Stadium Tech Report: New Wi-Fi network soars at Ohio State

Ohio Stadium set records this season for single-day Wi-Fi use inside a venue. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With its long tradition of excellence in all things pertaining to college football, is it any surprise that when the Ohio State University finally got Wi-Fi installed at Ohio Stadium the network would instantly be one of the best around?

Over this past offseason, the school oversaw the first comprehensive installation of a fan-facing Wi- Fi network inside the venerable “Horseshoe,” with almost 2,000 access points, some 600 of which were installed in handrail enclosures that all sport the Ohio State logo engraved on each side. Live and operational for the Buckeyes’ home opener on Aug. 31, the network saw just more than 47,000 unique users its first day and carried more than 13 terabytes of data, instantly lifting Ohio State to the front of the class in single-day collegiate football Wi-Fi records. In subsequent home dates this fall, Ohio State went on to record more big-data days, including the highest-ever single-day use of Wi-Fi in a stadium, 25.6 TB on Oct. 5 for a game against Michigan State.

Impressive as its first season might be, the network will only get significantly better in the near future as device technology catches up with it. A decision to use the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax, in as many of the APs as possible, will let Ohio State take advantage of the technology’s promise of higher throughput and the ability to handle more clients per AP when more fans get their hands on devices that support Wi-Fi 6 and bring them to games.

During a visit by Mobile Sports Report for the Aug. 31 game, close-up inspection of many of the APs in a pre-game walkaround saw no evidence of the frenetic summer of hard work getting the equipment installed. Using Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and installed with with a design by AmpThink (which also manufactured the AP enclosures), the deployment does an excellent job of looking like it’s been part of the almost 100-year-old stadium for a long time, with discreet wall and overhead antenna placements complementing the standout handrail enclosures. And with connectivity finally in their house, the Ohio State fans wasted no time jumping on the network, with many fans expressing great joy at being able to use their wireless devices at the game.

A bumpy road to Wi-Fi

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new converged fiber network at Dickies Arena, and an in-person research report on the new Wi-Fi network at Las Vegas Ballpark. You can either VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed) or DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Handrail enclosures brought Wi-Fi gear close to the fans.

Built in 1922 as one of the then-largest poured- concrete structures, the building known officially as Ohio Stadium (and also as “the Horseshoe,” or just “the Shoe”) is among the biggest of the big, with capacity reaching 104,944 after renovations in 2014. That number actually decreased a bit with a recent round of renovations that removed some seats in favor of some new suite areas, but even with capacity of around 102,000, Ohio Stadium is still among the top echelon of Saturday afternoon shrines for its scarlet- and grey-clad followers.

While the venue is long held in reverence by not just Ohio State fans but by football fans in general, the things that make it a great place to watch a game – the big, open seating bowl and the historic concrete structure – also make it a challenge to equip with modern wireless technology. Back in 2012, it looked like the school had solved the problem by signing a deal with Verizon to bring Wi-Fi to the football stadium and basketball arena. But according to several reports, the installation never occurred and now the school and Verizon are still involved in a lawsuit concerning the non-deployment.

Fast forward to 2018, and the school finally approved a measure that will bring connectivity not just to the stadiums, but in many other places across campus as well. Jim Null, senior associate athletic director and chief information officer for Ohio State, noted that as a digital program partner with Apple, the school gives all students iPads as freshmen, leading to demands for coverage not just in classrooms but anywhere students may wander.

“There were a lot of coverage gaps on campus,” Null said. The new deal, reached in the spring of 2018, approved $18.6 million in spending for wireless coverage in the stadiums and across campus. According to Null, the sports stadiums’ portion of that deal was approximately $10 million. Null also said the stadium has a 30 Gbps backbone pipe, courtesy of the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), the 100 Gbps network that connects the state’s major cities and research institutions.

Handrails and Wi-Fi 6

With a bill of material in hand for the deployment, Null said that Aruba asked if the school wanted to use Wi-Fi 6 gear, which was available this spring when construction was to begin.

