Fiserv Forum’s wireless networks ready for the Democratic Convention

Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and also the locale for this summer’s Democratic Convention. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With one of the most demanding arena-sized events headed its way this upcoming summer, the wireless networks at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum appear to be more than ready to handle any audience demand for mobile connectivity.

With a full-featured distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed and operated by ExteNet Systems using gear from JMA Wireless, as well as a Wi-Fi network using Cisco gear, Fiserv Forum shows both the expertise of wireless providers who have a long history of knowing what works, as well as the foresight to add new techniques and technologies to combine high performance with the quality aesthetics that are the hallmark of the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

And while a Mobile Sports Report visit this past fall for a Bucks game found all the wireless elements in top working order, the big event for the venue’s second year of operation will be the Democratic National Convention in July 2020. While the four-day nomination gathering is a test for any locale, Fiserv Forum’s forethought on how to prepare for numerous types of events in and around its uniquely designed structure has it well prepared to handle whatever wireless needs the convention will require.

It all starts with the DAS

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and the University of Florida! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Even in these days of predictions of the death of DAS, Fiserv Forum is proof that for high-profile venues, carriers will still participate in a quality deployment. And while many venues have just two or three cellular providers on their DAS, according to ExteNet, the Fiserv Forum DAS has five major carriers participating — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular.

Wi-Fi AP on an outdoor plaza light pole

Unlike some new arenas, where wireless is an afterthought to construction, ExteNet was involved early on, according to Manish Matta, vice president of marketing at Extenet.

“Getting in sooner rather than later is always better,” said Matta, who said ExteNet was well involved in the overall construction plans, ensuring that there were no delays associated with wireless deployments holding up construction of other parts of the building.

During a pregame tour in October with a team from ExteNet as well as with Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at some of the inside parts of the DAS network design, including the headend room and multiple antenna installations that were hard to find given their well-designed placements and camouflaging.

In addition to regular enclosures that were painted or otherwise placed in areas out of the main sight lines, ExteNet and JMA also utilized some of the newer circular flat-panel antenna enclosures that fit flush to ceilings, minimizing the exposure.

The 215 DAS antennas are powered by 40 remote units. According to JMA, the remotes are connected to the backbone with optical fiber, and use digital power to bring power to elements up to a mile away. With 16 sectors in the bowl design, the DAS is able to segment coverage to all parts of the arena, including the bowl as well as concourses and other in-house areas.

DAS antenna in a concourse location

ExteNet, which owns and operates the DAS as a neutral host, also installed 10 extra MatSing ball antennas in the rafters for additional top-down coverage. Though only AT&T is using the MatSings right now, ExteNet said they are integrated into the DAS design if other carriers should wish to utilize them in the future.

During a short walk-around before the Bucks game started, MSR got a DAS speedtest of 85.8 Mbps on the download and 14.9 Mbps on the upload, even though our older iPhone (on the Verizon network) doesn’t support all the latest DAS capabilities. Near the start of the game, as the pregame introductions were at their peak, we got a DAS mark of 18.0 Mbps / 15.7 Mbps in the middle of an upper-deck seating area (Section 227) and then a little bit after the game started, we got a mark of 21.3 Mbps / 12.5 Mbps near a bar area on the upper-level concourse.

Wi-Fi inside and out

On the Wi-Fi side of things, a visitor to Fiserv Forum can connect to the network even before coming in the doors, as part of the 623-AP Cisco installation includes Wi-Fi APs mounted on light poles in the “Deer District,” the plaza area on the stadium’s east side that connects to an outdoor beer garden and several bars and restaurants that were all part of the planned environment built in sync with the arena’s opening.

Before we went inside, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 40.5 Mbps / 40.2 Mbps in the middle of the Deer District plaza, which was hosting a pop-up haunted house attraction sponsored by Jack Daniels.

Inside the building, we again needed some guidance from the Bucks’ Cordova to locate some of the Wi-Fi APs, which are inside triangular enclosures that are either painted to match wall surfaces, or utilized as high-visibility section number signs, hiding the gear in plain sight.

