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

Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

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The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.

Comcast Business to power Wi-Fi at Little Caesars Arena

Comcast Business has signed up as the Internet bandwidth provider for the soon-to-open Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, as part of an $11 million capital expenditure deal that will also bring assorted voice, video and other services to both the new arena and the surrounding “District Detroit.”

According to a press release from Comcast Business, the service provider will bring two 100-gig circuits of bandwidth to the arena, the new home of the NHL Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Set to open on Sept. 12, the new venue will have more than 1,000 Wi-Fi APs in the arena and in “surrounding buildings and event spaces,” according to the Comcast release.

Comcast has a similar arrangement with the Atlanta Braves and their new home, SunTrust Park, as well as with the surrounding live/work environment there, called The Battery Atlanta. In a report in Crain’s Detroit Business, a Comcast exec said the Detroit deal was taking such sponsorships “A whole ‘nother step further,” adding that the District Detroit area is much bigger than the Battery’s footprint.

New Report: State of the art Wi-Fi network at Braves’ new SunTrust Park

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Comcast brings new 3-Gig backbone to Memphis Grizzlies’ FedExForum

Comcast Business, which has sponsored the backbone bandwidth to many sports arenas, announced that it has installed a new 3-gigabit fiber backbone to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies’ FedExForum, which will support the already-existing fan-facing Wi-Fi network at the stadium.

According to our past research, the FedExForum Wi-Fi used to be supported by a wide-area wireless link provided by Ubiquiti, the firm that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera is CEO of. We are guessing here but we suspect that the fan-facing Wi-Fi will soon have a new SSID name of xfinitywifi, the SSID used by Comcast in other arenas where it provides backbone services.

Though we haven’t updated our specific information since our original report, news reports today claiming that Comcast is supplying Wi-Fi to FedExForum for the first time are incorrect. According to Comcast, under the new deal Comcast will also provide internet service and other communications services for the team’s front office operations.