July 26, 2014

Stadium Tech Report: Upgrades keep San Francisco Giants and AT&T Park at front of stadium DAS and Wi-Fi league

Outside AT&T Park. All photos, Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. (Click on any photo for larger image)

Outside AT&T Park. All photos, Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. (Click on any photo for larger image)

What’s it like when the best-connected park in Major League Baseball loses its cellular mojo for a month? This winter the San Francisco Giants found out how fun it isn’t to revisit the days of “no signal,” when a DAS upgrade meant about 30 days of little to no connectivity inside AT&T Park.

“It was painful,” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, during a recent in-person interview at AT&T Park. Though no big sporting events took place during the Feburary-to-March overhaul of the main AT&T distributed antenna system (DAS) head end, Schlough said during that time many of the roughly 200 to 300 employees who work at AT&T Park every day were forced to find daylight to make a call, just like the bad old days before DAS.

“We never really knew how much we rely on DAS [for internal operations], but having it down really drove it home,” said Schlough. The good news on the DAS front was that once the upgrade was complete, the Giants had a lot more space in their previously cramped head-end headquarters. According to Schlough, the new back-end equipment for AT&T’s DAS operations takes up less than 50 percent of the previous gear footprint, room that is likely to be filled with gear from yet another carrier slated to join the AT&T neutral-host DAS later this season.

Painful, but worth it.

Second major upgrade in 5 years of DAS

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park's main DAS head end facility.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park’s main DAS head end facility.

If you’re not familiar with a neutral DAS like the one at AT&T Park, it’s an implementation where there is one set of antennas and internal wiring, and then a “head end” where each carrier puts its cellular-specific networking gear, equipment that identifies and authorizes callers and then connects those calls or messages to fiber links back out to the Internet and beyond. As the lead provider of DAS and as the namesake sponsor of the park it makes sense that AT&T has the biggest DAS requirement on site. Verizon, which has been on the AT&T Park DAS for two years now, actually houses most of its head end gear in a separate facility nearby, and links to the AT&T Park system via fiber.

Part of this year’s DAS renovations include a new room specifically being built for Sprint’s DAS equipment, a sort of re-arrange-the-house construction project that saw the ballpark wall off half its painting services workshop to make space for Sprint’s gear. During our visit we saw workers putting up the racks that will hold the Sprint head end gear, as thick fiber cables snaked in the doorway.

Additional carrier(s) would likely be placed in the same room as AT&T and Verizon, on floor space that used to hold AT&T racks before those were un-drilled from the concrete floor and new racks were installed during the February-March overhaul. According to Schlough, the DAS upgrade (which required minimal tweaks to the previously installed DAS antennas) was the second major rip-and-replace action in the 5 years the DAS has been live at AT&T Park.

DAS performance improves over time; Wi-Fi is good too

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park.

Though Wi-Fi services in stadiums gets a lot of technology headlines, in many big arenas the DAS is an equal workhorse, connecting people who either don’t know how to or prefer not to connect to Wi-Fi services. Through the first 18 games of the 2014 season, Schlough said AT&T Park was seeing average AT&T traffic loads on the DAS of 150 Megabytes on the download side (fans requesting data) and 50 MB on the upload side (fans sending data). Figures for the Wi-Fi network (which is free to all customers) for the same span of games was an average of 400 MB download, 200 MB upload per game.

Schlough said performance stats for the AT&T portion of the DAS have improved vastly since the distributed antenna system was first put in.

“Just four or five years ago, 97 percent [connection rate] was actually relatively respectable,” Schlough said. Now, Schlough said network connect rates regularly hover in the “four nines” region, with a recent report showing a success rate of 99.9925 percent of all calls or texts going through.

The Wi-Fi network at AT&T Park, the first in any major sporting arena and still among the world’s most expansive, has more than 1,200 access points, many of which are now located beneath the seats. According to Schlough this coming offseason will likely represent the final phase of a stadium-wide deployment effort for the new, under-seat access points, which are installed symmetrically under the seats that are out in the open air.

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Since AT&T Park doesn’t have many railings alongside the seats “in the bowl” or those in the upper decks, the under-the-seat APs were the only choice to extend Wi-Fi connectivity, he said. Though the box-like antennas do take away some under-seat storage area from approximately every 40th seat, Schlough said there haven’t been many complaints from fans about the gear.

What he has seen, however, are many compliments about the network services, especially from fellow professionals in the sports IT world.