Wi-Fi AP blended in to the wall covering

In the seating bowl, Fiserv Forum again shows its commitment to aesthetics with the smallest handrail enclosures we’ve ever seen, a discreet hand-sized enclosure that tucks the antenna components neatly into the top part of a railing, with the AP electronics hidden below the seating areas. Designed by integrator Johnson Controls and its ecosystem partners, Abaxent and AccelTex, the 28 special enclosures are also designed to be easy to detatch and re-attach (with something Johnson Controls calls a simple two-click “dart connector”) which facilitates keeping the network working when the lower-bowl seating areas need to be reconfigured for different events.

Sitting in a courtside seat near one of the handrail enclosures about 20 minutes before tipoff, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest mark of 15.8 Mbps / 33.2 Mbps. On the main concourse just after the game’s start we got a Wi-Fi mark of 28.6 Mbps / 60.4 Mbps, and later on at that same upper-concourse bar we got a mark of 39.9 Mbps / 61.1 Mbps.

Later on during the second quarter of the game, we watched another fan in our lower-bowl seating area spend most of the period keeping one eye on Monday Night Football streaming on his phone. “The Wi-Fi is really good here,” he noted.

Looking ahead to CBRS and 5G

As ExteNet and JMA prepare for the onslaught of the convention’s needs, in many areas the Bucks are already looking farther ahead, to future communications improvements including 5G millimeter wave deployments, and a possible introduction of CBRS services. Cordova, who is an advocate of the capabilities of private LTE networks over the CBRS spectrum, said the flexibility of provisioning services in a CBRS environment could be extremely useful for temporary needs, like during last year’s NBA playoffs when the NBA on TNT crew set up a temporary stage out in the plaza.

While the Bucks have already prepared for connectivity of all sorts out on the plaza space – from the top-level outside Panorama deck at Fiserv Forum that lets fans look out over the city, Cordova pointed out several metal boxes in the plaza that have home-run fiber connections for broadcast TV as well as remote power – there’s going to be all sorts of temporary connectivity needs when the convention media tents set up in the empty lot next door where the previous stadium, the Bradley Center, used to stand.

The fact that the Bucks and ExteNet were already well involved with planning for a July event in October the year before is just another sign of a networking operation that is well positioned now and already thinking about what the next necessary steps are.

Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, in the headend room

MatSing ball antennas point down from the rafters

The Daktronics centerhung video board

Verizon sees 21.5 TB of cellular data used at Super Bowl LIV in Miami

Verizon, which led the DAS effort at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, said it saw 21.5 terabytes of data used on its network “in and around the stadium” during Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV.

While we are still circling back with Verizon to see if we can get more granular details, we are guessing that this number comes from the network inside and immediately adjacent to the venue, and not the “2-mile radius” that other carriers are also reporting. We will update as we get more info. With AT&T’s report of 10.2 TB inside/around the stadium and 14.5 TB in the two-mile radius, we are somewhere above 25 TB total of cellular traffic for the big game, even before we have any stats from other carriers.

We are also asking Verizon to provide a total number of users on the 5G network the carrier deployed inside the stadium, but don’t hold your breath since total number of users is not a statistic carriers like to provide (as opposed to Wi-Fi stats, which almost always report the unique connections).

On an interesting note, Verizon said in an email to MSR that it saw 20.5 TB of data traffic on its networks around the stadium at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta last year — as far as we know this is the first official number from Verizon about last year’s Super Bowl, when Verizon declined to provide MSR with any post-game numbers directly after the event. According to the Falcons IT staff there was only 12 TB total of DAS traffic on the in-stadium network during last year’s Super Bowl so the 20.5 TB of Verizon traffic must have included a lot of “around the stadium” traffic to get to that number.

Verizon: 5G, CBRS part of wireless network mix at Super Bowl LIV

Hard Rock Stadium, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, will have 5G and CBRS networks in addition to the regular 4G LTE and Wi-Fi. Credit: Hard Rock Stadium

In addition to stadium-wide Wi-Fi and 4G LTE cellular coverage, Super Bowl LIV in Miami will also include 5G millimeter-wave networks as well as a small trial of live CBRS deployments inside Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, according to Verizon.

The mix of wireless coverage is all designed to answer the annual ever-increasing demand for bandwidth at what has historically been the sporting world’s heaviest single day for wireless traffic, a trend Verizon expects to continue once again this year. In a phone interview from Miami, Andrea Caldini, Verizon vice president of network engineering, said the company’s two-year effort to bolster wireless coverage inside and outside the Super Bowl venue was all about increasing capacity in every way possible.

