Giants, AT&T say new under-seat antennas triple cell capacity at AT&T Park

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures at AT&T Park now have DAS antennas in them as well. Credit: SF Giants/AT&T

An offseason experiment by AT&T and the San Francisco Giants may change the way sports venues and carriers think about cellular deployment, as a massive installation of under-seat antennas has significantly improved the cellular capacity at AT&T Park for AT&T customers, according to the team and the carrier.

By installing cellular antennas inside 916 existing under-seat Wi-Fi antenna enclosures, AT&T and the Giants made a huge bet that by densifying the coverage, they could significantly improve the cellular experience for AT&T customers at the ballpark.

While admitting that data accumulated so far is only a small sample, the Giants and AT&T are nonetheless convinced their move is already a win, as early season declines in Wi-Fi use and increases in cellular data use seem to point toward a conclusion that fans are using more cellular service because it’s providing a better connection. The change is so effective that it’s even making the Giants’ networking team wonder if Wi-Fi will be necessary moving forward, if other carriers added the same kind of network capacity to their cellular infrastructures.

‘Most significant upgrade, ever’

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 a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new DAS for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

With technologies like the multiple proposed iterations of 5G cellular and other plans to mine new spectrum territory on the near horizon, large public venues looking to keep up with wireless data demands are seeking whatever ways they can to keep customers connected. Historically, AT&T Park has been in the lead in this arena, from being the first pro venue to provide Wi-Fi to fans (in 2004) to staying committed to pushing the envelope, including the pioneering move of putting Wi-Fi access points under seats to improve and expand coverage.

New Ericsson radio gear (long grey box) powers the new under-seat DAS antennas at AT&T Park. Credit: AT&T

As the neutral-host provider of a distributed antenna system (DAS) at AT&T Park to provide cellular coverage for its own customers as well as customers from all the top wireless service providers, AT&T has also kept its cellular systems at the top levels of performance, at least at the levels possible for traditional top-down antenna placements. However, as demand for wireless services keeps growing — pushed somewhat by the recent revival of so-called “unlimited” data plans — many large venues (especially those facing “bucket list” events like Super Bowls or World Series games) have been challenged to find ways to expand DAS capacity.

At the past three Super Bowls, Verizon Wireless has increased DAS capacity by using extra DAS antenna installations under seats (Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium), under seating-area concrete (Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium) and inside handrail enclosures (Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium). According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, the team and AT&T conducted a small experiment last fall, to see if putting cell antennas inside the existing under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures could help provide a better signal for fans.

“We did a small swath of stands and it worked well,” said Schlough in a recent phone interview. “So we said, ‘let’s do the whole ballpark.’ ” Some 916 antennas later, installed by crews who worked every day of the offseason, AT&T Park had what Schlough called “our most significant connectivity upgrade, ever,” no small statement for a network that has required more than $30 million in spending in its existence, according to Schlough. What’s kind of funny is that this paradigm-changing “experiment” has so far only netted a one-paragraph simple explanation in a “What’s new” public press release from the Giants and AT&T Park.

WCS band comes into play

If the Giants and AT&T seem to be soft-pedaling the deployment a bit, some of that modesty may come from the fact that this deployment may not be easy to replicate. Gordon Spencer, an area manager in AT&T’s RAN engineering group, said the deployment uses only spectrum from the WCS band, a chunk of wavelengths near the 2300 GHz region. None of the other top carriers has any licensed spectrum in this band; by using only WCS wavelengths, Spencer said, AT&T easily avoided any interference with its existing DAS, which uses a number of more-common cellular frequencies. There was also a huge construction savings by using the existing under-seat Wi-Fi infrastructure, which meant there was no extra core drilling necessary to deploy the new cellular devices.

