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

New Report: Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium profile, Wrigley Wi-Fi and more!

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Fall 2018 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 string of historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments continues with reports from large collegiate football stadiums, a new basketball arena, an old baseball stadium and a soccer stadium hosting NFL games! Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:
— A full in-depth profile of the Wi-Fi network at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, where network crews overcame challenges posed by historic architecture to bring connectivity to 90,000 fans;
— A ‘sneak peek’ inside Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks (and Marquette University);
Wrigley Field Wi-Fi: An in-person tour of the new Wi-Fi network being rolled out by Extreme Networks and the Cubs;
— StubHub Center DAS: An in-depth profile with in-person testing of the DAS at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, temporary home of the NFL’s LA Chargers.

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, Huber+Suhner, Cox Business, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, and Neutral Connect Networks. 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.

More MatSing antennas for Amalie Arena

MatSing ball antennas seen behind championship banners at Amalie Arena. Credit all photos: MatSing (click on any photo for a larger image)

You may remember our profile from our current STADIUM TECH REPORT issue where we talked about MatSing antennas being deployed at Amalie Arena? Time for a quick update — instead of using just 20 of the big ball-shaped antennas for the new DAS, Amalie will instead have 52 MatSing antennas installed when all is said and done — a deployment that will be interesting to watch when it goes live later this fall.

Thanks to MatSing folks for the accompanying photos here of the MatSing antennas being deployed in Amalie, painted a nice shade of gray to blend in with the rooftop infrastructure. Fans may not know what the big ball shaped things are, but their cellular coverage should be good in the new AT&T-installed DAS.

Where else will we see MatSings being deployed? Independently Mobile Sports Report has learned that one integrator plans to purchase and use MatSing antennas in two arenas, one an NBA venue and the other a small-college stadium. Since the deals aren’t done we can’t name names yet but it will be interesting to watch where else MatSings end up.

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

Lots of MatSings up in the rafters at Amalie Arena

MatSings are ready for their close-up

Lots of coverage coming from up above

Paint job helps MatSings blend in

First Look: Milwaukee has a gem in Fiserv Forum

The front of Fiserv Forum, with the new Milwaukee Bucks logo ready for fan selfies. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

With its first event scheduled for next week, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee’s shiny new basketball and concert arena, is definitely ready for the spotlight as a sneak-peek tour by Mobile Sports Report this past week revealed a state-of-the-art stadium with great technology and pleasing aesthetic touches that should wow fans of pro and college basketball, concerts and other events for years to come.

While MSR plans to circle back soon for some more in-depth reporting and live testing of the stadium’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks, and closer looks at the digital displays in action, our short tour of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new home made it clear that the designers and builders of Fiserv Forum definitely learned from what others had done before them, and then advanced things in many areas.

Smart touches on the networking side like small Wi-Fi antennas in the railings and clever use of overhead Wi-Fi enclosures as seating signage show a dual commitment to getting the tech right while also paying attention to aesthetics, sometimes a challenge that falls short on one side or the other. Other interesting twists include an array of TV screens and other displays underneath the main large video board, so that fans in courtside seats have their own comfortable way to view replays and other information.

Railing Wi-Fi antenna enclosure in the lower bowl

The visual fan experience at Fiserv Forum starts, of course, with the stadium’s unique outside design, which either looks like a breaking wave or part of a beer barrel, depending on your view and sense of artistic license. The venue also uses architectural twists to provide an assortment of exciting views, with the top-level Panorama Club giving any ticket holder an eagle’s-eye view of the court as well as a spectacular view to downtown Milwaukee, courtesy of an outside deck.

Stay tuned for more MSR reporting on Fiserv Forum’s technology later this fall, including the Cisco Wi-Fi network with its 577 APs (most of which are the two-radio version) and Cisco Vision digital display deployment; cellular infrastructure from ExteNet and JMA; the LED banners and the huge Daktronics display; and live testing of the across-the-street beer garden scheduled to be open in time for Oktoberfest. Prosit and congrats to the Bucks and Fiserv. Some selected photos from our visit below (watch for more photos and more info in our upcoming Fall issue of the STADIUM TECH REPORT).

Artsy panoramic view of the front of Fiserv Forum

Inside the front door, the atrium soars up on both sides of the building

A full-court view from the Panorama Club (Marquette University will also use the stadium)

Looking up at the Panorama Club

The north side of the stadium, as seen from the attached parking structure

The section number sign doubles as a Wi-Fi AP enclosure

Construction continues on the next-door beer garden and entertainment area

View of the beer garden and entertainment area from the Panorama Club outside deck. The front two structures will house a brewpub and a Punch Bowl Social outlet

A look at the display (and wireless) technology mounted underneath the main video board

Concession displays

The Bradley Center, left, will soon be demolished, ceding the stage to Fiserv Forum

Fear the deer, but enjoy the beer

Verizon’s new DAS is in play at U.S. Open

A new DAS from Verizon is covering the grounds at the U.S. Open tennis championship this year.

