April 18, 2014

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

MSR Profile: San Francisco Giants, AT&T Continue to Push the Wireless Envelope at AT&T Park

It’s fun to look back at the news from 2004 to see just how novel an idea it was to put a Wi-Fi network into a ballpark. “SBC Park a hot spot for fans lugging laptops,” said an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, complete with a photo of a fan hunched over a laptop. According to the story, some 200 fans per game might have used the network right after it was launched. Woo-hoo!

Fast forward to 2012, and here are some eye-popping stats from a recent Giants homestand against the Cubs: According to the Giants and AT&T, at one game there were 10,000 fans using the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, and another 10,000 connecting via the various cellular antennas — all using a data app, not even counting phone calls. Still think this is just something for power geeks trying to program in between innings? Or has the wireless fan finally become mainstream?

As impressive as those totals are, what’s a more compelling story is the fact that the Giants and AT&T were ready for that bandwidth demand, with a layered cellular and Wi-Fi network that overdelivers, instead of dropping connections. Why did they put the network in, and how did they make it a success — and a role model for stadiums and teams everywhere? To get the answer to those questions, Mobile Sports Report recently spent a couple hours at the ballpark with Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club, and Terry Stenzel, vice president and general manager for Northern California and Reno for AT&T, to hear about lessons learned and where wireless and sports are headed in the future.

The Super-Connected Fans of San Francisco and Silicon Valley

Back when AT&T was still known as SBC, the ballpark with its name seemed as likely a place as any to put in a wireless network. Though it wasn’t even the first in the Bay area — Candlestick Park, former home of the Giants and still host to the football 49ers, had some limited wireless access back in 2000 thanks to then-stadium-naming sponsor 3Com — the network that went live at the China Basin ballpark in 2004 was well received by the wired constituents of the greater SF Bay area. After all, this was Silicon Valley — where folks didn’t mind going to Best Buy to get a wireless LAN card to put in a PCMCIA slot.

The Giants' Bill Schlough, in orange shirt, talks about stadium Wi-Fi. Credit: John Britton, AT&T.

For the Giants and Schlough, every year afterward it became apparent that the initial outlay of 121 Wi-Fi access points wasn’t going to be enough. The 50 bearded guys with laptops from the Valley became a few hundred a night, then pushed into the thousands. By 2010, the network-use number was up to 3,300 per game, with no end in sight to its growth.

“I point to the fans” when asked about where the vision for the network comes from, said Schlough. “In any other city it’d probably be different — anywhere else is probably a couple years behind [in network demand]. Fans here are making it apparent that if they can’t stay connected they’re going to stay home. What we need to do is stay one step ahead.”

Lately, that means staying ahead by blending cellular and Wi-Fi networks, using a “layered” approach that improves not only Wi-Fi coverage inside the stadium, but also reception for 2G, 3G and 4G LTE cell phones. It even means reaching out to rival Verizon Wireless, which is in the process of attaching its own wireless services to the Giants’ stadium network, so that Verizon customers can enjoy improved coverage just like AT&T customers do when in their seats. Even with network loads of 20,000 combined users, the Giants and AT&T right now seem like they’re ahead of the technology curve; but even fairly recently, that wasn’t always the case. Take the start of the 2009 season, when the network became, as AT&T’s Stenzel said, “an absolute disaster.”

A Network Brought to its Knees — by Apps and the iPhone

Perhaps fueled by the twin arrivals in 2008 of the iPhone 3G and the accompanying Apple Appstore, the fan demand for in-stadium bandwidth completely overwhelmed the AT&T Park network at the start of the 2009 season, an epic fail that was quickly noticed by many. The surge in wireless data demand — which also caught AT&T by surprise at that year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference, where iPhones and Twitter brought the network in Austin to a halt — was a harbinger of the future, forcing cellular providers everywhere to scramble to upgrade their networks.

AT&T VP Terry Stenzel points to a Wi-Fi antenna inside a suite at AT&T Park. Credit: John Britton, AT&T.

While Schlough and AT&T responded by doing what they could to fine tune and increase wireless bandwidth, the duo also started installing what is known in the cellular industry as DAS — short for Distributed Antenna System, basically an array of small cellular antennas that improve coverage by bringing the wireless signal closer to the customer. For AT&T Park, that means as close as inside the hallway of the stadium’s suite level, where DAS antennas disguised by small plastic inverted cones keep the well-heeled fans and their inevitable iPhones connected to the outside world.

The DAS antennas help provide what Schlough and Stenzel call their “layered” approach to wireless connectivity, meaning that a blend of Wi-Fi and improved cellular is the best way to achieve the highest level of connectivity. With a layered approach, some fans can use the Wi-Fi network while others use the cellular network — hopefully, using the best signal where it is available.

