Verizon, JMA bring high-speed DAS to Sonoma Raceway

Entrance to the track at Sonoma Raceway. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

For the second year in a row, NASCAR fans who are Verizon Wireless customers should have a speedy cellular experience at this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, thanks to a neutral-host DAS Verizon built there two winters ago.

According to Verizon, at last year’s races the carrier saw 2.7 terabytes of data used by its customers over the weekend of race activity. The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event includes practice and qualifying heats Friday and Saturday on the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road track built into the hills just south of Northern California’s famed Wine Country, before Sunday’s main event.

With one main grandstand and numerous other seating areas spread out around the course’s twists, turns, climbs and dips, bringing enhanced cellular connectivity to the venue had as many curves to conquer as a driver during a 350-mile race. Built during the winter of 2015-16, Verizon said the deployment was a “considerable construction project,” using more than 25,000 feet of underground boring runs and conduit to reach different tower locations on the raceway property.

On a recent tour of the raceway, Jere Starks, the facility’s vice president for facilities and operations, showed why the boring was necessary, since trenching of fiber would have disrupted the integrity of the hills and surfaces that support not just the track but the seating areas, many of which back into hillsides.

When the NASCAR series was sponsored by Sprint, Starks said cellular connectivity for the NASCAR event was provided mainly by mobile COWs, or cell trucks on wheels. Like any other large venue, the increased digital activity of fans on mobile devices (“they do everything on their phones except their income taxes,” joked Starks) meant that a higher-capacity solution was in order.

A new DAS tower at the track

According to Verizon, its customers used another 1.7 TB of data during last fall’s IndyCar race, the other “big” event on the Sonoma Raceway calendar. Though it is designed as a neutral network, according to Verizon no other wireless carrier is yet using the DAS.

Getting power to the towers

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, and even a profile of a new Wi-Fi network for Westfield Century City Mall! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

For its DAS hardware, Verizon turned to JMA Wireless, which said it used its multi-band, multi-carrier TEKO DAS gear at the raceway. According to JMA, there are 76 low-power, five-band remote units and four high-power, five-band remote units, as well as 88 ODAS (outdoor DAS) antennas deployed at various strategic locations around the track as well as between seating and parking-lot areas. The deployments mesh in well with existing infrastructure, even sometimes sharing poles with speakers to blend in with the racetrack elements.

The headend building (can you see the fiber lines?)

JMA said the deployment also made use of its FUZE wireless power technology, which can bring electricity to DAS tower gear without having to have the local utility bringing AC power to each location. According to JMA, using digital electricity also allowed for the use of composite cable (fiber and copper together in one sheath), making installation faster and easier by utilizing a single “pull” cable.

Touring the facility with Starks, Mobile Sports Report saw towers located at the front of main grandstand areas pointing back, and at the back of some seating areas with antennas pointing both toward the seats as well as down the hills to the main parking areas located to the east of the racing area. Farther east to almost the edge of the property is the network’s headend building, a facility whose build-in story is probably worth a novel-length essay all by itself.

According to both Starks and Verizon, the prefab headend building was shipped to Sonoma from Louisiana, a process that took months both due to the logistics of simply shipping such a large, heavy building (according to Starks the trailer bringing in the main part of the facility had 11 axles) as well as negotiating its passage with the highway patrols and departments of transportation for states along the way. According to Starks and Verizon, the headend deployment process included having to build a new road across the dirt parking lot to support the buildings’ transport, as well as a strengthened concrete pad to support the facility.

A trackside tower that points back to seating

(Starks told a longer, great story about how some local ingenuity helped speed up final deployment after a legal delay kept the main building tied up at a state border for a few weeks. After the delay meant certain crane placements wouldn’t work, someone suggested the crew spread sand on the concrete pad and bulldozer the bigger building into place, a trick that Starks said worked well — “it just slid right in there.”)

Ready for more connectivity

With another 100,000-plus fans expected during the NASCAR weekend, as well as at the venue’s popular drag-racing events and the fall IndyCar stop, Starks is happy that fans will be able to use their mobile devices as much as they want, now for Verizon Wireless customers and for other carriers’ subscribers in the future.

“When you have 50,000 people all doing video [on their phones] at the same time, we knew we had to overhaul the system,” Starks said. “Verizon did a great job, they were very sensitive to the facility and it was a great experience working with them.”

