Dickies Arena: Raising the fan experience to the highest level

The opening parade sets the rodeo tone at Dickies Arena. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Without a professional or major college sports team as a main tenant, it’s somewhat of a wonder that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, got built at all. But once you step inside and attend an event there, the wonder shifts to the sheer excellence that surrounds you, in what may be simply the best-built arena-sized venue, anywhere.

It might seem like a Texas-sized stretch to make such a claim, but any other basketball-sized stadium similar to 14,000-seat Dickies Arena would be hard pressed to top the amenities, infrastructure and operations installed inside the new gem of Fort Worth. While first and foremost the venue serves as home of the annual Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, a three-week-plus extravaganza that held its maiden run there earlier this year, when it’s safe to allow events to return Dickies Arena will also host concerts, ice shows and other sporting and non-sporting events, saving local folks from having to drive east to Dallas for a big-time experience.

But it’s opulence, comfort and service that will be the hallmarks of a Dickies Arena experience going forward, with those attributes far outweighing the convenience of just having a world-class venue in Fort Worth. During a visit by Mobile Sports Report during the middle of this year’s rodeo program (which ran 23 straight days from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8) we saw not just the visible attributes of perhaps the most polished finish of any arena ever, but also the underpinnings of important infrastructure assets like the wireless networks and video operations, and the intense level of attention to detail in food and beverage operations, all aimed at raising the fan experience to the highest level.

The opera house meets the rodeo

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is a recap of the record-breaking Wi-Fi usage at Super Bowl LIV, and a recap of a DIY Wi-Fi deployment at Rutgers University! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Fine dining is just one of the premium seating options at Dickies Arena. Credit; Paul Kapustka, MSR

When we last visited the under-construction Dickies Arena in the fall of 2019, the finishing touches weren’t in place yet, even though we could see hints of what it was shaping up to be. For our late-January visit for a night of rodeo, we got to see the finished product in all its glory, and all we can say is, it may be some time before another venue even approaches the level of cosmetic finish achieved at Dickies Arena.

To be sure, not many venue ownerships may have the financial resources or the certainty of what they want out of a finished product as the team behind the creation of Fort Worth’s newest centerpiece. If you’re not familiar with the Dickies Arena story, the arena is part of a public-private venture between the city of Fort Worth and a consortium of investors and donors led by local Fort Worth philanthropist Ed Bass. As the home of Fort Worth’s namesake rodeo, Dickies Arena is clearly meant to be that and so much more, cementing in place a building where people who know what they want got exactly what they wanted – and more.

While we didn’t get to speak with Bass directly, his presence is felt in all areas of operation of the facility, with multiple stories of his direct involvement in making sure the smallest of details were adhered to. Even a first-time visitor to the rodeo could see and feel the devotion of leaders like Bass to their signature hometown event, from his riding a horse at the front of the event-opening parade to his video-board cameos of slapping bundles of cash into the hands of the event winners as the night progressed.

Behind the scenes, we heard stories about how Bass and the leadership team wanted very specific things done cosmetically – like making sure that no antennas for either the Wi-Fi or DAS networks were visible in any of the main public areas. To meet that challenge, main technical integrator AmpThink had to go outside the norm to design (and in some cases, custom-build) enclosures to hide the gear. Walking through the main concourses and seating areas, the only hint that wireless equipment might be overhead was the outline of flush-mounted panels, a design theme that even carried out to outside-wall mounting areas in the plaza areas around the arena’s exteriors.

Once inside Dickies Arena, visitors may feel like they are in somewhere more like an opera house than a multi-purpose venue (which on this night had a “playing floor” of some finely raked dirt). Floors of decorative tiles are underfoot, and railings on the staircases enclose sculptures of a distinctive local grass plant. That same design is reflected on the plates used in one of the premium seating areas, where the dining choices include a sit-down, white-tablecloth experience that looks like a four-star steakhouse inserted into the concourse.

A rafter deployment of DAS and Wi-Fi gear. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Bill Shaw, the assistant general manager for Dickies Arena, was courteous enough to give us a directed tour of the venue before the night’s activities, pointing out things we might have noticed but not really realized, like the different tones and types of wood used for paneling, which changed as you moved from a higher premium seating area to a more general admission space. In the suites, Shaw showed us some especially comfy leather stadium chairs, which he said were the end result of a long process of determination to find out the best way to pad and tan the chair’s components.

