Notre Dame’s new Wi-Fi, Mercedes-Benz Stadium first look — all in our new Stadium Tech Report!

We always get excited here at Mobile Sports Report when we have a new quarterly report out, but the stories, profiles and analysis in our Fall 2017 issue just may be our best-ever effort. With a detailed look at the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, and a first look at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, our Fall 2017 issue starts off with a doubleheader of deep information profiles and it doesn’t stop there!

In addition to Notre Dame and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this issue also has a detailed look at the new football stadium at Colorado State University, which also has high-performing Wi-Fi and a neutral-host DAS deployment. We also take a look at the Wi-Fi renovation taking place at the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a network upgrade that should lift the Broncos’ home to the top of the list of NFL stadium networks. And we’re still not done!

Also in this issue is a well timed, deeply informed essay from Chuck Lukaszewski about unlicensed LTE and what it means to venues. Chuck, the top wireless guru at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, digs into this developing cellular/Wi-Fi issue and delivers some heads-up knowledge that all venue tech professionals should absorb. We also have one more profle in the issue, a look at a temporary Wi-Fi network being installed at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That’s a lot of reading, so get started by downloading your free copy today!

Part of the reason we’re able to bring you so much good content is the support we get from our industry sponsors. In this issue we also have a record number of sponsors, including Mobilitie, Crown Castle, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, Extreme Networks, Oberon, Cox Business, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. The support of our sponsors allows Mobile Sports Report to not only do all the work necessary to bring you these great stories, but it also allows us to offer our reports to readers free of charge! We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers.

Download the Fall 2017 Stadium Tech Report today!

MSR at MWC: Come see us in San Francisco!

If you are attending the Mobile World Congress Americas show this week in San Francisco, make sure you check out the Thursday morning series of keynote presentations moderated by yours truly, including a “fireside chat” with Al Guido, president of the San Francsico 49ers. Al and I will talk about Levi’s Stadium and how the Niners are using their digital strategy to better engage fans… be sure to start your Thursday morning with us! We get underway at 9 a.m. local time, so hit the Starbucks and come on by.

In addition to Al, there are four other keynote presenters who all represent a different part of the customer engagement equation. And later Thursday morning, you can continue your stadium-tech experience by checking out the panel discussion on The Connected Stadium: Enhancing Fan Engagement with representatives from the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks and Soldier Field (home of da Chicago Bears), as well as FC Barcelona. Moderated by Brian Berger, host of the excellent Sports Business Radio podcast, the panel starts at 11 a.m. local time.

Verizon: Still no data charges for live NFL streaming via NFL Mobile app

There’s less fanfare around the decision this year (and no official press release we can find) but according to Verizon for the 2017 NFL season the wireless carrier will continue its plan from last year and won’t charge its metered-plan customers for data used while watching live NFL games via the NFL Mobile app.

As we noted last year, some of the most-read stories in Mobile Sports Report history have been posts wondering about how much data customers might use watching a live football game on their phones. The answer now, for many Verizon customers, is easy: It’s still zero. You will still need to pay $1.99 a month again this fall to watch RedZone on your phone via NFL Mobile, but watching the live local and national-broadcast games (like Sunday night games and Monday Night Football) won’t chew up any of the gigabytes in your data plan. That is, if you have a data plan.

Where it may get tricky — and NFL Mobile and Verizon have a history of things not going quite as planned — is when it comes to customers on Verizon’s new “unlimited” plans. The first reply we got from our Verizon contact said, “Customers with metered plans will also enjoy games data free.”

But what about unlimited customers, we asked. Would NFL Mobile live-action data still be charged to them? This matters somewhat because the plans aren’t truly unlimited — some slowdowns to service can occur if you use more than 22 GB of data during a billing cycle. So it’s unclear to us what will happen if “unlimited” NFL Mobile users go past that number by say, watching every game possible over a cellular connection.

Does that mean that NFL Mobile junkies might actually do better with a metered plan than an unlimited plan? We have no clue. Here is the clarified second response to that question when we posed it to a Verizon spokesperson, so see if it makes sense to you:

Regarding unlimited; most of the time you’ll enjoy the same network experience after your line exceeds 22 GB during a billing cycle. If you exceed 22 GB…and you’re on a cell site that’s congested at that time, it may affect your streaming.

