First Look: Shining start for Notre Dame’s stadium renovations, new Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football field and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

At this past Sunday’s “New and Gold” game, a sort of glorified scrimmage, the public (including Mobile Sports Report) got its first look at the University of Notre Dame’s Campus Crossroads project, a $400-million plus effort to bring premium seating, a large video board and high-density Wi-Fi to a venue that came to life in 1930, according to university history.

While we will have a full report on our visit to Notre Dame Stadium in our upcoming Fall STADIUM TECH REPORT issue, we wanted to give you a “first look” at the new facilities, which basically include three new large buildings built into the sides of the existing structure, to provide support for the video board as well as two expanded premium-seating and press box areas on either side of the field.

Wi-Fi AP overlooks a concession stand

One of the coolest parts we saw were the new rooftop premium seating areas, where you can sit on a couch and see the full field while also peering out over the edge of the stadium to see Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the rest of the world (well, OK, mostly South Bend, Indiana) while enjoying your favorite beverage and speedy Wi-Fi.

The new Wi-Fi network design using Cisco gear was led by AmpThink, and includes custom-designed enclosures for railing-mounted APs that feature a sharp version of the “ND” logo known to any football fan. Though the network hasn’t yet been optimized or tested with a full house of fans, we were still getting solid up/down signals in the 60-70 Mbps range throughout the building, even in low and high bowl seating areas. There is also a new neutral-host DAS in the stadium, built by Crown Castle. According to Notre Dame, Verizon Wireless and AT&T will be live on the cellular network by the start of the season, with T-Mobile to follow soon.

Like we said, look for more details in our upcoming report… but for now enjoy some scenes from Sunday’s game!

A good look across the main east seating section, with Wi-Fi handrail enclosures visible

DAS in the grass: A DAS antenna finds a home in the grassy strip separating seats from the field

The new big screen video board now dominates the south end zone

A good look at how the new structures bookend up to the stadium on its sides

Now that’s a premium suite: Rooftop couch area provides full view of field, plus scenic views over campus and beyond

Additional seating Wi-Fi coverage from small antennas over VOMs

Painted Wi-Fi AP blends in to column in main concourse outside seating area

The view of ‘Touchdown Jesus’ remains unobstructed

Inside look at the swanky, wood-paneled club for premium seatholders in west building

Scoreboard plug for the Wi-Fi

Notre Dame fans already figuring out how to use social media to get on the big screen

Smart fans at Notre Dame — early arrivers went right for the new, padded premium seats

How do you get bandwidth to APs located below grade level? By being clever and using routing down the side of stairways… more details on this trick coming soon!

Ready or not, Unlicensed LTE is here. What should your venue do?

The entry concourse at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

By Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

There’s much excitement around the coming of “unlicensed LTE” and for good reason. In our anytime, anywhere world the last device many of us use at night, and the first one we pick up in the morning, is a mobile phone, tablet or computer. Although much of the time our devices connect via Wi-Fi, when we’re in transit we depend on cellular.

With consumers quick to express their disappointment when their apps fail to respond – or don’t respond fast enough – on a wireless network, cellular providers are keenly aware they must keep pace with rapidly escalating user experience expectations. Research suggests mobile data traffic will grow by 47 percent annually through 2021. Combine the two and the drivers for expanding network capacity are clear.

While the lure of more bandwidth can be attractive, stadium and venue operators need to carefully evaluate the technological impact and operational overhead unlicensed LTE introduces.

Gigabit cellular coming soon

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

To provide gigabit speeds, the cellular industry has enhanced LTE technology to bond multiple channels together, called “carrier aggregation.” Although originally designed only to combine different licensed frequencies, it has now been extended to aggregate licensed spectrum with 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum (where Wi-Fi operates). Two competing technologies for doing so have emerged, with notable differences when deploying in high-density environments like stadiums in the U.S.

LTE-U (LTE in the Unlicensed Spectrum) is a proprietary technology, developed by the LTE-U Forum, a consortium of several cellular-related companies. It enables simultaneous operation of LTE over both licensed and unlicensed spectrum by aggregating the bands together, resulting in a performance boost. However, the way LTE-U takes control of a channel – while legal in the U.S. – is controversial and may significantly degrade performance of Wi-Fi equipment using the same channel. The Wi-Fi and cellular industries worked together to produce a coexistence test plan, but so far none of the test results for LTE-U equipment authorized by the FCC have been made public.

LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) can be thought of as the standardized version of unlicensed LTE, designed to meet European “listen-before-talk” (LBT) requirements, so it can be deployed anywhere on the planet. It was developed through the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) worldwide standards organization, with wide participation including input from the Wi-Fi community.

DAS gear above concession stand at Coors Field

Think of LBT like the telephone party lines of yesteryear, where multiple customers share a communal phone line but only one person can use it at a time for their conversation while others wait. When there is no conversation happening on the party line and two or more people try to speak at once, other customers of the party line graciously “back off” to allow one person to go first. In cellular terms, this makes LAA a more “polite” technology than LTE-U, as it waits to transmit until a channel is clear. The back-off method it uses is compatible with Wi-Fi at least on paper, although 3GPP does not require vendors to perform or publish any kind of test results.

The Road Ahead

Of course what you want to know is how the advent of LTE-U/LAA impacts your stadium and whether to add gigabit cellular to the connectivity mix.

As a robust, stable and mature technology, Wi-Fi’s strength and ability to handle exceptional stadium data traffic loads is well established. To make informed decisions about whether to consider LTE-U/LAA technologies alongside Wi-Fi, here are five essential technical considerations.

Spectrum Availability. The unlicensed radio spectrum is comprised of 24 channels in the U.S., which is analogous to a 24-lane freeway. Until now, only Wi-Fi traffic traveled on that roadway, with many years spent developing technologies to ensure steady traffic flow, particularly in stadiums. Wi-Fi includes its own LBT solution, which helps assure data merges smoothly onto the freeway. It’s been proven at six Super Bowls plus countless other concerts and sporting events.

Most stadium Wi-Fi networks are already spectrum-constrained, meaning they are just managing to carry the existing load – much less new fan technologies like AR/VR. A large body of evidence demonstrates that stadiums and arenas need 20-24 fulltime-equivalent channels to make a 5 GHz system work (regardless of technology). These Wi-Fi networks are carefully optimized to eliminate all unnecessary transmissions.

Adding one or more LTE-U or LAA systems will reduce available capacity for Wi-Fi operations. As of this writing, there are no public technical measurements of deployed systems so the actual impact is unknown. If four separate unlicensed LTE networks are actually deployed, the impact will be even greater.

Number of LTE-U/LAA Networks Required. Visitors to your stadium likely utilize each of the four U.S. cellular operators: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Therefore, to offer gigabit cellular connectivity, you’ll need to permit all four to deploy an LTE-U, or LAA, network. Because the technologies are so new, they lack a “neutral host” methodology, so each operator will require its own separate physical network and spectrum.

DAS gear under seating area at SunTrust Park

Compatibility with Existing DAS. Most stadiums and arenas have either separate antenna systems for each major cellular operator or a converged neutral-host DAS. Although LTE-U and LAA are intended to support “dual connectivity” to a separate macro base station (or “eNodeB”) on paper, the products currently being shipped are intended as co-located small cells that contain two paired LTE radios – one licensed and one unlicensed. Stadium operators should validate whether their DAS systems are compatible with an expansive LTE-U/LAA small cell deployment where the primary cell (or “PCell”) is the DAS and each PCell has dozens of secondary cells (or “SCells”) providing 5 GHz service.

Cost vs. Benefit. Of no small consideration is the added amount of equipment, and the costs, in a hybrid Wi-Fi/cellular situation. If every cellular operator requires a separate LAA/LTE-U overlay, this implies up to four full new sets of equipment must be deployed under seats or on handrails. For a 60,000-seat stadium at typical under-seat densities, it would only require about 850 Wi-Fi access points (APs). In contrast, for LAA/LTE-U stadium operators would need over 3,000 additional small cells– with each one requiring a sturdy waterproof housing, a 30-watt POE connection, Cat-6 cabling, conduit and, of course, a hole drilled in the concrete. Meaning, LTE-U/LAA small cell deployments would require essentially the same physical footprint for each carrier as Wi-Fi which is likely already installed and is inherently a neutral host technolgy.