Even the construction of the wheeled chairs in the loge box where we were the guest of AmpThink for the night were subject to scrutiny by Mr. Bass, we were told, with a story about him using tape measures to ensure the seat width was correct, and discussions about having the proper types of armrests that wouldn’t inadvertently snag the handles of a handbag.

“Mr. Bass spent a lot of time on all of that,” said Shaw. “His fingerprints are everywhere.”

To be sure, the somewhat unique ownership structure and the recurring revenue from the rodeo – which has sold-out status for all the premium seating spaces thanks to the families who have been supporting the event for generations – means in part that Dickies Arena doesn’t have to saturate its public spaces with advertising. While its digital display arsenal includes striking elements like curved LED screens from LG and menu boards and other displays running the Cisco Vision dynamic signage system, Dickies Arena only has a small number of partner-sponsors whose messages run somewhat discreetly compared to other arenas that may have more need to have a higher number of displays and advertisements.

The layout of the arena in general also takes its cue from how the premium seating space is used for the rodeo. Instead of a normal sort of top-down arena seating with “courtside” seats being the most desired, the wide space needed for rodeo events and the family atmosphere (most premium packages, according to Shaw, are bought by families and not corporations) means that there are “boxes” of seats ringing the lower bowl, with a wide walkway behind them to facilitate the meeting and greeting (and the seeing and being-seen) that is part of the rodeo culture. Thanks to some very clever architecture and movable stands technology, the mid-bowl walkway can disappear for events like concerts and other sporting situations like basketball; but good luck trying to figure out how that works by walking by the stands, since all the moving parts are, of course, hidden from view.

While a ring of suites provides another premium seating option a bit higher up, at either end of the venue are two more unique gathering areas, with belly-up bars that stretch almost the full width of the space, providing a place for the premium box-seat patrons to mingle while still having a clear view of whatever action is taking place. Shaw noted that at one end of the arena the seating can collapse back to almost a straight line, providing ample space for concert stages that also gives Dickies Arena a concert-seating total that Shaw said is comparable to American Airlines Center in Dallas, which seats 20,000 for NBA and NHL games.

Then there are some more touches you can’t see, like the bass-sound traps installed in the roof area to improve acoustics – and those you can see, like the soaring rooftop that is meant to mimic the open sky of Texas. As more fans attend different events scheduled in the future they are no doubt going to be impressed and perhaps surprised by the “opera house” where boots and Stetsons are the local fashion of choice.

Well wired for wireless

In our early fall visit to Dickies Arena we detailed the single, converged fiber network that supports all network operations, including the cellular DAS, the arena Wi-Fi and the IPTV operations, in an orderly, future-proofed way.

Built by AmpThink for the arena, the network is a departure from what has long been the norm in venue IT deployments, where multiple service providers typically build their own networks, with multiple cabling systems competing for conduit space. At Dickies Arena, AmpThink was able to control the fiber systems to follow a single, specific path, allowing the company to save costs and space for the client while building out a system with enough extra capacity to handle future needs for bandwidth, according to AmpThink.

According to AmpThink president Bill Anderson, one of those future needs became necessary this past fall, when Verizon wanted to bring its 5G millimeter-wave services as a late addition to the arena. To support the four 5G antennas that are now mounted up in the catwalk, Anderson said AmpThink was able to just allocate some of the spare optical fiber it has in place throughout the building, making it possible to bring in the service “in a very affordable way.”

In addition to the numerous custom enclosures used throughout the venue, Anderson said AmpThink also designed a pre-fabricated combination Wi-Fi and DAS antenna unit design that it could then hoist up into the rafters in a single pull. By having the green light to lead and innovate, AmpThink was able to develop and learn things it will draw on well into the future, Anderson said. “This is really our master class [on stadium network design],” Anderson said.

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure. Credit: Dickies Arena

Since we spent most of our January time at the venue touring the spaces and talking to different representatives, we didn’t have that much time for network speed tests but the ones we did get showed the typical strong performances of an AmpThink-built network. On one of the concourses behind the suite levels we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 67.0 Mbps on the download side and 65.0 Mbps on the upload.