The big video board at Ohio Stadium helped fans find the Wi-Fi.

“It was good timing in a sense – Aruba came back to us and said, why not go with Wi-Fi 6, and everyone here [at the school] decided that was a good idea,” Null said. While the new version of the standard will improve Wi-Fi performance in any kind of network, at large sports venues the improvements will likely be significant. AmpThink president Bill Anderson, who is urging most new-construction Wi-Fi clients to install Wi-Fi 6 if possible, calls the new standard “a significant game-changer” for in-venue networks.

AmpThink’s Anderson, whose company has designed and helps run networks in the biggest stadiums that see the biggest events – including last year’s Super Bowl and last year’s men’s NCAA Final Four – says that over the past year or so, networks based on older Wi-Fi standards are reaching some theoretical limits, mostly with spectrum re-use. “We are getting to the cutting edge of what we can support,” with the older Wi-Fi 5 technology (also known as 802.11ac), Anderson said.

Wi-Fi 6, however, promises to deliver more capacity per access point, along with better techniques for communication between devices and access points, which most industry followers agree should produce significant benefits, especially in venues where spectrum re-use is necessary given the large numbers of APs needed to provide coverage. While it’s true that it may take some time before Wi-Fi 6 technology is on both the access point and the balance of user devices in stadiums (both sides of the equation need to support Wi-Fi 6 for the full range of benefits to be realized), the fact that many new devices – including the recently announced Apple iPhone 11 line – contain support for Wi-Fi 6 means that the full improvements will likely be seen sooner rather than later.

“Ohio State made the right choice to go with Wi-Fi 6,” Anderson said.

Putting the APs into handrail enclosures was another decision point, but one Null said the school was unified on. Though Aruba has traditionally preferred to deploy Wi-Fi in under-seat placements, like in deployments at Levi’s Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Null said the combination of aesthetics, performance and cost made railing enclosures the preferred choice at Ohio State.

“The combination of all three led us to the handrails,” Null said, noting that with the ability to place two APs into a single handrail enclosure, Ohio State was able to approximately cut in half the number of holes it would have to drill into the concrete to string cable to the devices, a huge savings in cost and construction time. With bleachers in most of its seating areas, Ohio Stadium would have cut into under-seat spaces significantly with under-seat APs, Null said.

Wi-Fi enclosures in the handrails at Ohio Stadium’s upper deck.

Though some lower-bowl areas without handrails did get under-seat AP placements, the 600 handrail enclosures – all manufactured by AmpThink and custom-stamped with an Ohio State logo – now wrap around the entire seating bowl, from near the field to way up at the top of Deck C. Null said performance from some other recent AmpThink deployments that primarily used handrail enclosures – including Notre Dame Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium – led Ohio State to believe that handrail installation techniques would be “very comparable in performance” to under-seat.

According to stats compiled this season, the Ohio Stadium handrail enclosures are working just fine. According to the school the network saw 47,137 unique connections out of 103,228 in attendance for the home opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, with a peak concurrent connection number of 28,900. Total bandwidth tonnage for the first game was 13.3 terabytes, a mark which put Ohio State in fifth place in the unofficial all-time Wi-Fi single-day record list kept by MSR. But Ohio Stadium’s network was just getting started.

Ohio State’s second home game of the season, a week later versus Cincinnati, was nearly equal in performance statistics. According to figures provided by Ohio State, on Sept. 7 the network saw 47,579 unique connections out of 104,089 in attendance, with a peak concurrent connection mark of 28,900. Total tonnage for the second game was 12.7 TB, good enough for then sixth place on the MSR list. Peak bandwidth rates were just over 10 Gbps for the home opener, and just above 6 Gbps during the second game.

