Extreme Networks to provide Wi-Fi 6 to 16 Major League Baseball stadiums

Extreme Wi-Fi gear (small white box in center) at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

In one of the biggest sports-venue Wi-Fi deals ever, Major League Baseball said it has selected Extreme Networks as its new “official Wi-Fi solutions provider,” a deal that will see Extreme Wi-Fi 6 gear being deployed in at least 16 MLB venues, beginning with the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park.

In an announcement today, Extreme and MLB said the deal would bring in-stadium Wi-Fi gear as well as Extreme’s network analytics software to at least 16 stadiums by 2026.

According to Major League Baseball, the Extreme deal represents the latest step for the league’s “technology consortium,” a plan started in 2014 where the league brought together a consortium of technology and service providers to more quickly bring better connectivity to MLB venues through pre-arranged and shared pricing structures. (In the first version of the consortium plan, Cisco was the preferred Wi-Fi gear supplier.)

Truman Boyes, MLB’s senior vice president for technology infrastructure, said that adding Wi-Fi 6 technology to the consortium offerings was driven by the continued increase in network data consumption by fans at ballparks.

“We’ve seen growth [in network usage] ramp up year after year,” Boyes said.

And while an earlier version of the Wi-Fi 6 rollout plan was set to start last spring, Boyes said that the Covid pandemic and its subsequent closing of almost all venues to fans in 2020 actually helped MLB solidify its plans.

More Extreme Wi-Fi gear underneath the roof at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

“We did have some delays [due to the pandemic] but because there still wasn’t an actual standardized approach to Wi-Fi 6 at this time last year, it became a good time to wait it out,” Boyes said. And after evaluating all the equipment providers in the Wi-Fi space, Boyes said Extreme’s experience in large-venue Wi-Fi networks helped make Extreme MLB’s choice based on technical merit.

“When it comes to networks of 20,000 to 40,000 [users], it’s a totally different landscape,” Boyes said. With Extreme’s experience in NFL-size venues, he said, “they know how to make it scale.”

According to Boyes, 10 of the network deployments are expected to be completed by the end of the year, with Fenway’s deployment scheduled to be live by opening day. (See full list at bottom of story)

MLB deal follows NFL deal

The “official” Wi-Fi deal adds another win to Extreme’s sports-industry ledger, following the company’s current similar deal with the NFL. Next year will be Extreme’s ninth season as the official Wi-Fi supplier to the NFL, where 10 of the 30 venues use Extreme gear exclusively for Wi-Fi, with two other NFL venues having a mix of gear with some Extreme included. Extreme’s current deal with the NFL lasts until March of 2022, according to the NFL.

Like its NFL deal, Extreme’s contract with MLB does not require venues to use Extreme equipment; it simply provides teams with a league-approved deal that most likely has economics that are potentially more favorable than those available outside the consortium pricing, given that Extreme is both a supplier and a sponsor to the league.

“Teams can join if they want to share in the benefits of centralized management,” said Boyes of MLB’s consortium efforts. While 16 MLB teams have committed to the Wi-Fi 6 deal with Extreme, Boyes said there is “interest from other teams” as well. Currently, Boyes said 20 of MLB’s 30 teams have used consortium deals for connectivity in the past.

Extreme currently has two existing MLB customers for stadium Wi-Fi, the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the Baltimore Orioles’ home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles’ deal with Extreme had not been previously reported, other than that Verizon had paid for Wi-Fi at the park.

While Extreme has gotten big visibility out of its NFL deal — one which allows Extreme to control the announcement of network-usage results from the Super Bowl each year, even if Extreme gear is not used at the venue — it has also not won any recent deals for new NFL Wi-Fi networks. The two newest NFL venues, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, both chose Cisco as their Wi-Fi 6 gear supplier.

However, some long-standing Extreme customers in the NFL have recently stuck with Extreme for renovations, including updates at the last two Super Bowl venues, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Extreme and the Seattle Seahawks were also set to announce a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade to the network at Lumen Field this past year, but that announcement was delayed by the team due to the Covid pandemic.