Up at the highest level of seating, which is served from the rafter-mounted APs, we got a speedtest of 28.3 Mbps / 39.5 Mbps, during the night’s final event.

Though we didn’t get down there for a speedtest, the lower-bowl seats are served by under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures. According to Anderson there are approximately 550 Cisco Wi-Fi APs used throughout the venue, all of which are now the latest versions supporting the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. The DAS, which is overseen by ExteNet Systems, uses the Corning ONE DAS hardware system with approximately 258 active antennas in 11 zones for the DAS.

Keeping video and food and beverage operations in-house

Having never been to a live rodeo event before, Mobile Sports Report was somewhat in awe of the video production inside the arena, with multiple camera angles repeatedly in use on the large-screen centerhung videoboard. With no pauses, halftimes or timeouts, action was constant, and reflected as such on the main video screens.

We are simply going to have to revisit the arena for a more in-depth exploration of the video production operation itself, which is run entirely by the Dickies Arena team and even provides live feeds itself to cable channels covering rodeo. One of the more innovative twists inside the building is a concourse-level fan booth, where a large interactive video board can serve up multiple instant replays of rodeo action by clicking and dragging screenshots to the main display area.

The three-plus weeks of back to back rodeo action was somewhat of a stress test for the video crew, since almost every night there were different types of competitions (for instance, the night we attended there was a team competition, with scores from multiple events tabulated into a final team score) requiring custom programs to populate the video board displays. According to the video team there were no fewer than seven different scoring programs in play each night, but they were able to coordinate the results so quickly that they actually had to introduce a time delay into the reporting from judges to the video screens, so that the announcers could add some drama to their live play-by-play.

On the food and beverage side of operations, the do-it-ourselves theory of Dickies Arena meant that the arena controls all aspects of F&B operations, instead of contracting much of the work to a third-party caterer.

Families are a big part of the rodeo crowd. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Julie Margolin, director of food and beverage operations at Dickies Arena, said it starts with little things, like not having to live with a certain brand of hot dog because that is the brand a caterer carries. But then it expands into what is possible, and why you would try to do things like provide in-seat delivery service to 4,000 premium seats while also balancing the F&B needs for a diverse operation that includes white-tablecloth dining, suite operations, high-end bar areas, and mobile point-of-sale to support cotton-candy sales on the concourses.

“We do everything we can to make sure every experience is the best,” said Margolin. “That’s a task not a lot of people are willing to take on.”

But Margolin, who previously held a similar title at the Honda Center in Los Angeles, is like other top performers who found the opportunity and challenge presented by Dickies Arena too good to pass up.

“This building is very different than others in the industry,” said Margolin, citing the close working atmosphere that rapidly built between operations and construction and information technology teams as the building opened late in 2019 ahead of the real debut, the rodeo season.

“If something needed fixing, nobody went home until it was done,” Margolin said. And while like others she’s always looking for ways to improve, Margolin said the whole idea of a venue owning and operating its own F&B was an exciting challenge.

“If you go with someone else’s [catering] model, you’re serving two masters,” Margolin said. But trying to meld numerous different types of fan experience operations, she said, is a challenge worth pursuing.

“If you stick with the status quo, you’re going backwards,” she said.

Dickies Arena: As good as it gets?

Standing outside the arena on a clear-sky night, from one of the outdoor plazas, fans have a pleasing view back toward the lighted buildings of downtown Fort Worth. Legend has it that Ed Bass purchased the land Dickies Arena sits on more than three decades ago, with the vision that someday he would help build an arena with that signature view back toward downtown. Now that that dream is reality, the sky’s the limit for what Dickies Arena future may be.

Though the coronavirus has effectively put all arena schedules somewhat on hold, prior to the outbreak Dickies Arena had already announced future bookings for big-name concert acts as well as family events like Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil and even the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Clearly, the events market will make use of a venue of Dickies Arena’s size and stature.

According to Shaw, patrons with rodeo season tickets get first dibs on other events, but it’s a good bet that the diversity of action inside the Dickies Arena walls will mean that a wide number of fans will be able to experience the wide range of seating options available. But even those attending on the least-expensive tickets will still be able to experience the overall quality of all aspects of the arena, which will be hard for other venues to match.


