Ookla shares Speedtest data from CenturyLink Field, other stadiums

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Anyone who follows Mobile Sports Report knows that I use the Speedtest app from Ookla to measure stadium network performance whenever I visit a sporting venue. While my one-man tests do show some measure of network power, I always dreamed of harnessing the results from many fans at the same game to see a better picture of the network performance.

Well, Speedtest’s creators think along the same lines, and conducted an experiment during an Aug. 25 Seattle Seahawks preseason game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. You can read their very thorough post and neat results here, with some interesting twists — for instance, the cellular networks are way faster than the CenturyLink Wi-Fi, according to the Ookla results.

UPDATE: Ookla responded to our email and let us know that on Aug. 25, there were 252 Speedtests at CenturyLink Field, a great sampling to draw results from. Ookla also talked about tests from 12 different events at CenturyLink Field, and said in the email that across those events it saw 1,143 tests conducted.

Ookla also published some test result totals from other stadiums as well, including Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium and Bank of America Stadium, but didn’t say when those tests were recorded, or how many tests were taken.

What we really like, however, is that Ookla’s tests show what our stadium tech report surveys have been showing — that overall, in-stadium network performance is steadily improving. Over time, more data like this can help dispel the still-lingering rumor that stadium networks don’t deliver good connectivity. Now if we could only get Ookla to partner with us to do league-wide or college-comparison speedtests… anyone ready for that idea?

Will Periscope and Meerkat swamp stadium networks?

Three thoughts to start your week off, of a completely unrelated nature. First one up is about a couple of live video-streaming services that you might have heard of or seen, Meerkat and Periscope. I successfully avoided watching any super-selfimportant types video themselves using Meerkat from SXSW, and I’ve been too wrapped up in March Madness to care yet about Periscope. So far I haven’t seen any coverage that details how much bandwidth the apps use up. Probably not much if you are livestreaming something all by yourself. But what if a bunch of people decide to livestream, and they’re all in the same place? So I do wonder how stadium networks will handle the idea of live video streams.

Will the Wi-Fi and DAS networks be able to handle the traffic? Anyone looking into this yet? Discuss. You can do so in the comments, or send me some longer thoughts via email and I will relay them to the crowd. Will Periscope and Meerkat be banned in-stadium? If so how can that happen? Will live video streams be the final straw that makes teams and leagues realize that Twitter may not be such a great content partner after all? I don’t have any answers yet but I assure you this is a question that will be asked the rest of the year in stadium IT shops — as well as in the lawyers’ offices where content and TV rights are negotiated and protected. Selfies may be fine, and Vine may be OK. But live streams of sports events are bound to get someone’s attention, fast.

Thought No. 2: Twenty-three years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I saw this:

I was in Beaver Creek, Colo., in a swanky hotel room that I normally couldn’t afford, watching the Duke-Kentucky game after covering pro ski racing during the day on the slopes of Beaver Creek. Because it was near the end of the ski season the still-new Beaver Creek wasn’t too full, so us members of the media got special rates to stay in the slopeside hotel rooms that now will cost you an arm, a leg and maybe a first-born. That is not important to this thought, though. What is important is that I remember watching the game on a nice TV. Which was the only way you could watch, 22 years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when another classic NCAA tournament match involving Kentucky came down to the wire, and a last-second shot, on the exact anniversary of the Laettner shot. That Kentucky prevailed this time in another classic also doesn’t really matter here; what does is how I watched the second half — on my phone in my backyard while cooking dinner on the grill, over a Wi-Fi connection to a router inside the house. The thing I thought about afterwards was how completely normal it seemed to do something that was unthinkable 22 years ago, namely watch a live game via a handheld device through multiple connectivity junctures — and it all just worked. In the future I will probably remember the game more, and the key free throws and the crazy defense of the last play. But right now I’m still a little in wonder in how far the idea of watching sports on your phone has come.

Third thought: Some more history here — does anyone out there remember the 2009 version of SXSW, when Foursquare was launched and the huge influx of attendees using Twitter on their iPhones brought the AT&T network to its knees? Here’s another link to the historical moment when AT&T got pantsed publicly for not knowing how much bandwidth its customers would need at a gathering like SXSW.