Later in the year, the network heated up even more as OSU hosted its biggest games. On Oct. 5, Ohio State shattered the all-time Wi-Fi record with a mark of 26.5 TB, with an astonishing 74,940 unique connections and a peak concurrent connectivity number of 45,200 users. Hosting Wisconsin on Oct. 25, Ohio State saw 17.0 TB of data used on the network (during a full-day rainstorm) and then saw another 16.10 TB used on Nov. 9 against Maryland. Then on Nov. 23 against Penn State the network saw 20.70 TB of data, giving Ohio Stadium seven of the top-10 Wi-Fi days we’ve ever heard of.

Solid tests throughout the venue

An unofficial walk-around testing process by MSR before and during the home opener showed solid performance in just about every part of the venue, from outside the entry gates to all the seating areas low and high, and on concourses and other busy walkways. Inside of Gate 14, we got one of the highest Wi-Fi speedtest marks in the stadium, at 62.7 Mbps on the download side and 72.1 Mbps for upload. According to Null the entryways are well covered, with four access points hidden behind a directional sign that simply blends into the structure.

A good look at the spread of handrail enclosures in the lower bowl.

Inside the stadium, we got a mark of 49.2 Mbps / 42.9 Mbps in the seats in the lower bowl around the 45-yard line, an area covered primarily by handrail enclosures. Closer to the field in seats along the goal line on the press box side of the stadium we got a mark of 51.2 Mbps / 32.0 Mbps; in the same spot we tested the DAS coverage for cellular and got a Verizon network speedtest of 20.1 Mbps / 1.34 Mbps. According to Null Verizon runs a neutral-host DAS inside the stadium, with AT&T as a client.

Back on Wi-Fi with the stadium still closed to fans we went up into the metal bleachers in the non-curved end zone and got a speed test of 38.6 Mbps / 18.7 Mbps. In the concourse below these same stands we got a test mark of 47.2 Mbps / 48.5 Mbps.

An elevator ride to Deck C and a hike up the steep steps found us at the top row of the stadium, where the Wi-Fi was still strong, with a mark of 42.0 Mbps / 35.6 Mbps in row 41. We then went down to Deck B on the non-press box side of the stadium, where some concrete overhangs make for interesting placements. There, we saw Wi-Fi APs mounted above the seating areas pointing down. With fans starting to come into the stadium we got a mark there of 24.3 Mbps / 45.2 Mbps; in the same area the DAS provided a test of 21.8 Mbps / 12.6 Mbps, again on the Verizon network.

The one place we found with poor Wi-Fi coverage – down near the field in section 28AA – was one of the few areas where Null said that the network deployment was not yet complete early in the season. (The Speedtest.net app we use for testing dropped during the test here; the same area did have DAS coverage, with a mark of 16.9 Mbps / 4.66 Mbps on the Verizon network.)

That the network was near complete for the opening game was a testament to extra work from all suppliers. AmpThink, which outfitted three major college fields this summer, had overtime shifts to manufacture enough enclosures, while Aruba had to produce enough Wi-Fi 6 APs not just to fill Ohio State, but also Oklahoma, whose stadium is of similar size.

“It was quite a ballet dance the last nine months,” said Jeff Weaver, director of high density consulting at Aruba. “Hats off to the construction team.”

Perhaps the most impressive tests we got were taken during live game action, one just after an Ohio State touchdown. In section 13 up on the C deck we wandered out into the middle of celebrating fans and got a speedtest of 59.9 Mbps / 57.9 Mbps. Walking down to section 27AA on the press box side after yet another OSU touchdown we sat in the aisle and got a speed test of 54.7 Mbps / 70.2 Mbps, from an area covered by handrail enclosures.

Fans happy now, likely to be even happier in the future

If Ohio State is known widely for its football excellence (Ohio State has eight national championship titles to its name, and is in the playoffs for this year’s title), its fans have known mostly wireless frustration over the recent years, a situation that has now changed 180 degrees. In several conversations with fans MSR heard how happy OSU fans were now “that we can actually use our phones!” And as good as the network speed tests and overall performance is now, it’s worth noting that the Wi-Fi 6 advancements are not yet even being used – meaning that when more fans have Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices the network should perform even better, leading to faster connections and more capacity for all.