“It’s exciting that this will be the first 5G millimeter-wave Super Bowl,” said Caldini, who said Verizon used the stadium’s relatively new overhang roof to mount the 5G antennas. For the 4G LTE DAS, Verizon as neutral host followed the same playbook the company has used at other recent Super Bowl venues by installing under-seat DAS enclosures in most bowl-seating areas. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are all also on the DAS, according to Verizon. Out of the 1,500-plus cellular antennas in the bowl seating area, approximately 1,100 of those are in under-seat enclosures, according to Verizon.

Under-seat wireless enclosures at Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Verizon also said that most of the bowl seating Wi-Fi coverage also comes from under seat enclosures, using gear from Extreme Networks. According to Extreme, the Wi-Fi network in Hard Rock Stadium has approximately 2,000 APs. Like in other NFL and college stadiums where it has a hand in both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks, Verizon customers at Hard Rock Stadium will have a separate Wi-Fi SSID that can autoconnect devices.

But to give you some idea of the breadth of the network, Caldini did say there are 258 sectors in the stadium DAS, and another 58 sectors in the DAS covering the extensive parking lot areas surrounding the venue. Verizon also has deployed a small cell network with 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for the parking lot and tailgate areas, Caldini said. And just to make sure the field areas are covered (for postgame ceremonies and for media use), Verizon also installed two MatSing ball antennas.

CBRS gets a test deployment

While its footprint will be much smaller, Verizon did say there will be some live networks at the game using the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, in nine stadium suites. Just recently approved by the FCC for full commercial use, the CBRS spectrum is of great interest to carriers and to venues due to its support of the LTE standard. According to Caldini, visitors in the suites where CBRS service is available will be able to directly connect to the network if their device supports the CBRS spectrum. Apple iPhone 11 devices, along with several other Android phones, currently have radio chips that support CBRS.

Caldini is excited about the possibilities the 150 MHz of CBRS spectrum could bring to venue deployments, and said Verizon will have an expanded CBRS deployment at Super Bowl LV in Tampa in 2021.

“You’ll see CBRS being a much bigger play next year,” Caldini said.

While the new-ish overhang roof that was installed during the latest renovation of Hard Rock Stadium did give Verizon a good place for equipment mounting, Caldini said there were some other construction-type hurdles that had to be overcome during the wireless network deployments.

The lack of any handrails, she said, led to the prominence of the under-seat antenna deployments; and because the light poles at Hard Rock Stadium are designed to be lowered when extreme weather (like hurricanes) hits the area, Verizon had to mount equipment lower down on the poles.

When it comes to potential emergency situations, Caldini noted that Verizon has installed its own power system for its networks, with batteries and generators back in the head end — recalling the situation at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans during Super Bowl 47, when a power outage delayed the game.

“If the power goes out [in Miami], the network will stay on,” Caldini said.

And while the limited number of consumer devices supporting 5G communications will probably keep 5G usage at Super Bowl LIV somewhat low, Caldini noted that by next year’s big game, it will likely be a different story.

Recalling earlier cellular generation changes, when initial devices were usually standalone “pucks” or laptop cards, Caldini was excited to see quick support for 5G emerging.

“It’s amazing how many devices are going to support 5G,” said Caldini, who predicts there will be more than 20 5G-enabled handsets out later this year. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what we can do [with applications] next year on 5G.”

Wireless outlook for 2020: Will the iPhone 11 drive faster Wi-Fi 6 adoption?

You may not immediately think of Apple as a huge driver in the Wi-Fi business, but some initial data points surfacing at early Wi-Fi 6 network deployments may be showing that Apple’s decision to include Wi-Fi 6 support in its new iPhone 11 line could end up driving faster adoption of the latest version of Wi-Fi technology.

As always with any such predictions we suggest you order a side grain of salt to go with our year-end crystal-ball outlook for what lies ahead in 2020. But from an active fall season where we traveled a bunch and talked to a lot of smart people, here are some other observations we have for what lies immediately ahead for the wireless technology marketplace for stadiums, arenas and other large public venues.

1. Wi-Fi 6 adoption may happen faster, thanks to Apple

Editor’s note: This column is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of new Wi-Fi deployments at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Florida, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and Fiserv Forum! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

If you were building a new stadium or doing a full Wi-Fi refresh over the past summer, the big budget decision most likely on your plate was whether to go with Wi-Fi 6 gear or to wait and use Wi-Fi 5 equipment for now. While those who went the Wi-Fi 6 route may have paid a higer up-front cost and gone through some of the normal struggles with first-generation products, some of the data we are seeing from stadiums with operational Wi-Fi 6 networks is that Wi-Fi 6 client devices are already showing up, in not-so-small numbers.

