Stadium Tech Report: Sharks bite into digital future with new Wi-Fi, app strategy for SAP Center

Welcome to the Shark Tank. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Here’s a dirty secret about Silicon Valley sports: Even in this birthplace of the digital era, the hometown hockey arena has historically had some of the worst mobile connectivity around.

Despite the fact that loyal hockey fans always faithfully filled the seats to support their San Jose Sharks, the building now known as the SAP Center somehow never had the kind of wireless network you’d think its tech-savvy locals would demand.

But that was then. This is now.

After years of low connectivity, the “Shark Tank” is now filled with speedy, high-definition Wi-Fi that forms the base of a new digital-experience strategy for the Sharks and the SAP Center. The new digital experience includes a new team app as well as multiple LED screens in all parts of the stadium, bringing the old building screaming into the forefront of older venues retrofitted with technology that both enhances the fan experience while providing new business opportunities.

“If sports is behind the world in technology, we were even behind in sports,” said John Tortora, chief operating officer for the San Jose Sharks, about the building’s historical shortcomings. Interviewed between periods during a late-January visit by Mobile Sports Report to a Sharks game at SAP Center, Tortora said a sort of perfect storm of desires and needs arrived this past postseason, ending up as an initiative that brought in the arena’s first true fan-facing Wi-Fi network, an expanded LED-screen deployment throughout the arena and a new stadium app. Together, the elements are all aimed at supporting a data-driven strategy to improve marketing efforts while simultaneously providing a huge boost to the fan experience.

And make no mistake about it, better connectivity was an amenity fans wanted most of all.

High-density Wi-Fi provides digital backbone

Handrail enclosures bring Wi-Fi APs close to the fans. Credit: San Jose Sharks

Editor’s note: this profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, which also has in-depth looks at new networks at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, and a recap of wireless activity from Super Bowl LI! DOWNLOAD your FREE COPY today!

“We had a survey of fans from the first half of last season, and the direct response was that the Wi-Fi needed to be improved,” Tortora said. Though there was some Wi-Fi in the building — according to Tortora, there was a system deployed in 2013 — it wasn’t anything the team wanted to talk about or promote; in fact, multiple requests by MSR to review the stadium’s networking infrastructure went ignored for years, prior to the new initiative now in place.

According to Tortora, there were also previously a number of different standalone apps for the various activities that took place in the building, including separate ones for the Sharks, the seasonal Disney ice shows, for youth hockey programs and for other SAP Center events like concerts. Bringing multiple apps together into a unified strategy led the Sharks to simultaneously seek a partner to help upgrade the mobile network infrastructure. Tortora said the Sharks found that partner in Cisco, which brought Wi-Fi gear and its StadiumVision digital-display system as well as some creative financing to the table.

“We had a chance to parallel both a new app and a new infrastructure, and Cisco was a great partner,” Tortora said. Though the terms are undisclosed, Cisco is also participating in the financing and operation of the network marketing elements as a partner to the Sharks.

Under-seat AP enclosure in the lower bowl. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The Sharks also brought in Wi-Fi deployment expert firm AmpThink to lead the network design, and used Daktronics technology for the multiple new LED boards, many of which are located in the previously blank-walled concourse and club areas. The result is a high-density Wi-Fi network operating at peak speeds, which forms the base for a high-touch digital experience that will ultimately give the Sharks deeper insight into fan behaviors, and a more personal way to deliver the right experience to each fan walking through the doors.

Going low and high to deliver Wi-Fi

Even before you get inside the building, you can connect to the new SAP Center Wi-Fi network, thanks to a bank of APs mounted on the outside walls. Allison Aiello, director of information technologies for the Sharks, said that many fans typically gather just outside the arena pregame, especially in a park just to the east side, and with the push toward more digital ticketing, providing pre-entry connectivity was a must.

