Arizona State upgrades DAS, Wi-Fi at Sun Devil Stadium

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

When Arizona State University started renovating Sun Devil Stadium three years ago, the project wasn’t so much a simple wireless refresh as it was a total reset of what technology, sports and academia could co-create.

In addition to expanded Wi-Fi and DAS for the stadium (a venue that includes classrooms, meeting rooms and retail outlets), ASU activated a virtual beacon trial. The university also joined up with Intel to explore how Internet of Things devices might yield better environmental information about the bowl, including acoustic data, Jay Steed, assistant vice president of IT operations, told Mobile Sports Report.

The university’s IT department understood that a richer fan experience for football and other events would require a robust network. Steed and his colleagues visited other venues like Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Stanford and Texas A&M to get a better handle on different approaches to networking, applications and services.

Regardless, some sort of refresh was overdue. Wedged between two buttes in the southeastern Phoenix suburb of Tempe, the 71,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium was completed in 1958 and needed infrastructure and technology updates. Wi-Fi access was limited to point-of-sale systems and stadium suites; fans generally relied on a DAS network.

Time for an upgrade

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“The stadium needed a lot of facelifting, not just from a technology perspective but also for the fan experience, like ADA compliance and overall comfort,” Steed said. “We didn’t just want to rebuild a venue for six football games a year, but extend its availability to 365 days and make it a cornerstone and anchor for the whole campus.”

The 'Inferno' student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The ‘Inferno’ student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The reset included tearing out the lower bowl to “punch some new holes” — new entry points to the stadium — and to add conduits and cabling for the new 10-gigabit fiber backbone for the stadium. The network can be upgraded as needed to 40- and even 100-gigabit pipes, according to Steed.

“We wanted to make sure it could support fans’ [connectivity needs] and all the facility’s operations with regard to video and StadiumVision, learning and education, and Pac-12 needs as well,” he said.

The overall stadium renovation was budgeted at $268 million; the technology upgrades will total about $8 million.

The university added 250 new DAS antennas. The vendor-neutral network includes AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, which share 21 DAS sectors to keep cell service humming inside the stadium.

On the Wi-Fi side, ASU opted for Cisco’s access points. The networking vendor was already entrenched across the 642-acre campus; Steed and the IT department prefer the simplicity of a single-vendor network. Cisco helped with the hardware and RF engineering for Sun Devil Stadium. CenturyLink offered guidance on the networking and fiber pieces of the project, while Sundt was the contractor for most of the physical construction.

Wireless service for ‘The Inferno’

When the renovation is officially completed later in 2017 (most of the network is already live), there will be 1,100 APs in and around Sun Devil Stadium. The student sections, also known as The Inferno, get more APs and bandwidth since historical data has shown students to be the biggest bandwidth consumers in the stadium. Consequently, the ratio in the student sections is one AP to every 50 users; the rest of the bowl’s APs each handle about 75 users on average, Steed said.

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

ASU’s new Wi-Fi network was engineered to deliver 1.5 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, but Steed said so far users are getting better performance – 8 Mbps up and 12 Mbps down. “We’re getting about 25 percent saturation,” he added. “Many users put their phones away during the games, but we see spikes at halftime and during commercial breaks.” Regardless, ASU continually monitors Wi-Fi and DAS usage and adjusts bandwidth as needed.

Another big challenge is the desert climate – temperatures regularly soar into triple digits. With about 450 under-seat APs in the bowl, Steed and his team had to make sure the enclosures could withstand heat and didn’t obstruct the walkways. “We’ll see how well the electronics do, baking at 120 degrees six months out of the year,” he laughed.

ASU is also working with Intel, using the stadium’s APs as part of an Internet of Things trial. As Steed described it, IoT sensors work alongside stadium APs to measure temperature, noise, vibration and other environmental data. “We also look at lighting control and water distribution and flow,” he said.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Automating the control of environmental functions like heating, cooling, power usage and facilities management will help the university toward its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2025, Steed added. The trials are designed so that the technology can be expanded across the university, possibly for campus transportation kiosks or student concierge services. IoT devices could give students and visitors information about adjacent buildings or landmarks around campus.

Separate but related, the university is also testing cloud-based, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology from Mist Systems. These “virtual beacons” use sensors attached to an AP to flag information or a point of interest for students or stadium visitors. “The virtualized beacon technology helps us understand where people are walking around and what they’re looking at in the stadium and elsewhere around campus,” Steed said.

They’re currently being tested in some of Sun Devil Stadium’s suites; Steed foresees expanding that to the student union to help guide people to meeting rooms, retail facilities or food vendors, for example.