Fans at this year’s U.S. Open tennis championship should have a solid swing at cellular connectivity, thanks to a new distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed by Verizon at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.

According to Verizon, the deployment was added to the U.S. Open facility during the past year, and includes coverage not only in and around the main playng facility — the 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium — but also among the numerous other courts and fan-gathering areas in the sprawling facility.

Mike Haberman, Verizon vice president of network support, said the venue’s DAS was “a little bit different” than a traditional stadium DAS since it was spread out among multiple buildings, like the smaller (14,000 seats) new Louis Armstrong Stadium and all the side courts. But with more than 20 sectors deployed, and 155 DAS antennas used, he said coverage is strong across the venue.

Previously, Haberman said Verizon used to cover the tournament with portable cellular antennas. But to meet the ever growing bandwidth demands of mobile device users, Verizon built a neutral-host system in the venue to provide more consistent coverage. Haberman said AT&T is also on the DAS at the tennis center.

LAFC scores technology hat trick at Banc of California Stadium

Banc of California Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Football Club. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

There’s an elegance to the advancing striker – the foot work, feints, arc of the kick – as they target the opponent’s goal. For the Los Angeles Football Club, that elegance gets reflected back in its newly christened home field, Banc of California Stadium, with its graceful lines and minimalist design, plus visibility and a connection to the field rivaling venues half its size.

LAFC, one of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion teams, had a particular sort of experience in mind for fans inside the venue, with its capacity of 22,000. The steeply pitched stands create an intimate sporting and entertainment space. Multiple clubs, suites and concession areas are there to satisfy food and beverage desires. Team owners were equally adamant about having top-notch technology, according to Christian Lau, vice president of information technology for LAFC, especially where wireless networking was concerned. The requirement was for “unprecedented coverage,” he added. “We wanted to avoid doing any retrofitting for at least five years.”

Opened in April, LAFC’s gleaming new stadium sits adjacent to the Los Angeles Coliseum (home to USC football, and to the NFL’s Rams, at least for now), replacing what used to be the Los Angeles Sports Arena. That structure was demolished in early 2016 and LAFC’s lengthy list of owners (Peter Guber, Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell and Mia Hamm, to name just a few of the sports and entertainment luminaries with a stake in the team) set the timer for April 29, 2018, LAFC’s first home game for its inaugural season.

Construction crews worked relentlessly to meet the deadline; the venue was ready one month early, thanks to good planning and construction crews putting in 16-hour days to be ready for BofC Stadium’s debut. On April 29, the gates opened and a new era had begun with the ‘hat trick’ of a fiber backbone, solid wireless coverage and an advanced app strategy.

The optics of LAFC networking

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 under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the new DAS at Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

No doubt where you are at. Welcome to LA… FC.

The foundation for LAFC’s networking is a gigabit passive optical network (GPON) backbone with two chassis, plus fiber links from two service providers, AT&T and Crown Castle. The stadium backbone is 10-Gbps fiber with 100-Gbps dark fiber in place, Lau explained. LAFC is one of just a few sporting venues using GPON, along with Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station. Perhaps not coincidentally, the technology contractor for all three projects was IBM.

Wi-Fi was an obvious requirement for BofC Stadium; back-of-the-house networks support ticketing processes at the gates, along with POS applications and LAFC administrative needs. Fan-facing Wi-Fi (“LAFC Guest”) blankets the venue with 487 access points; Lau’s leaving open the door to add more APs as requirements dictate. About 60 percent of the existing APs are installed under seats in the stands. Ruckus Networks is the Wi-Fi AP vendor and helped with system engineering and tuning.

While engineered for 70,000 users, the venue’s Wi-Fi has been averaging about 8,700 simultaneous users, according to Lau. The LAFC Guest network has no landing page since at some venues, loading times for landing pages can be long, leading to frustrated users abandoning the Wi-Fi. Users have also come to consider Wi-Fi a de facto amenity, so LAFC wanted to ensure its guest Wi-Fi network was easily and quickly accessible, Lau said.

The DAS details

On the cellular side, LAFC called on wireless services and engineering firm Mobilitie to pull together the distributed antenna system (DAS) for BofC Stadium. The venue’s DAS network consists of 25 zones powered by Ericsson gear; there are 160 antennas and over 7 miles of cabling to handle nearly 1.5 million square feet of DAS coverage.

Wireless gear covers the concessions areas

All four of the major wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – have signed up for BofC’s DAS network. Verizon was on air for the first game; Sprint was scheduled to fully integrate into the DAS network by the end of June, according to Stephanie Gray, senior director, wireless coverage solutions for Mobilitie.