“The stadium is the perfect example of what’s going on in the outside world,” said AT&T’s Stenzel, whose company of late is investing heavily in both DAS and Wi-Fi for public hotspots in cities, big buildings and campuses to offload some of its cellular-network demand. “You can’t build a network with Wi-Fi only or [4G] LTE only. You need layers of technology.”

The Giants' Bill Schlough in front of some hard-working wireless network hardware. Credit: John Britton, AT&T.

“Cellular sometimes flows better around obstacles or people,” Schlough said. And he should know, since he said he’s always finding new ways to improve the network.

“Thank god we’re not football,” said Schlough. “This isn’t something that you plug it in and it works. We have 81 games a season here, and every day we’re learning something.”

Trials, Errors, and ‘Leaky Coax’

For Giants fans or even other visitors, Schlough has a wireless quest: “I’d challenge anyone to walk in here and find 100 antennas,” he said. With 334 Wi-Fi access points and 196 additional DAS antennas scattered about that seems like it might be easy. But even certified network geeks probably couldn’t spot the DAS antenna that Schlough said was in plain sight, providing access to the outdoor seats on the suite level.

Can you spot the DAS antenna? Look inside the pipe. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

While your reporter valiantly looked for a telltale wireless box, it was in vain. Schlough finally solved the puzzle by turning us around and pointing at a black-painted conduit pipe just above the seagull net — inside which Schlough said was some leaky coax, or partially unshielded networking cable that allows a signal to pass through parts of its length, in essence acting as a long, thin “antenna.”

“You’ve got to get creative” to solve stadium networking problems, said Schlough, whose team needed to point Wi-Fi antennas upward to serve three rows of upper-deck seats that are located in front of a thick concrete wall. In some parts of the stadium, Wi-Fi antennas are painted dark green to match the stadium metalwork. In the suites, Wi-Fi antennas are tucked into plastic housings that look like smoke detectors, and some DAS antennas are inside small inverted plastic cones — all painted the same color as the ceilings to blend in like wireless chameleons.

“The biggest challenge may be in hiding all the wires” connecting the antennas, Stenzel said. “Nobody wants to see wires hanging down in a stadium.”

One App Will Rule Them All — Unless the Giants get to Tinker

Perhaps the only place where Schlough, the Giants and AT&T have had to take a step backwards — our opinion, not theirs — is on the application side. Until last year, the Giants led in the app innovation arena as well, with a service called “Digital Dugout” which provided lots of AT&T-specific information, like park maps, food ordering, and extended Giants video highlights, among other features. But as part of Major League Baseball the Giants are now in lockstep with the rest of the league and only offer MLB.com’s AtBat app as the in-game app of choice — a strategic move made by the league last year to increase the profitability of its flagship online app and service.

The white inverted cone? A DAS antenna in the AT&T Park suite level hallway. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

“When we were building the network up and had 3,300 users per game in 2010, there was nobody else doing what we did, and nobody had an eye on us,” Schlough said. Now, with in-game network usage nearing 30 percent plus, the moneymen of baseball aren’t just looking at in-stadium apps, they already have a strategy to put a network in every stadium, and get every fan there using AtBat. What Schlough hopes is that MLB will let teams leverage and add their own features and garlic-fries flavor to the AtBat app, an idea that hasn’t yet reached any conclusion.

“We’re working with MLB to see if we can add any [local] functionality to AtBat,” Schlough said. “We’re the first team to dip our toes into that water.”

Internally, the Giants have become big wireless users themselves. According to Schlough the team now uses its wireless network to run tasks like ticketing, some concession kiosks, the media needs and digital message boards. That’s probably why the team now has two full network-operation rooms in the bowels of AT&T Park, crammed with every flavor of telecom gear from 2G, 3G and 4G cellular to Wi-Fi controllers and a whole assortment of Internet routers, servers and other associated rack-mounted hardware sporting the logos of companies like Cisco, Juniper, Dell and HP.

Can you see the Wi-Fi antenna? It's the green box on the left with two tubes. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

But after spending some $10 million to build the network over time — a cost shared by the Giants and AT&T, whose unique relationship is intertwined in the stadium sponsorship — in the end, it’s about the fan experience and ensuring fans stay for the experience that keeps Schlough, Stenzel and their teams running to stay in the lead.

“The most common app we see used at the games is maps,” said Stenzel. “It’s all about, ‘where am I going from here,’ for dinner or drinks. A ballgame is a social event, a fan experience that you’re going to remember.”

As long as you stay — and stay connected, that is.

“Now if the DAS goes down, people leave,” Schlough said. And you get the feeling that he was only half joking.