A panoramic view of the Dickies Arena seating bowl. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR


A sunny-day view of the arena’s exterior. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR

MSR Behind the profiles: 2019 Final Four, part 2

On the press bus to the stadium for the semifinals. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Over the course of the last year, I’ve had several requests from readers to shed more light on what goes on “behind the scenes” on my various stadium visits. Here’s the first in a planned series I’m calling “Behind the profiles,” giving you some flavor of the fun and interesting things and people I experience on my trips to check out stadium technology deployments. In honor of the basketball tournaments we are all now missing, here is my “trip diary” from my visit last year to Minneapolis to see how U.S. Bank Stadium’s Wi-Fi networks held up under the big-game stress — along with some other interesting side trips! Please let me know if you find these interesting or fun to read and I will write some more… 2019 was a true banner year for MSR visits!

(If you need to catch up, here is part 1 of this missive)

Sunday, April 7: Geeking out on Wi-Fi 6

If Saturday had been all about walking around, my Final Four Sunday was all about staying in. But the day of relative inaction on the basketball court played right into my strategy for the weekend, which was: Find a way to maximize my four days in Minneapolis to get the most work done possible.

Sunday, that meant I was all in with the AmpThink team, basically on two levels. One, I wanted to get a real in-depth look at the temporary Wi-Fi network the company had installed at U.S. Bank Stadium to cover the seats that weren’t part of the stadium’s usual football configuration. For the Final Four, that mean extra seats along the courtside “sidelines” that actually were erected over the lower-bowl football seats and then extended out to the edge of the hardwood floor, as well as all the temporary seats in each end zone that stretched the same way out to the basketball court.

An AmpThink under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at the Final Four.

After a “team breakfast” at a great breakfast-diner kind of place the AmpThink team and I got inside the arena in a break between practices (you are not allowed near the court when practices are going on) and I got an up-close look at how AmpThink stretched the network from the football configuration out to the temporary Final Four floor. Though AmpThink covered most of the bowl seating at U.S. Bank Stadium with innovative railing-mounted antenna enclosures (which Verizon copied when it added DAS capacity ahead of Super Bowl 52, which was held in the stadium the year before), for the temporary seating AmpThink went with an under-seat design, with AP boxes located under the folding chairs and switches located underneath the risers.

The temporary network, as it turned out, worked very well, but the funniest story to come out of the deployment was one of theft — after Saturday’s games the network analysis showed one of the APs offline. Further exploration by the AmpThink team found that the AP itself was no longer around — some net-head fan had apparently discovered that the under-seat enclosures were not secured, and for some reason thought that a Cisco Wi-Fi AP would make for a fine Final Four gift to take home. My guess is that future temporary networks might see some zip-ties used to lock things down.

After a cool tour underneath the temporary stands to see how AmpThink wired things, we spent the better part of the afternoon hanging out and talking about Wi-Fi 6, a topic the AmpThink brain trust was well wired on. Eventually that day of brainstorming, interviewing and collaboration led to the joint AmpThink/MSR Wi-Fi 6 Research Report, which of course you may download for free.

It was the best use possible I could think of for the “day off” Sunday, where if you are involved with the Final Four you are basically waiting around until Monday night. And since the AmpThink team is rarely ever in one place together for a full day — later that year, for example, AmpThink would be busy deploying new networks at Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Dickies Arena — it was an extremely cool opportunity to be able to spend time tapping the knowledge of AmpThink president Bill Anderson and his top lieutenants.

Still feeling the physical effects of my Saturday — and knowing Monday would be even more taxing — I headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon, catching the end of the women’s Final Four at the second of the two local brewpubs next to the Marriott. Though the championship game wouldn’t take place until Monday evening, I had an early start ahead to a long day of again, maximizing those stories.

Monday, April 8: Allianz Field, the Mall of America, and the championship game

Every quarter, Mobile Sports Report tries to find a good mix of profiles to educate its readership. Typically we try to keep the profiles in season, for relevance and timing. But other times, you just go get a good story because it’s interesting. Or, if you can, you do multiple stories on one plane ticket, something that speaks to the bottom line of being an entrepreneurial startup that has to keep an eye on the budget.

