AT&T beefs up ski resort reception with stealthy DAS

AT&T DAS antenna stand (right) near the American Eagle lift at Copper Mountain. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In order to improve cellular reception at the Copper Mountain ski area, AT&T this winter installed a stealthy seven-antenna DAS in several base-area locations, including inside ski-lodge buildings and inside a rooftop cupola.

According to Quin Gelfand, a senior real estate and construction manager for AT&T’s Antenna Solutions Group, the mountain had previously been served only by a single macro tower located up near the slopes of the popular Colorado resort, which is located just off the I-70 Interstate between Frisco and Vail.

On heavy skier-visit days, Gelfand said, the macro tower recently caused some “capacity concerns,” leading AT&T to design a DAS solution for the several base areas at Copper Mountain. In addition to just being saturated by demand, Gelfand said the single macro antennas often didn’t provide strong signals inside buildings at the base areas.

“In a lot of areas around the resort, there were low bars for LTE,” Gelfand said.

AT&T’s Quin Gelfand shows off the main head end DAS gear rack.

But on Feb. 23 this year, that situation changed for AT&T cellular customers, as the DAS went live and immediately started moving lots of cellular traffic. By the time of our visit in early April, Gelfand said the DAS installation (which has the capacity equivalent of a single large macro tower) had already seen more than 7 terabytes of data moved, averaging about 175 GB per day. Like at many Colorado ski areas, March is a busy month at Copper with lots of spring break skiers and locals driving up on weekends from Denver.

Hiding antennas in a cupola

Brad Grohusky, senior IT manager for Copper Mountain, said AT&T approached the resort a couple of years ago to discuss the idea of a DAS. “When we had a dense population of guests, it was pretty easy to saturate a signal,” Grohusky said.

On weekends, Grohusky said Copper could often see as many as 10,000 guests, and might even see as many as 14,000 visitors on popular days or holidays. Wireless communications, he said, could get even more stress if the weather turned nasty or cold, driving more people inside buildings.

DAS antenna (upper top left) in Copper Station lodge

Starting from an existing telecom service room located in an underground garage, AT&T ran fiber this past offseason to three different antenna locations. The closest and most obvious is a three-antenna stand near the “Burning Stones” gathering area and the American Eagle chairlift base. As one of the resort’s main first chairs the American Eagle often has crowds at its base, and the Burning Stones area is a small clearing between the slopes and the base area buildings that is used often for concerts and other public gatherings.

“There was lots of digging last summer,” said Grohusky of the fiber-trenching effort, which gained some extra time thanks to a warmer-than-usual fall that kept the snow at bay. “We took advantage of that extra week,” Grohusky said.

If the American Eagle-area antennas are in plain sight, the two antennas at the Union Creek Schoolhouse base area to the west would be impossible to find if you didn’t know where they were; on the roof of a building AT&T built custom-designed baffling for a rooftop cupola that completely hides the antennas while allowing cellular signals to pass through.

“You would never know the antennas were up there,” Grohusky said. “AT&T really accomodated our architecture there.”

Closer look at DAS tower near American Eagle lift

Back farther to the east, two more antennas were located at the top windows of the Copper Station lodge building, pointed outward to cover the lift base areas and the condos and other buildings in that area. According to Gelfand AT&T used Nokia RAN gear as well as Corning fiber equipment, CommScope cabling components and antennas from JMA Wireless in the deployment. The DAS is powered by a 100 Mbps fiber link from CenturyLink, and supports three cellular bands — 700 MHz, AWS and PCS, according to Gelfand.

Even though ski season is all but over, the network will still get use in the non-snowy months as Copper Mountain, like many Colorado resorts, has an active summer schedule of on-mountain activities. The resort also has a limited free public Wi-Fi network in certain base area buildings, including in and around the Starbucks location right next to the Burning Stones area. Gohusky said there are no current plans to expand the Wi-Fi, and also said that none of the other major cellular carriers are planning to add any of their own DAS deployments.

But for AT&T customers, Grohusky said connectivity is vastly improved. “The feedback has been great,” he said. “Connectivity used to be poor inside buildings, but now it’s great.”

Look back toward the Burning Stones gathering area, near American Eagle lift

Union Creek Schoolhouse building — cupola with AT&T antennas is the one closest to ski hill

JMA Wireless antenna mounted high up inside Copper Station lodge

CommScope gear inside the Copper Station node equipment room

Corning optical gear inside the Copper Station node equipment room

Copper Station lodge building (with DAS antennas) on far right, showing proximity to eastern base area

Final Four final score: 17.6 TB (at least) of wireless data used at University of Phoenix Stadium

We finally have the Wi-Fi numbers from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Four weekend at the University of Phoenix Stadium, and they are big — a total of 11.2 terabytes of data used during the two days of competition, according to the stadium network crews running the operations for the NCAA. Combined with AT&T’s reported DAS total of 6.4 TB, that means the total wireless usage so far is at least 17.6 TB — and that’s not including DAS numbers from Verizon Wireless, Sprint or T-Mobile, which if we had them would probably push the total far higher.

Just on the Wi-Fi side of things, the Saturday semifinal games this year produced enough single-day traffic (6.3 TB) to sneak into our unofficial Top 5 list for Wi-Fi events, barely edging Super Bowl XLIX, which saw 6.2 TB of traffic in the same building a couple years earlier. Granted, the Final Four has more fans in attendance and more time with two games compared to one, but it’s still a sign (to us, anyway) that wireless use by fans at big games of all types is continuing to grow. (It’s cool to see the comparison between a Super Bowl and a Final Four in the same venue, as well. Looks like the network operators there keep improving from big game to big game.)