Fast forward again to this year’s SXSW, and man, was AT&T ready for record network usage. Not only did it trot out the huge big-ball cellular antenna that it used at Coachella last year, it beefed up regular network connections and brought in a whole herd of COWs (cell trucks on wheels) to satisfy a mobile bandwidth demand that doesn’t seem to be able to stay flat or go down. According to AT&T, its network saw 37 terabytes of data used during the SXSW event — that’s like three-plus Super Bowls worth of traffic, and this is just on AT&T’s networks, so not counting other carrier traffic.

We concentrate a lot here on stadiums and the particular problems for wireless communications caused by a tight geographic grouping of device-holding people. But what about towns with festivals like SXSW, or other big gatherings? Is your event ready for massive wireless bandwidth needs? If not what is your plan going forward?

Washington dropping Huawei for Cisco/Verizon Wi-Fi at FedEx Field, report says

Ming He, Country General Manager for Huawei in the U.S. (left), and Rod Nenner, Vice President of the Washington Redskins (right), pictured together when Huawei announced the team sponsorship and partnership.

Ming He, Country General Manager for Huawei in the U.S. (left), and Rod Nenner, Vice President of the Washington Redskins (right), pictured together when Huawei announced the team sponsorship and partnership.

According to a report from Bill Gertz at the Washington Times, the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise is apparently scrapping a recent deal with Chinese networking gear supplier Huawei to put fan-facing Wi-Fi into FedEx Field, turning instead to U.S. companies Cisco and Verizon.

Gertz, in the “Inside the Ring” column at the Times, said the Washington team’s senior vice president Tony Wyllie said in an email that “We [Washington] are in the process of deploying a stadium-wide Wi-Fi network working with Verizon and Cisco.” Gertz said the team did not elaborate on why the recent deal with Huawei was apparently scrapped before it got started.

Huawei, which claims to have installed Wi-Fi networks in many stadiums worldwide, had not had any large-scale installations at major U.S. venues before announcing the FedEx Field deal. A major competitor to large U.S. networking firms like Cisco, Huawei has been at the center of controversy in recent years, including being tabbed as a security threat by U.S. government officials, and later as a reported target for N.S.A. surveillance.

Under the announced terms of the deal, Huawei was supposed to install Wi-Fi in suite areas this December; a company spokesman said that while there was no official deal announced, Huawei was also supposed to follow that install up with a full-stadium deployment before the 2015 season started. In the initial announcement, the team announced Huawei Enterprise USA as a multi-year team sponsor and “Official Technology Partner.”

We have got calls and emails in to all the interested parties, and will update this story as we hear more.

NFL should take a chance on open APIs and gigabit Wi-Fi if it really wants to engage fans

When it comes to using technology, the NFL talks a really good game — but when it comes to decisions and deployments, the shield moves slower than a 3-yard cloud of dust. And it’s frustrating fans, who are looking for something along the lines of a run-and-shoot.

This week’s announcement of an agreement with Extreme Networks under which the technology company became the “official supplier of Wi-Fi analytics” is a good example of the NFL’s go-slow philosophy. While the deal is a small feather for Extreme and validation of its stadium Wi-Fi smarts, in the end it really doesn’t move many needles since it’s not a binding deal (meaning teams don’t have to use Extreme gear if they don’t want to) and also since many NFL stadiums don’t yet have fan-facing Wi-Fi. So while the NFL uses press events around such announcements to talk grandly of techno-fan engagement, what it really should be doing is spending some of its hoard of cash to help teams install super-fast networks in stadiums right now, instead of waiting for teams to do so on their own.

I get it that the networks are an asset for stadium owners, and in the long run they will want to reap the full benefits of their costs of deployment. And it’s hard to say there are things the NFL could be doing better, since the sport enjoys immense popularity for both its live and televised offerings. But nothing lasts forever. And if the NFL wants to keep justifying its hundreds-of-dollars ticket prices, it should offer its fans a game-day experience like no other — which should include super-fast, aka “gigabit” Wi-Fi. Fast Wi-Fi that connects instantly, and lets fans share photos, videos and more while at the game.