Wes Durow, chief marketing officer for Extreme, said in a phone interview that Extreme’s focus on analytics makes it a great fit with Major League Baseball, which he said has been out in front of the entire sports world when it comes to emphasizing new statistics as a way to engage fans more closely.

And while acknowledging that a sponsorship with MLB was part of the equation, he said “that’s not what drove this deal. They [MLB] needeed to make a technology decision first.”

Consortium focusing on Wi-Fi

Unlike the past version of the consortium efforts, which included cellular distributed antenna network (DAS) systems as well as Wi-Fi, Boyes said the MLB consortium would “focus on Wi-Fi” going forward.

Part of MLB’s stance of “keeping DAS a little bit at arm’s length for now,” Boyes said, has to do with the complexity of 5G cellular deployments. Unlike 4G LTE cellular, where the top U.S. carriers all used similar spectrum spaces, the early 5G deployments from the top carriers all use different spectrum bands, which doesn’t work with a shared-antenna system.

MLB Stadiums that will get Extreme Wi-Fi 6:

Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)
Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds)
Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)
Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)
Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
Citi Field (New York Mets)
Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
T-Mobile Park (Seattle Mariners)
Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

Smaller crowd leads to smaller cellular numbers at Super Bowl LV

A MatSing antenna (white ball on right hand side of structure) hangs from the light tower at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., during Super Bowl LV. Credit: MatSing

With limited attendance due to the Covid pandemic, the best bet on Super Bowl LV was that the fans’ wireless traffic usage totals — which in past history have only gone up every year — would be diminished from previous events.

And even as the carriers continue to report numbers with parameters that make them hard to analyze, the bottom line from Sunday’s big game — which had 24,835 fans in attendance — was a total of 17.7 terabytes combined for AT&T and Verizon (with no numbers reported by T-Mobile), about half the usage when compared to last year’s game.

Once again, it is impossible to compare apples to apples as Verizon’s reported total of 4G and 5G data used, 7 TB, is from Raymond James Stadium only. AT&T, meanwhile, reported 10.7 TB of 4G and 5G data used, but from an area “in and around the stadium,” with no exact description of how far out “around the stadium” meant.

Still, taken at the highest totals the traffic pales compared to that seen at the most recent Super Bowls, where cellular traffic reported was above 35 TB for AT&T and Verizon last year and somewhere north of 50 TB two years ago, when Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) also reported numbers.

Verizon, which did say that 56 percent of the attendees were Verizon customers (which if you use the official attendance as a starting point gives you 13,907 Verizon customers at the game), gave us a chance to do some bandwidth-per-user math. Our unofficial calculations show Verizon customers using an average of 503 megabytes per user, a fairly solid metric when compared to last year’s Super Bowl Wi-Fi per-user usage total, 595.6 MB per user. (Wi-Fi total usage for Super Bowl LV has not yet been reported.) According to Verizon, its 5G customers saw an average download speed of 817 Mbps, with peak speeds reaching “over 2 Gbps.”

AT&T, meanwhile, claimed that its average 5G customer download speed was 1.261 Gbps with a peak download speed of 1.71 Gbps. However, since AT&T didn’t give us any way to calculate approximately how many customers it had at the game, it’s hard to measure its speeds directly with Verizon’s since there is no way of comparing how many devices AT&T had to support. T-Mobile, which claimed before the game that it had done as much as anyone else to support its customers at the game with 5G services, does not report traffic statistics from big events.

Interesting parking-lot poles and MatSings for the field

As part of the connectivity expansion ahead of the Super Bowl, poles like the one seen here may have 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for outside-the-venue coverage. Credit: ConcealFab

A couple of interesting notes: We want to tell you a bit more about the parking-lot pole enclosures that the carriers (and the Wi-Fi providers) used to cover the areas outside the venue. The supplier, a company called ConcealFab from Colorado Springs, Colo., said the pole enclosures (see picture) were designed and manufactured in-house, and can support a heady mix of wireless gear in what we consider an attractive ensemble.

Though not every pole had every bit of equipment, according to ConcealFab the enclosures “conceal low & mid-band 4G radio equipment and has a pole top shroud that contains omnidirectional 4G and public WiFi signals. 5G radios are mounted with shrouds that have clearWave™ technology that has been tested and approved for mmW frequency.” The company said that some of the poles had lights and security cameras mounted atop them as well.