Null said that Ohio State will also be deploying the Passpoint software in the future, which allows for automatic sign-on to the Wi-Fi network and better support for device roaming. Ohio State does not ask fans to log in with any sort of email information or personal identification – all they need to do is select the OSUfanWiFi SSID and connect. And if the first season is any indication, many Ohio State fans will continue to do so with great appreciation for the foreseeable future.

Editor’s note: You can now read our Stadium Tech Report profile of the new Ohio State network (with all our great photos) instantly online, with no registration or email address needed! JUST CLICK RIGHT HERE and start reading our latest report today!

Stadium Tech Report: Las Vegas Ballpark gets Major League Wi-Fi

The Las Vegas Ballpark has been a hit since its opening this year. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Maybe for some late-night behavior, the old “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule still applies.

But when it comes to minor-league baseball, the tale of what’s happening at Las Vegas Ballpark is being spread far and wide, as the high-end finishes, fan-friendly amenities and high-definition Wi-Fi network at the new venue
are the talk not only of many Triple-A teams, but of other sports and possibly even Major League Baseball as well.

The $150 million ballpark, which opened this past season in the Vegas suburb of Summerlin, is the new shining jewel in minor-league baseball, with features like a huge video screen, party porches and club-level suites that feel more major-league than minor. So far the facility has been a smash hit with Vegas baseball fans, setting a new season-attendance record halfway through the summer and leading the minor leagues in attendance, despite the fact that the 10,000-seat venue is the seventh-smallest park in the PCL.

During a quick summer visit for a game at the park, Mobile Sports Report found that the fan-facing Wi-Fi network was at the same quality level as all the other amenities, with speed tests in the 60 Mbps range for both download and upload at most locations around the stadium. Built by Cox Business/Hospitality Network using Cisco gear, the network uses both under-seat and overhead AP deployments, as well as some on poles, to make sure all visitors have solid connectivity no matter where they roam inside the venue. With that kind of bandwidth, it’s no wonder that selfies, videos and other social-media reports are helping make Las Vegas Ballpark one of the worst-kept secrets in Vegas.

Major amenities for minor league park

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi 6 network at Ohio Stadium, and an in-depth research report on the converged fiber network at Dickies Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

An under-seat AP enclosure

“What’s happening here isn’t staying in Las Vegas,” said Branch Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League, during an August press conference to announce that the 2020 Triple-A National Championship Game will be played at Las Vegas Ballpark on Sept. 22, 2020. Rickey, the grandson of the famous baseball executive with the same name, noted that the new facility is “resonating with players, coaches and executives” throughout the league.

While Las Vegas may have an outsized reputation for what happens with visitors to the legendary strip of casinos, the reality of the larger Las Vegas is that it’s like many other U.S. cities of a similar size, with families and residents who have been hungering for quality sports entertainment. The instant success of the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights – who sold a ton of season tickets to locals – is reflected in the embrace of the Las Vegas Aviators’ new home, which is about as anti-Vegas as you can get.

Free parking, in a location far away from the Vegas Strip (Summerlin is about a 20-minute drive from the casinos at rush hour), and family-friendly features like a grassy hill beyond the right-field fence where kids can roll around – or ping-pong tables on an outfield patio for kids who can’t stay focused on baseball – make Las Vegas Ballpark a perfect place for families. And the more adult-focused sections, like the suites – or the party porches along each side of the stadium and the outfield swimming pool area, provide easy entertainment options for companies or other large groups looking to have a “team” event with baseball as a backdrop.

But in this day and age, no public sports place would seem complete without good wireless connectivity, and with its major-league Wi-Fi network, Las Vegas Ballpark covers that base completely. With 380 APs covering the entire park, MSR couldn’t find a single spot without consistent coverage, including even outside the entry gates.

According to Cox, approximately 130 of the APs are installed under seats, a trickier than usual deployment since the ballpark uses mesh seats in all seating areas – a construction that could dip fans’ bottoms closer to the APs than a regular hard plastic seat.