Another part of the program AT&T is reluctant to talk about is how exactly it got the WCS antennas to work inside a Wi-Fi box, without having to open up the boxes from the top. Spencer would not comment about specifics of the antenna deployment, but did say that having WCS spectrum close to the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum used by some Wi-Fi communications “made construction pretty simple.” Like under-seat Wi-Fi, Spencer said the under-seat cellular network designs in the interference caused by human bodies (aka “bags of water”) to allow antennas to be placed closer together.

“It works much better when the stadium’s full of people… we designed it that way,” Spencer said.

Could more dense cellular replace the need for Wi-Fi?

While the public press release doesn’t give any exact throughput numbers for proof, it does state that “This densification initiative effectively triples wireless capacity for AT&T customers at AT&T Park,” and notes that approximately 32 miles of fiber and copper cable were used to enchance 97 cell sectors.

But since AT&T customers typically are in the majority at most AT&T Park events, by moving many of them to a new network, the team was able to effectively free up space on the regular DAS as well as on the Wi-Fi, a network Schlough said could soon fall out of favor.

“Imagine if the other carriers were able to leverage this new AT&T cellular network,” Schlough said. “Could it come to a point where we ask ourselves, do we need Wi-Fi anymore?”

Some venues, of course, may want to keep expanding their Wi-Fi systems since by owning the network they also own the network user data, a trove of information not usually shared by wireless carriers for DAS usage. But unlike some theoretical 5G designs — which may call for “microantennas” in a much larger number — the more-dense via piggybacking on Wi-Fi idea may have some legs.

“If you have a greenfield design it may make sense to use microantennas everywhere,” Spencer said. “This deployment was pragmatic, and it works.”

New Report: DAS deployments rule, with new networks at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park and Amalie Arena

Call it the ‘Connect the DAS’ issue — our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT is heavy on DAS news, with new deployments at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, and Amalie Arena — all of them breaking news, as in you heard it here first!

At AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, there is a brand new upgrade to the stadium’s DAS network, an AT&T-only deployment of DAS antennas inside the same under-seat enclosures used for stadium Wi-Fi. An experiment at first, just a few months into the season it has surprised both the team and the carrier with how well it’s doing. Get the details by DOWNLOADING OUR FREE REPORT right now!

Second at bat in the news-scoop arena is another DAS deployment, this one just getting underway at Amalie Arena in Tampa, home of the NHL’s Lightning. The twist on this new network — also being installed by AT&T — is that it will exclusively use MatSing ball antennas, those quirky-looking “big ball” antennas that you may have seen used in a temporary fashion at outdoor events. What’s bringing them inside? DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and read our exclusive story!

And at venerable Wrigley Field — the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs — a long-planned upgrade to the venue’s cellular systems is finally in place, using JMA Wireless equipment deployed by DAS Group Professionals. Our in-person visit took a look at how DGP and the Cubs merged new technology with one of baseball’s most historic structures. Who says DAS is dead?

In addition to those stories we also have a complete, in-person visit and profile of the new networks at the newest stadium in MLS, the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium. We also have a Q&A with Sprint CTO Dr. John Saw, all packed into one issue ready for FREE DOWNLOAD right now!

We’d like to thank our sponsors for this issue, which includes Mobilitie, Corning, Huber+Suhner, JMA Wireless, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Oberon, Boingo, MatSing, ExteNet and DAS Group Professionals — without their support, we wouldn’t be able to make all this great content available to you for no cost. Thanks for your interest and we hope you enjoy the latest issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series!

Wrigley DAS using low-profile omni antennas; plus, stadium gets new moveable stands for football

New flat-panel omnidirectional DAS antenna seen in upper right. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

We have a longer, more detailed profile of the new DAS deployment at Wrigley Field in the works (look for it in our next Stadium Tech Report issue in June) but I did want to provide a quick look at a neat new omnidirectional DAS antenna from Laird Technologies that was used by DAS Group Professionals in their Wrigley layout.