And you can largely thank Apple for that.

One unofficial but largely true statement we feel comfortable in making is that at most stadiums, iPhones are still the vast majority of devices in use. We haven’t asked for any formal numbers but everywhere we go we keep hearing that stadium network users are typically a majority of Apple devices, sometimes as high as 70 percent of the active devices. (If this sounds like a good topic for future in-depth research, you think the same way we do.)

Oklahoma is already seeing Wi-Fi 6 traffic on its new stadium network. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

When the iPhone 11 line came out in September with support for the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard, it caught many in the industry a little by surprise, since historically Apple has been conservative when it comes to putting new technology into iPhones. Those of us who have been around a bit remember that happening during the shift to 4G, when iPhones were pretty much a year behind the leading Android platforms in supporting LTE.

If you also believe (as I do) that sports fans represent both ends of the device-adoption curve — meaning that a certain percentage of fans will have the latest phones, while others may still have flip phones — it is those forward-leaning fans who most likely got iPhone 11 devices as soon as they were available. According to the Golden State Warriors, they are already seeing iPhone 11 traffic on the Wi-Fi 6 network they have in the bowl seating at Chase Center. And at the University of Oklahoma, the all-Wi-Fi 6 network put in at the football stadium this year saw a growing number of Wi-Fi 6 connections as the season went on, hitting 2,000+ at one game later in the year.

So it’s just a drip of data, but enough to be noticed. Certainly something for you (and us) to watch as the year progresses and more Wi-Fi 6 networks come on line.

2. CBRS deployments will take time to arrive

And even though Apple also included support for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the iPhone 11 line, we don’t expect to see CBRS deployments in venues accelerate anytime soon. Though there was a lot of CBRS talk ahead of the FCC approval for initial commercial deployments (and a lot of whispers about numerous trials at venues), so far there have been only two public announcements of live CBRS networks inside sports stadiums, and both those involve trial networks with no real deployment goal, and most significantly, no signed contracts.

While we remain big believers in the utility that the new bandwidth and LTE support may eventually bring, it’s easy to see why CBRS faces a slow adoption rate in sports venues. The main reason may just be historical inertia, the same conservative approach that has (still!) kept many venues from deploying even basic connectivity on the Wi-Fi or cellular fronts. Second may be the combination of a lack of budget and expertise; because there is no have-to problem that CBRS solves, teams and venues don’t need to rush into deployments.

And while we do believe that CBRS will eventually do great things for applications that need more mobility and security, the lack of turnkey-type approaches (like, “here is your CBRS package for parking-lot connectivity”) makes it a naturally longer sales cycle.

Throw in the fact that many venues may also be currently facing a Wi-Fi overhaul decision or what to do next on the cellular front as 5G arrives, and you have even more reasons for putting CBRS-type discussions on a back burner. The good news is, by the time CBRS starts getting more real, devices will probably have the dual-SIM issue solved in a more user-friendly fashion. When that happens the ability to use CBRS networks as a sort of Super-DAS should accelerate adoption — but that’s not a 2020 thing, at least as far as we can tell.

3. 5G is coming, whether anyone wants it or not

You can’t escape the press releases, headlines and other paid-for proclamations that 5G cellular services are now live in many sports stadiums. But given the fact that devices that support 5G are still at a minimum, only a lucky few fans will likely take advantage of the fast, low-latency bandwidth, at least for the time being.

Fuzzy shot of a Verizon 5G antenna at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver this fall. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Going back to Apple — which did NOT include support for 5G spectrum in the iPhone 11 — you can guess why stadiums that have 5G services are reluctant to talk about exactly how many users are on the 5G networks. Here’s a hint: It’s not a lot. The good news for venues is, however, that since the 5G wars are basically a huge marketing battle between the largest cellular carriers, that means that those carriers will basically pay to put those networks into venues, so all you really need to do is provide some space in the rafters and a fiber connection.

At Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles, we did hear from Ericsson and Verizon that early 5G deployments in stadiums are showing some welcome surprises, like “better than expected” ability for signals to roam — meaning that you can actually (maybe) leave your seat or twist your phone and not lose the signal.