Inside, the poles were a veritable United Nations of supplier gear. According to ConcealFab, here’s which suppliers brought what to the table:
— Ericsson radios (mmW) inside modular shrouds
— CommScope radios (AWS, PCS, CBRS) in the base and along the pole body
— JMA canister antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Extreme Networks access points and Wi-Fi antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Leotek LED luminaires
— Axis cameras

We’d also like to note that MatSing Lens antennas once again played a role in providing cellular coverage, with a couple of the distinctive ball-shaped devices used at Raymond James Stadium to provide cellular coverage to the field. MatSing antennas, which have recently been installed at Allegiant Stadium and AT&T Stadium, have been part of the past four Super Bowls by our account.

Verizon updates DAS, brings more 5G to Raymond James Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LV

Raymond James Stadium, the place where Super Bowl LV will take place on Feb. 7, 2021. Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers website

The limited number of fans being allowed to view Super Bowl LV live at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium should have no problem finding wireless connectivity inside the venue, thanks in part to new deployments that include a renovated 4G LTE distributed antenna system (DAS) and 5G cellular infrastructure from Verizon.

Ordinarily, the Super Bowl would be the place where once again new records would be set for wireless data consumption, as fans at the “big game” would spend most of their time there posting updates on social media to let their less-fortunate friends know just how good a time they were having either cheering on their favorite team or just being a part of the nation’s yearly biggest single-day sporting event.

But in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Super Bowl LV will be a big game unlike any other, with only about 22,000 fans allowed in the stadium because of health concerns. But Verizon, as it usually does ahead of the Super Bowl, said it has spent somewhere north of $80 million to upgrade its systems in and around Raymond James Stadium and the greater downtown Tampa area, not necessarily for this year but also for the big events expected in the near future at a venue known for hosting big events like the college football playoff championships and Wrestlemania.

“This is all being built for the next Super Bowl, or when the WWE [Wrestlemania] comes to town,” said Brian Mecum, vice president for device technology and sports partnerships for Verizon, in a phone interview. For the reduced crowd fortunate enough to be at Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, and for all the big crowds that will soon (we hope) be able to attend future events, Verizon has put in place a renovated DAS as well as a “robust” 5G millimeter wave deployment that will bring the next level of wireless connectivity to cellular customers across the board.

Verizon said it has also installed 281 small cell antennas to provide permanent extended cellular coverage around town, both in and around Raymond James Stadium as well as in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Riverwalk, and in nearby Ybor City.

All carriers are on the new DAS

While he would not reveal an exact count of the number of antennas or remotes in the new stadium DAS infrastructure, Mecum was able to confirm that all three major U.S. cellular carriers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — will be participating in using and paying for the DAS, meaning that customers of any of the aforementioned providers will be able to take advantage of new deployments, including some new under-seat antenna enclosures.

“It’s not good for the public if people are boxed out,” said Mecum, praising the “good relationship” between the carriers around the stadium DAS.

Verizon customers, however, will have the added advantage of being able to connect to 5G services at Raymond James Stadium, if they have an advanced handset that supports the company’s 5G signals. While there aren’t really any applications that can only be used on 5G, Mecum did say that 5G connections are “about 25 times faster than 4G,” so overall a user experience on 5G should be better.

Like in many other NFL stadiums, at Raymond James Stadium Verizon also does have an autoconnect feature that will switch Verizon customers over to the venue’s Wi-Fi network if their devices have their Wi-Fi radios active. But Mecum did suggest that Verizon customers at the game who have 5G-capable phones may want to turn Wi-Fi off at the event, to take advantage of the 5G connectivity.

“We do have Wi-Fi authentication [at Raymond James Stadium] but I would say stay on 5G if you can,” Mecum said.

MatSing antennas and upgraded Wi-Fi

We are still waiting to hear back from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about improvements made to the venue’s Wi-Fi network, and will provide details when we receive them. We also have seen several recent photos of the stadium showing deployments of a few MatSing lens antennas, something we’ve seen at several recent Super Bowls where MatSings are used to provide direct connectivity to sidelines, typically for media and photography bandwidth.

