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.

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

New Report: Wi-Fi arrives at Ohio Stadium

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Fall 2019 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 latest issue contains an in-person report on the new Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Ohio Stadium, which is already the top collegiate Wi-Fi network in the country, producing record results. This issue also has an in-person profile of the Wi-Fi network at the new Las Vegas Ballpark, as well as a “first look” at Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors! Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:
— An in-depth look at the new Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium;
— An in-person report on the Wi-Fi network at the ‘hottest’ stadium in minor league baseball, the Las Vegas Ballpark;
— A look at the single, converged fiber network infrastructure at the soon-to-open Dickies Arena in Fort Worth;
— A “First Look” at the Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors.

Download your free copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Connectivity Wireless, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

Bigger is better for San Francisco Giants with new video board at Oracle Park

The new video board at Oracle Park, which stretches from light tower to light tower. Credit: San Francisco Giants (click on any picture for a larger image)

When it comes time for a stadium to replace its main video board, the rule of thumb almost always is that bigger is better.

The San Francisco Giants certainly think so, as the team replaced its main outfield display this season with a new screen that is three and a half times bigger, and a lot sharper than the previous technology.

Though he said it wasn’t a slam-dunk decision internally, Giants senior vice president and chief information officer Bill Schlough said the team eventually went with as big a screen as the park’s existing infrastructure allowed, with improving the fan experience as the main driver.

What fans at the newly renamed Oracle Park are looking at this season is a 71-foot high, 153-foot wide LED board from Mitsubishi, with a 10-mm pixel pitch and resolution of 2,160 x 4,672, dense enough to support 4K content when it becomes available. The new board stretches to fill the space between two light towers in centerfield, replacing a previous arrangement of a smaller board surrounded by a batch of static display signs, an arrangement that was part of the internal controversy, according to Schlough.

Is digital always better?

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent issue of our VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, where we focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. This issue also contains profiles of the innovative directory displays at the Mall of America, and an in-depth look at display technology at U.S. Bank Stadium during the Final Four! START READING the issue today!

“It was an incredibly controversial topic inside the organization,” said Schlough of the debate about how big the Giants’ new screen should be. Though conventional wisdom says that digital signage can produce greater revenue than fixed signage due to its ability to change on demand, Schlough said that some salespeople and sponsors still like the permanence of a fixed display.

Crab sandwich and an Anchor Steam is an only-in-SF treat. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“When you are selling sponsorships there are pros and cons for each method,” Schlough said. “With digital you can have moments of exclusivity, where one sponsor can take over all the signage, and you can animate to capture the attention of fans.”

But the cons of digital signs include the fact that they can be turned off, a fact that may make a signage sponsor less willing to commit if it knows its message may be blanked out — as opposed to a static sign, which can’t be changed. According to Schlough the debate about the size of the new board was one of the most contentious technology decisions he’s seen during his 20-year career at the Giants, with only the team’s then-controversial decision to put Wi-Fi APs under seats (in 2013) coming close.

In the end the bigger-is-better side won out, in what Schlough said is part a nod to everyday experience with TVs as well as a hedge against the fact that stadium video screens often stay in place for many years.

“When’s the last time you came home with a TV from Best Buy and said, ‘it’s too big’ ?” Schlough joked.

On the more serious side, he did note that the Giants’ previous screen had lasted for 12 years — going from being just the third high-definition screen in all of Major League Baseball when it was installed to being the fifth-smallest and second-oldest in MLB by last season.

“You don’t get that many bites at the apple, and if you’re only making this kind of an investment every 10 years, there’s no way you can go too big,” Schlough said. The new board is now the third-largest in MLB, behind only Cleveland and Seattle. The team did seem to compromise for the fixed-sign contingent, adding more static display spots mounted to the light tower structures for this season. The new board also forced the Giants to replace an analog clock, installing a digital version a bit higher above the new board.

More stats, and 4K to come

In researching technology for its new $10 million investment, Schlough said the Giants went around to a host of other stadiums that had recently replaced their video boards, including the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, and the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, among others. After looking at display technology from all the leading vendors, Schlough said the Giants stuck with longtime “great partner” Mitsubishi, who had provided the screen the Giants installed in 2007, which replaced an older board that was present when the venue opened in 2000.

The 4K-ready clarity of the screen is apparent in daylight or night. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

With all the new space to play with, the Giants are already finding new things to show on the board, including a much longer list of statistics.