LAFC was looking something transformative in its use of technology that would set BofC stadium apart from other stadiums, Gray told Mobile Sports Report. LAFC wanted seamless wireless especially in transition zones, part of strict requirements for the DAS network.

“They wanted a high percentage of coverage throughout the venue, particularly where people are using SeatGeek and wireless/paperless ticketing at the gates,” she explained. “We needed optimum coverage that could handle the stadium under load.”

Mobilitie brought engineering know-how to deal with the inevitable onsite quirks unique to every venue. In the case of BofC Stadium, the overall design aesthetic is modern and slick. The ceiling materials in many parts of the stadium – clubs, suites and some concession areas — are sheathed in metal, which presents an RF propagation challenge for RF, reducing signal strength.

On-field DAS coverage was also challenging, according to Jamie Witherspoon, director, technical solutions, for Mobilitie. Antennas had to be mounted on stadium trusses before the trusses were craned into place, an unusual technical cart-before-the-horse process. The reason? Cherry-picker equipment couldn’t be on the field or its freshly laid sod to adjust DAS antennas. In addition, Witherspoon reported lots of negotiations with the architecture firm, Gensler, to ensure the DAS antennas were as unobtrusive as possible and to preserve the stadium’s design aesthetic.

“With DAS, we’re more accustomed to building out a pre-existing venue, coming in after the fact,” Witherspoon explained. “This was brand new construction, so we had to work around multiple construction teams.”

Bandwidth snapshots

Mobile Sports Report put the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS to the test at BofC Stadium’s opening day, a match between LAFC and the Seattle Sounders. We sampled upload and download speeds around the stadium using the Speedtest app to measure performance. All our tests are only from Verizon’s services inside the venue.

Underseat mounts for Wi-Fi

In general, the BofC wireless services appear well engineered and cover the stadium’s common areas effectively. As to be expected, bandwidth performance was higher in the areas around the suites and clubs, where Wi-Fi downloads clocked in anywhere from 12.38 Mbps in the Sunset Loge on the west side of the stadium to 15.26 Mbps in the Founder’s Club. Wi-Fi upload speeds came in at 63.92 Mbps and 71.94 Mbps, respectively, the highest speeds measured in our tests at BofC Stadium.

Verizon’s DAS wasn’t as fast as the guest Wi-Fi. Highest DAS download speed at the south concessions was 37.67 Mbps; Section 123 on the southern side of the bowl came in at 35.43 Mbps. Highest upload speed for DAS service was 21.42 Mbps in the southeast concession area, followed by 20.92 Mbps around the southwest concessions.

A couple areas were less robust from a wireless bandwidth perspective. The DAS performance in the concession area outside the Figueroa Club on the east side of the stadium measured 9.4 Mbps download/10.97 Mbps upload; guest Wi-Fi in the west concessions area came in at 8.58 Mbps/1.93 Mbps, while Wi-Fi in the south concession wasn’t much better at 8.27 Mbps/1.98 Mbps. But generally, the guest Wi-Fi outperformed Verizon’s DAS and most Wi-Fi download/upload speeds were in the double-digits of megabits per second.

Prepping the LAFC app

LAFC worked with mobile integrator Venuetize to build out the team’s app, using the MLS team app template as its foundation. As a new team and one that started its season with a succession of away games, there was no reason to have stadium-based features in the app’s first iteration, said Lou Fontana, vice president of project management for Venuetize. The earliest iteration of the LAFC app concentrated more on content pieces, followed by the BofC Stadium-specific features.

LAFC’s app features both mobile ticketing and a sophisticated digital wallet for making onsite purchases for food or team merchandise. LAFC’s Lau volunteered that the organization is looking to have totally digital ticketing by 2019 – no paper, no PDFs to print out. Venuetize did some backend integration with payment processing partner Vantive; the ticketing part of the app works with ticket marketplace and aggregator SeatGeek.

Wi-Fi APs point down from the rafters

The LAFC app also uses and artificial intelligence-powered chatbot named Otto to help with stadium info, developed by Satis.fy. A future iteration of Otto will take it out of the Web’s view and make it a native view, incorporating elastic search. “That will enable fans to ask about players and the team schedule, and will replace search function in the app,” Fontana said, adding the upgrade could come sometime this summer.

The current version of the app has video, served up from MLS’s site. Immediate replay is something Venuetize will work on with LAFC. “When is the video content source available? That’s an issue,” Fontana said, adding that scoring plays make it out of the MLS server within about 25 minutes. While Venuetize could take that content and make it native, it’s not a top priority for the team at the moment.

BofC Stadium has installed Bluetooth beacon technology. “We haven’t gone through process of dialing in beacons, but wayfinding and navigation are on the list” for the LAFC app, Fontana said.

The integrator is also looking at GameChanger MVP, an augmented reality game developer, for a scoreboard game to fold in. “AR gaming will be the next interesting thing” for sports apps generally, according to Fontana.