New Report: AT&T Stadium rewrites the DAS playbook

Stadium Tech Report is pleased to announce our Winter 2021 issue, with an in-depth profile of the new, groundbreaking distributed antenna system (DAS) recently installed at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. With its super-dense deployment of approximately 670 network zones and use of cutting-edge MatSing Lens antennas, the new cellular network is designed to handle the biggest demands from the largest crowds at what is probably the busiest football-sized arena anywhere.

We are also debuting some of our new, expanded areas of content coverage, with an in-depth look at how a converged compute infrastructure can help venues recover leaseable space and reduce operating expenses. Also look for our inaugural “Design Vision” interview, where we talk to Chris Williams, president of WJHW, to get his insights on stadium design and on two of his company’s recent projects, SoFi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium.

Also, please make sure you read my “letter from the editor” at the start of this issue, as it describes the business and strategic changes taking place here at Stadium Tech Report.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, American Tower, CommScope, AmpThink, ExteNet Systems and Ventev. 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.

READ THE REPORT NOW, no email or registration required!

Converged innovation: SoFi Stadium’s networks break new ground

SoFi Stadium’s integrated technology is designed to elevate the fan experience at all levels. Credit: Jeff Lewis/LA Rams

When you spend more than $5 billion building a revolutionary-looking new sports and entertainment venue, it’s a good bet that the technology found inside is the best that can be found.

What’s truly innovative at the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles is not just the quality and functionality of the technology’s pieces and parts, but also the venue’s embrace of a converged network design, where all network-attached devices connect to a single Cisco Catalyst-based network.

Led by Skarpi Hedinsson, chief technology officer, SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, and master technology integrator AmpThink, the networking and compute environment deployed inside the building (as well as in Hollywood Park’s neighboring retail, commercial and residential area) is unlike most large venues, where different systems typically exist in their own silos, often with their own separate and different network.

Instead, the SoFi Stadium network brings all building functionality – including the wireless networks (among the largest built anywhere), the server compute platform, the telephone system, the IPTV network, the indoor and outdoor digital signage (including the massive oval dual-sided 4K main videoboard), the television broadcast systems, and the building management systems – into one converged platform, with a single vendor/single format structure.

“What we delivered is a scalable platform that simplifies Day 2 operations on Day 1,” said AmpThink president Bill Anderson.

Over the coming months, Stadium Tech Report plans to do deep technical dives on each segment of the stadium’s different technology deployments. Consider this story a sort of “executive summary” that will attempt to at the very least introduce all the technology elements that are part of the stunning new venue, which hosted its first NFL games for both stadium tenants, the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers, in early September.

Converged network a revolution for stadiums

Editor’s note: This story is from our recent STADIUM TECH REPORT Fall 2020 issue, which you can read right now, no email or registration required! Also in this issue is a profile of the technology behind Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. START READING NOW!

If the stunning architecture of SoFi Stadium and its innovative elements like the oval, dual-sided videoboard represent the realization of Rams owner and Hollywood Park developer Stan Kroenke’s “art of the possible,” then the converged network and its interlocking technologies perhaps represent “the art of the practical,” at a scale somewhat unprecedented inside a large public venue.

If you poke your head inside older sports venues, you are most likely to see separate networks and operation centers for many of the different systems – wireless, wired networks, broadcast, and building operations. Historically the case has been made that those who know those systems best are responsible for building their operations – but the silo approach often brings headaches to those in charge of overall operations for the venue as a whole, as they deal with the proliferation of different systems to operate and manage.

Digital technologies helps SoFi Stadium be able to rebrand for each of its two “home” teams. Credit: Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Chargers

AmpThink, which has deployed networks in more than 70 venues across the country, pioneered the idea of a single, converged stadium network when it built the prototype at the 14,000-seat Dickies Arena last year. But the size and scope of the converged network project at SoFi Stadium – which will hold 70,000 fans for NFL games and up to 100,000 for special events like the Super Bowl – was much larger. Still, according to AmpThink’s Anderson, the planned outcome was the same: to deliver the best outcome for the customer.