A QR code makes logging in a simple procedure

Mike Fredericks, vice president for IT development for stadium owners the Howard Hughes Corporation, said
the network was built to “major league standards,” and our unofficial speed tests seemed to confirm that quality. According to Cox, a 10 Gbps backbone powers the network. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is the naming sponsor of the park, under an $80 million, 20-year deal.

As the technology sponsor, Cox Business/Hospitality Network is the exclusive solutions provider for the Las Vegas Ballpark, supporting both back-of-house networking as well as the fan-facing technology.

Solid Wi-Fi everywhere in the park

If there is one place that venues seem to consistently overlook when building out wireless, it’s the space just outside the ticketing gates toward the parking lot, an omission that can cause severe fan headaches in these days of increasing use of digital ticketing. There was no such problem at Las Vegas Ballpark, where outside the outfield (east) entryway we got a speed test of 51.5 Mbps on the download and 46.9 Mbps for upload. If there is one hitch to the free Wi-Fi it is the need to provide a name and a valid email address to log in, a registration process that seems to be generally falling out of favor in other stadiums.

Once inside the park MSR started a circumnavigation beginning with a path behind the centerfield wall, where we got a speed test of 57.1 Mbps / 58.6 Mbps. We walked directly underneath the 31-foot-high by 126-foot wide Daktronics video board, the largest in minor league baseball. We also walked directly underneath a MatSing ball cellular antenna, which Verizon is currently using to provide cellular coverage for its customers.

A MatSing ball antenna provides cellular coverage from centerfield

Until the DAS gets fully built out inside the stadium, AT&T, according to the stadium IT crew, plans to cover the stands using a macro tower on a nearby building; T-Mobile was providing service to the stadium using a COW (cell on wheels) unit in the main parking lot.

In both the left- and right-field corners of the stands, Las Vegas Ballpark has some “loge” type seating, with a fixed tabletop in front of several rows of seats. Under-seat Wi-Fi deployments on both sides seemed to work well, with speed tests of 65.6 Mbps / 68.9 Mbps in the left-field loge seats and 66.4 Mbps / 55.5 Mbps in right field. On the upper deck seating areas along both base lines are party decks, both of which were hosting private events on the night we attended; MSR was able to sneak in and get a speed test of 66.5 Mbps / 67.5 Mbps on the left-field deck; where Wi-Fi coverage was in part provided by a couple of APs mounted on a low pole.

We didn’t get a speed test at the centerfield pool area – another private party had the space reserved – but we did get a solid 43.8 Mbps / 57.3 Mbps mark at “The Hangar,” the centerfield bar. And even though the connectivity, architecture and trappings at the stadium had a major-league feel, the between-inning promotions – like kids racing on the field on bouncy blow-up horses – and local sponsors (like a land-surveying company for home-run distance measures) made sure the game kept the charm that only a minor-league game can provide.

At the press conference (held earlier in the day of our visit) executives from minor league baseball waxed eloquently about the park’s attributes. “This ballpark exceeded expectations, if that was possible,” said Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball. And while he stressed that he was no wireless expert, PCL’s Rickey did say that having major-league connectivity was an essential part of the minor league experience.

“If we are looking to find avenues to younger fans, we realize that they are very more connected,” said Rickey in a separate interview with MSR. “Our fans are reliant on their mobile devices, and they can be used to provide so much information about our game. Having great wireless is where we have to be. It’s essential to where we are headed.”

At Las Vegas Ballpark, that base is covered. Feel free to spread the word.

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi 6 network at Ohio Stadium, and an in-depth research report on the converged fiber network at Dickies Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!


A good look at the stadium, which has suites and party decks on the upper level

Sunsets can be spectacular at Las Vegas Ballpark

An under-seat AP deployment in the loge seating area

AT&T launching 5G-powered ‘fan experiences’ at AT&T Stadium for Cowboys opener

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium (not using 5G). Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

AT&T is launching what it calls ‘5G experiences’ for fans at AT&T Stadium on Sunday during the Dallas Cowboys’ NFL home opener, including some augmented-reality experiences that will let fans take selfies with huge-sized virtual NFL players or dodge virtual tacklers in an AR-type game.

