June 26, 2016

S.F. Giants add more Wi-Fi, ‘virtual reality experience’ to AT&T Park for 2016 season

The view from AT&T Park's left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The view from AT&T Park’s left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The first ballpark to bring Wi-Fi to its fans is still padding its networking lead, as AT&T Park will have 543 new or upgraded Wi-Fi access points for the 2016 season, according to the San Francisco Giants.

Most of the new APs are of the under-seat variety, completing the team’s three-year plan to put more APs under seats to increase network density and capacity. According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, the park now has a total of 1,628 Wi-Fi APs, the most of any MLB stadium and more than most big football stadiums as well. With 78.2 terabytes of data used during the baseball season and another 20+ TB used during other events, Schlough said AT&T Park’s Wi-Fi network carried more than 100 TB of data in calendar 2015.

Since it’s an even year, the Giants expect to win the World Series again, so the action on the field should be pretty good. If you want to leave reality, however, the Giants can accomodate you in that realm this season with the addition of a “virtual reality experience” at the team’s @Cafe social media spot, located on the concourse behind the left-field bleachers.

Since it's an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

Since it’s an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

According to the Giants, fans can be “transported” to Scottsdale Stadium to view practice from spring training, or they can see views from the AT&T Park field, the batting cages and “even Sergio Romo’s car” through a VR headset.

The Giants said fans will also notice an upgrade to the stadium’s LED ribbon boards, which circle the park on the facings of the upper decks. The new Mitsubishi screens, the Giants said, offer 150 percent more pixels than their predecessors, meaning that you might not need those reading glasses to get stat updates or read advertising messsages.

On the DAS side of things, AT&T Park finally has all four major U.S. wireless carriers on its in-house cellular network, with the DAS and Wi-Fi serviced by 13 1-Gbps backbone pipes from AT&T.

Betting the Under: Putting Wi-Fi antennas under seats is the hot new trend in stadium wireless networks

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

What do you typically find under stadium seats on game days? The traditional list might include bags and purses, and get-out-of-the-way items like empty popcorn tubs, used hot dog wrappers and drink cups no longer filled with fluids.

And now you can add Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas to the list.

A growing trend is emerging to use under-seat antenna placements to bring wireless signals closer to fans, for both Wi-Fi networks as well as cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments. First used to compensate for a lack of overhang or railing placement spaces, under-seat deployments are now winning favor in all sorts of arenas for their ability to use human bodies to help build a more dense network, one that proponents say can carry far more capacity than an infrastructure that relies mainly on overhead antenna placements.

With proof points emerging quickly at venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, as well as at pioneers AT&T Park and AT&T Stadium, under-seat Wi-Fi deployments may soon become more common, as more integrators and equipment suppliers embrace the under-seat method.

New stadiums under construction including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center as well as new Wi-Fi deployments at existing stadiums like Houston’s NRG Stadium and the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte are also planning to primarily use under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, both for the performance and aesthetic benefits. With such high-profile deployments embracing the method, under-seat APs may become the default placement position going forward, especially as stadium mobile-device usage by fans keeps growing.

History: a need required by architecture

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Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

When Wi-Fi first arrived in stadiums, the obvious solution to questions about antenna and access point placement seemed evident — just mount them on ceilings, overhangs and walls, like they had always been placed historically. Mostly that decision kept the antennas out of sight, and provided good-enough reception for most network deployments.

But as fan Wi-Fi usage started growing, poor reception areas cropped up, most often in the most expensive seats near the courts or playing fields, where there was often little architectural infrastructure other than the seats themselves. At the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park, the stadium where fan-facing Wi-Fi was first installed in 2004, the need for more bandwidth was a big problem that needed to be solved during the 2012-13 offseason, after the team’s second World Series title run in two years had produced record wireless usage.

Even with a Wi-Fi AP placed just about everywhere they could be, the San Francisco Giants’ IT team couldn’t keep up with demand. And the trick that has been tried at some stadiums — putting AP enclosures on handrails — wasn’t an option at AT&T Park, since its lower-bowl seating areas have no railings.

With options limited, that’s when an internal battle commenced around the new idea of placing APs under seats, a plan that met fierce resistance on many fronts.

“We got beaten up pretty bad over the idea [of under-seat APs],” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, who described the 2012-13 offseason as “a very stressful time,” with lots of internal strife and discord. With multiple stakeholders checking in on the plan, including the Giants’ facilities group, the marketing group and the ticketing group, concerns about the loss of under-seat space and the potential health concerns fueled opposition to putting APs under chairs.