So while the great hyped-about promises of 5G applications in venues — virtual reality! fan-provided video! — remain just an idea, more good news is that with little user pressure, network engineers, equipment vendors and service providers all have some time to learn what works and what doesn’t in a live environment. But for 2020, 5G in stadiums is more about carrier TV commercials than real commercial uses.

4. 4G LTE and DAS are still needed

One of the more-pertinent questions (and the subject of an upcoming MSR Research report) is what happens to the 4G LTE and DAS world inside venues, as carriers want to focus on 5G? The answer here is not as clear, but what’s undeniable is that 4G LTE services are still going to be the balance of cellular traffic for at least the next 2 years, if not more. That means that venues of all sizes still need to have a DAS or small-cell strategy, which gets tougher as carriers squeeze the margins traditionally charged by neutral third-party hosts.

If you’re a big or high-profile venue, you may not have as much to worry about, as for places like that (think Super Bowl, NBA/concerts, or any MLB stadium) it will likely be business as usual with carriers participating in DAS deployments. The biggest wild card on the DAS business side going into 2020 is the still-unresolved question of whether or not T-Mobile and Sprint will actually become one company. In places like Chase Center, that means negotiations over how T-Mobile and/or Sprint will come on to the DAS are on hold. Unfortunately, it’s the customers who will suffer the most as DAS participation from T-Mobile and Sprint gets delayed.

Another thing we’ll be looking at in the upcoming DAS and 4G report is what deployment methods will take the lead going forward — will the traditional top-down DAS antenna deployment method still work, or will under-seat deployments (like the one at Chase Center, see report in the latest issue) proliferate? Another trend to keep watching is the use of MatSing ball antennas, which are gaining more acceptance every time we talk to stadium IT teams. Amalie Arena went big with an all-MatSing DAS (using 52 of the big ball antennas) and Fiserv Forum recently put in 10 MatSings. We are also hearing of MatSing deployments happening in football stadiums, so watch for more MSR info on that front this year.

CBRS demos, 5G talk highlight venue news at Mobile World Congress

A legendary telecom building in downtown Los Angeles, the city that was the home of last week’s Mobile World Congress Americas show. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Some live demonstrations of wireless devices using spectrum in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) topped the venue-specific news at last week’s Mobile World Congress Americas trade show in Los Angeles.

At Angel Stadium in nearby Anaheim, a group of companies led by Connectivity Wireless and JMA teamed up to do some live demonstrations of use cases for the CBRS spectrum, a swath of 150 MHz in the 3.5 GHz range that uses the cellular LTE standard for device communications. One demo we heard about reportedly used a Motorola push-to-talk (PTT) handset to carry on a conversation from a suite behind home plate to centerfield, a “home run” distance of at least 400 feet.

Mobile Sports Report, which doesn’t often attend trade shows, found lots for venue technology professionals to be interested in at the show, including the live demonstrations of CBRS-connected devices in the JMA booth that included handsets, headsets and standalone digital displays using CBRS for back-end connectivity. MSR also sat down with Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s vice president of technology, to talk about 5G for stadiums and why the push for the new cellular standard doesn’t mean the end of Wi-Fi. Read on for highlights of our visit to LA, which also included an interview with Boingo’s new CEO Mike Finley and with Paul Challoner, a CBRS expert at Ericsson.

Look at me, I can hear… centerfield

MSR wasn’t able to make it to the press event held at Angel Stadium, but we heard from multiple sources that the trial CBRS network installed there for a short stint in October by Connectivity Wireless and JMA performed as advertised, especially with the aforementioned full-field PTT talk between two devices, with one of those more than 400 feet away from the CBRS radio.

The worth of the ability for a device to communicate to a access-point radio at such a distance should be clearly apparent to venue wireless professionals, who may want to tap into CBRS networks to increase connectivity inside their venues. With more powerful radios than Wi-Fi and connectivity that utilizes the mobility and security of the LTE standard, teams and venues may look to CBRS for back-of-house communications that would benefit from being separated from the shared Wi-Fi infrastructures. While we are still waiting for the first publicly announced contract win for CBRS in venues — even the Angels are still weighing the decision to go forward with a CBRS deal — being able to show networks working live is a big step forward in the “is it real” phase.