“It all works together, because it’s designed to work together,” said Anderson. “Instead of fighting to see if one switch works with another, you can focus on the business.”

With 120 separate remote telecommunications rooms – including some hardened for hot weather conditions in the outside areas of Hollywood Park – the SoFi Stadium converged network is designed to present a “single pane of glass” management structure, where there are no “islands” requiring special attention.

Even the live video production system, usually a completely separate entity, is run on a connected Cisco Nexus switched environment. Every telecommunications closet or cabinet is directly connected via fiber to the campus core. According to AmpThink, all the telecom rooms have edge switches that use 25 Gbps optics and a minimum of two connections per closet/cabinet to provide an aggregate of 50 Gbps of campus interconnectivity.

The blanket of Wi-Fi and cellular coverage

On the Wi-Fi side, the SoFi Stadium network is the biggest AmpThink has built in a stadium, with approximately 2,400 APs inside the venue and another 300 in the surrounding Hollywood Park area. For the full Wi-Fi 6 Cisco deployment, AmpThink used an under-seat deployment in the main bowl. Before expanding to include full stadium technology integration, AmpThink made its name in successful big-venue Wi-Fi network design and deployment, with networks built most recently at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and last year at Ohio State and Oklahoma University, the first two large-stadium networks to move exclusively to the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

An outside view of the stadium. Credit: SoFi Stadium/LA Rams

In a commitment to offering the best possible connectivity to consumer devices no matter which network they use, the Wi-Fi and cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) at SoFi Stadium were both designed to each provide 100 percent venue coverage. The DAS, designed and deployed by DAS Group Professionals using gear from JMA Wireless, is the largest ever deployed. According to Hedinsson, the network has 2,400 antennas and 3,200 remotes, and is capable of covering all licensed spectrum bands between 600 MHz to 6 GHz.

As cellular carriers move toward the 5G future, the DAS is capable of supporting all the low- and mid-band spectrum currently planned for use. According to Hedinsson, there will also be millimeter-wave 5G services in the stadium, from a carrier to be named later. The stadium networks are supported by 50 Gbps backbone links.

Bringing data center strategies to the stadium

While hyper-convergence of server use is common in the data center space, that has traditionally not been the case in sports and entertainment venue operations. But the eventual compute network built for SoFi Stadium’s operations even surprised AmpThink’s Anderson, whose company originally estimated a compute environment with perhaps 20 to 30 virtual machines.

As it stands now, Anderson said the compute environment has almost 100 VMs, which host applications for all the network operations as well as varied building management needs like power, light, HVAC, security, and even specialized systems like irrigation and seismic monitoring. Instead of a mix of servers running siloed applications on separate physical machines with different operating systems, the SoFi Stadium compute environment is a unified platform and includes a seamless integration into Google Cloud, allowing it to be easily scaled to meet current and future needs.

A digital stadium with displays big and small

Any discussion of digital displays at SoFi Stadium has to start with the main videoboard, a one-of-a-kind design of a 120-foot long oval that circles the playing field, with dual-sided 4K screens, some 40 feet in height. (Please see our detailed profile of the main videoboard in our recent Venue Display Report.)

The digital display footprint goes far beyond the main screen, with some 2,600 other smaller boards deployed throughout the venue and in Hollywood Park. According to Hedinsson, the ability of the Cisco Vision display management system is a key part of the “digital stadium” design, especially when you consider that the venue has two main tenants, each with their own branding and look and feel.

“Being digital means we can switch over the branding [by changing displays] instead of physically having to move signs,” said Hedinsson. “That’s why we have Cisco Vision. We have digital ‘playbooks’ for the different scenarios, and we can just push them out as needed.”

Innovation and experience leads the technology deployment at Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium

Allegiant Stadium reflecting the evening sky in Las Vegas. Credit: Matt Aguirre/Las Vegas Raiders (click on any photo for a larger image)

If it looks somewhat like a spaceship, perhaps that’s appropriate since the arrival of Allegiant Stadium has brought to Las Vegas something alien that residents thought they might never see: live NFL games, happening just off the city’s famed Strip.