While the 5G network powering the experiences inside the stadium won’t be open or available for general use, AT&T said it will have Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones on hand in several places around the venue for fans to test out the applications that AT&T claims “couldn’t be done wirelessly at this level before 5G.” And even though 5G networks are still a long ways away from being a mainstream reality for most wireless customers, you can expect the largest U.S. carriers to fight a 5G marketing battle all fall around football stadiums, especially at NFL venues where NFL partner Verizon is already at work installing 5G test networks for use this season. In fact, Verizon also has a press announcement out today about having installed 5G services in 13 NFL stadiums. So get ready, wireless types, it’s 5G season.

Here at MSR we will try to keep our heads above any claims of stadiums being the “first” 5G-enabled or 5G-ready until such networks are prevalent and available for any and all visitors. That being said, the activations planned by AT&T for Sunday’s Cowboys home opener against the New York Giants sound kind of cool, so if any MSR readers are on hand for the game please do try them out and send us a field report or at least a selfie or two.

According to an AT&T press release, the 5G-powered experiences available at the game Sunday will include a thing called “Hype Up Chants,” where fans will be able to see a 36-foot tall version of Cowboys players Dak Prescott and Ezekial Elliott among others by viewing them through the camera of a provided Samsung phone. Fans will also be able to record their own end zone dance next to virtual teammates, over a provided 3-D video again powered by the 5G network and a Samsung phone.

On the stadium’s east side fans will be able to “pose with the pros,” again recording a virtual video with players like Elliott in what AT&T is calling an “immersive column,” a setup connected to the 5G network via a Netgear Nighthawk 5G mobile hotspot. And at the stadium’s club level, another set of Samsung phones will be available to show off live player and team stats in a broadcast-like AR format, while other fans will get to play a virtual football game where they will dodge “virtual defensive robots,” who may or may not be more effective than the real humans on the football field.

We have an email in to AT&T to find out more details if possible, including any other vendors involved in AT&T’s millimeter-wave 5G setup inside its namesake arena. Stay tuned for updates as they become available. Below are some renderings of how the experiences are supposed to look.

The ‘Pose with the Pros’ column

The ‘Hype Up Chants’ look

Closer Look: MatSing ball antenna deployment at Amalie Arena

Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Taking advantage of a cross-Florida drive, Mobile Sports Report finally got a live look at the MatSing ball antenna deployment at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena, part of a new neutral-host DAS being built by AT&T. Some early returns on the MatSing ball network performance have gained a lot of attention, with rumors floating around this summer of multiple MatSing deployments either in the offing or already underway.

Since our visit was in the hockey offseason we didn’t get to test the DAS in action, but thanks to the hospitality of new Tampa IT director Andrew McIntyre (who recently left a similar position with the Chicago Cubs) we got to look around the arena at the MatSing deployment, which by AT&T’s count uses 52 of the distinctive round-ball antennas mounted in various places in the rafters.

We hope to return sometime this fall or winter to witness the network in action, but for now take a look at some of the peculiarities of the deployment, including the very specific angles for pointing the antennas toward very specific parts of the seating area.

What’s the buzz behind MatSings? Here is a bit of explanation from an earlier MSR story:

Why use MatSing antennas? What sets MatSing ball antennas (also called “Luneberg Lens” antennas) apart from other wireless gear is the MatSing ball’s ability to provide a signal that can stretch across greater distances while also being highly concentrated or focused. According to MatSing its antennas can reach client devices up to 240 feet away; for music festivals, that means a MatSing antenna could be placed at the rear or sides of large crowd areas to reach customer devices where it’s unpractical to locate permanent or other portable gear. By being able to focus its communications beams tightly, a MatSing ball antenna can concentrate its energy on serving a very precise swath of real estate, as opposed to regular antennas which typically offer much less precise ways of concentrating or focusing where antenna signals go.