Risk. It’s also critical to consider the corresponding risks of adding up to four cellular unlicensed LTE networks to your Wi-Fi environment. It took about seven years and three full generations of radio designs for Wi-Fi vendors to perfect high-capacity stadium systems whereas LTE-U/LAA equipment is only beginning to ship. In short, it may be wise to delay comingling Wi-Fi and LTE-U/LAA networks until unlicensed LTE equipment becomes proven in less mission-critical settings than your venue.

Chuck Lukaszewski is Vice President of Wireless Strategy & Standards at Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. For over a decade he has engineered and deployed large-scale 802.11 networks, joining Aruba in 2007.

Chuck has built Wi-Fi systems in stadiums, seaports, rail yards, manufacturing plants and other complex RF environments, including serving as chief engineer for many stadiums ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 seats that provide live video and other online amenities. He is the author of six books and design guides including Very High Density 802.11ac Networks and Outdoor MIMO Wireless Networks.

First Look: Inside the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Big Bird greets all visitors to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

We’ll have much more to report on what we saw at the press day at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but we thought it was important to share these views as soon as we could — so here is an extended photo essay from the newest NFL venue (which will also be used for soccer). Unfortunately the Wi-Fi and DAS networks were live but not yet optimized, so we weren’t able to do any comprehensive speed testing (but hey, that’s what a regular season game is for!).

Overalll first impressions, technology wise — this is another well thought out venue specifically from a technology standpoint but also mainly just from a visual feel. The halo board is as impressive as advertised, though we would want to see it in action during a game (while sitting in a seat) to fully judge whether or not it fits in with the flow of an event. For advertisers it’s a wonder, as watching all the video screens in the house go to a synchronized ad video was a big wow factor.

Since much of the stadium interior is unfinished concrete, there wasn’t much of an effort to hide networking components — but given all the other piping and cabling, the equipment does kind of fade out of sight in plain view.

MSR welcomes you to the big house

It’s our educated guess that the AT&T Porch — a wide open gathering area in the end zone opposite the windows toward downtown — is going to be a popular hangout, since you can see the field and have multiple big screen TV options behind you. We also liked the “technology loge suites,” smaller four-person private areas just off the main concourse with their own small TV screens and wireless device charging.

On the app side of things, it’s fair to say that features will iterate over time — both the wayfinding and the food-ordering options are not wirelessly connected yet, but according to IBM beacons are a possible future addition to the mix. And while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to all-digital ticketing, season ticket holders will most likely use RFID cards on lanyards instead of mobile phone tickets simply because the RFID is a quicker option. The ticket scanners are by SkiData, fiber backbone by Corning, Wi-Fi APs by Aruba, and DAS by Corning and a mix of antenna providers.

Like we said, more soon! But enjoy these photos today, ahead of the first event on Aug. 26.

The view inside the main entry, with halo board visible above

The view from the other side of the field, from the AT&T Porch

Just hard to fit all this in, but you can see here from field to roof

I spy Wi-Fi, APs point down from seat bottoms to main entry concourse

One of the many under-seat APs

A good look at the roof: Eight “petals” that all pull straight out when open, which is supposed to take 7 minutes according to design

Good place for maximum coverage

View from the field

One of “hundreds” of mini-IDFs, termination points that bring fiber almost right to edge devices

The mega-vertical TV screen, just inside the main entry. 101 feet tall!

Something Falcons fans may like the most: Look at the prices!

MORE SOON!

Costanzo cleared in SignalShare lawsuit

Joe Costanzo, the former chief technology officer for SignalShare, has been cleared of any legal entanglements in that company’s ongoing lawsuit issues according to a new filing in the case.

Last year, NFS Leasing sued SignalShare for $7.8 million over alleged fradulent leases, a case now tied up in SignalShare’s subsequent bankruptcy proceedings. Costanzo, who primarily ran the technical operations of the stadium Wi-Fi leasing operator, was personally named by NFS in the lawsuit along with other SignalShare executives; Costanzo, however, claimed he was misled by his own company and had filed counter-claims against NFS.

A new document from the United States District Court in the District of Massachusetts said that NFS Leasing has dismissed all of its claims against Costanzo “without costs to either party.” Costanzo, who had filed a counter-claim against NFS, also dismissed his action.

