San Jose Sharks add more features to SAP Center stadium app

The San Jose Sharks announced today a raft of upgrades to their stadium app, including a feature that will allow fans to toggle through four separate modes of functionality, for Sharks games, SAP Center events, minor-league hockey info and information about the Sharks-associated public skating rinks in the area.

Now called the San Jose Sharks + SAP Center app, the mobile-device program developed by VenueNext and Adept Mobile will bring to life some previously mentioned services for Sharks fans, including the ability to order Sharks merchandise and in-stadium “experiences” — like purchasing a message on the big video board — directly from the app.

Screen shot of new ‘marketplace’ options in Sharks app

Other new features include live audio broadcasts of Sharks games and games for the AHL’s Barracuda; augmented reality experiences; and a message preference and inbox feature that will allow fans to self-regulate the frequency of in-app communications with the team.

The ability to toggle between different versions of the app — say, for Sharks hockey games or for a concert at SAP Center — is a feature finding its way into most stadium apps these days, including VenueNext’s app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. The Sacramento Kings have a similar two-apps-in-one strategy for the team and for Golden 1 Center, in an app developed by Built.io.

For fans, it’s a way to have all the arena-going information in one place, while for the teams and venues it’s a way to keep current customers informed of all the associated businesses. (On its face the feature sounds like a smart idea, but so far we haven’t seen any metrics from any teams showing proof that it is really working for either fans or teams/venues.)

Putting the ability to order experiences like big-screen messages (just $75!) or visits from the Shark’s toothy mascot into the app seems like a good idea, since those actions can now be acted on in the moment instead of having to plan far ahead. And for fans who like to hear play by play either at the rink or at home, having team audio is a great feature and alternative to radio.

CES attendees used 8.69 TB of Wi-Fi data at Las Vegas Convention Center

Crowds at this year’s CES show

Attendees at this year’s CES convention in Las Vegas used 8.69 terabytes of Wi-Fi data at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with 288,104 active Wi-Fi connections over the show’s dates of Jan. 9-12, according to network operator Cox Business.

The LVCC’s Wi-Fi network, which was upgraded 3 years ago, has more than 2,000 Cisco Wi-Fi access points spread through the large halls where most of the CES activity takes place. According to stats compiled by Cox, the average connection time per device was 2 hours, and the network saw peak download throughput speeds of 1.72 Gbps and peak upload speeds of 1.13 Gbps.

We don’t have stats yet on DAS use at CES, but attendees at the LVCC may also have noticed a new LED welcome screen in the main hallway — enclosed below is a cool time-lapse video showing its (fast!) construction in time for the big event.

NFL exec: U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi network ‘in a strong place’ ahead of Super Bowl LII

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Like many football fans, I was jaw-dropping excited while watching the Minnesota Vikings’ dramatic walk-off touchdown win in last Sunday’s playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Unlike many football fans but probably more like our readership, my next thought while watching the celebrations was: I hope the Wi-Fi holds up!

According to a top NFL IT executive who was at the game, the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium was more than up to the load applied to it by the Vikings’ exciting win and victory celebration, a good stress test ahead of the stadium’s hosting of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. “There were an amazing amount of [Wi-Fi] connections” after the game’s end, said Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT in the NFL’s office of the CIO, in a phone interview Thursday.

The “massive spike” in connectivity after the game’s exciting conclusion produced numerous social media posts from fans present, mainly on Facebook and Snapchat, Amendolia said. Though he didn’t have full networking statistics from the game, Amendolia did share one interesting number, the fact that there were approximately 37,000 unique connections to the Wi-Fi network during the game — a total greater than that at last year’s Super Bowl LI in Houston, where 35,430 fans out of 71,795 in attendance at NRG Stadium used the Wi-Fi at some point. Attendance at Sunday’s playoff game in Minneapolis was 66,612.

“I feel we’re in a strong place now” with the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium, Amendolia said. “We’re hoping to set some new records.”

Still no sign of bandwidth demand decline

Amendolia, part of the NFL’s networking team that ensures good connectivity at the league’s championship event, said testing work on the AmpThink-designed network (which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear) started last year, and then ramped up through the current season.

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“Starting with the presason [games] we had staff sitting in seats, doing Facebook, visiting websites,” said Amendolia. “The unique architecture in each stadium makes Wi-Fi [performance] unique. We had people sitting in odd corners, and next to big concrete structures.”

Ever since Wi-Fi has been a part of Super Bowls, the total data used and numbers of fans connecting have steadily increased each year, always setting current records for single-day use of a large venue network. At Super Bowl 49 in 2015, fans used 6.23 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; the next year, it was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; and last year at NRG Stadium in Houston there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi data used. (Cellular data use on stadium DAS networks has also increased apace, from almost 16 TB at Super Bowl 50 to more than 25.8 TB last year.)