Once inside the doors, fans are greeted by the innovative “Kezar” scanners from app developer VenueNext, which can scan either paper or digital tickets, with a green light on the top of the cylindrical system showing that a ticket is valid. Connectivity inside the entryways is also superb, as our tests showed Wi-Fi download speeds in the mid-60 Mbps range, even as crowds of fans came in through the doors.

Wi-Fi APs hanging from the rafters. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

A quick lower-level visit to the main data room showed some of the challenges of retrofitting an older building (the arena, which opened in 1993, had been known as the Compaq Center and the HP Pavilion before becoming the SAP Center in 2013): One of the members of our tech-tour entourage bumped his head on a low-hanging pipe, part of the ice-making infrastructure, on the way to the data center doorway.

With more than 20 years of cabling history inside its walls, the SAP Center wiring closets were an ongoing challenge for the implementation crew from AmpThink, which took pride in its work to streamline and organize the wiring as it installed the new network (with some of the cabling in new, Shark-specific teal coloring). Moving out into the lower seating bowl, AmpThink president Bill Anderson showed off some of the under-seat and railing-mounted AP enclosures, where attention to detail includes drilling concrete cores around the railings below the surface level so that shoes, brooms and other items don’t catch on areas where work has been done.

Anderson said the lower-bowl network is only operating on 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels, adding San Jose to an industry trend of leaving 2.4 GHz channels off the network in fan-facing areas. The main reason for this switch has to do with both the administrative challenges of the 2.4 GHz networks, along with the fact that almost all consumer devices these days support the wider bands of the 5 GHz space. Anderson also had high praise for Cisco’s new 3800 series of Wi-Fi APs that were used in the deployment, which can support dual 5 GHz channels.

According to the Sharks’ Aiello, there are 49 handrail Wi-Fi enclosures in the lower seating bowl, with 47 of those having two APs in each enclosure. For concerts, she said the arena can hang additional APs over the sideline hockey boards, which stay in place while the end zone boards are removed. The total number of APs in the stadium is 462. Our pregame network tests prior to a Sharks-Blackhawks game on Jan. 31 showed a Wi-Fi speed of 63.39 Mbps download and 57.59 upload, halfway down the stairs between sections 114 and 115.

Overhead Wi-Fi for the upper deck

In stadiums where under-seat or handrail APs are used, it’s usually best to not combine those placements with overhead APs since client devices will often seek to connect first to overhead APs, even if they are farther away. But due to a quirk in the SAP Center’s construction, AmpThink went with a deployment strategy of overhead APs for the arena’s upper seating deck, mainly because of the low ceiling that is closer to the seats than many other indoor venues.

A look at the overhead APs from below. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though combining different AP architectures is tricky, AmpThink’s Anderson said it’s better to pick “the one that’s economically right” rather than staying stuck with one method. Overhead placements like SAP Center’s, which are hung from the walkways near the roof, are typically much cheaper per placement than under-seat or handrail deployments, which often require extensive work including core drilling through concrete floors.

“I was a little concerned at first [about the combination of overhead and railing placements] but the roof is close enough to work,” said Aiello of the dual placement methods. According to AmpThink’s Anderson, most of the overhead antennas are about 30 feet away from the seats, with the farthest being 45 feet away — still close enough so that the power needed to reach fans doesn’t bleed the signal down into the lower bowl. Aiello also noted that an under-seat or handrail AP design for the upper deck would have required the Sharks the extra expense and work to drill through the ceilings of the stadium’s premium suites, which are located between the two main bowl seating levels.

In the upper deck section 219, we tested the Wi-Fi at several seating locations and came up with consistently fast speeds, including one at 48.88 Mbps/44.96; at the lounge area along the arena’s top row we saw even faster speeds, including a mark of 68.00/68.52. We also saw many VenueNext railing-mounted beacon enclosures, part of a planned 500-beacon network that Aiello said will be coming online sometime soon.

Since hockey games have two long breaks built into each game, it’s extremely important for venues to provide good connectivity in concourse and club areas where fans typically congregate between periods. And even though the SAP Center is an older building — which sometimes makes aesthetics a challenge — AmpThink and the Sharks were able to hide almost all of the APs that are placed every 50 feet around the main circular concourse thanks to a small drywall facade that sticks out from the main wall to support directional and section-number signage.