Steed credited excellent communication and collaboration among the university’s athletic and IT departments and other players in the upgrade equation. “Our athletic director, Ray Anderson, brought the CIO and me into his office and really worked together with us,” he explained. “The biggest piece of our success was knowing that the AD supported our recommendations and brought us in as valued advisors.”

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.

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Also in our latest in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace is a profile of a new Wi-Fi deployment at the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and a profile of new Wi-Fi and DAS networks deployed at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium. We also provide an update on how the new Wi-Fi network at Houston’s NRG Stadium is getting ready for the upcoming Super Bowl LI.

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AT&T sees double DAS usage at College Football Playoff championship game

Screen Shot 2017-01-10 at 12.06.37 PMWireless data use at big sports events keeps continuing to grow, with AT&T reporting that its cellular network traffic from Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game between Clemson and Alabama was double the total from last year’s game.

According to AT&T, it saw fans use a total of 3.8 terabytes of wireless data Monday, on its stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) network at Raymond James Stadium as well as from other network sites in and around the stadium in Tampa. At last year’s championship game in Glendale, Ariz., AT&T saw 1.9 TB of data used on its cell networks. Keep in mind, these numbers are for AT&T networks ONLY, so the total wireless numbers are much larger.

Unfortunately, Verizon Wireless is (so far) declining to report its wireless data statistics from Monday night’s game, a situation we hope they reconsider; we are also still waiting to hear from Sprint and T-Mobile representatives to get their figures from the event. We also have a call in to the stadium authorities to see if we can get figures from the in-stadium Wi-Fi network, so stay tuned. If AT&T’s numbers are any indication, the thrilling 35-31 Clemson victory might just join our list of top single-day wireless event, especially since the event set an attendance record with 74,512 on hand to witness the drama.

AT&T beefs up DAS at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium ahead of College Football Playoff championship

Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. DAS antennas visible on light standards. Photos credit: AT&T

Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. DAS antennas visible on light standards. Photos credit: AT&T

With the college football playoff championship game coming to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 9, 2017, it’s no surprise that wireless carriers like AT&T have been beefing up coverage in and around the venue ahead of what is historically one of the biggest wireless-use events in sports.

According to our unofficial list, the last two college football playoff games rank fifth and sixth overall in the list of “most Wi-Fi used for a single-day event,” trailing only the last two Super Bowls, WrestleMania 32 and a Texas A&M home game against Alabama. (Note to stadium IT types: If you have a recent event that should be on our list, let us know!) DAS stats from the CFP championship games were also among the top usage totals for single-day events, with such numbers still growing year to year.

DAS antenna visible on red stanchion

DAS antenna visible on red stanchion

For this year’s game at the home of the NFL’s Buccaneers, AT&T said it had increased coverage via the stadium’s DAS by 400 percent, now up to a total of 452 antennas inside the venue. In and around town, AT&T said it had invested more than $9 million in new improvements, including 20 new or enhanced cell sites, ahead of the playoff championship weekend. In addition, AT&T will be deploying 2 cell on wheels or COWs during the event.

MSR TOP 3 TOTAL USAGE

1. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB; DAS: 15.9 TB; Total: 26 TB
2. 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**
3. 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

MSR TOP 5 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
2. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
3. Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
4. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
5. College Football Playoff championship game, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 12, 2015: Wi-Fi: 4.93 TB

Colorado passes on full-stadium Wi-Fi or DAS for Folsom Field

View of the west stands at Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado football team. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

View of the west stands at Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado football team. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

With a No. 9 ranking in all the major polls, the University of Colorado football team is experiencing a resurgence this season, which may lead to a rare CU sellout for this weekend’s final home game against Pac-12 rival Utah.

While the Buffs’ on-field performance in 2016 may have ended years of fan frustration, the 50,000+ fans expected to be in attendance at Folsom Field this Saturday may still experience another form of frustration, mainly in trying to get their mobile devices to connect to the Internet. According to school officials, there is no full-stadium, fan-facing Wi-Fi or cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) network in Folsom Field, and no plans to bring either to the venue anytime soon.

Instead, most fans at the on-campus stadium will rely on one of two nearby macro sites, one each from top wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless. According to Jeff Lipton, director of real estate for CU, the school decided to pass on bringing Wi-Fi or DAS to Folsom for a number of reasons, including the cost of the systems, the infrequent use of the facility, and potential loss of network control to prospective suppliers.

Hard to justify cost of connectivity for lightly used venue

“Nationally, stadiums are challenging” when it comes to cost justifications for installing wireless networks, Lipton said in a recent phone interview. While Lipton claimed that CU “hasn’t been sleeping on this,” saying the school has been reviewing wireless stadium options for several years, he added that CU had concluded that a cellular DAS wasn’t a good fit for Folsom, which has been the home of CU football since 1924.