“It’s not just batting averages anymore, fans today want all the new things like launch velocity,” Schlough said. “Our baseball analytics team said ‘let’s give fans everything we’re looking at ourselves,’ so we’re putting up as much as we can.”

On a recent visit to Oracle Park, Mobile Sports Report witnessed the board in action, and came away incredibly impressed by the clarity and stunning scenes made possible by the large screen. Schlough wasn’t kidding about the wealth of new stats available for each batter, and the size and resolution made the between-innings video entertainment jump right out at you. Our favorites were a live shot of the San Francisco skyline from Treasure Island (see video below) and a between-inning t-shirt giveaway that inadvertently had MSR editor Paul Kapustka visible on the screen for a few almost-famous moments.

In the future, Schlough forsees the Giants showing 4K resolution content, which has not yet arrived for stadiums on the production side — but knowing that it someday will, he’s happy that the team has “future proofed” its main display for when 4K content arrives.

So far, Schlough said, fan response has been “awesome” in support of the new screen, making it clear that people in the seats agree that a bigger screen was a great choice.

“In the end the fans won,” Schlough said.

(More photos and a video from our recent visit below)

If this video looks blurry, blame the cameraman’s iPhone, not the Giants’ video board.

Can you spot MSR editor Paul Kapustka in this picture?

New static signs were pushed into the light towers to free up more room for the video screen.

Final Four displays, new Giants scoreboard, all in the new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

Mobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the second issue of our new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT, with in-depth profiles of display technology at the Final Four, a huge new video board for the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park, and the innovative directory displays at the Mall of America. No need to sign up or register — just click on the image below and start reading the issue today!

A new vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. Like its sibling Stadium Tech Report series, the Venue Display Report series will offer valuable information about cutting-edge deployments that venue owners and operators can use to inform their own plans for advanced digital-display strategies.

Our reporting and analysis will be similar to that found in our popular STR series, with stadium and venue visits to see the display technology in action, and interviews and analysis with thought leaders to help readers better inform their upcoming technology purchasing decisions. And in case you are new to the MSR world, rest assured that all our VDR reports will be editorially objective, done in the old-school way of real reporting. We do not accept paid content and do not pick profiles based on any sponsorship or advertising arrangements.

This second issue is packed with real-world information, including how U.S. Bank Stadium uses the Cisco Vision IPTV display management system to help run the 2,000-plus digital displays inside and around the venue. We also take a good look at the huge new video board installed for this season at Oracle Park in San Francisco, and also bring you an in-person profile of the innovative directory display system at the Mall of America.

Start reading the second issue now! No download or registration necessary. You can also go back and view our inaugural VDR issue for more great information!

As venues seek to improve fan engagement and increase sponsor activation, display technology offers powerful new ways to improve the in-stadium fan experience. While these topics are of prime interest to many of our long-term audience of stadium tech professionals, we suggest that you share the link with colleagues on the marketing and advertising sales side of the house, as they will likely find great interest in the ROI enabled by strategic display system deployments.

Sponsorship spots are currently available for future VDR series reports; please contact Paul at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com for media kit information.

Cubs adding Wi-Fi to Wrigley Field wireless mix

Wi-Fi APs can be seen on the overhang above Wrigley Field’s upper deck seating. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

After waiting 108 years for a championship, Cubs fans are getting much more from their team these days, especially when it comes to technology upgrades at Wrigley Field. Recent years have seen a complete renovation of the venerable bleachers, including big video screens in both left and right field, as well as a full-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) for enhanced celluar connectivity that went live at the start of this year.

And while the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs this week in a Wild Card loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs in the offseason will continue this summer’s process of adding Wi-Fi everywhere they can inside the Friendly Confines, after more planned offseason stadium construction will force the club to move some equipment installed earlier this year.

While some Wi-Fi APs were live in the upper deck seating section as well as mounted on overhangs covering the stadium’s terrace-level seats this season, a planned installation of under-seat Wi-Fi AP locations is currently on hold, as the Cubs continue to evaluate how best to proceed for some of the tougher-to-cover seating areas. Wi-Fi coverage is already operative, however, for back-of-house operations, as well as in fan-facing areas on the outdoor Gallagher Plaza and the Zachary Hotel next door.