But without any railings or overhangs for most of the park’s lower-bowl seats, Schlough and his team had “no other alternative” than to try placing Wi-Fi APs under seats. On the possible health issue, Schlough said the Giants were assured by technology partner (and ballpark title sponsor) AT&T that the deployment would be safe and comply with all FCC regulations; “We were assured that having [an antenna] 18 inches from your butt was the [radio] equivalent of having a cell phone in your pocket,” Schlough said.

On the storage-space concern side, Schlough said the Giants’ IT team made models of the antennas out of cardboard and duct tape, and placed them under seats to see how they worked.

“The [walking] flow through the aisles was good, with the AP models tucked under we never kicked them” during testing, Schlough said. With AT&T assuring the Giants that under-seat was “the way of the future,” the team took a leap of faith and added a large number of under-seat Wi-Fi APs in preparation for the 2013 season, more than doubling the number of APs in the park (to 760 total) in the process.

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Though Schlough and his team “spent a lot of time” communicating with season-ticket holders about the new technology, there was still consternation about what might happen when opening day arrived, and “fans find this box under their seat, and not have a place to put their garlic fries,” Schlough said.

As it turns out, there was almost no resistance to the method; according to Schlough the Giants only had two complaints about the under-seat APs that first day of deployment, which Schlough called “the biggest relief day of my life.”

The success of the under-seat idea was particularly noted at that time by another IT team in the Bay area, the one putting together the wireless plan for the San Francisco 49ers’ new home, Levi’s Stadium, which was being built just to the south in Santa Clara. Testing some under-seat placements of their own at Candlestick Park during that venue’s final season as the Niners’ home, the team building the Levi’s Stadium network became convinced that going under seat was the best way to build the high-density deployment they wanted to have.

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SF Giants fans used 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data at AT&T Park during 2015 season

The view from AT&T Park's left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The view from AT&T Park’s left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

It didn’t end with a World Series championship but the 2015 season for the San Francisco Giants did see fans use 78.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi data during home games at AT&T Park, the most-ever at the venue, according to the Giants.

Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO for the Giants, sent over a bunch of wireless data statistics from the Giants’ season, and on both Wi-Fi and AT&T DAS usage, numbers were up significantly from the year before. In addition to the 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data used during baseball games, Schlough said additional data used during preseason games, concerts and private parties (like the SEAT 2015 softball game!) probably added another 20+ TB to the total, putting the AT&T Park Wi-Fi usage for the year in the 100 TB range.

Anyone else out there with numbers that challenge for the total Wi-Fi season crown?

Here are some more precise measurements from the AT&T Park 2015 season, with comparisons to 2014 in parentheses:

— Average Wi-Fi Take-Rate: 34.8% (33.9% in 2014)

— Wi-Fi Traffic/Game: 966 GB (591 GB)

— AT&T DAS Traffic/Game: 264 GB (196 GB)

— Wi-Fi Traffic/Connection: +59% vs. 2014

— DAS Traffic/Connection: +35%

SEAT1

Stadium Tech Report: World Series set new wireless records at AT&T Park

AT&T Park during the World Series. Photo: SF Giants (click on any photo for a larger image)

AT&T Park during the World Series. Photo: SF Giants (click on any photo for a larger image)

The most-connected park in all of baseball is still finding ways to serve more people more data, as proven by the wireless consumption records set by the San Francisco Giants during last year’s World Series.

The traffic generated at the three games at AT&T Park was “definitely more than anything we had ever experienced before,” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants. The combined download and upload numbers for both the park’s Wi-Fi network and AT&T traffic on its DAS network averaged 2.08 terabytes per game, Schlough said, with a high of 2.14 TB of total traffic for Game 4.

Since AT&T Park has had Wi-Fi longer than any sports stadium in the U.S. – this season will be its 12th with stadium-wide Wi-Fi – and since last year was the Giants’ third World Series in five years – Schlough’s team was perhaps a bit more prepared than most IT staffs for the expected demands.

“The traffic followed the standard trend, where each round [of the playoffs] saw successively higher demand,” Schlough said. Upload totals also increase as the team progresses through the playoffs, he said, perhaps more so now that fans of all types are getting more adept at adding multimedia to their messaging.

“You don’t just send a text anymore,” Schlough said. “The expectation is that you will send a picture and or a video.”