As befits its futuristic appearance, the new home of the newly named Las Vegas Raiders is also fitted with the latest in fan-facing technologies, deployments that will have to wait a bit before their potential can be realized.

Though the $1.9-billion, 65,000-seat stadium “officially” opened on Sept. 21 with a 34-24 Raiders victory over the New Orleans Saints, a decision made by the team earlier in the year meant that no fans were on hand to witness the occasion. But when fans are allowed to enter the building, they will be treated to what should be among the best game-day technical experiences anywhere, as a combination of innovation and expertise has permeated the venue’s deployments of wireless and video technologies.

With a Wi-Fi 6 network using equipment from Cisco, and an extensive cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) deployment by DAS Group Professionals using gear from JMA Wireless and MatSing, integrated fiber, copper and cable infrastructure from CommScope, backbone services from Cox Business/Hospitality Network, digital displays from Samsung, and design and converged network planning directed by AmpThink, the Raiders have used an all-star team of partners to reach the organization’s desire to provide what Raiders’ vice president of IT Matt Pasco calls “a top-notch fan experience.”

Finally getting to build a stadium network

Editor’s note: This story is from our recent STADIUM TECH REPORT Fall 2020 issue, which you can read right now, no email or registration required! Also in this issue is a profile of the technology behind SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. START READING NOW!

For Pasco, who is in his 19th year with the Silver and Black, the entity that became Allegiant Stadium was the realization of something he’d never had: A stadium network to call his own.

From 1995 until the end of last season, the then-Oakland Raiders played home games in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, where they were tenants and shared the building with MLB’s Oakland Athletics.

According to Pasco, since the Raiders didn’t have the ability to direct capital improvements, “we never got to build a sufficient DAS, and we never got to have sufficient Wi-Fi for all our fans.”

MatSing Lens antennas look down from the catwalk. Credit: Matt Aguirre/Las Vegas Raiders

Fast-forward to the plans that eventually took shape with the move of the team to Las Vegas, and for a change Pasco was able to start thinking about what that meant from a technology perspective. With his long tenure and relationships around the league, Pasco said he embarked on a several years-long “stadiums tour” of accompanying the team for road games, looking at what other teams had done at their venues.

“I kept a big notebook on what I liked, and what didn’t seem to work,” Pasco said. “I sat down with a lot of my counterparts and talked about what worked well, and what they had to spend time with. So I got a really good sense of what was possible.”

Wi-Fi 6 arrives just in time

One fortunate event for Allegiant Stadium’s wireless deployment was the 2019 arrival of equipment that supported the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax. With its ability to support more connections, higher bandwidth and better power consumption for devices, Wi-Fi 6 is a great technology to start off with, Pasco said.

“We were very fortunate that Wi-Fi 6 was released just in time [to be deployed at Allegiant Stadium],” Pasco said. “The strength of 802.11ax will pay off in a highly dense stadium with big crowds.”

The Raiders’ choice of Cisco as a Wi-Fi provider wasn’t a complete given, even though Pasco said that the team has long been “a Cisco shop” for not just Wi-Fi but for core networking, IPTV and phones.

“We did look at Extreme [for the new build] but Cisco just has so many pieces of the stack,” Pasco said. “Things like inconsistencies between switch maker A and IPTV vendor B are a little less likely to happen. And they’ve done good things in so many buildings.”

Pasco also praised the Wi-Fi network design and deployment skills of technology integrator AmpThink, which used an under-seat deployment design for Wi-Fi APs in the main seating bowl. Overall, there are approximately 1,700 APs total throughout the venue.

“I am thrilled with the work AmpThink has done,” said Pasco, who admitted that as a network engineer, he had “never done” a full stadium design before.

“They [AmpThink] have built networks at more than 70 venues, so they came highly recommended,” Pasco said. “And meeting their leadership early on sold me pretty quickly.”

Part of what AmpThink brought to the stadium was a converged network design, where every connected device is part of the same network.