Costanzo also apparently reached an agreement with the former SignalShare, according to a legal document filed by a company called M2 nGage, which was formed out of the remnants of SignalShare. According to the document, “Any disputes between Costanzo, the SPHC Parties and SignalShare were settled pursuant to a settlement agreement executed between the parties. Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the parties mutually released each other from any claims and SPHC agreed to pay Joseph Costanzo $92,000 over a period of a year associated with amounts due.”

NFS Leasing did not respond to an email inquiry for more information.

NBA’s Charlotte Hornets partner with VenueNext for new app

The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets are partnering with app developer VenueNext to develop a new team and stadium app, which will be ready before the new NBA season begins, according to a press release from the team and the company.

The deal is VenueNext’s third NBA customer, after previously signing contracts with the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Hornets deal also represents the second NBA team to move to VenueNext’s app platform following a 2015 deal where competitor YinzCam won a contract to redevelop 22 NBA team apps, including the Hornets’.

Like other VenueNext apps, the Hornets’ new app will support extensive digital ticketing services, as well as mobile payments and the ability for fans to use their devices to order and pay for concessions for express pickup at designated stands. The release said the new app will also “continue to remain the primary source of team-related news, video and content for Hornets fans.”

Screen shots of the new app were not available yet. According to the release, the new app will also support real-time scoring and game statistics, along with video highlights and “access to the Hornets’ radio broadcast and social media channels.”

VenueNext, which got its start as the app developer for the San Francisco 49ers and their new home, Levi’s Stadium, also has the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Vikings among its pro sports team clients. VenueNext also designed the latest app for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The company has raised $24 million in venture capital, $15 million of which came in a Series B funding last October.

T-Mobile steps up stadium DAS participation, ahead of 5G future

DAS gear at Kauffman Stadium. Credit: ADRF video

T-Mobile has stepped up its participation in stadium DAS deployments recently, ahead of what the wireless carrier sees as an eventual shift to 5G technologies sometime in the near future.

Recent news announcements of T-Mobile being the first carrier to participate in the new forthcoming distributed antenna system (DAS) at Wrigley Field, as well as joining DAS deployments at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium are proof that T-Mobile is making up for lost ground in the stadium cellular deployment arena.

“It’s a catch-up play, to some degree,” said Dave Mayo, senior vice president of network technology at T-Mobile. While Mayo spent most of a recent phone interview with Mobile Sports Report talking about the promise of future 5G cellular technologies, he did acknowledge that T-Mobile was more aggressively pursuing DAS deals in the moment, to make sure T-Mobile customers could connect when they were at large public venues.

“When they get to the venue, customers expect to be able to post to Instagram and Facebook,” Mayo said. “It’s table stakes.”

In Chicago, the world champion Cubs are looking to 2018 for the arrival of their renovated Wi-Fi and DAS infrastructure. According to DAS deployer DAS Group Professionals, T-Mobile is the first of the cellular carriers to sign on to the neutral-host system.

At the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium, the new DAS built by Advanced RF Technologies Inc. (ADRF) and Sprint in 2015 will welcome T-Mobile to the system this month, with AT&T and Verizon Wireless expected to join sometime later this year, according to ADRF. And earlier this year, Texas A&M announced a $3.5 million deal for T-Mobile to join the DAS at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, which previously had AT&T and Verizon as participants.

Looking ahead to 5G

But even as T-Mobile announces its participation in traditional DAS deployment deals — where other carriers or third-party operators may be in charge — Mayo said venues need to rethink their cellular strategies for the coming of 5G, a still loosely-defined set of technologies that will nevertheless be much different than the current standard of 4G LTE.

“5G is going to become available in the next 2 to 3 years, so now is the time to start thinking about this,” Mayo said. With much different transmission frequencies in the millimeter wave zones, the idea is that 5G could theoretically support much higher data rates than current cellular technology. The one drawback of higher-range frequencies, that being shorter distance ranges for signals, may not be a big problem in stadiums since antennas are usually placed closer together than those in other environments.

How the DAS model will or will not translate to a 5G future is a topic already widely talked about in industry circles, and Mayo said current deployment agreements may not work well going forward.

“The whole [deployment] model has to change,” Mayo said. “And the time to start changing that is now.”