Replacing Jay Z and Beyonce at the top

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from our latest Stadium Tech Report, the BASEBALL (and Soccer!) ISSUE, which is available now for free download from our site. The report includes a focus on baseball and soccer stadium technology deployments, and team-by-team coverage of technology deployments for all 30 MLS teams — AND all 20 MLS teams. DOWNLOAD THE REPORT now and read for yourself!

The spoils of victory. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The spoils of victory. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Prior to last year’s games with the Kansas City Royals, the top Wi-Fi traffic event at AT&T Park had been a couple concerts earlier in the sum- mer starring Jay Z and Beyonce, where Schlough and his staff saw upload totals of 410 GB on the second night of the show. The World Series games blew by that previous record total with an average of 700 GB uploaded per game, with a high of 750 GB for Game 5.

Wi-Fi download numbers for the three series games averaged 890 GB, Schlough said, with a max of 940 GB during Game 3. For the AT&T customers on the park’s DAS, download num- bers for the Series averaged 320 GB per game with a maximum of 350 GB for Game 4. DAS upload totals were an average of 170 GB per game.

Not even knowing you’re on Wi-Fi

What amazed or satisfied Schlough even more than the raw data numbers was the Wi-Fi take rate, or the number of fans connected to the network. For the Series it hovered right around 50 percent, meaning that every other fan in the 42,000-seat venue was using the network.

The view from left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The view from left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Regular-season Wi-Fi take rates, he said, were usually in the 30-percent range, climbing to 40 percent as the playoffs progressed. One thing that helps people connect to the Wi-Fi network at AT&T Park is the overall ubiquity of AT&T hotspots – “If you’ve accessed another AT&T hotspot anywhere else, you get automatically activated when you’re here [at AT&T Park],” Schlough said.

Fan surveys, he said, showed that many people didn’t even know they were connected to the Wi-Fi network instead of the cellular networks. “I think that’s cool,” Schlough said. “Fans should come to an event and be universally connected, without having to think about it. They should just be able to turn on their phones and share.”

More APs for the upper deck

For 2015, Schlough and his team will finish off the latest Wi-Fi upgrade with the installation of another 400 under-seat APs for the stadium’s upper decks, which will bring the park’s AP total to almost 1,700 when it’s finished. Already this year Schlough said that fans at Giants games are using more data than last year – an average of 1.1 TB per game over the first 10 games of the 2015 season, compared to an average of 650 GB per game over the same time period in 2014.

Giants fans check out the three WS trophies, at a 2015 season game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Giants fans check out the three WS trophies, at a 2015 season game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though he didn’t want to dive into details, since last year Schlough said the network is seeing “a lot more photos and a lot more videos.” He also said his team is on the lookout for use of livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat,
which he expects might happen at AT&T Park before it happens anywhere else, perhaps due to the overall technological bent of the local populace.

“We feel we have a relatively unique fan base,” Schlough said. “If anyone is going to do it [livestream during games] it’ll probably happen first in this region.”

Stadium Tech Report: Kauffman Stadium gets a Royal Wi-Fi Upgrade

Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, during last year's World Series. Photo: MLB Photos

Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, during last year’s World Series. Photo: MLB Photos (click on any picture for a larger image)

In addition to being good at baseball last fall, the Kansas City Royals were a little bit lucky, too – especially when their park’s new Wi-Fi network got installed just before the Royals began their historic postseason run.

While no team knows for sure if it can plan ahead for postseason play, the fact that Major League Baseball was able to complete its install of a Wi-Fi network at Kauffman Stadium last August ensured that the playoff and World Series crowds in Kansas City had high-bandwidth connectivity, finishing the season with a night that saw more than 2 terabytes of wireless traffic inside the stadium’s famed curved structures.

“The timing [of the installation] was somewhat fortuitous,” said Brian Himstedt, the Kansas City Royals’ senior director for information systems, who confirmed that plans for Wi-Fi were in motion long before the Royals gained their wild- card spot. According to Himstedt, the Royals had already been scheduled for one of the first deployments in the Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) plan to bring Wi-Fi to every team in the league, with actual installation taking place in midsummer.

“The idea was to have it up and running during our last three homestands, and use that as a test- bed for the 2015 season,” Himstedt said. Instead, the Royals found themselves with perhaps the ultimate test of any new network deployment, repeat sellout crowds for baseball’s ultimate bucket-list event. Even though it wasn’t expected, as Himstedt said, having to maintain a network because your team got all the way to Game 7 of the World Series “is a good problem to have.”