So while other “media” at the Final Four may have been taking late breakfasts or hitting the gym Monday morning, I was in an Uber out to Allianz Field, the new home of the MLS Minnesota United. Though it wasn’t scheduled to open until later in April, the folks behind the networking technology — a local company called Atomic Data — had agreed to give MSR a look-around at the Wi-Fi deployment, a great opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Allianz Field.

Yagya Mahadevan, enterprise project manager for Atomic Data and sort of the live-in maestro for the network at Allianz Field, met us at the entry gate and gave us the full stadium walk-around, which was great to have, bad hip issues be damned. I really liked the tour and being able to write the story about how Atomic Data got its feet in the door at a major professional venue, and hope the company can do the same for other venues in the future. I’m also hoping to get back to Allianz Field for a live game when such things start happening again, because the place just looks sharp and I am kind of all in on the way MLS teams are tapping into the fan experience without charging hundreds of dollars a seat like some other pro leagues in the U.S.

After an hour or so of touring Allianz Field it was back in another Uber to the Mall of America, where I had scheduled an interview with Janette Smrcka, then the information technology director for the Mall. (Janette is now part of the technology team at SoFi Stadium, and we hope to have more talks with her soon!) Janette, who I had gotten to know while reporting on the Wi-Fi deployment at the Mall of America, had told me about a cool new project involving wayfinding directories at the Mall, a story which fit perfectly with the new Venue Display Report series we were launching last year.

After sitting down with Janette to get the specifics on the display gear I went into the Mall itself and wandered around for a while (OK, I also did stop to get a chocolate shake at the Shake Shack) watching people use the directories. My unscientific survey showed that people used them quite a bit, with all the design elements Janette and her team coming into play, like deducing that people would be more willing to use smaller-sized displays since they could shield them with their bodies, making the interaction more private. Little things do matter in technology, and it’s not always the technology that matters.

In the mall you couldn’t forget what was going on that weekend — as if the fans wandering around in their school gear would let you. I jumped back on the light rail to get back to the hotel and had my media-celebrity moment heading up to my room, when John Feinstein himself held the door to the elevator so I could get there in time.

Wi-Fi, hoops and a brat and a beer

As soon as I got to the stadium on the press bus I skipped the whole press working-room thing and headed up to the football press box to secure a spot. Turns out I didn’t need to worry as most of the media still either wanted to be closer to the court or closer to the workroom to get their stories done on deadline. Fine for all us. By now I had completely learned all the elevator and escalator pathways I needed to know to get around the stadium in record time. I took Wi-Fi speedtests, I took DAS speedtests, I watched the crowd get into the excitement of being at the “big game.”

Some Final Four fans using directories at the Mall of America.

For sure, part of the fun of attending bucket-list events these days is tied to the mobile device. A big part of the fun. I watched many, many people take pictures of themselves and their companions, take pictures or videos of the action on the court, or just (in some cases) walk around with their phones on video broadcast, relaying the live scene to an audience of who knows who. To me that’s one of the main points of these networks our industry sets up and runs — enabling those who are lucky enough to be there live to be able to share that experience, somewhat instantly, with those closest to them (or their imagined wider audiences).

Though these stadium visits can sometimes be lonely and somewhat strange — I mean, who’s there to cheer for the Wi-Fi? — at the Final Four I considered myself part of the general audience, a witness to the fun and excitement of “being there.” And by halftime I had already done all the “work” I needed to do — the Wi-Fi was strong, as was the DAS — so I camped out in the press box and waited for the second half to begin, so I could go out and get the bratwurst and beer I felt I’d earned.

It took a little bit of walking around to find the stands I wanted to hit — I wanted a beverage that was local, not national, and a brat done right — and I found both somewhat fortunately close to the press box. I took my bounty to a stand-up counter space located just off the main upper concourse and for the time of my meal I was just another hoops fan, enjoying the close contest between Virginia and Texas Tech. Then it was back to the press box and more just-fan watching, an exciting finish and then trying to capture the perfect “confetti burst” photo for the cover of our upcoming issue.

