Orlando City Stadium adds high-density Wi-Fi for soccer fans

Orlando City Stadium, home of the MLS’s Orlando City SC. Credit all photos: Jenna Cornell (click on any picture for a larger image)

Resilient. Connected. Reliable. Even before its new stadium opened in March of this year, Orlando City SC, the Major League Soccer franchise in central Florida, knew exactly what it wanted from fan-facing Wi-Fi.

Leading that list was networking infrastructure to support the stadium’s 25,500 capacity. The team needed to be able to deliver live streaming video to fans through the team’s LionNation app. And they wanted a way to begin collecting user info and building relationships with fans, according to Renato Reis, CIO for the club.

And with so many professional sports teams having already installed wireless infrastructure, Reis knew there was no reason to reinvent the Wi-Fi wheel. “I had the privilege to travel and interview other organizations,” he said, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where the NFL’s Dolphins and the University of Miami both play football, as well as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., shared by the NFL’s Jets and Giants. Reis said Orlando City SC’s technology drew heavily on the experience and deployment of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “I used what I learned,” he laughed.

Paying their own way

Orlando City is barely 3 years old and played its first two seasons in the nearby Citrus Bowl, now called Camping World Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi deployment at Orlando City Stadium.

After some confusion with the City of Orlando, Orange County and the state of Florida over money and budget for a new stadium, Orlando City SC’s ownership abandoned a public-private partnership to go its own way. Orlando City Stadium was built with private funds and opened in time for this year’s opener. Orlando City SC shares the venue with the Orlando Pride, the women’s professional soccer team.

“We had a brand-new stadium and no installed Wi-Fi, two factors that really benefited us,” Reis told Mobile Sports Report. “We planned the position of our antennas and leveraged lessons from other organizations to design something from scratch and build for the future.”

Orlando City SC had some help there. The MLS franchise partnered with managed service provider Spectrum Enterprise, a division of Charter Communications; Spectrum in turn has a longstanding partnership with Orlando City’s equipment vendor, Cisco. Together, they installed networking gear, lots of new fiber-optic cable, and the wireless infrastructure that rides atop the stadium’s 10-Gbps backbone network.

The fan-facing Wi-Fi consists of more than 550 wireless access points around the stadium, or about one AP for every 45 users. The APs are installed under seats, in handrails and on posts. “It was more of a challenge to find the right places, design-wise, for APs to keep them out of people’s line of vision,” Reis said.

Orlando City CIO Renato Reis, posing in front of some cool graffiti and below a Cisco AP.

Supporting streaming video

AP density and processing power were important considerations for Orlando City SC. With such dense coverage, each AP delivers 50-80 Mbps per user, Reis said. That ensures that users of the team’s LionNation app enjoy high performance when using its streaming video capability; users posting to social media or checking email also get faster throughput, he added.

That sort of performance is essential, especially for users of the premium version ($8.99) of the LionNation app. In addition to live-streaming video, premium members get access to behind-the-scenes content, as well as 10 percent discounts off food, drink and merchandise purchases (and points for every dollar spent). They also get priority access to post-season tickets and single-game tickets.

Spectrum helped with the stadium’s engineering and remains active in day-to-day management, said Reis. Spectrum performed three rounds of Wi-Fi tuning and collecting data to see where usage was greatest. No surprise: Entry gates and concession areas, according to Reis. They then made adjustments, repointing APs where needed, thus ensuring bandwidth is available where it’s needed most.

Orlando City SC has also been testing wireless food ordering in one stadium section with 1,500 users since the beginning of the year. “The challenge there isn’t technology but rather logistics,” Reis explained.

Screenshot of the Orlando City app

The team is planning to extend the capability more broadly, but needs more experience to help decide how to proceed. “We’ll probably run the test for the rest of the season and make changes next year,” he said.

Reis’s biggest challenge for the moment is encouraging Wi-Fi usage – and also persuading users to register if they’re not on the app. Even with Orlando City Stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage, most users will stick to cellular (the stadium’s DAS network is serviced by AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile and Sprint), he said.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is who is at the stadium,” Reis explained, adding that the only information he has is that a fan bought four tickets, for example, and when they get scanned at the gates. So how to learn more? “Most landing pages are boring,” he laughed; still, he’s considering offering different incentives for Wi-Fi users to check in.