While some of the Wi-Fi speedtests we took while roaming the concourse during the crowded pre-game were in the high 40 Mbps range, we also got a few tests much higher, with one at 67.94 Mbps/ 58.14 Mbps, and another at 63.76 / 55.96, the latter near a crowded concession area. And even with fans streaming in at a good clip, we even got one test at 69.62 / 70.54 near a doorway, showing that walk-around coverage appears to be solid throughout the building.

A VenueNext beacon mount in the upper deck. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

And even though the Sharks were eliminated in the first round of this year’s playoffs, fans used the SAP Center Wi-Fi at higher levels than normal during the postseason. According to Aiello, the stadium saw a peak of 5,013 concurrent users en route to a total of 1.3 terabytes of data used at the first home playoff game; the second home game saw 1.1 TB of data used, with 4,890 peak concurrent users.

New LED boards keep fans connected while out of seats

If the Wi-Fi APs will remain hidden to fans strolling the concourses, the new LED boards will have an opposite effect — instead of just a few TV screens here and there, the Sharks and Daktronics, along with AmpThink and Cisco have gone all-in with a strategy that has multiple-screen boards and long banks of LED strips that can all be controlled and programmed from a single location, thanks to the Cisco StadiumVision system.

Having networked and controllable screens is a huge plus for administration — according to Aiello the previous setup required manual walk-arounds to configure and check each display. AmpThink also helped reduce the wiring needed for all the new displays by connecting the LED boards to the IP cabling used for the Wi-Fi system.

This photo shows how close the ceiling is to the upper deck seats. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“The video, audio and Wi-Fi all used to be discrete systems,” said AmpThink’s Anderson. “Now they all roll up to one converged network.”

With StadiumVision, the Sharks will be able to program the displays on the fly, substituting advertising for live game action as quickly as hockey teams change players on the ice. Aiello noted that the combination of screens and a beacon system will allow the Sharks to sell more targeted advertising with real metrics showing the number of fans in the area of a display. Big displays mounted above doorways can also be changed to assist with foot traffic and transportation info for postgame exit flows.

App already providing more marketing leads

Wrapping it all together in the fans’ hands is the new app from VenueNext, a company Tortora said the Sharks had been in contact with since its inaugural launch of the Levi’s Stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers. While the VenueNext app will evolve over time to potentially add in a list of services, the ability to let fans move tickets around digitally has already helped the Sharks start down their desired path of having more personalized information to better reach current and prospective customers.

“During the preseason this year we had 2,500 tickets transferred per game, versus 800 during last year’s preseason games,” Tortora said. Because many of those transfers involved sending tickets to email addresses or phone numbers that weren’t current season ticketholders, Tortora said the Sharks were able to add approximately 7,500 new names to their ticket marketing database, which Tortora simply called “gold.”

Fans’ social media posts are featured on the scoreboard during pregame. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“To do digital tickets, fans have to download the app, so now we can market directly to that person,” Tortora said. That move will help the Sharks identify things like “who’s not coming to games and why,” which may help the team find out early if fans may not be wanting to renew season tickets, and market to them accordingly.

A Cisco-built fan portal is also part of the overall package, and eventually the team hopes to use that software to construct more-personal marketing messages that can be determined by factors including live presence and location within the building. As more data accumulates, Tortora said the Sharks plan to get even deeper into a strategy currently underway that revolves around dynamic ticket pricing.

“We can use data to find out where seats are in demand, and where some sections may not be selling well,” Tortora said, and shift prices accordingly. The team has already broken seating prices into 16 different categories for this season, with plans to expand that to 36 different categories for next season, Tortora said.

“Airlines do this, hotels do this,” Tortora said. “It’s all about being data-driven.”