According to the network stats provided to us, the Final Four crowd on Saturday saw 38,520 unique users connected to the Wi-Fi at some point, with a max concurrent user total of 20,675. On Monday night’s championship game, those numbers were 31,458 uniques and 19,861 max concurrent users. Attendance for the two sessions was 77,612 for Saturday’s semifinals and 76,168 for Monday’s championship, which were both second-highest ever numbers, according to a cool NCAA infographic that has some more stats on TV and internet viewership.

See you next year in San Antonio, NCAA… to see if the connectivity pace keeps increasing!

THE NEW TOP 8 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
4. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
5. NCAA Men’s Final Four, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., April 1, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
6. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
7. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
8. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB

Cubs fans on AT&T networks use 1.4 TB of cellular on opening night, more than World Series games

Bleacher fans at Wrigley Field use their mobile devices to record the team’s World Series banner celebration. Credit: Screen shot of ESPN broadcast

As we found out last fall, having a World Series game at your venue can generate large amounts of wireless traffic, on both cellular and Wi-Fi networks. But as it turns out, celebrating a World Series victory can generate even more traffic, especially when the celebration includes an on-field ceremony made for fan photos from the seats.

According to AT&T, Cubs fans at Wrigley Field for Monday night’s home opener used 1.4 terabytes of wireless data on AT&T’s cellular and DAS (distributed antenna system) in and around the Friendly Confines. That was almost 400 GB more than the biggest AT&T usage report from last fall’s World Series, when Wrigley Field saw 1.006 TB of data used on AT&T networks for Game 3, the first game in Chicago.

Before the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers played on Monday night, there was a lengthy rain delay where a packed house of fans was waiting for the Cubs to unveil their World Series and National League pennant banners.

The flags, which were mounted on four poles at the back of the centerfield bleachers, became the center of attention when the entire Cubs roster still with the team from last season climbed up into the stands to each take a pull at hoisting the World Series champion banner aloft. As you can tell by the pictures we snapped off the ESPN broadcast, it was a made-for-mobile-device moment, with some lucky fans able to get up close and personal photos of the Cubs players.

After hoisting the banners the Cubs players emerged from the tunnels behind the outfield walls with the World Series trophy and paraded it onto the field, again no doubt attracting more of the photos that eventually were sent over the AT&T networks. It’s a lot of wireless traffic, but no doubt a problem any team in Major League Baseball would be willing to tackle each spring.

Listen at your leisure: Live interview webinar with Vivint Smart Home Arena, Boingo and Solid, April 11

If you missed Tuesday’s event, you can still hear from the experts to learn how to deliver a seamless connectivity experience for the thousands of people coming through your venue. Listen to the replay of this Mobile Sports Report “Live Interview” webinar for exclusive access to insights from March Madness host Vivint Smart Home Arena and connectivity partners Boingo and SOLiD.

(Editor’s note: The recording starts a few minutes into the event, after your host remembered to push the “record meeting” button.)

Participants:
Vivint Smart Home Arena: Frank Zang, SVP Communications
SOLiD: Shane Hague, Director Business Development
Boingo: Doug Lodder, SVP Business Development
Mobile Sports Report: Paul Kapustka, Editor in Chief

If you have any questions please contact Paul at kaps@mobilesportsreport.com. Come hear what was an interesting discussion!


Vivint Smart Home Arena. Credit: Utah Jazz

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.

AT&T sees 6.4 TB of data used on stadium DAS for Final Four weekend

AT&T’s cell on wheels tower outside the University of Phoenix Stadium for the Final Four. Credit both photos: AT&T (click on any photo for a larger image)

AT&T said that it saw 6.4 terabytes of wireless data used on its cellular networks inside the University of Phoenix Stadium during this past weekend’s Final Four games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, one of the biggest numbers yet for AT&T during the biggest weekend of college hoops.

While we don’t have full wireless-use totals from last year, totals of DAS and Wi-Fi from this year’s semifinal games from Saturday and Monday’s championship game (won by North Carolina, a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga) should surge past the last official mark we have, of almost 11 TB recorded at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis back in 2015.

That weekend saw 5.3 TB on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network and the rest on DAS systems; we are currently waiting for both the Wi-Fi numbers from UoP Stadium as well as any DAS stats from Verizon or Sprint (or T-Mobile, which wouldn’t give us a total usage number from the Super Bowl so we are guessing we won’t see any from Final Four weekend either).

AT&T COW in downtown Phoenix

And while we always take those estimates about how much big events contribute to the local economy with a huge grain of salt, there is no disputing that big events bring big wireless usage to an entire host city, especially when like at a Final Four or Super Bowl, there are official events just about everywhere you look.

AT&T said its temporary and fixed networks around Phoenix saw more than 10.5 TB of traffic over the weekend, a sign that cities with big-event venues probably need to start thinking of how they might need to beef up macro and small-cell networks around town — or help the carriers deploy towers and other devices more quickly so that fans can stay connected throughout their visits.

Our favorite tweet from Monday’s championship game was one where someone we follow had a picture of himself watching live baseball on his phone while at the UoP stadium during the championship game. While it may be a subtle comment on the painful play (and refereeing) it was certainly a vote in favor of the great connectivity in the building, whether it was on Wi-Fi or cellular. Stay tuned for more figures as we get ’em.