Soldier Field gets upgraded DAS from AT&T, Boingo

We’re not sure exactly how much better the new DAS install is at Soldier Field in Chicago, but we are convinced that it may take some time for the mainstream media to learn the difference between better cellular and Wi-Fi.

(What do we mean? One Chicago TV station and the Chicago Tribune think that a new DAS means faster Wi-Fi. Ah well. In the meantime, keep reading MSR if you need clarity and details about stadium technology.)

In a somewhat confusing press release, Boingo and AT&T, in partnership with venue management services provider SMG, announced an “enhanced distributed antenna system network” at the home of the Chicago Bears, that wonderful old/new facility located hard along Lake Michigan’s shore just south of downtown.

What’s confusing about the release is that it doesn’t quite explain how and why Boingo and AT&T are partnering with SMG as neutral-host operators. Plus, it seems that both Boingo and AT&T have already been operating DAS installs at the stadium, so who knows how “new” the enhancements really are. Our best guess (we have emails in to both companies so expect more clarity soon) is that since Boingo has been operating Soldier Field’s Wi-Fi and AT&T is bullish on DAS installs everywhere, it makes sense to team up with an upgrade that will now provide better coverage, probably with more antennas and new coverage for AT&T’s 4G LTE network. We’d call this arrangement a win for Boingo, which is intent on building up its stadium DAS and Wi-Fi business. Plus, the companies have done business together before so maybe partnering for a DAS isn’t so confusing after all.

No word yet whether Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile has signed on to participate in the DAS, or whether the new DAS will keep Bears fans online longer, distracting them from worrying about the health of Jay Cutler’s groin. Good thing to have as the snowflakes start flying in the Windy City.

UPDATE 1, 10/24: We are still seeking clarity on the business arrangement, but an AT&T spokesperson confirmed our guess about the LTE addition. Here is an official AT&T breakdown of the enhancements to the DAS: “The DAS equipment at Soldier Field is equivalent to about 7 individual cell sites, or enough to service a town about the size of 88,000. The DAS contains more than 250 stealth antennas inside and outside the stadium which have increased AT&T’s network capacity by approximately double (100%). The design changed when we added layers to the wedge shape that was previously used. The old system had 16 sectors, sliced like a pie. The new system has 22 sectors that service each section of the stadium as well as each level of the stadium.”

Sounds good. But now I’m thinking about pie. Pumpkin, with whipped cream. Hmmm.

UPDATE 2, 10/25: Now from the Boingo folks, who wouldn’t say more about operational details other than that Boingo and AT&T worked together on the upgrade. More from Boingo, which answers our question about whether there are other carriers using the DAS: “Boingo is responsible for the ongoing operation and management of the DAS network, working closely with both SMG at Soldier Field and AT&T. Boingo also manages Soldier Field DAS network access contracts for Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular.”


  1. I’m still not sure how this works for non AT&T customers. I have Sprint, and I was at the Ravens game with the 2 hour weather delay. I had no service the whole time, occasionally my phone would pop between 3G or 4G and take 6 minutes to load Google, but then it would go back to no service. I checked the WiFi, I saw the Boingo network, I tried to connect and buy it, I either couldn’t connect or the pages to proceed with checkout or login would fail to load, assumably because of high network demand. Sprint even shoes a 4G tower location right at solider field that is labeled “DAS”, but again I saw no discernible service improvement, data or voice.

    I certainly saw ATT and VZW customers pumping away on the LTE networks, but both myself and my friend with me had essnetually bricked out Sprint phones with no discernible service. So I am not 100% what this DAS system has provided the public here.

  2. Joe, since we haven’t talked to Sprint folks about their DAS participation I can only guess at your issues. Probably some combination of poor coverage area plus perhaps a not-robust-enough Sprint backend deployment. If the Boingo folks are reading here, maybe they can chime in about the load on the WI-Fi during the delay. If you plan on attending more games there, you might want to contact local Sprint reps and see what they say.

    Interesting note I heard today on a webinar about DAS in big stadiums was an opinion that shared DAS systems can’t handle big loads from multiple operators… we will be pursuing that question in our ongoing research.


  1. […] and tornados,” said Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo Wireless, which recently concluded a big network upgrade at the home of the NFL’s Chicago […]

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