The thin, flat disc antenna looks great in an indoor deployment, with it barely visible in some situations when it is matched with the ceiling paint. Derek Cotton, vice president of engineering for DGP, said DGP is “very pleased” with the performance of the flat-panel antennas. Among other places we saw them during our Wrigley tour in April was in the new underground club, in back of house locations, and also outdoors, above a concessions stand in the bleachers.

Movable stands bring more space for football

It has nothing to do with wireless technology, but another new thing we saw at Wrigley was a section of box seats along the third-base foul lines that are now removable, to allow more space for end zones when Wrigley is used for football games.

Though the Chicago Bears played football at Wrigley back in the Gale Sayers days, there haven’t been many football games there since. And at the latest one played, a college game between Illinois and Northwestern in 2010, the teams were only allowed to use one end zone for safety reasons. According to this New York Times story from 2010 (which has great pictures that show the problem) the additional box seats added since the old days had cramped the space needed for safe end zone activities.

This past offseason, the Cubs dug out almost the entire lower box-seat section (down 40 to 60 feet) to allow for the construction of underground club spaces, one of which is already open. As part of the reconstruction some of the third-base line box seats are now removable so there can be more room for football games.

Watch for our next Stadium Tech Report for a full in-depth look at the new Wrigley DAS! Some more pix below.

Flat-panel DAS antenna blends nicely with ceiling paint job

Flat-panel DAS above concession stand behind Wrigley’s bleachers

Third-base line removable seats have metal flooring (you can see line between metal and concrete in upper right)

Closer look at division between permanent seats on concrete and movable ones on metal

Wrigley Field gets new DAS in time for Cubs’ home opener

The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field will have a new DAS working for opening day. Credit for these 2017 season pictures: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After some construction delays that no Chicago Cubs fans minded, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will have a new high-performance distributed antenna system (DAS) operational for Monday’s scheduled Cubs home opener for the 2018 season.

Designed and deployed by DAS Group Professionals, the new in-stadium cellular network was originally scheduled to be ready by last year; but when the Cubs took their historic march to the World Series title in 2016, many of the in-progress construction plans for Wrigley Field got delayed or rearranged, to the objection of nobody at all who cheers for the north siders.

And even though some of the most ambitious parts of the Wrigley renovation took place this winter — including removing most of the seats and concrete in the lower seating bowl to clear the way for some lower-level club spaces — the DGP crew along with the Cubs’ IT organization delivered the new cell network in time for the first pitches scheduled Monday afternoon.

Wi-Fi coming in as season goes on

“We definitely put scheduling and timing to the test, but we got it done,” said Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, in a phone interview. First announced back in 2015, the networking plan for the Wrigley renovations — which includes coverage for the plaza outside the stadium, the new team office building as well as the across-the-street Hotel Zachary that also just opened for business — also includes a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Extreme Networks. Since the Wi-Fi network is more construction-conflicted than the DAS deployment, it will be introduced gradually over the next few months, McIntyre said.

“By the All-Star break, we should have both systems online,” McIntyre said.

The DAS system deployed by DGP uses JMA equipment, just like DGP’s other big-stadium DAS deployments at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Steve Dutto, president of DGP, acknowledged the challenge of the Wrigley buildout, including one instance where DGP technicians needed to set up scaffolding to mount antennas but couldn’t because instead of a concrete floor there was a 60-foot hole in the ground.

Hey hey!

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto. According to Dutto DGP has signed up all four major U.S. wireless carriers for the DAS, with all except Sprint operational for opening day. The head-end building for the DAS, he said, is located in what he thinks is a former hot-dog stand a half a block from the park. (If you’re looking for a snack in the head end room, just remember, in Chicago there’s no ketchup on hot dogs.)

Dutto said the DAS antennas are all overhead mounts, not a problem in Wrigley since the overhangs offer plenty of mounting spaces. However, given the historic look and feel of the park, Dutto did say that “we definitely had to tuck things away better and make sure we had good paint matches.” Not a Chicago native, Dutto said that the charm of the stadium hit him on first view.