The Sharks and Blackhawks get ready to rumble. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LED screens above an entryway. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

More LED screens above the seating entry areas in the main concourse. Credit: San Jose Sharks

LED screens above entryway, where fans use the VenueNext ‘Kezar’ scanners to validate tickets. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Even more LED screens, on a different concourse. Credit: San Jose Sharks

New Report: New Wi-Fi, app and digital displays for San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our profiles for this issue include a first-look visit to the San Jose Sharks’ newly wired SAP Center, where a Cisco Wi-Fi and StadiumVision network (deployed by AmpThink) has brought high-definition connectivity to the old familiar “Shark Tank.” We also have a profile of new DAS and Wi-Fi deployments at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, as well as a recap of the wireless record-setting day at Super Bowl LI at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Plus, our first “Industry Voices” contribution, a great look at the history and progression of Wi-Fi stadium networks from AmpThink’s Bill Anderson. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY today!

We’d also like to invite you to join in our first-ever “live interview” webinar, which will take place next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, 2 p.m. Eastern time. All the details are here, so register now and listen in next week for more in-depth views from Vivint Smart Home Arena, and their technology partners, Boingo and SOLiD.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this Stadium Tech Report issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. 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. We’d also like to thank our growing list of repeat readers for your continued interest and support.

Miami Heat turn to Built.io, BeyondCurious for new mobile app

Screenshots from under-development mobile app for the NBA’s Miami Heat. Credit: Miami Heat

Looking to build what they are calling “app 2.0,” the Miami Heat have turned to startup app developer Built.io and design firm BeyondCurious to help build the next version of the team’s mobile app, scheduled for release before the 2017-18 NBA season begins.

According to Matthew Jafarian, vice president of mobile strategy and innovation for the Heat, there is a current app that fans can use when they attend games at Miami’s 19,600-seat AmericanAirlines Arena. But with a desire “to do so much more” with the app platform, Jafarian said the team went looking for new infrastructure to build upon and found a fit with Built.io’s products.

With plans to allow fans to use the mobile app for ticketing, seat upgrades, and to act as a digital wallet to make in-arena purchases, Jafarian said after evaluating top app platforms in the market the Heat saw what they liked from Bulit.io.

“Built.io had 75 to 80 percent of what we need, right out of the box,” Jafarian said in a recent phone interview. Jafarian also said that the Heat was impressed by the mobile app Built.io helped create for the Sacramento Kings and their new home, Golden 1 Center.

“It was clear [from the Kings app] that Built.io knew the NBA, and they knew how to do things like integrate with Ticketmaster,” Jafarian said.

BeyondCurious, Jafarian said, will help complete the app’s look and feel, a process BeyondCurious is already talking about on its website.

What’s not yet determined is whether or not fans at AmericanAirlines Arena will have a Wi-Fi network to help them connect inside the venue. According to our last research the Heat’s house was one of the few NBA arenas without fan-facing Wi-Fi, though the venue has added Wi-Fi in some locations like the outdoor plaza. Jafarian did not want to comment on any possible Wi-Fi plans; the arena does have a high-quality DAS network for cellular connectivity.

By the time next season starts, Jafarian said the Heat will be able to instruct fans on how to make the most use of the new app, including having dedicated lines for mobile payment at concession stands — a process he said is a real “wow” when fans see how much more quickly things can happen by using digital payment methods.

“We’re just going to continue to step up our game [on the app] this offseason,” Jafarian said.

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi works well at Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena

Solid speedtest in the upper deck seats at Oracle Arena on Feb. 1, 2017, for a Golden State Warriors game. Credit all photos: MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Solid speedtest in the upper deck seats at Oracle Arena on Feb. 1, 2017, for a Golden State Warriors game. Credit all photos: MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After a year in which the team almost saw its stadium networking lease put up for public auction, the Golden State Warriors seem to have rebounded on the wireless-access front, with an updated network that should hold the Wi-Fi fort until the team moves into its new arena in San Francisco.