What should bear watching in Tampa is the progression of the Water Street Tampa project, which includes Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and Microsoft’s Bill Gates as investors. Water Street, right outside the arena’s doors, is going to be yet another near-the-stadium downtown development area, though this one seems more ambitious than some of the stadium-centric plans around other new arena builds. We will of course keep track on how the wireless coverage goes from arena to outdoors. For now, enjoy some more close-ups of the MatSings:

Espo, or Phil Esposito, stands guard over the arena’s plaza

A look up from ice level. See how many MatSings you can count!
A little fuzzy, but you can see the different tilt angles here
MatSings and regular DAS antennas side by side
A look just outside the arena, where the Water Street Tampa development is underway

AT&T sees 2.5 TB of DAS traffic at men’s Final Four championship game

The concourses at U.S. Bank Stadium were well covered by DAS and Wi-Fi antennas for the recent Final Four. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

In addition to the big Wi-Fi numbers seen at the NCAA men’s 2019 basketball championship game, AT&T said it saw 2.5 terabytes of data used by its customers on its DAS network at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the final game of the men’s Final Four weekend.

The neutral-host DAS in U.S. Bank Stadium, which is operated by Verizon, tested strong during MSR’s visit to the Final Four — we saw a mark of 37.5 Mbps on the download and 45.0 Mbps on the upload during the championship game, on a Verizon phone. Verizon, however, declined to provide any data totals from the Final Four.

In addition to its championship game numbers, AT&T said it saw 44.6 TB of data used on its networks in and around U.S. Bank Stadium for the entire men’s Final Four weekend.

Women’s Final Four sees 1.1 TB of DAS

At the NCAA women’s Final Four weekend in Tampa, Fla., AT&T said it saw a total of 1.1 TB of traffic used by its customers on the new MatSing Ball-powered DAS at Amalie Arena. That number includes traffic from both semifinal games as well as the championship game on April 7.

Colorado brings Wi-Fi and DAS to Folsom Field

Folsom Field at night. Credit: University of Colorado (click on any picture for a larger image)

There will be a change in the air at Folsom Field this fall, and not just from the team that new head coach Mel Tucker will lead onto the gridiron. For the first time, the mile-high atmosphere inside the University of Colorado’s historic venue will be filled with fan-facing Wi-Fi and cellular signals, thanks to new networks being installed this offseason by third-party host Neutral Connect Networks (NCN).

In a deal that will also bring Wi-Fi and a cellular DAS to the school’s basketball arena, NCN will use Cisco gear for the Wi-Fi network and JMA Wireless gear for the cellular networks. A centrally located head-end will serve both venues via fiber connections, some run through existing tunnels from the campus’ old steam-heating infrastructure.

Due to be live (UPDATE: Now CU says the networks will not be operational until later this fall) before the 2019 football season begins on Sept. 7 when CU hosts Nebraska, later this fall, the Wi-Fi network will use 550 APs in a mostly under-seat deployment at Folsom Field, where there are no overhangs over any of the seating areas. DAS deployment in Colorado’s historic football stadium — which first hosted games in 1924 — will use antennas pointing down from the stadium’s top edges, with some new flagpoles scheduled to help provide antenna-mounting locations.

While its incredibly picturesque location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains has historically made Folsom Field a fan-favorite place to visit (at least for photos), the lack of any comprehensive wireless coverage of any sort has produced some grumbling from Buffs fans in recent years. According to Matt Biggers, CU’s chief marketing officer and associate athletic director for external affairs, wireless coverage inside the sports venues has been a topic of internal research for more than 6 years.

“It was all about finding a partner and a financial model that works for us,” said Biggers. “It finally got to a point where it made sense to pull the trigger.”

Neutral host model appealing to schools

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the Wi-Fi records set at Super Bowl 53, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

The CU Events Center, home of Colorado hoops teams. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The model brought to CU is a classic neutral-host operation, where a provider like NCN (which bought the former sports-stadium practice from 5 Bars) will build a school’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks under a revenue-sharing deal with the school where the carriers help some with upfront payments and then provide payments over a long-term lease to operate on the DAS.

