Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: DAS, but no Wi-Fi, for Niners at Candlestick

There’s already buzz building in Silicon Valley for the new Niners stadium being constructed in Santa Clara, as the team is already out front saying the facility will be an example of how to do stadium technology right.

Unfortunately for Niners fans, the next two home seasons will still be played in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, which has historically been one of the worst places to try to get a cellular signal. Though a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment should help matters some this season, there is no stadium-wide Wi-Fi in the cards, a bit of a bummer since the team’s new game-day app features lots of video — which you need Wi-Fi to watch.

With an edict from the commish Roger Goodell to put Wi-Fi into every stadium, teams across the league are moving quickly to figure out how to get that done (see the second part of this post about Carolina’s new spiffy network). Caught in the middle of this deployment strategy is Candlestick, which has to be one of the worst geographic locations for wireless traffic. Not only is the stadium hidden by a small hill directly to the west (which can block signals from nearby cell towers), it is surrounded on its three other sides by the San Francisco Bay — in case you weren’t aware, wide open spaces of water also play havoc with wireless signals, and you don’t see too many antenna towers floating around.

The historically terrible cellular situation at Candlestick was brought even more to light by last year’s “blackout” game, a Monday night tilt against the Steelers that saw the stadium lose power not once but twice. Though we didn’t hear any reports of fan panic (no shaking) we did hear from a lot of folks about how nobody knew what was going on because nobody could get a cell signal to check Twitter.

To help alleivate the problem the Niners and the top three wireless carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel — collaborated on the installment of a DAS system at Candlestick, essentially a bunch of small cellular antennas mounted inside the stadium to make it easier for fans to connect. Apparently there is also a day-of-game Wi-Fi network in service at Niners games, though we haven’t been able to find any press material telling us where the service can be accessed. While we wait for the Niners’ reps to get back to us we will take a wild guess and post that it is a parking-lot or concession-area only network, and not something you can use at your seat.

So, Niners fans — even though there is a spiffy new game-day app, you probably aren’t going to get much use out of the video component at Candlestick. And since it doesn’t make sense to drop a few million bucks on a Wi-Fi network that will only be used less than a couple dozen times before the team moves south, unless the Niners can figure out how to bring in a portable Wi-Fi network the Candlestick fans are probably stuck with the DAS deployment as their best connection. Though DAS deployments are better than nothing, they simply don’t have the bandwidth that a robust Wi-Fi network can bring to the table.

Carolina Gets Stadium-Wide Wi-Fi, Courtesy of AT&T

In stark contrast to the situation at Candlestick is the news from the Carolina Panthers, who will have a powerful new Wi-Fi network at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte this year, courtesy of Ma Bell.

You can read the press release and from it what jumps out at us is the 460 Wi-Fi access points, a huge number that should keep everyone there connected. According to the release the Wi-Fi access is free and easy for AT&T customers, with users of other carrier systems having to connect via a “simple login.” Anyone out there in Panther land sample the new network yet? If so give us some SpeedTest results in the comments.

NFL’s Mobile Device Stadium Strategy Slowly Coming into View

There is no official announcement we have seen but if you peruse any NFL team web page you will see a bunch of little widgets popping up saying things like “Watch 49ers games online” with a link to the new preseason and rewind tablet apps that Greg Quick wrote about last week. There are also several teams, like the Niners, who apparently have some kind of GameDay Live-branded app — if this reminds you at all of and its AtBat app strategy, it’s not a coincidence. You don’t need a press release to see what is happening, albeit a bit slowly — the NFL, like baseball, is moving to a single app for live mobile-device action, and it will cost you a bunch of extra dollars to watch it.

I think the fly in the ointment right now is the NFL’s current exclusive deal with Verizon for the NFL Mobile app, but I think that contract is up soon and I would be surprised if the NFL renews it. More likely we will see an strategy emerge, where you purchase mobile-device access on a monthly or season-long basis. For the current year the NFL will take baby steps as it tries to help teams get networks put into stadiums. But I bet by next year there is a cohesive digital device content strategy that will cost fans a few more bucks. Might be worth it though, to get other games and RedZone while you are tailgating or waiting through halftime.


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