“Can I loyal-ize you so I can learn what you like, what offers are more appealing, what you enjoy and don’t?” Reis asked. That’s a primary challenge for most sports teams, entertainment companies and ecommerce entities. Luckily for Reis and the Orlando City SC, he’s got the bandwidth, backbone and people resources to learn more about fans and build those relationships going forward.

Mobilitie brings interim Wi-Fi to L.A. Coliseum

The Los Angeles Coliseum is home to the NFL’s Rams and the University of Southern California. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Previously reliant solely on DAS coverage, the Los Angeles Coliseum added Wi-Fi coverage last November in the student section – about 7,500 seats on the bowl’s east side – thanks to a donation of equipment and labor by Mobilitie.

The wireless services provider is also in the process of adding Wi-Fi to two sets of club suites — behind the southern end-zone and on the deck of the Coliseum’s iconic peristyle. These are used by fans of the Los Angeles Rams, the recently relocated NFL franchise playing its second season in the City of Angels. The Rams’ new $2.6 billion stadium is under construction in nearby Inglewood, projected to be done in 2019 and ready for the 2020 NFL season.

In addition to the Rams, the Coliseum is also home field for the University of Southern California’s football team. It’s also slated to be the stadium for the 2028 Summer Olympics, playing host to the world’s athletes for an unprecedented third time.

More renovations coming soon

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Mobilitie’s generosity notwithstanding, all the fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum is temporary, according to Derek Thatcher, an IT manager for USC, which manages the Coliseum on behalf of the County of Los Angeles. Demolition at the stadium will get underway in January 2018; while much of the bowl’s structure will remain, permanent club suites will be added as will new seating and new aisles with handrails. That will translate to a reduction in bowl capacity from 94,000 to 77,500, according to USC.

Close-up of the under-seat Wi-Fi APs

The $270 million refresh was already underway before LA’s eleventh-hour entry in the Olympics sweepstakes, activated after Boston voted down a bid. The U.S. Olympic Committee has earmarked $175 million for other upgrades at the Coliseum for the quadrennial gathering of the world’s athletes – and broadcasters.

A surprise part of LA’s Olympic bid was a proposal for simultaneous opening ceremonies at two venues, Thatcher explained. Under the USOC’s plan, the visual and logistical extravaganza could be split between the Coliseum and the gleaming new NFL stadium that the Rams will share with the Los Angeles Chargers (formerly of San Diego). Though the Games are more than 10 years away, it’s unclear how the use of two venues would work logistically. But the potential wow factor of such a spectacle is undeniable.

In the meantime, Thatcher, many of his USC counterparts and busloads of subcontractors will have their hands full once the current NFL season ends early next year. Fan-facing Wi-Fi is part of the plan for the Coliseum refresh; no word on which vendors are in the running or when the university will award the Wi-Fi contract.

Another look at the under-seat AP deployment

Gaining insight for the future

The USC Trojan faithful and Rams fans at the Coliseum had been reliant on DAS from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. But Wi-Fi coverage is envisioned from the gates to the concourses and bowl. The Coliseum Wi-Fi will not extend to adjacent parking lots, which are owned by the State of California, not USC, Thatcher added.

And though the equipment and service contract hasn’t been awarded yet, Mobilitie made a smart move with the interim gear it donated – Wi-Fi access points all made by Aruba (now owned by HP Enterprise), the same Wi-Fi gear in use across the rest of USC’s campus. The donated network also gives Mobilitie insight to usage patterns, user habits and engineering challenges that are unique to the venue.

The Coliseum’s renovation is projected to be done by August 2019, though the facility will be useable for home games played by both USC and the Rams in the interim, according to Thatcher.

In the meantime, 166 Aruba APs will power fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum. Mobilitie installed under-seat APs; rather than drill new conduits or use saw-cuts through stadium concrete, the service provider used low-profile rubber matting to conceal the wiring. Many of the APs are also installed on angled concrete, which helps preserve storage space beneath the seats, a plus for fans and their sacks and packs.

Red Bull Arena grabs Wi-Fi by the horns

The New York Redbulls take on NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Sunday night May 9, 2015 in Harrison, NJ.
Ben Solomon/NYRB

The New York Red Bulls have proven themselves very goal-oriented on the soccer pitch, so it was no surprise the team was equally methodical when they began a Wi-Fi upgrade in November 2016.