The neutral-host option is one good way for schools or teams with smaller budgets or lightly used facilities to bring connectivity to arenas. CU’s Folsom Field, for example, doesn’t see much use other than the six home games per football season. This year, the stadium will see big crowds beyond football only at a few events, including the Memorial Day Bolder Boulder 10K footrace (which ends inside the stadium), a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, and a couple of July concerts featuring the Dead & Company tour.

According to James Smith, vice president of carrier services for NCN, AT&T will be the anchor tenant on the DAS, and will be first to be operational. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, Smith said, are still negotiating long-term agreements but are expected to be on the DAS by 2020.

NCN [then under its old name of 5 Bars] negotiated a similar neutral-host deal with CU’s neighbor to the north, Colorado State University, for CSU’s new football stadium which opened in 2017. Now known as Canvas Stadium, the 41,000-seat venue had 419 total Wi-Fi access points when it opened, with approximately 250 of those used in the bowl seating area. Like CSU’s deployment, the Wi-Fi network at Folsom Field will use primarily under-seat AP deployments, mainly because the stadium’s horseshoe layout has no overhangs.

DAS gear already installed in the CU Events Center

According to NCN’s Smith, the current plan sees a deployment of 550 APs in Folsom Field, with another 70 APs in the basketball arena, the CU Events Center. Both venues’ networks will be served by a central head-end room located in an old telephone PBX space near the center of campus. Fiber links will run from there to both Folsom Field and the Events Center.

At Folsom, the NCN team will have a long list of deployment challenges, mainly having to navigate the construction particulars of a stadium that has been gradually expanded and added onto over the years.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s behind a brick,” said NCN director of program management Bryan Courtney, speaking of existing infrastructure that has been around for decades. Smith said the Folsom Field DAS will make use of overhead antennas, including some that will require new flagpole-type structures that will need to match Folsom Field’s architectural heritage.

Basketball arena is all top-down

At the 11,064-seat CU Events Center, formerly known as the Coors Events Center, deployment of both Wi-Fi and DAS will be somewhat easier, as all the gear servicing the seating area will be suspended from the catwalks. With the main concourse at stadium entry level and all the seats in a single rectangular bowl flowing down from there, the ceiling is close enough for good top-down coverage for both Wi-Fi and celluar, NCN’s Smith said.

The Golden Buffalo Marching Band on a CU game day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though deployment of both networks in the Events Center is currently underway, neither will be active until after the current college basketball season is completed. However, the Events Center stays somewhat more busy than the football stadium, with events like local high school graduations and other special events (like a Republican Party debate in 2015) making use of the space. Both networks should be fully up and running by the next basketball season, according to NCN.

Unlike some other universities that are aggressively pursuing digital fan-connection strategies, CU’s Biggers said the school will start slowly with its fan-facing networks, making sure the experience is a solid one before trying too hard.

“We’re pretty conservative, and this is a complicated project and we want to make sure we get it right,” said Biggers. Though Biggers said CU fans haven’t been extremely vocal about connectivity issues inside the sports venues, he does admit to hearing about “some frustration” about signals in some areas of the stadium (which until now has only been served by a couple of dedicated macro antennas from the outside).

“There’s definitely a hunger [for wireless service],” Biggers said.

On the business side, Biggers said CU will also be taking more time to evaluate any additions to its game-day digital operations. Though CU recently introduced a mobile-only “buzzer beater” basketball ticket package that offered discounted passes that would deliver an assigned seat to a device 24 hours before game time, Biggers said that for football, a longtime paper-ticket tradition for season ticket holders would likely stay in place.

Colorado will also “re-evaluate” its game-day mobile application strategy, Biggers said, with the new networks in mind. “But the real game-changer for us is data collection,” he said. “We’re most excited about having data to better serve the fans.”