“When we pulled up for the first time,” he said, “it was… wow. There’s nothing like it.”

Under seat for Wi-Fi will take time to deploy

The Cubs’ McIntyre, who admits to guzzling coffee by the quart these days, said the field-level renovations — which included removing all lower seats and the foundational concrete to clear out room for field-level club spaces — made finishing the Wi-Fi deployment something that couldn’t be pushed. With no overhangs covering the premium box seat areas, Wi-Fi APs there will need to be mounted under seats, something that just couldn’t get finished by Monday.

“It’s less of a technical challenge and more of a structural engineering challenge,” said McIntyre of the under-seat deployment method, which usually involves a lot of work with drilling through concrete and mounting APs in weather-sealed enclosures. McIntyre said the Cubs and Extreme also plan to use under-seat deployments in Wrigley’s famous outfield bleachers, which also lack any overhead infrastructure. In what he termed a “slow roll,” McIntyre said parts of the Wi-Fi network will come online gradually as the season progresses, starting first with the spaces outside the stadium.

Bringing backbone power to the new network is partner Comcast Business, which just announced a sponsorship deal with the Cubs that will see a “XfinityWiFi@Wrigley” label on the Wrigley Wi-Fi SSID. According to McIntyre Comcast will bring in twin 10-Gbps pipes to power the Wrigley Wi-Fi network.

This panoramic view shows why the lower level seats will need under-seat APs for Wi-fi

AT&T sees 9 TB of wireless data use at World Series

The latest statistic showing that wireless data use at sports venues continues to grow comes from AT&T, which said that it saw 9 terabytes of wireless data use on its networks at this year’s World Series games, an 80 percent increase from last year’s total of 5 TB.

According to AT&T, the biggest single-game use of this year’s series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros came during Game 2 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where fans on AT&T networks used 1.5 TB of data. An AT&T blog post about the series has some interesting statistics about when data use surged, mainly right after dramatic events took place on the field.

Last year, AT&T said it saw 5 TB of data used on its networks at Wrigley Field and Progressive Field during the seven-game series between the Cubs and the Indians. We don’t have any Wi-Fi data yet from either park this year but it will be interesting to see what happened on the network at Minute Maid Park in Houston during the phenomenal Game 5, a contest that kept many baseball fans up late at night.

Verizon Wireless said it didn’t keep track of DAS statistics for this year’s World Series games.

Commentary: Time to rethink in-seat delivery?

A beer vendor at Wrigley Field this summer. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka,, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

I have a major scoop: Even though Wrigley Field doesn’t have its new Wi-Fi network installed yet, I can confirm that the Friendly Confines has food and drink delivery to fans in all seats.

And you don’t need an app to order a frosty malt beverage. You simply say, “Hey! Beer man! One over here!” And he walks over and pours you a cold one. Apparently this is not new, but has worked for many, many years.

Though I do jest a bit I hope my point is clear: Sometimes there is a bit too much fascination with technology, especially on the stadium app front, which has not yet been warranted. The main question of this essay is whether or not it’s time to rethink the in-seat ordering and delivery phenomenon, to find what really matters to fans and where technology can deliver better options.

Who really wants in-seat delivery?

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

I will be the first to admit to being guilty as charged in being over-excited about stadium apps and the idea of things like instant replays on your phone and being able to have food and drink delivered to any seat in the stadium. When the San Francisco 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium four years ago, those two services were fairly unique in the sporting world, and it was cool to see how both worked.

The Niners did a lot of human-engineering study on the food delivery problem, knowing that it was more an issue of getting enough runners to deliver the goods than it was to get the app working right. Even a big glitch at the first-year outdoor ice hockey game at Levi’s Stadium was sort of a confirmation of the idea: That so many people tried to order food deliveries it screwed up the system wasn’t good, but it did mean that it was something people wanted, right?