This may be just a small-potatoes quibble, but readers please let us know if things aren’t as free as they should be. What is helpful to know is this fact from the Verizon spokesperson: “Data usage from NFL Mobile may accrue real time when watching, but will be removed afterward in 24-48 hours.” Close watchers of data totals last year hit our comment boards with tales of being charged for NFL Mobile game-watching, but we believe it all turned out right in the end. But our comments space is always open if it doesn’t so please, NFL Mobile fans, keep letting us know what’s really happening out there.

As we also noted last year, many NFL Mobile veterans almost always seek a Wi-Fi connection when they are streaming NFL Mobile games, because better bandwidth and no data charges.

And remember: You can’t watch NFL Mobile live games on your tablet, because Verizon’s rights package only includes cellular phone-type devices.

Denver Broncos, Verizon bring Wi-Fi blitz to Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Railing-mounted Wi-Fi enclosures in the lower seating bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as the team on the field seeks to regain its recent Super Bowl champion status, Denver Broncos fans will have something they can all cheer this season — vastly improved Wi-Fi networking service, which is now available to all fans and not just Verizon Wireless customers.

Even though we found good connectivity on our last visit to Sports Authority Field at Mile High two seasons ago, the caveat was that Wi-Fi was only available to Verizon customers, since the carrier couldn’t find another wireless provider who would chip in to fund the system. Fast-forward to later in 2016, when Verizon and the Broncos sought to upgrade the entire system and ended up picking a $6 million bid from Cisco to install a total of 1,470 new Wi-Fi APs, replacing the 640 APs in the old system, which started out with 500 Cisco APs in 2011 and added some more over the years.

The new network, which is scheduled to be fully completed by late October or early November this year, is already live in parts of the lower bowl at Mile High as well as in many concourse, suite and back-of-house locations. The big difference inside the hardware is the Broncos’ and Verizon’s choice of using the new Cisco 3800 APs, which can have two separate antennas in each device, basically doubling the amount of connectivity per unit. The new network will be powered by a new 10-gig backbone pipe provided by CenturyLink, replacing the 1-Gbps pipe that was previously used.

Close-up of a lower-bowl railing AP mount.

Cisco 3800s are proving to be a popular choice in venues lately, being picked for recent deployments at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center and at Notre Dame Stadium.

“The 3800 is a game-changer,” said Russ Trainor, the Broncos’ vice president of information technology, during a stadium tour Tuesday, citing its ability to connect more fans per device. Perhaps the most visually striking note of the upgrade is the huge amount of new railing-mounted APs in the building, with several per row not an uncommon sight in the lower bowl. Jason Moore, a senior IT engineer with the Broncos (and as Trainor calls him, a “Wi-Fi wizard”) said the enclosures are all custom designs from a local provider, with some of the fiberglass structures housing not just Wi-Fi but Verizon DAS antennas as well.

(Right now, the DAS situation at Mile High remains unchanged from our last visit, with all cellular carriers basically running their own operations.)

Going under-seat in bright orange fashion

The other new deployment method being used by the Broncos is under-seat placement, a tactic used for about 90 APs so far, half of those in the South end zone seats, where there are no overhead structures at all. Overhead AP placements are also being used in the main seating bowl, mainly to serve rows at the tops of sections.

No mistaking where the under-seat APs are at Broncos games.

Unlike other stadiums, who try to hide the under-seat APs as best they can, the Broncos have gone the opposite direction, painting many a bright Broncos orange to show up under the Broncos blue seats. “The mounting options are just about getting the APs as close to fans as we can,” Moore said. “Railing [mounts] work great. Under seat is new to us, and we’re excited to see how they work.”

In a quick empty-stadium test, MSR found Wi-Fi speeds in the south stands of 46 Mbps download and 47 Mbps up, on both the all-access and Verizon-customer SSIDs. In section 309, right at the 50-yard line, we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 69 Mbps down, 75 Mbps up. Verizon execs at the tour said that like at other NFL stadiums where Verizon helps provide the Wi-Fi, Verizon customers will have reserved bandwidth and an autoconnect feature that links them to Wi-Fi without any sign-in needed. Trainor said the Broncos are still undecided how to approach the all-access Wi-Fi onboarding, though the team is leaning in the favor of having some kind of portal approach to gather information from fans using the service.