Though the team has repeatedly refused to provide any in-depth details on the state of Wi-Fi at Oakland’s Oracle Arena — save to say “there is an Extreme network in the building” — a recent visit by Mobile Sports Report found the fan-facing Wi-Fi network to be more than adequate, with top speeds in locations close to a visible Wi-Fi AP, and acceptable performance even in the upper-deck seating areas. Though we’ve heard scattered reports from friends and fans over the past two years about poor connectivity at Oracle, the current setup should keep fans from a no-signal problem until the team’s new home, Chase Center, is ready for the 2019-20 NBA season.

For those of you who need catching up on the story, the Warriors were one of the early and very visible clients of SignalShare, a company that provided “leased” Wi-Fi networks with a business plan centered mainly around trying to recoup investment via advertising and other marketing plans that used a web and app portal strategy to capture fan eyeballs. Early last year the company that provided financing for the Wi-Fi network gear used by SignalShare filed a lawsuit claiming $7.8 million in damages, including alleged fraudulent deals cooked up by SignalShare.

The legal proceedings eventually led to creditors attempting to stage an auction of SignalShare’s non-fraudulent leases, including the lease to run the Wi-Fi network at Oracle Arena, before a bankruptcy filing put a halt to the planned auction. While SignalShare’s operations remain in limbo, the question for the Warriors was, who would provide Wi-Fi at Oracle for the current NBA season?

Cone of silence around Wi-Fi plans

Perhaps predictably, nobody involved in the sticky situation — including the Warriors’ IT staff, or anyone from Extreme Networks, the gear provider in the SignalShare deal — would comment publicly on the state of the lease, or what was to be done with the Wi-Fi at Oracle. Eventually, the Warriors’ PR department did send an email saying there was an “Extreme network” in place for the current season, but would not comment on performance, or about who was footing the bill for any upgrades or for continued operation.

Splash screen that greets first-time Wi-Fi users

Splash screen that greets first-time Wi-Fi users

A request to visit the stadium for an official look at the network was ignored by the Warriors’ PR team, so MSR decided to buy our own tickets to see what the fan Wi-Fi experience was like. What we found was, it’s pretty good, as long as you don’t mind seeing antennas and APs everywhere you look. From our standpoint, it’s always impressive when teams embrace aesthetics and put in network elements that are architecturally hidden; but by that same token, in an old joint like Oracle, fans could probably care less about looks and are probably happy that there’s connectivity. Especially when the building’s not going to be used for Warriors games two seasons from now.

With a good friend of MSR’s now living in Oakland, we got the full locals Warriors experience, starting with some pre-game libations in fun, funky downtown establishments before getting on BART for a quick trip to the Coliseum station. Getting off there we marched across the long bridge (where you can buy bootleg cans of beer and grilled sausages) to the O.Co Coliseum, then walked around the football/baseball venue on the outside to get to the Oracle Arena entrance.

In a long but quick-moving line outside the doors to Oracle, we didn’t detect any Wi-Fi service. But once inside we quickly found the #WarriorsGround SSID and connected, after being greeted by a splash screen that told us that the free Wi-Fi service was being provided by local ISP Sonic. We were asked for an email address to get logged in, and noted that the email marketing program was through SocialSign.in; previously, this was the kind of fan-facing portal service that SignalShare would provide.

Wi-Fi best right under a visible AP

Speedtest in the concourse bar (and the AP that likely delivered it)

Speedtest in the concourse bar (and the AP that likely delivered it)

Stopping in one of the concourse bar areas before heading up to our MSR-budget seats, we got a strong signal on our first test — 62.78 Mbps on the download side, and 69.11 Mbps on the upload — which we were guessing came from the Extreme AP we could see mounted on the wall just next to one of the bar’s TV sets. Walking around the concourse and up to our upper-deck seats, we still got good readings, one at 46.09/25.67 and another at 37.69/21.64, all near visbile APs that looked like they had recently been attached to false-ceiling tiles (some were noticeably hanging at crooked angles).