What’s interesting is that networking usage totals for games the following NFL season usually increase as well, not to Super Bowl levels but surpassing marks from years before. For this season’s opening game at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, the Wi-Fi network there saw 8.08 TB of data used, a mark that trails only the last two Super Bowls.

“Super Bowls set the benchmark for the next season,” said Amendolia, who agrees that there may never be an end to the growth.

“Even if [current] usage levels off, there’s new technology like augmented reality and wearable glasses,” Amendolia said. “How does that change the future?”

‘Fan Mobile Pass’ will serve as NFL’s Super Bowl 52 app, from pregame activities to game day functions

For the second year in a row, the NFL is building its own mobile app for the Super Bowl, this time with a single-application strategy meant to cover both fan activities the week before Super Bowl LII, as well as game-day functionality at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In a phone interview Thursday with Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT services for the NFL’s office of the CIO, Amendolia said the new strategy of having a single app for pre-game and game-day activity was meant to drive adoption and eliminate confusion over which app fans might need for various Super Bowl interactions. Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize its Super Bowl app strategy but still required fans to use a separate app — the NFL Mobile app — to see game highlights and other content.

Though the Super Bowl 52 app is not yet available for download, fans can sign up on the Super Bowl app website for a chance to win tickets to the big game, while also providing personal information that Amendolia said will assist with the league’s quest to bring more “personalization” to the experience.

“There’s more gamification to the app, with the opportunity for fans to win achievements” through the week, Amendolia said. According to the sign-up web page, there will be a heavy focus on social media engagement, with promises of availability of free autographs from current and past NFL stars; the ability to take a picture of the Super Bowl trophy; and to see images of all 51 Super Bowl rings. There will also be sponsor-activation activities throughout Minneapolis, most likely at the NFL Super Bowl Live fan site on Nicollet Mall and other Super Bowl events, where presumably fans can “check in” with the app’s QR code to earn rewards.

Wayfinding maps, but no blue dots

For both the week before and game day, Amendolia said the app will have wayfinding maps, but they won’t be active “blue dot” wayfinding, even though that feature is supported in the Vikings’ own stadium app, which was developed for the Vikings by app developer VenueNext.

“We did discuss [beacon-enabled] options, but there are some challenges to that that are unique to the Super Bowl,” said Amendolia, noting things like temporary structures and closed roads for Super Bowl activities that could be harder to integrate into maps. For wayfinding beyond maps, Amendolia said there would be a heavy reliance on digital signage information in and around the stadium to help fans find their way.

Like last year, the NFL Super Bowl app will not have any functionality allowing fans to order food or drinks for delivery or express pickup, with the latter being a service that was tested at Vikings home games this season. The app will allow fans to pre-order merchandise and pick it up at locations around town during the week before the game, Amendolia said, and will also allow suite ticketholders to order merchandise for pickup during the game.

One interesting question is whether or not the Vikings will be allowed to make their own app active for the game if they make the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship this weekend. If so, it would represent the first time an NFL team played in the Super Bowl at its home stadium, an issue never faced in the era of team apps. Vikings officials did not respond yet to questions about the possible availability of the team app for the Super Bowl, but we will update this post if and when they do.

‘Super’ Wi-Fi and DAS at U.S. Bank Stadium ready for Super Bowl 52

A look at downtown Minneapolis from inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After Sunday’s stunning last-second victory, the Minnesota Vikings are one step closer to becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own home stadium. Should the Vikings beat the Eagles in Philadelphia this weekend, Super Bowl 52 visitors should prepare for a true Norse experience inside U.S. Bank Stadium, with repeated blasts from the oversize “Gjallarhorn” and a fire-breathing dragon ship that will launch the home team onto the field. Skol!

But even if the hometown team falls short of making the big game this season, on Feb. 4, 2018 the stadium itself should do Minneapolis proud, especially when it comes to wireless connectivity. With two full regular seasons of football and numerous other events to test the networks’ capacity, both the Wi-Fi and DAS networks inside the 66,655-seat U.S. Bank Stadium appear more than ready to handle what is usually the highest single-day bandwidth stress test, namely the NFL’s yearly championship game. (Though the selfies and uploads following Sunday’s walk-off touchdown toss may have provided an early indicator of massive network use!)

In a mid-November visit to U.S. Bank Stadium for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, Mobile Sports Report found robust coverage on both the Wi-Fi and cellular networks all around the inside of the stadium, with solid performance even amidst thick crowds of fans and even in the highest reaches of the seating bowl. Speedtests on the Wi-Fi network, built by AmpThink using Cisco gear, regularly hit marks of 40 to 50-plus Mbps in most areas, with one reading reaching 85 Mbps for download speeds.