Teams and stadium owners like to say their technology improvements are intended to improve fan experience. The Red Bulls are no exception, but Peter Katic, senior director, IT and arena systems for the team, said there were other issues driving the Wi-Fi upgrade. Mostly, the team wanted technology that wouldn’t need to be supplemented or gotten rid of in a couple years. “We didn’t want to have to keep changing the cores or access points and doing site surveys,” Katic said. “We wanted something that would evolve with us, and after months of research we found the Cisco Meraki solution really fit the bill.”

Red Bull Arena is relatively new by sporting standards; it opened in 2010 on the banks of the Passaic River in New Jersey and seats 25,000. But the venue has never had fan-facing Wi-Fi. On the corporate side, the organization uses Aruba/Hewlett Packard for its wireless connectivity needs but keeps that network separate from fans.

A close-up look at a Wi-Fi antenna deployment, Credit: Red Bull Arena

In tandem with the new Wi-Fi installation, the Red Bulls bought Cisco switches for the entire venue’s networking requirements, and layered on the Meraki wireless gear. The new network, including 172 APs, went live this past March, Katic added.

The Red Bulls partnered with Safari Telecom for the heavy lifting part of the technology upgrade. “One of our biggest challenges was the I-beams and side beams on the sections of the lower bowl,” Katic said. Safari custom-built clamps and anchors for mounting the APs, since drilling through the beams wasn’t an option. “Safari did a great job working in subzero temperatures during the offseason, mounting this stuff and getting it activated for our first event,” an international mini-tournament, not a Red Bulls game, he said.

All the Meraki APs were mounted overhead, avoiding the extra cost of under-seat APs. “There wasn’t really a business need to mount APs underneath the seats to provide coverage to patrons, not to mention the additional resources and labor,” he explained, adding that Red Bull is a company that values aesthetics. “We’re a premium brand… even the color of the AP really fit into the stadium aesthetic.”

Red Bulls fans like iPhones

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The Red Bulls are already taking advantage of the Wi-Fi system’s native applications – things like analytics; total data downloads and uploads; identification of device types used by patrons as well as the websites they visit.

Another Wi-Fi AP deployment

“Facebook seems to be the king here, but fans are also on YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter,” Katic said. More than two-thirds of fans — 68% — use iPhones. “That’s an interesting statistic, especially for the app, which will need to be optimized for the iPhone,” he added.

So far, the highest number of connected users for a single game has been 3,200, with a peak rate of 2,400 simultaneous users. The arena’s Wi-Fi system is engineered with a take rate of 40 percent, and fans are getting upload and download speeds ranging from 40 to 80 Mbps during events, according to Katic.

“We’re always tweaking it, but the Wi-Fi performance has been better than we expected,” he said. At a recent match, fans downloaded about 490 GB of data and uploaded approximately 145 GB, according to figures Katic pulled off the Meraki dashboard, which he judged easy to use. “You don’t need to be an IT guru to get into the dashboard or run the analytics.”

There’s also a free API in the Cisco Meraki solution that allows the Red Bulls to add features and capabilities as needed. Though the Red Bulls haven’t tapped the API just yet, they’ve got lots of plans. “We intend to use the API for our splash page, target marketing, wayfinding, in-venue engagement, and loyalty and revenue-driving campaigns,” Katic said. “In this way, we really provide the fans what they want.”

There’s no companion app at the moment, but that’s likely to change. “We’re looking at it, but MLS is going to be launching a league-wide app for all the teams,” Katic added. It’s another smart way to build and deepen connection with Red Bull fans.

A good look at Wi-Fi deployments in the Red Bull Arena upper seating.

Utah Jazz overhaul DAS, Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz / Boingo. Credit all photos: Utah Jazz (click on any photo for a larger image)

A $130 million overhaul of Vivint Smart Home Arena provided the perfect opening to refresh its wireless infrastructure as well — so the venue installed new DAS and Wi-Fi to improve the game experience for fans of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

“When we understood we’d be undertaking both a renovation and improving guest experience, we realized a severe lack in the Vivint bowl for guest wireless,” said BJ Vander Linden, CIO for Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, which owns the downtown Salt Lake City venue as well the Jazz franchise. Wireless was an afterthought, if it was thought of at all, when Vivint was first built in 1991. “We knew we needed something more interactive for guests to watch, share and talk about the game and give them more opportunities to be involved,” Vander Linden told Mobile Sports Report.