“I get friends in the business who come here and send me texts with Speedtests attached, showing how great the Wi-Fi is,” said Schlough. My own ad hoc testing before our interview (albeit during non-game hours) showed speeds of greater than 40 Mbps for Wi-Fi just outside the park near McCovey Cove, and speeds of 25+ Mbps just outside the main gate. Schlough also showed us some of the new iBeacon antennas, which are being tested at MLB parks this summer to provide near-field communication marketing opportunities, like automatically checking fans in to the official At Bat app when they pass by a beacon. It’s just another way the best-connected park in baseball seeks to continue to improve the fan experience.

According to Schlough, the connectivity at AT&T Park doesn’t hurt when it comes to ticket sales.

“People do come here more frequently, I think, because they know there will be good connectivity,” said Schlough. “There’s no compromise. I do think that’s part of why we’re currently riding the third longest sellout streak in MLB history.”

MORE PHOTOS BELOW — CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE LARGER VERSION

Can you find the iBeacon in the bowels of AT&T Park? It's the small grey box to the left of the other antenna.

Can you find the iBeacon in the bowels of AT&T Park? It’s the small grey box to the left of the other antenna.

Sprint's new DAS room at AT&T Park.

Sprint’s new DAS room at AT&T Park.

A close-up of the under-seat AP. Each AP requires holes drilled through concrete to provide wiring access. APs are weather-sealed, according to the Giants.

A close-up of the under-seat AP. Each AP requires holes drilled through concrete to provide wiring access. APs are weather-sealed, according to the Giants.

Bill Schlough's "old phones" collection. How many of these can you identify?

Bill Schlough’s “old phones” collection. How many of these can you identify?

AT&T Park gets more Wi-Fi, new DAS backend, and iBeacon… plus seat upgrade app

Generally recognized as perhaps the best-connected sports stadium anywhere, AT&T Park in San Francisco will greet fans for the 2014 baseball season with upgrades to make the technology experience even better than before, with upgraded Wi-Fi and DAS, as well as Apple’s new iBeacon technology.

In a press release sent out earlier this week the Giants said that they and partner AT&T had been busy this offseason adding upgrades to the Wi-Fi network that has hosted more than 1.85 million visitors since it first went online in 2004. According to the Giants the park now has 1,289 access points for its free Wi-Fi service, second in number only to the Dallas Cowboys’ home, cavernous AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

On the DAS side of things AT&T Park now has a completely new headend system that fully supports both AT&T and Verizon versions of 4G LTE signals. According to the release T-Mobile and Sprint services will join the DAS later this year.

Like many other MLB parks the Giants’ home will now feature Apple’s iBeacon technology, which is basically low-power Bluetooth connections that can communicate with nearby Apple iOS7 devices. Though phones may now run out of juice quicker at the park if you need to leave both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, it should be interesting to see how fans respond to the iBeacon deployments, whether they find them helpful or annoying. MSR will keep following the iBeacon deployments through the year, and we encourage any and all fans who use the system to tell us how it worked.

This year the Giants will also be working in partnership with the Pogoseat app for instant at-the-game ticket upgrades. The feature will be available in the Giants version of MLB’s At the Ballpark app, where Giants fans will be able to search for better seats to pay for while at the park. Of course you can always try the time-honored method of just sneaking into empty seats in later innings of the game, but there is no app for that.

49ers Embrace Social Media In Deal With Yahoo

yahoofan

Have you ever dreamed of seeing your name, or at least your picture, up in lights for all to see? Well for 49er fans, and I guess any fan that attends games at the new 49er Levi’s Stadium that has become a possibility due to a deal between the team and Yahoo.

Yahoo has signed on with the team as the team and stadium’s “exclusive online sports content, social networking, and photo and video sharing partner” which is quite a mouthful. The terms of the 10 year deal have not been announced, or even reliably leaked.

Part of the deal will enable fans to appear on the big screen, that is the stadium big screen. Fans that take photos can upload them to Flikr during the game, which just happens to be a Yahoo property, and there is the possibility that they will be displayed on the big screen.

Fans can use specific booths that will be situated around the stadium’s concourse to upload the photos into the 49ers Flikr photo gallery, from which selections will be displayed at the game. Yahoo will also have the ability to tout its Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football.

The deal enables the company to name the lounge in the stadium’s suites and its adjacent viewing platforms the Fantasy Football Lounge. But the deal is more than just static naming- the 49ers said that they intend to integrate Yahoo and its properties into its broadcast and digital media.

It is not surprising that the 49ers have gone out and signed a deal with a major Internet player; expect to see this as the trend of the future as fans increasingly use smartphones and tablets to upload imagery and comments from sporting events, a trend that has been growing at a tremendous rate for the past few years.

With the increased adoption of social media at stadiums will also come the increasing need for better networking and communications technology. Anybody that has tried to get online at a sporting event knows the long delays that can entail, even when the mobile device shows that the signal is strong.

