wireless bands might not see the same speeds as those with newer devices (which use the more roomy 5 GHz bands), Williams said his team only got a couple complaints about network issues, and one of those was solved before they could respond.

“Overall it just was a really good [wireless] experience,” said Williams, who always ends by noting that networks are never completely finished products. But with its Super Bowl-beating performance Sunday, the Levi’s Stadium network appears in midseason form.

“I think we’re close,” Williams said.

View from the north porch

View from the north porch