Editor’s note: Come hear the Utah Jazz, Boingo and SOLiD talk about the new network inside Vivint Smart Home Arena during MSR’s first LIVE INTERVIEW WEBINAR on Tuesday, April 11! Register now for this event!

This wasn’t the first time that Miller Sports and the Jazz had considered Wi-Fi upgrades for Vivint, which had been using a lightweight Cisco switch and about 20 APs. “A few years ago, we looked at Extricom, Xirrus and Ruckus, but we weren’t willing to fund the project at the price points offered then,” said Aaron Cook, vice president of information technology for the Jazz.

Since then, Jazz officials talked with other NBA teams about their Wi-Fi experiences, which is when Cisco and Aruba (now part of HP Enterprise) emerged as frontrunners for Vivint’s upgrade. “We went up and looked at the Portland Trailblazers’ infrastructure and had both vendors talk about pricing and engineering designs,” Cook said. Aruba-HPE emerged as the winning supplier for Wi-Fi access points; Aruba’s engineering partner, M S Benbow & Associates, also helped tip the scales in Aruba’s favor, with Benbow’s particular expertise in sporting venues.

A DAS antenna in the arena’s ‘halo’

Surveying for wireless in the Vivint arena began in summer 2016, and installation began in November, owing to the demands on the arena’s schedule and non-Jazz bookings. The biggest engineering challenge was the halo ring for the arena’s center scoreboard, where the Jazz installed several APs. “We needed to get [the halo’s] wiring completed first and had some events that limited when it could be lowered,” Vander Linden said, since the arena needs to be empty to lower the halo. “We needed a few days or a week to leave it down so that Benbow and our local electricians could put things in place,” he added.

In addition, Vivint’s lines of sight meant the Jazz only needed overhead APs inside the arena’s bowl, avoiding the expense and additional engineering required with under-seat APs.

Most of the engineering was otherwise pretty straightforward, according to Josh Barney, director of technology and innovation for the Jazz. “We had to revisit our Level 6 plan, which is the top concourse with suites. There are corner boards and LED boards, so we had to revisit how we’d mount antennas,” he added. Benbow re-engineered the antennas so that they were inside the boards and then aimed back down toward the seats.

As of this writing, there are 108 active APs in the Vivint bowl; 32 of those hang from center halo. Ongoing demolition and construction in the concourses render those areas inaccessible til July when they’ll also be outfitted with Wi-Fi, Vander Linden said. That will give the Jazz a grand total of around 250 APs when the NBA season ramps up again in October. “We have a friends-and-family ‘beta test’ going on right now,” he noted, with an invitation to Jazz season ticket holders to test the new Wi-Fi and submit feedback.

New Cisco switches and an upgrade to Cat 6a cabling brought the Wi-Fi budget to about $1.2 million, Vander Linen confirmed.

DAS Infrastructure Gets a Boost

The Vivint renovation also allowed the Jazz organization to rework a DAS system installed in 2002. Working with Boingo and DAS gear provider Solid Inc., Boingo built two DAS networks, one for fans’ use, as well as a commercial public-safety DAS that’s part of the arena’s emergency preparedness strategy.

Solid gear in the data center racks

All four major cellular carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless) have capacity on the new 10-zone DAS system; 105 DAS antennas blanket the Vivint arena, according to Boingo, which is also managing the Jazz’s DAS infrastructure.

Vivint’s new scoreboard had a lot of “unfriendly RF characteristics,” according Doug Lodder, senior vice president for business development at Boingo. “As we were designing and installing the DAS, we had to be cautious and ensure our antenna setup and network would not be impacted by the scoreboard,” Lodder said. And bowl-based DAS often means there are fewer ideal areas to install the necessary wiring. To reduce the length of coax runs to the antennas, Boingo installed Solid’s new 2-watt remotes directly on the catwalks.