And on the DAS side of things, Verizon Wireless, which built the neutral-host network inside U.S. Bank Stadium, said in December that it has already seen more cellular traffic on its network for a Vikings home game this season than it saw at NRG Stadium for Super Bowl LI last February. With 1,200 total antennas — approximately 300 of which were installed this past offseason — Verizon said it is ready to handle even double the traffic it saw at last year’s game, when it reported carrying 11 terabytes of data on stadium and surrounding macro networks.

Good connectivity right inside the doors

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi).

James Farstad, chief technology advisor for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the entity that owns U.S. Bank Stadium, said he and his group are “very pleased” with the state of the wireless networks inside the venue heading toward its Super Bowl date.

“You’re never really satisfied, because you want it to be the best it can be,” said Farstad in an interview during our November visit to Minneapolis. “But generally speaking, we’re very pleased with the state of the networks.”

Those networks are tested the very moment the Vikings open the doors for home games, especially in warmer weather when the signature big glass doors — five of them, all 55 feet wide and ranging in height from 75 to 95 feet — swing out to welcome fans. As the entry that points toward downtown, the west gate can account for as much as 70 percent of the fans arriving, according to the Vikings, putting a big crush on the wireless networks in the doorway area.

To help keep people connected in crowded situations, Verizon deployed extra DAS antennas on short poles in front of both the west and east end zone concourse areas, part of a 48 percent increase in overall DAS antenna numbers added during the football offseason. Even with thick crowds streaming into the stadium, we still got a DAS speedtest of 77.35 Mbps download and 32.40 Mbps upload on the concourse just inside the west doors, and just below the Gjallarhorn.

Walking around the main level concourse, connectivity hardware is easy to see if you know what you’re looking for; part of the extensive DAS coverage includes dual antennas hanging off a single pole above wide walkway segments. And in one instance, we saw a good example of aesthetic integration, with a Wi-Fi AP attached just behind two IPTV screens, with a beacon attached to the side and a DAS antenna mounted just above everything else.

First big test of railing-mounted Wi-Fi?

Moving into the seating bowl, visitors may not know that many of the Wi-Fi network’s 1,300 APs are hiding there in plain sight — inside silver handrail enclosures, many of which now sport bright, bold section numbers to help fans find their seats. Believed to be the first big football-sized stadium that relied mainly on railing-mounted APs, the proximate network design from AmpThink is proving to be a winner in performance, producing regular-season game data totals of around 3 terabytes per event and maybe more importantly, keeping an optimal number of fans attached to the AP closest to them for the speediest connection.

Top-down antennas provide coverage for suite seating

Sitting next to AmpThink president Bill Anderson in the stadium’s press box you get a great view of the field, but it’s doubtful Anderson watches much football action given that he spends most of a game day glued to a screen that shows live detailed performance for every Wi-Fi AP in the building. While the analytics program produces a wealth of interesting data, the one metric that keeps Anderson’s attention is the one showing how many fans are connected to each AP, a number that will be no more than 50 and ideally somewhere around 25 connections if the network is performing as it should be.

On the day we visited, on Anderson’s screen there was one AP showing more than 200 devices trying to connect to it, an issue Anderson noted for immediate problem-solving. But with only a handful of others showing more than 50 connections, Anderson was confident that AmpThink has been able to figure out how to solve for the main dilemma for Wi-Fi in large enclosed structures, namely keeping APs from interfering with each
other. The large clear-plastic roof and wall areas at U.S. Bank Stadium don’t help, since they reflect RF signals to add to the network design degree of difficulty.

But the multiple railing-mount network design – which AmpThink duplicated at Notre Dame University, whose new network is seeing the highest-ever data totals seen at collegiate events – seems to be fulfilling AmpThink’s goal to produce networks with steady AP loads and consistent, high-density throughput in extremely challenging environments. The railing-mounted APs provide connectivity that couldn’t be delivered by overhead antennas, like in Notre Dame’s open concrete bowl and in U.S. Bank Stadium’s similar wide-open seating area, where no overhead structure is within 300 feet of a seat.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

“I think we have a network strategy that produces good uniform performance” in venues like U.S. Bank Stadium, Anderson said. “It’s pretty darn exciting to have a formula that works.”

More antennas get DAS ready for big game

And even though Verizon knew the Super Bowl was coming to U.S. Bank Stadium when it built the neutral host DAS for the 2016 opening, it came right back this past offseason and added approximately another 300 new antennas (mainly for its own use and not for the shared DAS), all in the name of unstoppable demand for mobile bandwidth from fans attending events.

Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, said in a phone interview that “the consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” especially at the NFL’s biggest game, where DAS use has grown at a fast clip the past few years. Scudder said these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game, and adds network capacity accordingly. Verizon’s numbers from the past three Super Bowls are a good guide, with the carrier reporting 4.1 TB used at Super Bowl 49, 7 TB at Super Bowl 50, and 11 TB at Super Bowl 51.