A look at one grandstand area, with several DAS antennas in front

A concession stand for old-school fans who remember the track as simply “Sears Point”

New Report: State of the art Wi-Fi network at Braves’ new SunTrust Park

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

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Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:
— SunTrust Park first look: A review of sizzling network performance at the new home of the Atlanta Braves;
— Coors Field profile: A look at how the Wi-Fi network at “old” Coors Field is still serving fans with solid performance;
— Westfield Century City Mall profile: A close look at a new Wi-Fi network and other digital services emerging at an extensive renovation of this historic Los Angeles shopping center;
— Additional profiles of a new DAS deployment at Sonoma Raceway and new Wi-Fi for Red Bull Arena!

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Timberwolves, Lynx partner with VenueNext for new stadium/team apps

The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx announced a partnership with app developer VenueNext, under which VenueNext will build stadium and team-content apps for the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

The deal represents the second NBA contract for VenueNext, which has already launched a successful app and associated marketing programs with the Orlando Magic and their home arena, Amway Center. The VenueNext partnership with the Timberwolves and Lynx coincides with a current renovation of the teams’ home arena, the Target Center, which will also get a new Wi-Fi network along with the new app in time for the 2017-2018 NBA season. The Lynx app, according to the team, will be ready before the start of the 2018 season.

Screen shot of old Timberwolves app. Anyone got an old Blackberry in a drawer that could run this?

Though service specifics and screenshots of the new apps are not yet available, the press release out today said that fans can expect the usual menu of VenueNext-type app features, including digital ticketing, arena information, and team content. In other arenas, like the NFL’s Levi’s Stadium, VenueNext apps support features such as in-seat concession ordering and delivery; other VenueNext apps like the one for the Kentucky Derby offer mobile betting.

According to the Timberwolves, the new app will replace their current mobile app, which was created by app developer YinzCam. In 2015, YinzCam sold an equity stake in the company as part of a deal to re-do 22 NBA team apps.

(If you search for mobile apps on the Timberwolves website, you can see a geeky-cool photo of the team’s first mobile app running on a vintage Blackberry, which they claim was the first NBA team mobile app.)

VenueNext, which signed the San Jose Sharks as its first NHL client this season, also recently added some more venture funding to strengthen its business operations.

Changes ahead for DAS industry business models, technology

JMA Wireless shows ‘smart’ trash bins at DAS and Small Cells Congress in Las Vegas. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LAS VEGAS — New technologies combined with the need for new business models are driving imminent changes to the distributed antenna system (DAS) marketplace, according to industry representatives speaking Tuesday at this year’s DAS and Small Cells Congress here.

And while the end product of the market transformation is still uncertain, executives from DAS gear manufacturers, cellular carriers and other industry experts all agreed on one thing: In the near future, the DAS industry won’t look at all like it does today.

For large public venue owners specificially, the days of carrier-funded DAS deployments may already be at an end, unless your stadium is in line to host a Super Bowl. Tightening budgets due to economic pressures on the nation’s biggest cellular carriers means that the recent years of free spending by AT&T and Verizon Wireless may have already gone by, putting more pressure on venue owners to find different financial models to bring cellular signals inside their buildings.

Cathedral Consulting’s Seth Buechley

“There was never a problem I couldn’t throw more money at,” said Philip French, executive director for the West and North Central areas for Verizon, during a Tuesday keynote session at the Planet Hollywood hotel. “Those days are gone.”

Also putting pressure on traditional DAS designs are the emergence of small cells, basically smaller versions of carrier macro towers that, like DAS, are used primarily to bring connectivity inside buildings or to urban areas with RF challenges, like crowded city streets. Experiments with newer “5G” cellular technologies and trials of networks at newer slices of spectrum, like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at 3.5 GHz, may also impact the traditional DAS architectures as carriers and building owners look for ways to get more connectivity bang for the buck.

Getting more worth out of the network

Seth Buechley, chairman and CEO of business-advisory firm Cathedral Consulting (and former co-founder of DAS equipment provider SOLiD USA), said that the biggest cellular carriers are under increasing pressure to improve their bottom lines, a situation that could affect the DAS industry by drying up the funds previously used to bring DAS deployments to places like stadiums and arenas. AT&T, for example, has already disbanded the internal group that led an industry charge to bring DAS to many sports venues at no charge to teams or facility owners.

“Internal [carrier] competition for resources is the biggest threat to DAS,” Buechley said.