Connecting digital displays, and more PTT

If there was a true “hot spot” for CBRS activity on the MWC show floor, it was at the JMA booth, where the wireless infrastructure company was running a live CBRS network with all kinds of devices running off it. JMA, which was showing its own CBRS radio cell (a kind of access point-on-steroids radio that will provide connectivity to client devices in a CBRS network) as well as a version of its XRAN virtual network core software, had a working prototype of one of the first commercially announced CBRS networks, a wireless deployment of digital displays for the parking lots at the American Dream shopping mall in New Jersey.

A prototype of the CBRS-connected displays JMA is installing at the American Dream mall. (Don’t miss the Jimmy Hoffa joke at the bottom)

According to JMA director of markets and solutions Kurt Jacobs, the 600-acre parking lot at the huge new mall near the Meadowlands (it will have an amusement park and an indoor skiing slope, among other attractions and stores) was a perfect place to harness the ability of CBRS networks. The displays, large LED signs that can change dynamically to assist with parking instructions and directions, needed wireless connectivity to provide the back-end information.

But after considering a traditional deployment with fiber backhaul and Wi-Fi — which Jacobs said would have cost the mall at least $3 million to deploy with construction taking 6 months or more — the mall turned to JMA and a CBRS network deployment, which Jacobs said will use nine radios and 13 antennas to cover the signs, which will be spread out at key traffic junctions. Total cost? About a half-million dollars. Total deployment time? About eight weeks, according to Jacobs. Jacobs said the system will also eventually be able to support mobile CBRS radios inside security vehicles for real time updates from the lots.

Verizon to cover all NFL stadiums with 5G… and lots of Wi-Fi

Heidi Hemmer, Verizon

Heidi Hemmer, Verizon

MSR was fortunate enough to get on the appointment schedule of Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s vice president of technology. A few days after Verizon had publicly announced a spate of 5G deployments in NBA arenas, Hemmer doubled down on the carrier’s 5G commitment to NFL stadiums, saying the current list of 13 stadiums with some kind of Verizon 5G coverage would soon expand to the entire league.

While hype is heavy around 5G — if you’re a football fan you’ve no doubt seen the Verizon TV commercial where Verizon’s technology development director Eric Nagy walks around various stadiums touting the service — Hemmer was clear that 5G is just part of a full-spectrum stadium wireless solution, one that will likely include 4G LTE as well as Wi-Fi well into the future.

While Verizon is clearly proud of its cutting-edge 5G deployments, the company is also probably the biggest provider of Wi-Fi networks in large stadiums, with many NFL and even some large colleges having Verizon-specific SSIDs for Verizon customers, usually as part of a sponsorship deal from Verizon. Verizon is also a big bankroller of distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments inside stadiums, sometimes acting as the neutral host and other times participating as a tenant on the in-venue cellular networks.

A fuzzy shot of a 5G antenna in the wild at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver

According to Hemmer, having as much connectivity as possible allows Verizon to provide the best possible experience for its customers. The eventual end goal, she said, would be a world where fans’ phones “dynamically” connect to whatever network is best suited for their needs, from Wi-Fi to 4G to 5G. Currently, many of the Verizon Wi-Fi deployments will automatically connect Verizon customers to Wi-Fi in a venue where they have previously logged on to the network.

And while the millimeter-wave 5G deployments inside stadiums right now don’t come close to covering the full space of any venue (at the Denver Broncos’ Empower Field at Mile High, for instance, there are only 16 5G antennas in the building), they do provide a different level of connectivity, with much faster download speeds and less latency. Hemmer said those characteristics could spawn an entirely new class of services for fans like better instant-replay video or advanced statistics. While MSR hasn’t personally tested any 5G networks, the early word is that in some situations download speeds can be in the gigabit-per-second range.

“Speeds are important to our customers and 5G can really push up the fan experience,” Hemmer said.

New Boingo CEO bullish on venues business

Mobile World Congress was also MSR’s first chance to meet Mike Finley, who became Boingo’s CEO back in February. A former Qualcomm executive, Finley said that Boingo’s history of being a neutral-host provider for venues should continue to drive more business in that realm, especially as newer complex possibilities like CBRS and Wi-Fi 6 networks emerge.

“We are satisfying a need” that venues have for connectivity expertise, Finley said, especially when it comes to relationships with wireless carriers.