MLB has already signed a deal with Qualcomm to develop and implement a fan to help solve this issue. The San Francisco Giants, which planned for these issues from the start of AT&T Park, have still had to continually upgrade the stadiums’ capacity as users’ demands increased.

Wi-Fi Whispers: Giants Double Wi-Fi Access Points, Add Charging Stations at AT&T Park

SFG_ATT_parkThe San Francisco Giants are making a case for keeping thier unofficial title of having the best wireless networked ballpark by doubling the number of wireless access points and adding mobile-device charging stations at AT&T Park for the 2013 season.

Already easily one of the best un-wired sporting arenas, the home field for the 2012 World Series champs isn’t resting on its tech laurels. According to an email from Giants CIO Bill Schlough, “the Giants and AT&T Wi-Fi Services are more than doubling the number of access points at the ballpark (760) to stay ahead of demand from our increasingly connected fan base.” Schlough said the Wi-Fi network at AT&T Park hosted 980,000 gameday connections during the 2012 season, up 90% from 2011. Total data usage, Schlouh said, increased by 140 percent over the previous year, with more than 16 million megabytes sent over the AT&T Wi-Fi network during the Giants’ regular and playoff seasons.

To better serve fans who probably burn out batteries sending tweets and Vine videos, the Giants and AT&T are helping make sure nobody has to crouch down by a concourse wall, looking for an outlet mid-game. According to Schlough, fans at AT&T Park will have access to more than 400 mobile device chargers throughout the stadium, with 10 mobile kiosks capable of charging 16 devices each. And perhaps most importantly, the Giants will keep their highest-paying customers well-charged, with four device chargers in each suite.

Schlough also gave us a Giants’ point of view on the announcement last week about Qualcomm and Major League Baseball “working together” to bring more Wi-Fi networks to MLB parks. While we cynically tweeted that such deals don’t mean much without monetary figures attached (I mean, the best way to bring Wi-Fi to the ballparks that don’t have them is to BUILD NETWORKS), Schlough said the Qualcomm deal would only help build better networks.

In an email reply to a question about how the Qualcomm-MLBAM deal might affect the Giants, Schlough responded: “We’ve actually been working with Qualcomm and MLB Advanced Media to benchmark the work that AT&T has done here with our Wi-Fi and 3G/LTE DAS networks, in hopes that this we can A) identify specific areas within the ballpark to be targeted for continued improvement and B) potentially serve as the model that other ballparks can follow.”

Charging stations sound like another good step in the fans’ direction. Now if only airports and convention centers would follow suit.

Xirrus Brings Wi-Fi to Liverpool FC

Our friends at Xirrus scored another big stadium deal for their new-era Wi-Fi networking gear, bringing wireless services to Anfield Stadium, the home of the club since its formation in 1892. Here’s a good writeup on the deal from TechWorld. We are guessing the ability for Xirrus’s antennas to cover more space and provide more capacity per access point was a selling plus for the ancient Anfield Stadium; here’s the official press release about the win.

ExteNet Bags Four Major Carriers for Barclays Center DAS

On the DAS (distributed antenna system) front the folks at ExteNet Systems scored a major win for their network at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. ExteNet, which builds DAS networks to improve in-building cellular connections, signed agreements with the big 4 U.S. wireless carriers — AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and MetroPCS — for the Barclays DAS, meaning that all the carriers will pay ExteNet to help bring better signals to their customers inside the arena.

Signing all four is a huge win for ExteNet, whose strategy of building “neutral DAS” networks and then acting as the middleman seems to be paying off not just for ExteNet, but also for cellular customers. By picking ExteNet, Barclays is putting the fan experience above the potential income of a single-carrier “exclusive” deal. Let’s hope more stadiums think of ExteNet and other neutral DAS players first, instead of deals that leave two thirds of the cellular users without better connections.

Giants Fans at AT&T Park Sent Lots of Texts During World Series, But Also Watched the Game

Our friends over at AT&T sent us some interesting wireless network stats from last week’s first two games of this year’s World Series, which were played in the San Francisco Giants’ well-wired home, AT&T Park. With the stadium’s state-of-the-art wireless infrastructure, it’s perhaps no surprise that fans consumed multiple gigabits of data, both sending and receiving.

We’ll include all the raw stats below — including some fun ones like the 53,000 SMS text messsages sent in the 6 p.m. hour of Game 1, the time span during which eventual Series MVP Pablo Sandoval hit his second and third home runs of the game — but what jumped out at us was the fact that voice calls peaked before the games started and data traffic peaked within the first hour. To us, that meant what happened was what we’ve believed all along: That fans do like to send a picture or a photo of themselves at big games, or call friends who aren’t there, but then once the games start they’re watching what’s happening on the field.