Of the 1,470 planned new APs (that count may change as final tuning is made, Moore said), the Broncos plan to deploy 920 of those in the seating bowl. With many of those devices having two 5 GHz antennas for each AP, the Sports Authority Field at Mile High crowds should enjoy one of the league’s top network experiences when all the work is completed.

Both railing and under-seat deployments are used to bring Wi-Fi to the south stands.

Those readers who closely track MSR stories for such stats should know that we are now working on a new chart to show not just the top numbers of APs in stadiums, but actual radios and antennas thanks to devices like the Cisco 3800 that have more than one per unit. (Any and all help with such counts is appreciated, you know where to find us!)

Like other stadiums, the network in the bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will switch to only 5 GHz connections when complete. Even a few years ago, stadiums needed to still support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connections for fans, but the quick shift in consumer devices has shown that almost all mobile devices used these days have a 5 GHz radio.

A string of summer concerts at the stadium (which still bears the name of the now-bankupt and closed sporting-goods business as the Broncos search for a new title sponsor) kept the network deployment from being completed sooner, but Trainor and Moore said the incremental improvements are already being noticed. With both the old system and new system working simultaneously, Moore said that at last week’s college game between the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, the network saw approximately 35,000 unique users — more than the typical 25,000 unique connections during a Broncos game when only Verizon customers could use the network.

“Our goal and challenge is to connect as many fans as possible,” Moore said.

A smaller railing mount seen in the upper deck (300 level) seating section

Wi-Fi antenna mounts in the ceiling of the United Club

Wi-Fi coverage also exists for the fan-gathering area outside the stadium to the south

No Wi-Fi here, just white horses

Long-promised Mobilitie DAS goes live at San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium

Just before game time at Avaya Stadium for the 2016 MLS All Star game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium, which opened more than two years ago, finally has a working DAS, according to a press release from DAS provider Mobilitie.

Mobilitie, which won the deal back in 2015, said its neutral-host deployment has more than 150 antennas. The release did not say which carriers have agreed to deals or are live on the system; we are awaiting a response to an email to Mobilitie and Avaya folks, so stay tuned.

Since its opening, Avaya Stadium has had Wi-Fi provided by the namesake sponsor, a network that got considerably better ahead of last summer’s MLS All-Star Game. Any Quakes fans who can take some cell-service speedtests, send them our way.

Alamodome taps AmpThink for new Wi-Fi ahead of 2018 Final Four

A new full-stadium Wi-Fi network installed by AmpThink is coming to the Alamodome, scheduled to be finished just ahead of this year’s Alamo Bowl and well in place for next spring’s men’s NCAA basketball tournament’s Final Four, Alamodome executives said.

Scheduled to be announced publicly by the San Antonio, Texas, venue today, the new network is part of a $50-million-plus renovation project that includes updated video boards, sound systems and TV screens throughout the stadium. Nicholas Langella, general manager of the Alamodome, said the new Wi-Fi network was financed in part by donations from Alamodome customers, including the Valero Alamo Bowl, scheduled this year for Dec. 28. The network will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco, according to Langella.

According to Langella, approximately $6 million out of the roughly $10 million needed for the Wi-Fi upgrade came from the Alamo Bowl. Langella also said that the venue now has an updated DAS as well, built by Verizon, which will also have AT&T and T-Mobile on board. “We’re very happy about that [the DAS],” said Langella in a phone interview.

Going under seat for Wi-Fi

Though Wi-Fi deployment firm AmpThink has lately preferred railing Wi-Fi enclosures for proximate network builds, such as at Notre Dame, Langella said the Alamodome deployment will use more under-seat AP placements than railings, given the designed mobility of the Alamodome seating areas. “We have so much mobility with the stands, it’s hard to do lots of railing [placements],” Langella said.

According to Langella when the Wi-Fi deployment is finished — the network is scheduled to be fully completed by Dec. 1 — there will be approximately 750 APs installed, allowing the Alamodome to increase coverage from being able to serve 3,500 fans to being able to cover 65,000 fans, meaning every seat in the house. The improvements, he said, were part of a plan to attract the Final Four, which succeeded.

“We always thought we would improve the Wi-Fi,” Langella said. With the Final Four looming, he said, “we took the bull by the horns and got it done.”