Turns out, no so much. Recently the Niners officially announced that they are taking a step back on in-seat concessions ordering and deliveries at Levi’s Stadium, limiting it to club areas only. Whatever reasons the Niners give for scaling down the idea, my guess is that it mainly had to do with the fact that it turns out that the majority of people at a football game (or basketball too) may not want to just sit in their seats the whole game, but in fact get up and move around a bit.

The end zone view from the beer garden at Colorado State Stadium.

That may be why most of the new stadiums that have opened in the past couple years have purposely built more “porch” areas or other public sections where fans can just hang out, usually with somewhat of a view of the field. The Sacramento Kings’ nice beer garden on the top level of Golden 1 Center and the Atlanta Falcons’ AT&T Perch come to mind here. For the one or two times these fans need to get something to eat, they are OK with getting up and getting it themselves.

Plus, there’s the fact that at the three or four or more hours you’re going to be at a football game, if you’re drinking beer you’re going to eventually need to get up anyway due to human plumbing. We’ve been fairly out front in saying stadiums should spend more time bringing concession-stand technology into the 21st century, instead of worrying too much about in-seat delivery. It’s good to see there are some strides in this direction, with better customer-facing interfaces for payment systems and things like vending machines and express-ordering lines for simple orders.

While there may be disagreement about whether or not in-seat delivery is a good idea, there is certainly universal disgust for concession lines that are long for no good reason. It’s beyond time for stadiums to mimic systems already in place at fast-food restaurants or coffee shops and bring some of that technology spending to bear in the place that everyone agrees still needs work. Even at the uber-techno Levi’s, regular concession stand lines have been abysmal in their slowness. Maybe the Niners and others guilty of the same crimes will pay more attention to less flashy fixes in this department.

Is drink-only delivery the right move?

The Niners’ revolutionary attempt to bring mobile ordering and in-seat delivery to all fans in a big stadium was part of the app suite from VenueNext, the company the Niners helped start as part of their Levi’s Stadium plans. While VenueNext is regularly adding new pro teams to its stable of customers (in September at Mobile World Congress Americas, the Utah Jazz announced they would switch to VenueNext for the upcoming season), not a single one has tried to copy the Niners’ ambitious deliver-anywhere feature.

The end-zone AT&T Perch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

And for Super Bowl 50, the signature event that Levi’s Stadium was in part built for, remember it was the NFL shutting down the idea of in-seat delivery of food and drink, limiting the service instead to just beverage ordering and delivery. It probably makes sense for Mobile Sports Report to put together a list sometime soon about the various attempts at in-seat ordering and delivery around the pro leagues, to see what’s working and what hasn’t. To be clear we are talking here about widespread delivery to all seating areas, and not the wait-staff type delivery systems that have been widely deployed in premium seating areas for years.

Our guess, just from tracking this phenomenon the past several years, is that while such services make sense in premium and club areas, simple logistics and stadium real estate (like narrow aisles or packed, sellout crowds) make in-seat ordering and delivery a human-factor nightmare in most venues.

One experiment worth watching is the system being deployed by the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as part of the team/stadium app developed by IBM. Instead of working online, the app will let fans pick food items and enter payment information, and then take their phone to the appropriate stand to scan and fulfill the order. Nobody knows yet if this will speed up lines or make the concession process faster, but it is at the very least an attempt to try something new, using technology doing what it does best to eliminate a pain point of going to a game — waiting in line.

And while I will be excited to see the new networks being planned for Wrigley (Wi-Fi and a new DAS are supposed to be online for next season), I’m just as sure that whenever I visit there again, I won’t need an app to have a beer and hot dog brought to my seat. Maybe having more choice in items or having that instant gratification of delivery when you want it is where the world is going today, but on a brilliant summer afternoon at Wrigley Field somebody walking down the aisle every now and then works just fine. With the Cubs winning, the organ playing and the manual scoreboard doing its magic in center field, it’s a welcome reminder that sometimes, technology isn’t always the best or neccessary answer.