App Upgrade in the Wings

Vander Linden is also preparing to re-launch the venue’s mobile app. And given that the Jazz is the arena’s top tenant in the building, he said they’ll do one of two things: It will either be handled as a single app for just the Jazz, or it will be like the Sacramento Kings’ app that embraces both the arena and the team.

“The intent with the new app is to handle ticketing, food and beverage, merchandise, parking, and way-finding, along with in-game specific content,” Vander Linden explained. “We’ve spent time with other teams to see what’s been successful in the app world. We like a lot of what Orlando is doing.”

Yinzcam developed the Jazz’s existing app; it’s unclear if they’ll handle the upgrade, according to Vander Linden. (Orlando’s app, for instance, is developed by VenueNext.) Vander Linden wants to have the new app in place and ready to go by mid-September.

Vivint also has Bluetooth low-energy beaconing built into its wireless upgrade plan as well. “We’ll be putting up beacons over time as we can and testing and determining the right way to go,” Vander Linden said. He thinks wayfinding would be valuable for letting people know where things are around the arena, but he’s also appropriately circumspect with the fledgling technology. “We’re aware from talking to other arenas and providers that it’s a learning experience,” he laughed.

Arizona State upgrades DAS, Wi-Fi at Sun Devil Stadium

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

When Arizona State University started renovating Sun Devil Stadium three years ago, the project wasn’t so much a simple wireless refresh as it was a total reset of what technology, sports and academia could co-create.

In addition to expanded Wi-Fi and DAS for the stadium (a venue that includes classrooms, meeting rooms and retail outlets), ASU activated a virtual beacon trial. The university also joined up with Intel to explore how Internet of Things devices might yield better environmental information about the bowl, including acoustic data, Jay Steed, assistant vice president of IT operations, told Mobile Sports Report.

The university’s IT department understood that a richer fan experience for football and other events would require a robust network. Steed and his colleagues visited other venues like Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Stanford and Texas A&M to get a better handle on different approaches to networking, applications and services.

Regardless, some sort of refresh was overdue. Wedged between two buttes in the southeastern Phoenix suburb of Tempe, the 71,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium was completed in 1958 and needed infrastructure and technology updates. Wi-Fi access was limited to point-of-sale systems and stadium suites; fans generally relied on a DAS network.

Time for an upgrade

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“The stadium needed a lot of facelifting, not just from a technology perspective but also for the fan experience, like ADA compliance and overall comfort,” Steed said. “We didn’t just want to rebuild a venue for six football games a year, but extend its availability to 365 days and make it a cornerstone and anchor for the whole campus.”

The 'Inferno' student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The ‘Inferno’ student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The reset included tearing out the lower bowl to “punch some new holes” — new entry points to the stadium — and to add conduits and cabling for the new 10-gigabit fiber backbone for the stadium. The network can be upgraded as needed to 40- and even 100-gigabit pipes, according to Steed.

“We wanted to make sure it could support fans’ [connectivity needs] and all the facility’s operations with regard to video and StadiumVision, learning and education, and Pac-12 needs as well,” he said.

The overall stadium renovation was budgeted at $268 million; the technology upgrades will total about $8 million.

The university added 250 new DAS antennas. The vendor-neutral network includes AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, which share 21 DAS sectors to keep cell service humming inside the stadium.

On the Wi-Fi side, ASU opted for Cisco’s access points. The networking vendor was already entrenched across the 642-acre campus; Steed and the IT department prefer the simplicity of a single-vendor network. Cisco helped with the hardware and RF engineering for Sun Devil Stadium. CenturyLink offered guidance on the networking and fiber pieces of the project, while Hunt-Sundt, a joint venture, was the contractor for most of the physical construction.

Wireless service for ‘The Inferno’

When the renovation is officially completed later in 2017 (most of the network is already live), there will be 1,100 APs in and around Sun Devil Stadium. The student sections, also known as The Inferno, get more APs and bandwidth since historical data has shown students to be the biggest bandwidth consumers in the stadium. Consequently, the ratio in the student sections is one AP to every 50 users; the rest of the bowl’s APs each handle about 75 users on average, Steed said.

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

ASU’s new Wi-Fi network was engineered to deliver 1.5 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, but Steed said so far users are getting better performance – 8 Mbps up and 12 Mbps down. “We’re getting about 25 percent saturation,” he added. “Many users put their phones away during the games, but we see spikes at halftime and during commercial breaks.” Regardless, ASU continually monitors Wi-Fi and DAS usage and adjusts bandwidth as needed.