Wi-Fi antennas pointing down at Kauffman Stadium seating. Photo: MLB Photos

Wi-Fi antennas pointing down at Kauffman Stadium seating. Photo: MLB Photos


Worth the wait for MLBAM deployment

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from our latest Stadium Tech Report, the BASEBALL (and Soccer!) ISSUE, which is available now for free download from our site. The report includes a focus on baseball and soccer stadium technology deployments, and team-by-team coverage of technology deployments for all 30 MLS teams — AND all 20 MLS teams. DOWNLOAD THE REPORT now and read for yourself!

While MLBAM’s decision to pay for a major part of the league-wide deployments no doubt sped up the Wi-Fi timetable for many participants, Himstedt said that the rollout plan (which began in earnest last year) actually delayed an original timetable to bring Wi-Fi to Kauffman.

According to Himstedt, the Royals had investigated putting Wi-Fi into the stadium before the 2012 season, when Kansas City hosted the All- Star Game. But MLBAM convinced the team to wait until its connectivity-everywhere plan became reality, in no small part due to the technical, political and most-expenses-paid attributes that became part of MLB’s Wi-Fi and DAS push.

“When we investigated it [Wi-Fi] for 2012, BAM was already talking about their plan, and we saw the comprehensiveness of what they were talking about,” Himstedt said. “In some ways it slowed us down, but when it happened, it happened right.”

Perhaps one of the biggest attributes of the MLB plan was the league’s ability to work in concert with all four of the major cellular carriers in the U.S., not just in herding the cats together so that DAS deployments would include all carriers, but in also getting the carriers to agree to foot a significant portion of the overall deployment costs.

Royals fans cheering on the blue team during the playoffs. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

Royals fans cheering on the blue team during the playoffs. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

“Dealing with the complexity of politics that exists [between] the carriers, we wouldn’t have had what the league was able to do,” Himstedt said. “Back in September of 2012, I felt disappointed that we missed an opportunity to have it [Wi-Fi] for the All-Star Game. But looking back, I see all the mistakes we could have made. I’d have to say it was worth the wait.”

Learning the curves

Opened in 1973, Kauffman Stadium has long been one of MLB’s more attractive parks, with its signature outfield fountains and its open, curved design. In 2009, the stadium underwent a $250 million renovation, which while it did not include wireless deployments it did help pave the way for Wi-Fi to come later, Himstedt said, with additions of more cable pathways and a “more robust” overall IT infrastructure.

Before the 2014 season started, Himstedt and the Kauffman Stadium IT team dug into the Wi-Fi design process, mapping out the resources and schedule for the in-season install that started in the summer.

“We knew it would take about 12 to 13 weeks [to install the network] after we said ‘go,’ “ Himstedt said. “When things began to flow we got a little but lucky with the weather and tried to plan [to do most of the work] around home stands. But we still did a lot of work on game days, right up until game time.”

Like in many other stadium retrofits, Himstedt said the biggest challenges for deploying Wi-Fi in Kauffman Stadium were “coverage and aesthetics.” Both came into play together due to the stadium’s circle-like design, which Himstedt noted means “there are no straight aisles” in the building, making it harder to deploy and tune antenna coverage.

While managing the gaps caused by the curved architecture was challenging, Himstedt said that new antenna technology from MLB supplier Cisco proved up to the task. “The [new] Cisco technology and its ability to shape signals definitely worked to our advantage, especially versus technology that was available 3 years ago,” Himstedt said.

More new Cisco technology that supports longer distances between an access point and a user also helped the Kauffman deployment, since the stadium has many long, open bowl areas with no close overhangs and no seating-section railings, two places that are popular in many other venues for Wi-Fi AP locations.

The classic curved lines of Kauffman. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

The classic curved lines of Kauffman. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

“We put antennas at the front of aisles, and in the back of the bowl, pointing down,” Himstedt said. The new antenna technology, he said, supported connectivity from 50 to 60 feet away, which he called a “huge win” for helping keep sight lines and aesthetic views uncluttered with antenna gear. When it was finished, the Wi-Fi deployment used 576 APs, Himstedt said.

The quickly discovered ‘secret’

When the Wi-Fi network finally went live for an Aug. 25 night game, Himstedt and the Royals used what we here at MSR like to call the “Fight Club” method of non-promotion: First rule of Wi-Fi, is don’t talk about the Wi-Fi.

“We were 100 percent quiet – we didn’t mention it to anybody publicly,” said Himstedt of the network availability. The theory was, by not telling anyone the IT team could test and tune a live network over a few home stands, with only about 1,000 media members and internal staff using the Wi-Fi.