In our seats — which were located in the middle of the side of the court, about halfway up the section — the Wi-Fi signal dropped off a bit, but we still got a couple solid marks including one in the 9.26/7.45 range. While that’s not considered “screaming fast” or state of the art, it’s more than enough bandwidth to get basic connectivity things done; we had no problem accessing email or other connected apps.

Looking behind us on the stadium walls, we could see what looked like Wi-Fi APs mounted behind the seating areas, pointing back down into the upper-deck sections. We didn’t see any under-seat or handrail-enclosure AP placements, again probably a predictable thing since it’s unlikely the Warriors would pay for more-expensive infrastructure like that for a building they’ll be leaving soon.

Upper concourse AP visible on the ceiling

Upper concourse AP visible on the ceiling

With the eventual win over the visiting Charlotte Hornets well in hand (the Warriors were ahead 108-83 at the end of the third quarter) we left our seats to grab a hot dog back at the bar, where we got a final reading of 63.90 Mbps down and 71.91 Mbps up. With an early fourth-quarter exit we were able to beat the rush to the convenient Uber pickup area (cleverly located about midway through the walk back to BART, giving you that impulse motivation to spend a few bucks to get out faster) where the cell signal was more than strong enough to complete the app-based reservation.

While the deployment wouldn’t make the cover of a fictional “Hidden Antennas” magazine, our one-take guess is that whatever Extreme did to supplement the old SignalShare network is working for now, with all our readings coming during a typical packed house at “Roaracle” Arena. We didn’t test the DAS signal inside the building, but saw enough legacy DAS antennas to make us think that the internal cell network was well deployed; maybe we willl take up the Warriors on one of the multiple email offers they now send us on a regular basis, and will come back during the playoffs for another stress test! (More pictures from our visit below)

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All kinds of fun places in downtown Oakland. Nasty!

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No Wi-Fi out here but the lines moved quickly, and it was easy to scan digital tickets.

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Close-up of that AP in the concourse bar.

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View from our seats — even though the games are all “sellouts” we had no problem buying these the day of the game from the Warriors’ website. $58 each, not bad, right?

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Wi-Fi APs in white line the back wall of the upper deck. There were some blackened units too but the white ones were more numerous.

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It’s always picture time at Oracle during a break in the action.

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Close-up of one of the concourse APs.

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In Uber on the way back to Oakland. See you next time!

NFL builds its own Super Bowl app, with no concessions delivery and fewer replays

Screen shot of map function on NFL Super Bowl LI app.

Screen shot of map function on NFL Super Bowl LI app.

The NFL has built its own Super Bowl mobile app, breaking with a recent history of using stadium-app specialists like VenueNext and YinzCam to develop specific apps for Super Sunday.

Also unlike recent years, the NFL’s Super Bowl app will not feature instant replays or have any kind of food or drink delivery services. Instead, there appears to be a big focus on promoting Super Bowl events (especially those for this weekend) and for helping out of town tourists find their way to Super Bowl events and to the game itself.

Curiously, an interview about the app with the NFL’s CIO claimed that this year’s app will also be the first to include the ability for fans at the game to watch Super Bowl commercials. The story also claims without any attribution that “In the past, commercials weren’t on the app in order to avoid using too much bandwidth in the stadium.” However, at the most recent Super Bowls, including the past two, stadium bandwidth has been more than sufficient enough to stream plenty of video. And in fact, both of the last two Super Bowl apps have included the ability for fans at the game to see Super Bowl commercials.

Last year’s app, developed by VenueNext for the Levi’s Stadium hosting of Super Bowl 50, definitely showed Super Bowl commercials, part of what the San Francisco 49ers network team said was a record-breaking day of app-based video watching. The Super Bowl 49 app, built by YinzCam, also included Super Bowl commercials according to this NFL video and according to our previous reporting.

Fewer replays, no food or beverage delivery service

Screen shot of transportation info links from Super Bowl LI app.

Screen shot of transportation info links from Super Bowl LI app.

