Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2018, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.

Update: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint see a combined 50.2 TB of cellular traffic for Super Bowl 52

Some of the JMA TEKO gear used in the DAS at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Before, during and after the Philadelphia Eagles’ thrilling 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint said they saw a combined 50.2 terabytes of cellular traffic Sunday in and around U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Though some of the totals represent different widths of coverage areas, they roughly correspond to metrics used by the same carriers at last year’s Super Bowl 51 in Houston, where a combined total of 25.8 TB of cellular traffic was reported. Like last year, T-Mobile representatives said they will not report data use from the Super Bowl, even though the carrier’s executives Tweeted Sunday night about strong network performance and significant data-use growth over last year’s big game without mentioning any totals for either.

Without any agreed-upon standards for such reporting, it’s probably not an exact science to compare one year’s results to the next since numerous variables exist, like density of fixed and portable networks, and location of stadiums (Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, for example, is in the middle of a downtown, while NRG Stadium, home of Super Bowl 51 in Houston, is not). Still, since carriers typically use the same reporting metrics year by year, it’s possible to see a continued increase in data use, a sign that demand for mobile connectivity at sporting events continues to grow.

Social media, video and audio rule the day

Curiously, AT&T saw a slight decrease this year in the amount of traffic it measured directly inside and immediately outside the venue; according to AT&T, it saw 7.2 TB of traffic on Sunday on the in-stadium DAS as well as on its mobile cell sites and macro sites just outside U.S. Bank Stadium. In 2017, AT&T said it saw 9.8 TB of traffic in similar locations around NRG Stadium in Houston.

But in extending its reporting to a 2-mile radius around U.S. Bank Stadium — the same base metric used by Verizon — AT&T said it saw 21.7 TB of traffic Sunday. Verizon, which reported 11 TB of traffic last year in Houston, said it saw 18.8 TB of cellular data used on its networks inside the 2-mile perimeter around U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday. Verizon did not report a figure for its infrastructure inside and adjacent to the stadium. The main cellular infrastructure inside U.S. Bank Stadium, a neutral host DAS, was built and is run by Verizon.

Sprint, which reports traffic each year from networks inside and directly adjacent to the stadiums, said it saw 9.7 TB of traffic on its networks Sunday, up from 5 TB in 2017.

Some quick facts emailed to us from Verizon reps saw top uses by Verizon customers were led (in order) by web browsing, streaming video and social media and sports app usage. According to Verizon, the top three social media apps used by Verizon customers were Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, “with Snapchat moving from third at last year’s Super Bowl to first most used.”

Again, according to Verizon the largest spikes in traffic happened with “social media video sharing” during the halftime performance at the top, followed by reaction to the Patriots’ fumble late in the game, and at kickoff, when Verizon customers were streaming video and browsing the web. Verizon also said its network was used by 57 percent of the fans at U.S. Bank Stadium, which may explain why Verizon spent a lot of time and money upgrading the network before Sunday’s event.

We have also heard that the Wi-Fi usage also broke previous records, but do not yet have an official number to report.

A final note: Thanks to all the carrier representatives for their figures and to all our Twitter followers for input and advice on how to best present these important metrics. We’ll keep working to make this process as best it can be, so let us know what you think!

Smart stadium renovations bring wireless to the forefront

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz

By Doug Lodder, Boingo Wireless

Over the last few years, the sports industry has marveled at the unveilings of new smart stadiums that enhance the fan experience and increase profitability through innovative technologies. In 2014, Levi’s Stadium was launched in the heart of Silicon Valley with endless tech features; in 2016, Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center opened its doors as an entirely solar-powered facility; and most recently, Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium debuted the world’s largest video board, providing 63,000 square feet of screen in a continuous, roof-mounted oval which, when stretched out, is longer than the Eiffel Tower.

Technology has exerted massive influence on today’s sports venues, but the impact goes far beyond new stadiums. Outpacing new construction buildouts are stadium renovations that have a concentrated focus on more bite- sized refurbishments, such as upgrading technology features, revamping hospitality and entertainment offerings, and adding more expansive seating and exclusive suites.

Bank of America Stadium, Ford Field, Hard Rock Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, Philips Arena, Raymond James Stadium, Vivint Smart Home Arena and Everbank Field are all among the major league sports facilities that have recently finished or kicked off renovation projects. The list continues if you add college to the mix, where Sun Devil Stadium, Neyland Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium and Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium are only a few examples of NCAA venues looking at or having undergone a facelift.

Mobile technology is the gold standard feature at stadiums and aging complexes are turning to high-tech renovations to stay relevant and attractive – all while fighting off a key competitor, the couch. At the heart of smart stadium upgrades are new wireless networks that can power the connected fan experience of the future, where new innovations like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will open a vast world of possibilities. This is where the triple threat – DAS, small cells and Wi-Fi – take center stage; and where network features like density, speed and coverage become paramount. Knowing which of these wireless technologies to adopt and how to integrate them within a stadium remodel is no easy task, but here’s a few pointers venue executives should follow to unlock their potential.