Another big challenge is the desert climate – temperatures regularly soar into triple digits. With about 450 under-seat APs in the bowl, Steed and his team had to make sure the enclosures could withstand heat and didn’t obstruct the walkways. “We’ll see how well the electronics do, baking at 120 degrees six months out of the year,” he laughed.

ASU is also working with Intel, using the stadium’s APs as part of an Internet of Things trial. As Steed described it, IoT sensors work alongside stadium APs to measure temperature, noise, vibration and other environmental data. “We also look at lighting control and water distribution and flow,” he said.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Automating the control of environmental functions like heating, cooling, power usage and facilities management will help the university toward its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2025, Steed added. The trials are designed so that the technology can be expanded across the university, possibly for campus transportation kiosks or student concierge services. IoT devices could give students and visitors information about adjacent buildings or landmarks around campus.

Separate but related, the university is also testing cloud-based, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology from Mist Systems. These “virtual beacons” use sensors attached to an AP to flag information or a point of interest for students or stadium visitors. “The virtualized beacon technology helps us understand where people are walking around and what they’re looking at in the stadium and elsewhere around campus,” Steed said.

They’re currently being tested in some of Sun Devil Stadium’s suites; Steed foresees expanding that to the student union to help guide people to meeting rooms, retail facilities or food vendors, for example.

Steed credited excellent communication and collaboration among the university’s athletic and IT departments and other players in the upgrade equation. “Our athletic director, Ray Anderson, brought the CIO and me into his office and really worked together with us,” he explained. “The biggest piece of our success was knowing that the AD supported our recommendations and brought us in as valued advisors.”

Stadium Tech Report: Carolina Panthers take ownership of DAS, Wi-Fi at Bank of America Stadium

James Hammond, director  of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

“The fan is the most valuable member of our team,” Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, is fond of saying.

And it’s become the virtual mission statement for the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Football League franchise. So even though its home field, the Bank of America Stadium, was built relatively recently (1996), technology has come a long way in two decades. And as the Panthers began a four-phase renovation in 2014, they did it with fans’ MVP status in mind, according to James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers. “It was time for some changes,” he said.

While Carolina was among the first NFL stadiums to install fan-facing Wi-Fi and enhanced cellular networks, the previous DAS and Wi-Fi systems weren’t keeping up with demand and that was starting to adversely impact the Panthers fan experience, Hammond said.

“We chose to perform a rip-and-replace on both DAS and Wi-Fi and take ownership in-house,” Hammond explained. Because the Panthers own and operate BofA Stadium, making those moves was a lot easier than if they were tenants.

Time for an upgrade

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The first “fan-centric improvements,” as Hammond called them, came in 2014 in the form of escalators, video big boards and a distributed audio system. As part of the second phase of upgrades, the Panthers then used the 2015 offseason to renovate the club-level suites and tore out the old DAS system while they were at it. And after a careful evaluation of different DAS solutions, they shortlisted two vendors: CommScope and Corning.

CommScope ultimately got the nod; the Panthers then had to decide between the vendor’s ION-B and ION-U DAS systems. “We went with the ION-U, which was quite new and cutting edge at that point, since it had NEMA-rated remotes,” Hammond said. Other systems lacked that kind of weatherproofing and would require additional enclosures – and expense.

CommScope's ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

CommScope’s ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

“We started over with all new fiber and coax. We did the decommissioning and construction in 90 days, which was pretty quick for a ground-up project,” he said. Beam Wireless Inc. did the design, integration and optimization and is handling the ongoing maintenance of the DAS system; Optical Telecom installed the DAS gear. BofA Stadium now has 256 DAS remotes and more than 600 DAS indoor and outdoor antennas.

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are the participating DAS carriers; T-Mobile is weighing whether to join the mix during the 2017 off-season.

The Panthers have divided BofA Stadium into 48 DAS zones: 16 zones for the upper bowl, 16 in the lower bowl, and another 16 for concourses, suites, clubs, and offices. Not all zones are used exclusively; carriers choose simulcast patterns that place multiple zones into sectors, and can change them as capacity requirements dictate, Hammond told Mobile Sports Report.