But a couple hours after turning the network on, the IT staff saw 3,000 users on the network, meaning that at least 2,000 or more fans had found and connected to the unannounced Wi-Fi. While outsiders might not think Kansas City is a place where citizens are always looking for an SSID, Himstedt said the locals are “probably the most unexpectedly tech savvy” group around, perhaps thanks to the nearby location of Sprint’s corporate headquarters, as well as the fact that Google Fiber brought its first services to Kansas City, spurring some local startup activity.

Throughout the end of the regular season and through the Royals’ extended playoff run, Himstedt and the Kauffman staff kept publicly silent about the Wi-Fi (“it was completely word-of-mouth”), though Major League Baseball did make a national-press announcement and some highly sophisticated stadium technology media outlets (meaning us) did publish stories about the Wi-Fi network’s availability.

Old Glory on the field. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

Old Glory on the field. Photo: Chris Vlesides/Kansas City Royals

Himstedt, who had wanted Wi-Fi for the All-Star Game, finally got to provide wireless services to the 600+ national media members who became regular attendees at playoff games. And by the time Game 7 of the World Series rolled around – and ended heartbreakingly for Royals fans, with the potential tying run 90 feet from home plate – the Kauffman IT staff saw 16,000 users on the Wi-Fi network, with more than 2 terabytes of total traffic used during the last game of the baseball season.

“We enjoyed it [Wi-Fi] as being a pleasant surprise, an unexpected surprise for our fans,” Himstedt said.

Positioned for the future

For the 2015 season, the Kauffman Stadium IT crew is neither shy nor silent about its Wi-Fi network.

“This year we’re promoting it clear and direct, and we want fans to use it to its fullest extent,” said Himstedt. Along with promoting use of MLBAM’s signature Ballpark app for at-the-game needs, Himstedt said one of the team’s primary pushes is to encourage digital ticketing, a feature he said is already being used by all of the team’s primary season ticket holders.

Since the Kauffman Stadium complex also has all ticketed parking, those fees can also be paid via digital, a feature that went from hundreds of users to thousands this year, Himstedt said.

“The learning curve is fast – it’s pretty amazing how quickly fans adapt,” he said.

In the very near future, overall connectivity should improve by another factor as the stadium’s DAS upgrade is completed. Himstedt and his team are also just at the beginning phase of deploying and using beacons, the low-power sensing devices that can communicate with devices in close vicinity. While beacons are currently only being used for social media “check-in” purposes, Himstedt can see a future where the technology might be used for things like concession promotions, or to provide directions to areas like the venue’s Hall of Fame exhibits.

Himstedt is also interested in using the technology to take “check-ins” even further, with the network being able to automatically check a device for ticket purchases as the fan walks in the gates.

It’d be cool for the network to take the tickets out of my pocket for me,” Himstedt said. “The app is the magic. You just have to enable it.”

MLB Stadium Tech Reports — NL West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE BASEBALL (And Soccer!) ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NL West

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park
Seating Capacity: 41,503
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

atp7AT&T Park is nearing the completion of its latest Wi-Fi upgrade, which will see installation of under-the-seat access points in the upper decks. When it’s done, Giants fans will have use of almost 1,700 Wi-Fi APs throughout the stadium. On the DAS side, T-Mobile is finally in the system, giving the park all of the four major wireless carriers on its AT&T neutral-host DAS, which uses gear from CommScope. We said it before and we will keep saying it: When it comes to baseball stadium connectivity, the San Francisco Giants set the standard.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodger Stadium
Seating Capacity: 56,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

A $100 million renovation two years ago and help from MLBAM last year should mean a solid Wi-Fi experience for fans at Dodger Stadium.

San Diego Padres
Petco Park
Seating Capacity: 42,455
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Petco Park’s existing Wi-Fi underwent upgrades over the offseason which should result in an even better experience for fans this year. Fans can now use the MLB At the Ballpark app to manage tickets, and to store e-cash for in-stadium purchases.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Field
Seating Capacity: 49,003
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the venues that has had Wi-Fi the longest, Chase Field is due to have its network upgraded this year as part of the MLB Wi-Fi program. That means even better service for Diamondbacks fans.

Colorado Rockies
Coors Field
Seating Capacity: 50,455
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Fans at Coors Field are among the earliest beneficiaries of MLB’s Wi-Fi everywhere program, as the install started last season is now complete.