How much would that cost? Several million dollars to 10 million dollars per team? Even at the high end, it’s not like the league doesn’t have that kind of money to toss around. It does. Just its cellphone live-action rights contract alone — $1 billion from Verizon over 4 years — is enough to cover league-wide Wi-Fi deployments and more. And once those networks are in place, the NFL would be supremely set up to control and benefit from the possible coming explosion of in-stadium mobile device use. An explosion which could be even bigger if the NFL takes another radical step to open up its content and information to third-party developers.

Team apps are losing the battle

Right now whenever a stadium network is launched there is usually a grand accompanying plan for a “team app,” which promises just about everything a fan could possibly want, in the team’s eyes. The problem with these apps — which so far are largely being ignored — is that they are all developed from a team’s perspective, not a fan’s. My biggest complaint with most of the team apps (and this goes for other events and sports media channels as well) is that they try to do too much, and instead of being helpful are just a pain in the butt to use, with too much information and too many choices and constipated navigation.

I haven’t been to that many games lately but at the ones I’ve been to, here’s what I see people using their phones for at the games: Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. And text messaging. What’s the common denominator there? Simple, one-step apps that are already built into the user’s social sphere. And they’re more lively, too, with many pro athletes participating in places like Twitter with real, unvarnished conversations, unlike the team apps which are as boring and as sanitized as the only-good-plays replays on the stadium TV screens. If the NFL really wants to engage fans digitally, it should open up its APIs and free its video content, allowing third-party developers to build apps with real NFL content. (Why not try an open version of Megacast?) It’s a strategy that worked pretty well for Apple and the iPhone, where Apple gets a chunk of profits from an incredible ecosystem that was created simply by allowing the outside world to have access to the iPhone screen.

My guess is that what will happen is the exact opposite — the NFL, watching the success of MLB’s digital efforts, will sometime soon corral all its digital assets into a single NFL-sanctioned bucket, which it will then charge fans even more for. Get ready for your “NFL Digital Package,” maybe $200 more a year to get live video and highlights on your phone. And no, you won’t be able to share that content or create GIFs or Loops or Vines any of the other fun stuff that is going on right now in the sort of Wild West version of the digital sports world. Even though I would probably pay it, that direction sounds like hell. I’d rather see the NFL really embrace the future and let the creativity of all the fans and smart thinkers out there blossom. To revisit our opening metaphor, why not try a few deep downfield passes, NFL? Why keep running the ball inside?

‘Big Four’ wireless carriers sign on to use DAS at Niners’ Levi’s Stadium

Levi's StadiumWhenever you are putting a neutral DAS in a stadium, one of the biggest challenges is convincing the major cellular carriers to participate in your deployment. Even before their new arena has opened, the San Francisco 49ers have scored a victory of sorts with the news that the four biggest U.S. cellular carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — have all agreed to use the neutral-hosted DAS at Levi’s Stadium.

According to DAS Group Professionals, who are behind the DAS deployment at Levi’s, the system of small cellular antennas will also be synchronized with the stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage to produce “seamless” coverage for fans. Though we are historically wary of promises made before networks go live, the fact that the big players in U.S. cellular all agreed to use the neutral DAS shows at least in some way that the folks putting together the technology at Levi’s have a convincing story.

We’ll have more from DGP and the Levi’s DAS deployment at some point in the future, so stay tuned for the stadium launch that has everyone in the stadium tech marketplace watching and waiting.

Team stadium apps vs. Twitter: Which one will win?

Screen shot of the home page for the Niners' Gameday Live app

Screen shot of the home page for the Niners’ Gameday Live app

Will team stadium apps be able to hold off the challenge from independent apps like Twitter? This matchup came to mind Sunday when the Mobile Sports Report team convened for a get-together at Candlestick Park, the on-the-way-out home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Since Candlestick is going to be all blowed up after this season, it’s probably not fair to single out the Niners’ app and network for poor performance this year. I mean, why build a Wi-Fi network in a place that’s going to be torn down? I will say that the new DAS seems to be working well, since I had no problems getting a cell signal all day. But when I tried to watch live video via the Niners app, it told me I had to be on stadium Wi-Fi to watch video.