“With some minor design changes to the interior areas, we can accommodate nearly 70 zones,” he explained. “At present the most sectors in use by a carrier is 32. This means the carrier simulcasts across a mix of our 48 zones in order to match them up to 32 carrier sectors.”

Once the new DAS was built and the first couple of events were analyzed, carriers began asking for more frequencies and additional DAS sectors to continue meeting ever-growing demand. In response to the new carrier requests, the first round of DAS upgrades were implemented in the spring of 2016, Hammond said. During the 2015 season, DAS bandwidth was running around 2 GB during games. Hammond said, “With these latest DAS upgrades, we expect the bandwidth numbers to be even higher.”

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

The impact of the new DAS system was felt immediately upon its debut in July 2015. “It was a much better experience for fans who noticed the improved cellular experience,” Hammond said. Another unexpected benefit: The upgraded DAS helped mitigate bottlenecks with the old Wi-Fi system, which Hammond characterized as “under-designed.”

Going under seat for Wi-Fi upgrade

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to address any Wi-Fi upgrades before the 2015 football season began, but the Panthers issued an RFP for new Wi-Fi in August 2015 in preparation for Phase 3 renovations that would also include security upgrades and renovations to the upper concourse.

Interested vendors needed to ensure high bandwidth rates as well as high take-rates that allowed three different ISPs (Time Warner Cable/Charter, Level 3 Communications and Windstream) to deliver in excess of 10 GB, though Hammond said they’re starting at a 7-GB threshold.

The Wi-Fi award went to Aruba, now HP Enterprise, in December 2015, and construction began in January 2016 after the last postseason game, when the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC championship and a trip to Super Bowl 50.

Similar to Levi’s Stadium and the Dodgers Stadium, the Panthers chose underseat AP enclosures; BofA Stadium sports 770 AP enclosures in the upper and lower bowls out of a total of 1,225 APs, all to ensure maximum coverage and minimal dead spots. The Panthers selected AmpThink to do the Wi-Fi integration and construction; the turnkey contractor also designed and fabricated a custom enclosure for the APs.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

One other innovation in the Panthers’ Wi-Fi installation is that the underseat enclosure is mounted to the riser — the vertical part of the step — but looks like it’s on the tread, the horizontal part, which is intended as a waterproofing measure. “The riser is easier to seal and isn’t affected by pressure washers, which you’re doing constantly with an outdoor stadium,” Hammond said. “And by running pipe through the riser, you don’t have gravity working against you,” which helps keep out water, he explained.

Panthers fans access the stadium Wi-Fi through a portal page after accepting the team’s terms and conditions. From there, they are whitelisted and can automatically join the Wi-Fi network for the rest of the season. Hammond said a fan’s email is requested but not required by the portal page, and there’s a small incentive offered to encourage fans’ email subscriptions.

The new Wi-Fi system got a workout with a soccer game at BofA Stadium at the end of July 2016, then with a Panthers’ Fan Fest the following week. “All the indicators were good, and fan feedback about the system was excellent,” Hammond said. But he cautioned that the two events were not “full bowl” events with smaller attendance numbers (~50,000) than a regular season football game (75,000+). “We will continue to optimize and tune settings as we learn more during events with higher attendance,” Hammond said.

Total budget so far for the technology upgrades totals about $16 million; the DAS build-out was just under $10 million; Wi-Fi was a little more than $6 million, which included additional wired infrastructure, according to the team.

Beacons coming next

And the Panthers aren’t done making technology improvements to their stadium. Phase 4 looks to add Bluetooth beacons and do some refinement of the Panthers app. “My goal during the upcoming season is to look at options for location-aware services,” Hammond said. Some APs have beacons built in; other may need to be added to get the granularity the Panthers want for location awareness.

Hammond also wants to give fans more things to do with the Panthers app and also optimize it for push notifications, even with something as basic and useful as restroom and concessions location information. “As we learn more about fans individually, we can direct them to things of particular interest to them,” he added.

“So far, we are very pleased with the performance of the Wi-Fi and DAS systems,” Hammond said, noting the Panthers will continue to tune frequencies, add zones and increase bandwidth where needed. It’s the sort of attention that smart sporting franchises pay to their most valued team members.

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