In his remarks, Verizon’s French noted that the “unlimited” data plans that have resurfaced for major carriers like Verizon are putting “a tremendous amount of pressure” on budgets. Another current popular DAS business model, where a third-party operator builds a stadium network and then signs up carriers on a subscription model, may also be in danger as carriers hold off on participating. At Texas A&M, T-Mobile recently signed a $3.5 million deal to get its signals on the DAS network at 102,512-seat Kyle Field, where AT&T and Verizon both paid in the neighborhood of $5 million for their access to the network.

Todd Landry, JMA Wireless

Unless your facility is that big or it’s getting ready to host a big event like WrestleMania or the Super Bowl, where DAS traffic is likely to be off the charts, the carriers may not be as ready to pay.

“We still love the NFL, but neutral host [participation] can be very expensive for Verizon,” French said.

More network intelligence = more revenue opportunity

Todd Landry, corporate vice president for product and market strategy at DAS supplier JMA Wireless, said the DAS industry needs to look at its own offerings to see how it can help its customers get more out of their networks.

“We’ve got to re-imagine what we’re trying to do,” said Landry. “What do we do with the network to get more out of it?”

Specifically, Landry sees advancements in DAS network intelligence as a prime opportunity to provide more value rather than simply cutting costs. At the conference, JMA was showing a prototype of a “DAS trash can,” a hardened waste bin (with solar power) that could also host a DAS antenna inside. Another attached bin was shown with a connected sensor that could tell operators whether the can was full or not, eliminating the need for multiple truck rolls just to check on whether the bin needed to be emptied.

DAS gear inside the ‘smart’ trash can

For stadiums and other public spaces like shopping malls, Landry said parking spots might have sensors that could indicate whether or not a spot was available — and then relay that information to a self-driving car, which could drop off its passengers at the venue, then proceed on to park itself. Such a service could be offered for a fee to game or mall attendees.

“As we go forward, we need be more clever,” Landry said. “We need to take more knowledge [from] the plumbing, and extract value from it.”

And even while technologies like “5G” and CBRS, which uses LTE technology to provide what proponents see as a sort of “private cellular” environment, may be a few years off from practical deployments, Landry said their presence is already being felt and absorbed by firms building current-day DAS gear. Elements of small cells and DAS, he said, “will come together,” as the equipment vendors “re-imagine what we’re doing for the industry.”

While there may be multiple paths forward for the DAS market, all in attendance seemed to agree with Landry’s final statement: “Things will be very different from what you know today.”

MLBAM: Miami’s Marlins Park will have new Wi-Fi for All-Star Game

As part of its continuing effort to help major league baseball teams outfit their stadiums with fan-facing Wi-Fi, MLB’s advanced media department said that Miami’s Marlins Park will have a new Wi-Fi network fully operational by this year’s All-Star Game, to be held on July 11.

In a recent interview with MSR, Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and chief technology officer for BAMtech, said the new network at Marlins Park will be “fully operational by the All-Star game.” Inzerillo said that by mid-season this year, there will be 23 MLB stadiums with networks built by or upgraded through the ongoing MLBAM plan to bring wireless connectivity to all league parks, a $300 million effort started several years ago.

Previously, Marlins Park had a Wi-Fi network built on Meru gear. Right now specifics of the network aren’t known, but most of the MLBAM network deployments have used Cisco gear for Wi-Fi. The Marlins also previously had a neutral-host DAS run by ExteNet Systems.

News roundup: Ramifications of Manchester attack

Will large sports and entertainment venues change their security procedures in the wake of the recent fatal bomb attack outside the Manchester Arena? As more and more venues look to add closely tied public areas to arenas and stadiums, it’s a good bet we will see security perimeters extend farther out from the entry doors. Here’s a roundup of stories exploring what comes next after Manchester. Anyone with comments or more links, please share as this topic needs to become a priority for everyone.

Manchester attack points to vulnerabilities even at venues with high security: The LA Times weighs in with info from counter-terrorism experts.

U.S. Authorities Are Taking a Fresh Look at Security Outside Arenas After the Manchester Attack: AP (via Time) talks to Wrigley Field execs about adding security cameras outside the stadium.

Concert Security Experts on Preventing Attacks: ‘Our Adversary Is Very Committed, Adaptive and Elusive’: Variety talks to reps from the Oak View Group’s new Prevent Advisors group.

Manchester suicide attack lays bare limits of security measures: Reuters looks at whether or not we’ll ever be able to completely protect venues against determined terrorists.

Manchester shows why even the best protection can’t stop attacks: The Washington Post weighs in with a similar view as Reuters.