And even though NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle is quoted in the previous story about the new app as saying “You won’t feel like you’re using two separate apps as fans have in the past,” the Super Bowl LI app contains a link to download the separate NFL Mobile app, which is apparently where Super Bowl highlights and replays will live. There was no confirmation from the NFL or Verizon about whether or not fans in the stands would be able to watch the live broadcast of the game via NFL Mobile. Fans not at the game will be able to use NFL Mobile to watch the game on cellular devices; fans can also stream the game from the FoxSports website, for PCs or tablet devices.

This year’s app will also not include any way for fans to use the app to order food or beverage delivery to their seats; last year’s app did have the ability to order in-seat delivery of beverages or to place an order for food and beverage express pickup, a service used for 3,284 orders. NRG Stadium, however, does not offer full-stadium in-seat ordering like Levi’s Stadium does; the stadium does have serving staff with wireless devices providing in-seat ordering services for club sections, which will likely be in use at the Super Bowl as well.

NRG Stadium hit 4.11 TB on Wi-Fi for Texans-Raiders playoff game

NRG Stadium. Credit: Houston Texans Instagram

NRG Stadium. Credit: Houston Texans Instagram

In what became the last live tune-up before the Super Bowl, NRG Stadium in Houston saw fans use 4.11 terabytes of data on the venue’s new Wi-Fi network during Houston’s 27-14 playoff victory over Oakland on Jan. 7, according to the Texans.

Jeff Schmitz, vice president of information technology for the Texans, said that NRG Stadium also saw approximately 35,000 unique users on the network at the playoff game, a 48 percent take rate against the total attendance of 71,790. The peak concurrent user number for the game was almost 24,000 users, with all numbers setting season highs for the network that debuted at the NFL season start, according to Schmitz.

“The playoff game was definitely the biggest” network-traffic day for the Texans, said Schmitz in a phone interview. During the talk Schmitz clarified that the network went through a serious up-and-down stretch during the middle of the season, due to under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosures that didn’t completely seal out moisture.

Under seat APs visible down seating row. Credit: 5 Bars

Under seat APs visible down seating row. Credit: 5 Bars

While MSR had previously reported on the issue, Schmitz clarified that the full replacement of the APs took place in late October, meaning that the network staff had to basically re-tune and adjust the network in the later months of the season.

But the 4.11 TB mark and the large number of connected users for the playoff game was a sign that the network was in fine shape for Sunday’s Super Bowl LI, where if history offers any guidance there might be another new record set for single-day Wi-Fi usage.

The number to beat is the 10.1 TB mark from Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium last February, part of a 26 TB wireless day (with 15.9 TB recorded on cellular and DAS networks).

Wi-Fi coaches staying for Super Bowl

Schmitz also said that the Extreme Networks “Wi-Fi coaches” would be on hand for Super Sunday, helping fans figure out how to connect to the Extreme-based network and its 1,250 APs.

“We thought we’d only keep the coaches (who roam the stadium helping fans with network issues) for half a season, but with the switch [in APs] we ended up having them there for every game,” Schmitz said.

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk. Credit: 5 Bars

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk. Credit: 5 Bars

Having the Wi-Fi coaches at the Super Bowl also makes sense since many fans at that game will likely be visiting NRG Stadium for the first time, as opposed to Texans season ticket holders.

Though NRG Stadium won’t have to contend with temporary structures like those built on the concourses at Levi’s Stadium last year, Schmitz said there is some extra network work ahead to make sure the auxiliary press box area has “beefed up” Wi-Fi as well as wired connections for media use.

Another thing missing from last year’s Super Bowl is the ability for fans in any seat to order beverage delivery via the game-day app. Though details of services for the Super Bowl app have yet to be fully announced, Schmitz said the only in-seat delivery would be for premium club-level seats, which in addition to app-based ordering will have live humans who can take orders from fans for in-seat delivery, something Texans fans have available during regular-season games.

“That service [fans ordering from servers] gets used the most,” Schmitz said.