AmpThink’s handrail-mounted AP enclosures seem to have played a hand in part of Verizon’s DAS upgrade, as some of the new DAS enclosures seem to mimic the Wi-Fi ones with their smaller silver enclosures. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. Verizon also deployed some under-seat antenna enclosures for its upgrade, a tactic the company also used for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even up in the most nosebleed of seats — in U.S. Bank Stadium’s case, section 345, which has seats almost touching the roof in the southwest corner, we got a DAS speedtest on the Verizon network of 60.87 Mbps / 44.22 Mbps, most likely from some antennas we could see mounted just above the seats on ventilation pipes a bit toward the field. And hanging from the middle of U.S. Bank Stadium’s roof are a pair of Matsing Ball antennas, which point down to provide cellular service for media and photographers on the sidelines, as well as for floor seating for concerts and other events.

Ready to add more bandwidth on the fly

Even less unseen and probably not appreciated until it’s needed is the stadium’s backbone bandwidth, provided by sponsoring partner CenturyLink.

A Wi-Fi enclosure in section 345, near the stadium’s roof

Though some stadiums are touting 100 Gbps pipes coming in, the U.S. Bank Stadium setup makes the venue its own ISP, according to Farstad.

With six 10-Gbps pipes that are always active — and on two separate network infrastructures for redundancy — the stadium can turn up its bandwidth on the fly, a test the venue got on its first public event.

According to Farstad, when U.S. Bank Stadium opened for the first time with a soccer game on Aug. 3, 2016, the stadium operators expected about 25,000 fans might show up for a clash between Chelsea and AC Milan. But a favorable newspaper article about the stadium led to more than 64,000 fans in the house, a surge that backed up the light-rail trains and saw the concession stands run out of food.

“We were watching the Wi-Fi system during the first break [in the soccer game] and it was coming down fast,” Farstad said. But the ability to increase capacity quickly — Farstad said that within 45 seconds, the stadium was able to provision new bandwidth, a task that in other situations could take weeks — the Wi-Fi survived the unexpected demands, proof that it should be able to handle whatever happens on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I think we can handle the Super Bowl traffic,” Farstad said.

Full-stadium Wi-Fi lands at Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena

Wi-Fi APs mounted on catwalks at AmericanAirlines Arena. Credit: Miami Heat (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans attending Miami Heat games at AmericanAirlines Arena now have access to a full-stadium Wi-Fi network, as one of the last NBA venues without Wi-Fi has now fully embraced the wireless technology and what it enables.

“It’s all about wanting to elevate the fan experience,” said Matthew Jafarian, vice president for digital strategy and innovation for the Heat, in a recent phone interview. With construction on the network having started more than a year ago, the 350-plus access point network is now almost fully complete, with Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and main installation by M S Benbow & Associates (MSB).

Previously, AmericanAirlines Arena had been somewhat proud about its choice to rely only on cellular DAS for wireless connectivity inside the venue. But according to Jafarian, as fans of sporting events, concerts and other attractions steadily increase their digital activities, the inevitable need for more bandwidth caused the Heat to add Wi-Fi to the building they own and operate.

“With Heat games and with concerts and events, fans want to share more and we want them to be able to share their experience,” Jafarian said. Venue-wide Wi-Fi will also make it easier for fans to comply with the Heat’s decision to only allow digital ticketing for entry to Heat games. Jafarian added that the new Wi-Fi network will also allow for more back-of-house operations (like enabling mobile point-of-sale systems) to run more effectively.

‘Make it the best’

Following a directive to make the arena’s network “the best Wi-Fi out there,” the Heat went through an RFP process that looked at Wi-Fi gear providers like Cisco and Samsung before choosing the team of Aruba and MSB. Because of the need to get the network finished before this past season’s first games, Jafarian said the option of going under-seat with Wi-Fi APs wasn’t feasible because “there weren’t enough dark days” to complete the extensive construction needed for such a deployment.

Picture of a monitor at American Airlines Arena, showing wait time information (this photo was not taken during a game). Credit: Miami Heat

Instead, MSB engineered a top-down system with most APs mounted on the arena’s catwalks, which Jafarian said is “working well.” The network was live before the start of preseason games, Jafarian said.

The network also makes use of a captive portal from Purple for fan engagement management. According to Jafarian, the Heat saw more than 50,000 unique Wi-Fi connections over the first 60 days of operation, and sees an average of around 20 percent of attendees connecting to the network both for NBA games as well as for concerts, including recent performances by Jay-Z and The Weeknd.

This year the Heat also rolled out a new mobile app, developed by Built.io and Beyond Curious. “We’ve had a lot of success with the app,” said Jafarian. One of the more popular components, he said, is a wayfinding and line-length service powered by WaitTime, which is available both via the app as well as on monitors around the arena.

“The WaitTime [service] has been a big hit with fans,” said Jafarian.