Stadium Tech Report: Mobilitie adds Wi-Fi to DAS at Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Like a team adding a star player to its roster, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena will kick off their NHL All-Star Game showcase season this week with a new fan-facing Wi-Fi network from Mobilitie, adding to the DAS deployment previously installed by the same company.

The new network, which will use 263 access points from Wi-Fi gear vendor Aruba Networks, is set to go live for the Blue Jackets’ home opener on Oct. 11 against the New York Rangers. According to Jim Connolly, director of IT for the Blue Jackets, having the necessary wireless infrastructure in place is just the first step in a gradual expansion of features designed to enhance the fan experience inside Nationwide Arena. It also corrects a familiar problem with many existing large public facilities, the not-able-to-get-a-signal issue.

“Three or four years ago we noticed a big increase in mobile device use by our fan base,” said Connolly in a recent phone interview. “On the business side of the house we also realized that when the building was full, we had communication issues. You would try to make a [cellular] call, and it would never go through.”

Neutral host the only direction forward

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jim Connolly, director of IT, Columbus Blue Jackets

Connolly said the decision to go with Mobilitie, with its extensive history of neutral-host DAS deployments, was in part due to the organization’s desire to steer clear of carrier-specific DAS infrastructures. Even though most major carriers will say they are capable of hosting other carriers on a DAS, there are also many known cases of carriers not working well together.

“If you go with a carrier DAS, you have the possibility of isolating part of your fan base,” said Connolly, explaining the team’s desire to use a neutral host for its DAS. What helped seal the deal for Mobilitie was its willingness to also build the Wi-Fi network for no cost to the team. Though DAS helps eliminate most cellular connectivity issues inside large venues, Connolly said the Blue Jackets were “leaning” to having both Wi-Fi and DAS.

“Bringing both Wi-Fi and DAS really elevated their [Mobilitie’s] bid,” Connolly said.

Ready for the All-Star Game

After deploying the DAS in April of 2013, Mobilitie and the Blue Jackets got the Wi-Fi installed over the last offseason, just in time for the year the team will be hosting the NHL All-Star Game and associated celebrations, on Jan. 24-25, 2015.

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

Hockey at Nationwide Arena

“The All-Star Game was definitely a motivator” to get the network finished, Connolly said. “We want to showcase the arena, let fans share via social media and not have any problems with connecting.”

Following the All-Star Game, Nationwide Arena will also host second- and third-round games for the 2015 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, just another of the 200 to 225 events that fill the 18,500-seat arena (it seats more for basketball and concerts) on a yearly basis.

Opened in 2000, the facility was new enough that network installation wasn’t a huge issue, Connolly said.

“It’s a beautiful building — the DAS and Wi-Fi deployments were pretty straightforward, with room for conduits and space available for the head end room,” Connolly said. “It was relatively painless. We were fortunate enough to have adequate space.”

Building in features as you go

Another plus to having a combined provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi is the ability to have a more integrated view of what fans are using the networks for, via analytics.

“We want to be able to see who’s in the building, and who’s doing what,” Connolly said. “Do they want social networking? Do they want food and beverage deals? Do they want to see replays? The analytics will be able to tell us what’s going on.”

While the current Blue Jackets team app is mainly static information — there is a live audio feed and some live stats available — Connolly said that now that the Wi-Fi network is live, more features like live video and in-seat food ordering, or seat upgrades, can be considered.

“We’ll be trying to figure out how to incorporate more in-game aspects, such as giving more access to those who are here in the arena,” said Connolly, also mentioning the possibilities of adding live video, replays, or online concessions. “Over the course of the first year, that’s something we will be figuring out.”

Drop the puck, hockey's back!

Drop the puck, hockey’s back!

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