Error message shown while trying to connect to ESPN's website at Folsom Field on Nov. 19.

Error message shown while trying to connect to ESPN’s website at Folsom Field on Nov. 19.

One of the main problems is, Lipton said, justifying the cost to bring connectivity to a venue that is only used a handful of times a year. In 2016, Colorado had six home games on its football schedule, the main use of 53,613-seat Folsom Field. This past summer there were two concert dates with the Dead and Company band that filled the stadium, and the stadium is also used as the finish line for the annual Bolder Boulder 10k on Memorial Day.

Though the crowds that do come to Folsom would no doubt enjoy better connectivity, right now it’s not in the cards, Lipton said, especially from a cellular DAS perspective.

“We looked at DAS for the main part of the stadium but determined it was not cost effective, and the vendors wanted a connectivity exclusive” for the rest of the campus, a deal Lipton said CU definitely did not want to agree to.

“We like to control our own [wireless] destiny on campus — we’re not going to give that up in a deal to get DAS,” Lipton said. And, Lipton said that “I’m not sure that [technically] in the long term, DAS is the solution” for stadium networks.

The right way to Wi-Fi

What’s more interesting to CU is finding some way or waiting for new technology to emerge to make owning and operating a Wi-Fi network inside Folsom something that makes sense. When it comes to Wi-Fi, Lipton said that CU has been aggressively installing it in many of the 12 billion square feet of building space it manages at the Boulder, Colo., campus.

Around Folsom, there is free public Wi-Fi available at the new Champions Center (an indoor practice field and offices building located adjacent to the east side of Folsom Field) as well as in the attached parking structure. There is also some free Wi-Fi available for suites and club spaces in the newer structures on the east side of Folsom Field, but nothing for the balance of bowl seating in the stadium.

Folsom's east side structure, which does have some Wi-Fi inside suites and club areas.

Folsom’s east side structure, which does have some Wi-Fi inside suites and club areas.

“We have pretty ubiquitous Wi-Fi throughout campus, and we installed it and run it,” said Lipton. In terms of bringing Wi-Fi into the Folsom Field bowl — as well as to the stands at the Coors Event Center, the school’s 11,00-seat basketball facility — that idea is still being studied by an internal working group, Lipton said.

“We recognize that long term, there are some real revenue opportunities [around Wi-Fi networks] that could pay for this later on,” Lipton said. “But it’s not there yet.”

Any Wi-Fi network that does end up getting built inside Folsom would also have to surmount the non-trivial challenge of bringing wireless networks to a facility with parts that are nearly 100 years old. Part of the bowl also sits in the ground, bringing another degree of difficulty to the idea of getting cables underneath the stands (for possible under-seat or railing-based antenna options). But for newer parts of the stadium, including the north end zone structures and the new east side, bringing connectivity to the stands outside wouldn’t be as difficult.

At the 11,064-capacity Coors Event Center, Lipton said there is some CU Wi-Fi inside the building, but it was not designed for full-stadium crowd access down into the seating bowl.

Unable to send texts, or get Internet access

Though Lipton claims that the two Folsom macro sites — one atop the roof on the stadium’s west side building and another on a building across the street — are working “much better” this season, an MSR visit to Folsom for the Nov. 19 home game against Washington State saw almost zero connectivity, on both the cellular and Wi-Fi front.

A look at the newer north and northeast structures at Folsom Field from the east stands.

A look at the newer north and northeast structures at Folsom Field from the east stands.

Though our tests were sporadic, with only one phone in one part of the stadium, our not being able to send a text message with a photo of the stunning Colorado Rockies backdrop was probably something many others experienced inside Folsom last week, where 48,658 fans saw CU beat WSU 38-24. On the Verizon network, we were almost always looking at a “1x” number for connectivity, which pretty much guaranteed no signal all day long.

Even inside the east building’s 5th-floor club area, where we detected the CU campus Wi-Fi network, our phone couldn’t connect, briefly showing a link but then dropping it as soon as we tried to do anything. There was no visible promotion of the CU Wi-Fi, or any instruction about whether fans should use one of two visible SSIDs, one with a “guest” label and one without. Back out in the stands, we tried to get to the ESPN website to see other college scores, but again our device failed to connect.

While Lipton admitted that “traffic on [football] game days can overwhelm” the macro sites, he still thinks any advanced connectivity has to make fiscal sense. As the one who says he signs contracts for such deployments at CU, Lipton said “there’s an art to every deal.” For Folsom Field connectivity, however, that deal hasn’t yet been done.