Continuing challenges with construction

Editor’s note: This profile 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 Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new DAS at StubHub Center! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

First announced in 2015, the plan to bring both DAS and Wi-Fi to Wrigley has been challenged almost since its inception by the team’s ambitious plan to renovate many parts of a stadium that was originally constructed in 1914. The multi-phase physical construction project included the bleacher expansion, the creation of a hotel, office building and park on the stadium’s west side, new club spaces and (still to come) expanded suites and an upper-deck concourse. Of course the entire plan got immediately sidetracked by the team’s historic run to the 2016 World Series title.

Wi-Fi antennas pointed forward and back to cover upper seating areas

While having construction delayed by winning your first crown in over 100 years is not a bad problem to have, the team’s string of extended seasons (the Cubs have made it to the NLCS the past three years, meaning baseball deep into October) has played continual havoc with the renovation plans, since winter in Chicago isn’t often friendly to construction activities. Originally scheduled to appear in 2017, the DAS wasn’t built until this past offseason, and even though it is running well now (our most recent visit saw speedtests in many locations well into the 20+ Mbps range for both download and upload) a good portion of the DAS antennas will also have to be relocated this offseason because of more construction plans.

The Wi-Fi network, which the Cubs are building with gear from Extreme Networks, felt even more of the pain from this past year’s main construction project, which saw the entire lower bowl of Wrigley get removed so crews could dig about 60 feet deep to build under-stand club areas, one of which opened for this season. Those clubs, including more that are scheduled to open for the 2019 season, sit directly below the seating area that was scheduled to get under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, further complicating and delaying the installation.

For the lower main seating bowl and for the bleachers, the problem for Wi-Fi in those seating areas is the complete lack of overhead structures, or of any aisles with railings, to mount antennas. While DAS antennas are able to cover those regions from above and behind, a good Wi-Fi design would need an under-seat deployment, which is what the Cubs and Extreme had planned for.

Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, talked with MSR during a late-August visit and said that while he thinks the club will eventually have to do some amount of under-seat antenna locations — if not for Wi-Fi, then eventually for 5G cellular support — the plan from earlier this year to put Wi-Fi under-seat during this summer is shelved for the time being.

“We just have to make sure the structural integrity [of the lower seating slab] is not challenged,” said McIntyre. Since a good part of any under-seat Wi-Fi deployment in the lower bowl would require work above the club-space ceilings, it would take extra time that’s simply not available between baseball games and other events like concerts.

Having to move gear one more time

In the upper deck seating sections at Wrigley there are no such impediments to Wi-Fi AP location, with many easy mounting points up in the roof infrastructure. With a wide concourse in the middle of the upper and lower sections, many APs required only a scissor lift for installation, McIntyre said.

Wi-Fi AP covering an entry gate

The easily viewable APs have their accompanying antennas tilted either forward or backward to cover the two separate seating sections. Even though McIntyre and the Cubs are purposely throttling the unannounced Wi-Fi network’s speeds to a top mark of around 7.5 Mbps for both download and upload until the network is complete, MSR was able to get strong Wi-Fi responses everywhere we walked in the upper deck, as well as in the lower terrace seating areas, which are below the upper deck sections.

On the terrace level there are basically three rows of DAS and Wi-Fi gear, one in the back along the rear concourse, one in the middle of the roof to cover most of the seating and another out at the edge toward the field, to cover seats below there. Unfortunately, many of the devices in this area for both networks will need to be removed and replaced this upcoming offseason when the final phase of Wrigley’s renovation will see the premium suite areas extended further back, which will require construction work on their floors, where the antennas are currently mounted.

Tradeoffs part of playing in an icon

Like any networking pro, McIntyre would prefer to see his projects completed as thought out, but he is also a realist who knows that trying to do anything architecturally inside a beloved historical icon will eventually involve tradeoffs.

Take the center part of the right-field bleachers, which right now is somewhat less covered by the DAS simply because there’s no place on the back wall to mount antennas. Since anything placed there would be in view of passers-by on Sheffield Avenue, McIntyre said due to historic-building regulations the Cubs would need to ask for permission to build any new structures.

“It’s a never-ending challenge, and we fight as hard as we can [to get technology deployed],” McIntyre said. On the topic of incomplete Wi-Fi coverage, he noted that the DAS was designed to cover “100 percent” of fan connectivity needs, with the Wi-Fi being a complementary service.

At the very least, the new network means that more fans will have an easier time connecting in whatever way they need to, while enjoying baseball at one of the world’s most beloved venues.

“In the end, it’s all about delivering the best possible experience for fans,” said McIntyre.

Night game at the world’s best ballpark