Innovation abounds in the DAS

If the Wi-Fi world is already moving forward with general availability of Wi-Fi 6 gear, the cellular side of the equation is in a much different place as carriers contemplate how to best move forward with their latest standard, 5G.

For venues currently adding or upgrading a DAS, the 5G question looms large. One of the hardest things about planning for 5G is that the main U.S. cellular carriers will all have different spectrum bands in use, making it hard to deploy a single “neutral host” DAS to support all the providers. Currently, all previous 5G deployments in stadiums have been single-carrier builds – but that won’t be the case in Allegiant Stadium, thanks to some new gear from JMA.

JMA DAS gear in the roof structure. Credit: Matt Aguirre/Las Vegas Raiders

Steve Dutto, president of DGP – which used JMA gear at many of its other stadium DAS installations, including the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and most recently at the Texas Rangers’ new home, Globe Life Field – said the DAS deployed at Allegiant Stadium “is like no other” NFL-venue cellular network.

“By selecting JMA DAS equipment we were able to deploy a [5G standard] NR radio capable system from day one,” Dutto said. “This means that all carriers can deploy 5G low- and mid-band technology without any additional cost or changes to the DAS system.”

According to Dutto and JMA, the JMA TEKO DAS antennas cover all major licensed spectrum used, from 600MHz to 2500 MHz. and will provide ubiquitous coverage over the entire stadium.

“Carriers will be able to deploy their 4G technologies along with their low- and mid-band 5G technology over all of the stadium coverage area,” Dutto said. “No upgrades will be required. All carriers will need to do is provide their base radios in the headend.”

According to Todd Landry, corporate vice president, product and market strategy at JMA, the TEKO gear used at Allegiant Stadium “employs an industry unique nine-band split architecture, placing lower frequency bands in different radios than higher frequency bands.” This approach, Landry said, lets the stadium “optimize the density of higher band cells versus lower bands” while also reducing the total number of radios needed for low bands by half.

Landry said the JMA gear also has integrated support for the public safety FirstNet spectrum band, and is software programmable, allowing venue staff to “turn on” capabilities per carrier as needed, eliminating on-site visits to install additional radios or radio modules. According to DGP the DAS has 75 high-band zones and 44 low-band zones in the main seating bowl, with a total of 117 high- band and 86 low-band zones throughout the venue.

Adding in the MatSing antennas from above

One twist in the DAS buildout was the addition of 30 MatSing lens antennas to the cellular mix, a technology solution to potential coverage issues in some hard-to-reach areas of the seating bowl. According to Pasco the Raiders were trying to solve for a typical DAS issue – namely, how to best cover the premium seats closest to the field, which are the hardest to reach with a traditional top-down DAS antenna deployment.

“We looked at a hybrid approach, to use under-seat [DAS] antennas for the first 15 or 20 rows, but the cost was astronomical,” Pasco said. “We also heard that [an underseat deployment] may not have performed as well as we wanted.”

The roof structure provided a perfect mounting place for the MatSing Lens antennas. Credit: Matt Aguirre/Las Vegas Raiders

The MatSing antennas, which are ball-shaped and support greater distance between antenna and end-device, were already designed for use in the Allegiant Stadium “Peristyle” gathering area, where there is a large open space where fans are expected to gather – with a large top-down distance between the area and the struc- tures where antennas are mounted.

“I had heard about the full MatSing deployment at Amalie [Arena] and wondered if we could do that,” said Pasco. Fortunately for the Raiders, the architecture of the stadium, with a high ring supporting the transparent roof, turned out to be a perfect place to mount MatSing antennas, which use line-of-sight transmission to precisely target broadcast areas. For Pasco, a move toward more MatSings was a triple-play win, since it removed the need for other antennas from walkways and overhangs, was less costly than an under-seat network, and should prove to have better performance, if network models are correct.

“It is the perfect marriage of cost reduction, better performance and aesthetics,” said Pasco of the MatSing deployment. “We even painted them black, like little Black Holes,” Pasco said. “It’s one of the most innovative decisions we made.”

“We are excited to be part of the Allegiant Stadium network,” said MatSing CEO Bo Larsson. “It is a great venue to show the capability of MatSing Lens antennas.”