Align Network Needs with Smart Stadium Strategy

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.

Nearly every aspect of a stadium renovation is designed with technology in mind, which means the demands on your wireless network will skyrocket. Map out a converged network blueprint that leverages both cellular and Wi-Fi to align with all corners of a remodel. The design should account for new tech rollouts, which may include everything from wayfinding and digital ticketing to line queuing, mobile concessions, cashless payment and new innovations powered via Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

On the cellular side, opt for a DAS or small cell network for high capacity and widespread mobile coverage. Bringing strong cell signals closer to the fan via these networks is critical for combating the growing data surge at large venues and readying a stadium for 5G and IoT. Be sure to focus on the design of the cellular network during the planning phase to ensure antennas and other gear do not interfere with a remodel’s structural obstacles – for example, cement columns – and can transport mobile signals at full strength. It’s also critical that participation is brought in from all four Tier One carriers so fans have full bar coverage, regardless of their mobile service provider.

Remodels present the opportune time to adopt a public safety DAS, which transmit robust communication among first responders. Wireless solutions built for emergency preparedness have become a priority because many stadiums were built with older generation infrastructures, such as concrete walls, load-bearing columns and elevator shafts, which create “dead zones” that do not properly support cellular signals. This in turn makes it extremely difficult for first responders to communicate with each other, potentially delaying the course of action that is taken to handle an urgent situation. For first responders, a dropped signal has a profound impact on how they do their job – and if it can be done at all – underscoring the need for resilient public safety communications infrastructure. When looking at public safety DAS, ensure it supports 700 MHz and 800 MHz public safety services.

Advanced Wi-Fi networks must also be accounted for, with upgrades that supply more bandwidth and faster speeds. Smart venues should adopt premium Wi-Fi networks that increase the number of Access Points (APs) and support a combination of speed, density, security encryption and device flexibility.

To create a truly ubiquitous Wi-Fi experience – one that removes the headaches of log-ins, passwords, ads and other frustrations – smart stadiums can turn to Passpoint. Fans with a Passpoint profile installed on their device can enjoy a seamless and automatic Wi-Fi connection from the moment they enter the stadium or parking lot.

Passpoint networks provide a WPA2 encrypted connection automatically, ensuring enterprise-level security. With several IEEE 802.11 security features, Passpoint transforms the security position of devices connected to hotspots with guaranteed mutual authentication and over-the-air encryption, as well as restricted peer-to-peer traffic, helping to protect sensitive information. In short, fans get connected faster to a safer network, while alleviating concerns with cellular data plan overages – a game changer for today’s connectivity experience.

Adopt the Right Network Features

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) will soon find a home at stadiums. NFV is receiving heightened attention for its ability to eliminate the need for expensive hardware and physical infrastructure, while reducing capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx). Using cloud-based technology, NFV can upgrade a stadium’s network equipment – servers, switches and routers – to handle new standards like 5G, all while eliminating complete system overhauls. NFV improves scalability, increases data visibility, distributes data centers and keeps information integrity.

Complementary to NFV, SDN separates the network control logic from network equipment to make the network programmable; essentially, it centralizes command and control of the network without having to physically reconfigure or program individual devices. SDN can be used without NFV, and vice versa; however, when used together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Leave it to the Experts

Increasingly, in-house IT staff are opting for managed service providers to design and deploy wireless connectivity that is flexible and scalable – all within a tight remodel timeframe. By outsourcing to experts, the daunting task of building and launching the right architecture is removed, allowing IT to focus on other business matters tied to the remodel and day-to-day operations. The key is to pick a partner who has a proven track record designing, building and operating wireless networks in high-traffic venues. Relationships with all Tier One carriers are also essential; and be sure the partner can monitor the network 365/24/7.

It’s a Wireless World

Stadium renovations will remain a hot market for years to come. From consumers demanding a higher quality and more authentic experience, to the desire for sports venues to be more multipurpose, renovations have emerged as a major storyline. Add to this record crowds that continue to climb – all who want a high-tech experience. Over one million spectators packed the city of Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl alone.

To keep pace, both new stadiums and older existing arenas need to make sure they have both the best networks for now and the ability to scale for the future. No two renovations are alike, but wireless will have a huge influence across the board.

Doug Lodder is senior vice president of business development for Boingo’s DAS, small cell, offload and wholesale businesses, where he oversees the strategy and development of wireless networks for new and existing venue partnerships, as well as the monetization of those networks. He has nearly a decade of experience in managing telecommunications infrastructure in large-scale, high growth environments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still no sign of bandwidth demand decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good connectivity right inside the doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First big test of railing-mounted Wi-Fi?

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

Top-down antennas provide coverage for suite seating

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

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

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

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

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

More antennas get DAS ready for big game

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

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

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

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

Ready to add more bandwidth on the fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Make it the best’

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

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

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

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

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

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