At MWC, Boingo was part of the CBRS Alliance’s multi-partner booth space promoting the OnGo brand for CBRS gear and services. In its space Boingo was showing its new converged virtualized core offering (which was using JMA’s XRAN product) with a live combined CBRS and Wi-Fi 6 network running side by side. A booth representative with an iPhone 11 device was able to quickly switch between the two networks, offering a glimpse at the potential future networking choices venues may be able to offer.

Ericsson Dots target stadiums, CBRS

In its large MWC booth, connectivity gear provider Ericsson had a special display for venue equipment, including a weather-hardened version of its Radio Dot System that Ericsson booth reps said should be appearing soon in some U.S. sporting venues. Ericsson was also showing some Dots that it said would support CBRS, a service Ericsson sees great promise for in venues.

Paul Challoner, Ericsson’s vice president for network product solutions, said it will be interesting to see whether or not venues will need to pursue licenses for CBRS spectrum when those are auctioned off next year, or whether venues will choose to use the unlicensed parts of the CBRS spectrum. Like others at the show, Challoner was excited about Apple’s decision to include support for CBRS bands in the iPhone 11 line — “it’s a fantastic boost for the CBRS ecosystem,” he said.

More MWC photos below!

Some of the Ericsson Dot radios designed for inside venue use

A prototype digital display kiosk from JMA, Intel and LG MRI, with space up top for CBRS gear

Another wireless-enabled display kiosk, this one in the Ericsson booth. Looks like wireless and digital displays are the next hot product.

Los Angeles Angels testing CBRS network from Connectivity Wireless, JMA

The iconic sign outside the “Big A,” aka Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Credit Terry Sweeney, MSR

There’s no baseball being played there now, but wireless traffic in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum is currently flying around Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., part of a test being conducted by Connectivity Wireless and JMA for the Los Angeles Angels.

The trial network, which started operating on Oct. 14 and will run live through Oct. 25, is a proof-of-concept sort of demonstration by system integrator Connectivity Wireless and wireless gear supplier JMA, who have both targeted sports stadiums as one potential market for CBRS goods and services. CBRS is the acronym shorthand for a 150 MHz-wide swath of wireless spectrum at the 3.5 GHz range that can support communications using the LTE standard. With recent approval from the FCC for initial commercial deployments in CBRS, the Angels trial joins several other projects announced in mid-September.

As outlined in the diagram below provided to MSR by Connectivity Wireless, the CBRS trial will test several different use cases for the new bandwidth, including support for ticketing and concessions operations, connecting remote security cameras, powering digital displays, supporting push-to-talk voice communications, and also for general-purpose connectivity, in this case for back of house operations. As of yet, the Angels have not committed to buying a working CBRS network, but Connectivity Wireless has a history with the ballpark, as the company previously known as 5 Bars, later acquired by Connectivity Wireless, set up the Wi-Fi and DAS networks inside the venue.

The promise of CBRS airwaves is that they bring new, unshared chunks of spectrum into play — according to JMA and Connectivity Wireless, the JMA gear being used in the trial will allow for a number of dedicated 10 MHz lanes of traffic, each capable of 75 Mbps speeds. By supporting the cellular LTE standard for connectivity, CBRS also allows for fairly easy connectivity to a wide range of existing devices. Though some CBRS-specific dongles will be used to connect existing gear in the trial, a number of new devices — inlcuding Apple’s new iPhone 11 line — have added support for CBRS with new radios, a sign that CBRS already has significant backing even before any public commercial networks have been launched.

Though some parts of the CBRS equation still need to be completed, the clearance for initial commercial deployments and the fact that large real estate owners like sports venues can basically use the unlicensed parts of CBRS without paying licensing fees makes the spectrum attractive as a complement to existing Wi-Fi and cellular deployments. Though many sports venues, teams and leagues have shown interest in CBRS, the trial at Angels Stadium is the first public confirmation of any such tire-kicking.

The CBRS solution uses JMA’s XRAN software baseband and cell hub radio system, and according to Connectivity Wireless, other device partners were tapped to flesh out the CBRS trial, including Federated Wireless acting as Spectrum Access System (SAS) controller, along with Athonet’s Cloud Enhanced Packet Core (EPC) and Edge Node.

MSR will track the trial and see if we can get any results or reactions, so stay tuned! The CBRS season is just beginning.

(Click on the diagram for a larger image. Diagram courtesy of Connectivity Wireless)