Supporting wireless takes a lot of wires

Behind all the wireless antenna technology in Allegiant Stadium – as well as behind the IPTV, security cameras and other communications needs – sits some 227 miles of optical fiber and another 1.5 million feet of copper cable, provided by CommScope.

A good balance of the 100 Gbps fiber connections are used to support the stadium’s DAS network, with the capacity built not just for current needs but for expected future demands as well. According to CommScope senior field applications engineer Greg Hinders the “spider web of single-mode fiber” includes multiple runs of 864-strand links, which break out in all directions to support all the networking needs.

For the cable connections to the Wi-Fi gear, CommScope’s design went with Cat 6A cable, which has double the capabilities and a longer reach than standard Cat 6.

“The new APs really require it [Cat 6A] so we went standard with Cat 6A throughout the building,” Hinders said.

A view from the stands. Credit: Michael Clemens/Las Vegas Raiders

And if the job wasn’t tough enough – limited construction space at the stadium required that CommScope and its distribution partner Anixter had to stage its network in an offsite warehouse – CommScope also had to make sure that exposed wiring was colored silver and black to match the stadium design and the team’s colors.

While single-mode fiber is usually colored yellow, Hinders is enough of a football fan to know that Pittsburgh Steelers colors wouldn’t fly in the Raiders’ home.

“It all had to be black and grey,” said Hinders. “Black and yellow isn’t good for the Raiders.”

The MatSing antennas also posed a challenge for CommScope, since each MatSing antenna requires 48 individual connections for all the radios in each device.

“It was [another] logistical challenge,” said Hinders. “But it was great to see [the entire network] all come to fruition. It’s nice to know we had a part in putting it all together.”

Providing enough backbone bandwidth

To ensure that Allegiant Stadium had enough backbone bandwidth to support all its communications needs, the Raiders turned to Cox Business/Hospitality Network, a partner with considerable telecom assets in the Las Vegas area.

Jady West, vice president of hospitality for Cox, noted that not only does Cox have experience in providing data services to high-demand venues (including State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which routinely hosts big college games and the Super Bowl), it also has a wealth of resources in and around Las Vegas, providing services to the big casino hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center.

With a 100 Gbps regional network, West said Cox is able to bring “quite a bit of power and flexibility” to the equation. Having supplied services to big events like CES at the LVCC, West said, “takes a specialized skill, and that’s what my team does. This is what we do.”

Display technology and POS gear at a concourse lounge. Credit: Dan Grimsley/AmpThink

Specifically for the Raiders, Cox built two 40-Gbps redundant pipes just to serve the needs of Allegiant Stadium. Additionally, Cox built a 10 Gbps metro Ethernet link between the stadium and the team’s headquarters and practice facility in nearby Henderson, Nev., a connection that Pasco said would be essential for stadium operations as well as the on-field football business.

“Both the video production staff and the football staff can now push information back and forth like we’re in the same building,” said Pasco, who gave high praise to Cox’s work. From a production side, crews at headquarters can create content for videoboards and displays, and have it at the stadium instantaneously; similarly, video from the stadium’s field of play or from practices can be shared back and forth as needed, in a private and real-time fashion.

West said Cox, which also provides game-day network support and a “NOC as a service” solution, knows that the data demands of the big-time events that will likely be held at Allegiant Stadium will only keep increasing, and it built its systems to support that growth.

“The most demanding events are things like CES, and NFL games,” West said. “This network is built for the future, to hold up for all those events.”

Videoboards to fit the design

Last but certainly not least in the technology arsenal at Allegiant Stadium are the Samsung videoboards. Above the south end zone, the largest board measures approximately 250 feet long by 49 feet high, according to Pasco. Two identical sized boards of 49 feet by 122 feet are in the corners of the north end zone. Including ribbon boards, Pasco said there is a total of 40,000 square feet of LED lights inside the seating bowl.

On the stadium’s exterior there is another large videoboard, a 275-foot mesh LED screen that fits in perfectly with the bright lights of the city’s famed Strip. Inside, the venue will also have approximately 2,400 TV screens for information and concessions, with all the systems controlled by the Cisco Vision display management system.