But the Wi-Fi network wouldn’t connect. After long minutes and several attempts. Finally I gave up. I tried my Verizon NFLMobile app, which lets me watch RedZone on Sundays. But no! Verizon NFLMobile, which monitors your location via GPS, won’t let you watch live video or RedZone while in an NFL stadium. The only person around us with live video of anything NFL on his phone was a guy who gets the Sunday Ticket service from DirecTV. Tell me, if you’re a fan, you’re not frustrated with the idiotic hurdles the NFL puts in front of its best content to satisfy its rights deals. Guys, you’ve had several years to figure this out. It’s the biggest C’mon Man I can think of. LET US WATCH LIVE VIDEO! MAKE IT EASY!

Again to be clear: This isn’t an app review, or a formal survey. But just looking at all the phone use in the stands, I didn’t see anyone else on the Niners team app. I saw a lot of people on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter. Or just sending picture and text messages. What is the common thread for those apps? They are simple to use, they are fast, they have great and easy interfaces on a mobile phone. They are already filled with the people who I want to follow or communicate with. With any one of those apps, you are doing something within one or two clicks.

Fan Zone page of Niners stadium app.

Fan Zone page of Niners stadium app.

With the team apps, that’s just not the case. The Niners app — which looks like a lot of other team apps, since it’s built by stadium app market leader YinzCam — is incredibly dense, with lots of very small type. Which, while it looks OK in a screenshot like the ones here, is almost impossible to see in the harsh outdoor light of a stadium. Opening it up for the first time at the Niners game, I was underwhelmed by the overload of information and choices available. And then when the live video didn’t work… I mean, really, what else is there in the team app that could be different, or make me want to go there?

Stats? Yardages? That stuff isn’t crucial to people sitting in the stands. Where the team app could really make a difference is if it gave detailed information on what just happened in front of my eyes — you know, the kind of stuff that is instantly delivered to people at home watching games on their couch. Someone is hurt? Injured? You’re up there in the stands, you have no idea of what happened or why there are people standing around on the field. I couldn’t find an audio feed of the TV broadcast on the team app — why not have that available? Or at least the radio simulcast? What about that last play? Was it a fumble? How did Vernon Davis get a concussion? In the stands, you have one chance to see what happens. And in many cases, no way of knowing what the outcome was, especially since most teams (Niners included) only show replays of “positive” events for the home team. Again: treating fans like idiots or children is no way to make the stadium a better experience.

My simple thought, as I switched back to Twitter — where, by following some of the beat writers who cover the Niners, I was able to get almost-instant info from their press box tweets — is that the team apps seem designed to be sold to the teams and the leagues, and not with the fan in mind. I have no desire to go to the Niners’ app to find other people on Twitter to interact with or follow. If public sports websites are any guide, anything open to the public is already overrun by ignorant trolls. I’ll stick with my own Twitter feed, thanks. And now that Twitter is adding in NFL highlights, I probably have a better chance of seeing live video there than via the team apps. How are team apps, with their rights restrictions, clunky design and team-sanitized information, going to keep up with fast-moving folks like Twitter, especially now with tools like Vine or Instagram video? Anyone want to bet that we start seeing more fan replay videos on Twitter before we get good, easy to get official team replays?

Maybe these apps are working better in other stadiums, where the networks are better. My guess is, even at those places there is slow uptake. If teams really want to use technology to make the stadium a better experience than the couch, they’ve got to do more to make connecting easier. The network hookup needs to be drop dead simple. If I don’t have Wi-Fi turned on, the app should figure out how to do that itself. (Or ask when it’s first opened up, not after I’ve gone three clicks in to find the “live video” button.) Activities should be one or two clicks, not a laundry list of choices and treed menus. Though there is a lot of down time at games, it’s not that long. Apps should work faster than a play clock… if you can’t get there in 45 seconds, it’s a fail.

Safe to say, we are going to cover app development AND uptake as part of our stadium technology focus. I think right now it is the weak link in the whole connected stadium equation. One scene on the way out of the Niners game made me realize just how far behind the apps are; instead of staying in their seats to watch the crucial possible last-minute drive, many San Francisco fans were outside on the concourse… watching the TV coverage on the high-def screens above the concession stands. Because on TV, they know, they will get multiple replay angles and explanations. These fans weren’t bad fans for leaving their seats. They were, actually, just trying to find the best game-viewing experience. They should be the people interviewed next about what should be in a team app. Because what’s there now obviously isn’t reaching them. Or keeping them in their seats.