So even in Tweet-happy and iPhone-crazy San Francisco, the great fears of fans only looking at their phones and forgetting to cheer isn’t something that’s going to happen anytime soon. If nothing else, the players on the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals can tell you that fans at AT&T Park were certainly paying attention and directing all their attention to the field, quite loudly at times. It might be some time before others believe cell phones and sporting events can co-exist, but we’re here to tell you it’s already happening now.

(Stats and figures below courtesy of AT&T, describing the stats their network folks compiled based on fans’ usage of our network during Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco.)

2012 World Series – games 1 & 2

· Fans still love the long ball – More than 15 percent more data was uploaded and nearly 20,000 more texts were shared on our network inside the park (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) during game one than game two of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park.

· A text speaks 1,000 words – AT&T mobile users sent and received more than 350,000 texts across our network during the first two games of the World Series (between the hours of 4-9pm PST).

· Hush up, the game’s about to start – For both of the first two games of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) the most calls made on AT&T’s Network occurred during the hour directly preceding the game’s first pitch (4-5 pm PST).

· Fastest fingers – The hourly data upload and hourly total data peaks occurred in the first hour (5-6 pm PST) of both game one and two (between the hours of 4-9pm PST). Data uploaded as well as total data volumes decreased during each hour the game went on (between the hours of 4-9pm PST).

Additional Data

Game 1

· The hourly data upload peak of 16.2 GB (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) occurred in the hour in which Pablo Sandoval hit his first home run

· The peak point in hourly total data consumption (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) happened in the first hour of the game with a total volume of 35.3 GB passing through AT&T’s Network.

· AT&T subscribers downloaded the most data – 18.3 GB – during the 6 pm hour (between the hours of 4-9pm PST)

· AT&T mobile users sent and received the most texts (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) during the 6pm hour, the hour in which Pablo Sandoval hit his second and then his historic third home run, with more than 53,000 SMS texts sent and delivered across AT&T’s Network. That’s more than one text for every fan in the stadium. (Total attendance – 42,855)

· For the opening game of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) the most calls made on AT&T’s Network occurred during the hour directly preceding the game’s first pitch.

Game 2

· The hourly data upload peak of 13.8 GB (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) occurred in the hour in which the first pitch was thrown

· The peak point in hourly total data consumption (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) happened in the first hour of the game with a total volume of 33.1 GB passing through AT&T’s Network.

· AT&T subscribers downloaded the most data – 20.6 GB – during the 6 pm hour (between the hours of 4-9pm PST)

· AT&T mobile users sent and received the most texts (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) during the 7pm hour with more than 42,000 SMS texts sent and delivered across AT&T’s Network. That’s nearly one text for every fan in the stadium. (Total attendance – 42,982)

· For the second game of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park (between the hours of 4-9pm PST) the most calls made on AT&T’s Network occurred during the hour directly preceding the game’s first pitch.

Giants Win, Twitter Explodes

It’s become pretty normal for Twitter to blow up after any big event now (just wait until the U.S. Presidential elections) but when the company’s hometown baseball team wins the World Series, the explosion of tweets is the Internet equivalent of the fireworks going off around us here in the Bay Area tonight. According to Topsy, the tweets hit 38,000 per minute right after Sergio Romo got Miguel Cabrera to watch strike three on that sick fastball:


38,000+ tweets per minute for the @ after winning the #worldseries! Go Giants! #sfgiants http://t.co/rK1bocEK
@Topsy
Topsy

In honor of the Giants and for Twitter, some choice post-game missives from the folks we follow. Any good ones you’ve seen, put them in the comments and I’ll add them later to the main post.


Second time today Romo’s clinched a game for the Giants.
@jimrome
Jim Rome


When a #WorldSeries is won on the road…almost as awkward as that Erin Andrews interview of Marco Scutaro.
@Matt_Ginella
Matt Ginella


my neighborhood is one #SFGiants party spot. Honking has begun in earnest.
@om
Om Malik


RT @: Dear God. Giants championship parade scheduled for Halloween. That is going to be a FREAKSHOW.
@jason_kint
Jason Kint



p.s. Thank you Melky for the All-Star victory ;)
@omid
Omid Ashtari


Giants win with pitching, defense..managers moves..timely hitting..sounds like simple formula..if it were everyone would do it..congrats SF
@karlravechespn
karl ravech

https://twitter.com/evanadrian/status/262764923556352002/photo/1


Across the street from me, how to watch the game in The City. (Also, faster than Twitter for news.) http://t.co/KB2TRbD9
@Rafe
Rafe Needleman