After goodbyes to David and his crew and the AmpThink team, since I didn’t have any stories to write I was on the first press bus back to the hotel, where I quickly crashed ahead of my flight back home Tuesday morning. It was a long weekend in Minneapolis and my hip hurt, but I had done what I needed to do, notebook full of stories that I could write while I recovered from the upcoming surgery.


It’s hard to take a photo showing how a Final Four feels in a football stadium, but this isn’t bad

Showtime for the championship game


Any questions that Minneapolis knows how to do brats right?

The big football displays couldn’t be used while game action was in play, but during timeouts they were on, sometimes showing cool social media posts

The well-deserved Final Four MSR approved dinner

New Report: Dickies Arena sets a new standard for arena excellence

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2020 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our latest issue contains an in-person report on the new Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, which may have just set the new standard for excellence in an arena experience. We also recap another record Wi-Fi day at Super Bowl LIV, as well as a DIY Wi-Fi network at Rutgers University.

You can READ THE REPORT right now in our new flip-page format, with no registration required!

For those who prefer the PDF, you can also download a copy of the report for free as well!

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, Samsung, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

‘Best of Breed’ wireless drives Chase Center experience

An under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Chase Center, foreground, with a DAS enclosure visible to the left. Credit all photos (except where otherwise noted): Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As stunning as Chase Center is visually, what you can’t see is equally powerful in adding to the fan experience. Namely, the wireless networks, and the gear that supports the connectivity.

Inside the shiny new home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, which sits on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, is a cellular DAS deployment from Verizon using Corning gear that may be the new forward-thinking model for cellular infrastructure for large public venues like stadiums and arenas. The 18,000-seat arena also has a Wi-Fi network using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, which supports the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard for communications inside the main seating bowl.

But if you’re attending a Warriors game, or one of the many concerts scheduled at Chase Center, you may not ever see the equipment that brings the world-class connectivity to the fans. Both the DAS and the Wi-Fi networks utilize an under-seat antenna deployment method, just part of an aesthetic plan that does its best to minimize the visual impact of antennas and other wireless gear. Even deeper into the building is all the optical fiber supporting the networks, with capacity for future needs already in place.

During a mid-October 2019 visit before all the networks were fully tuned, Mobile Sports Report still got strong test results from both Wi-Fi and DAS networks in most areas in and around the arena, clear confirmation that the Warriors’ goal of having excellent wireless connectivity at their new home was right on track. And with the Corning ONE system in behind a DAS design built from the ground up with future needs in mind, as well as the expected capacity gains coming from Wi-Fi 6, the Warriors and their partners are confident they’ve built a wireless system worthy of their world-class venue goals.

“We feel extremely proud” of the venue’s wireless systems, said Brian Fulmer, director of information technology for the Golden State Warriors. Though the inevitable construction delays led to some late nights heading up to the arena’s Sept. 6, 2019 public debut, according to Fulmer all wireless systems were fully online for the opening Metallica concert, where the arena saw 2.58 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network with another 2.69 TB used at another Metallica show a couple days later.

“It was a race to the finish line but we did it, and the performance speaks for itself,” said Fulmer.

Searching for ‘Best in Breed’

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Fiserv Forum and the University of Florida! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

If there was ever a chance to build the best-ever new arena, Chase Center was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you combine the championship run of the team on the court with a devoted fan base centered in one of the hottest economic markets ever, you have the liberty to search for quality instead of bargains on every level.

A Wi-Fi AP hovers over a concourse gathering area.

(Case in point: The Warriors were able to sell out of their new court-level luxury suites, which have rooms just under the stands that include private wine lockers and can cost up to $2 million per year. Clearly, this is a model that may not work in places that aren’t Silicon Valley.)

For the privately financed $1.4 billion building, the Warriors turned to consulting firm Accenture to help determine the “best in breed” technology partners, especially on the wireless front. Several Warriors executives interviewed for this story did all agree on one main point: The team was not trying to install any technology to win imaginary awards for being the best or fastest building out there. Instead, it was all about how technology, especially wireless, could help bring about a world-class experience during every visit.

“Nobody shows up [at an arena] just looking for fast wireless speeds,” said Mike Kitts, the Warriors’ senior vice president for partnerships. “They want to interact. We wanted to create unforgettable experiences in an engaging environment. With the end in mind of a world-class experience, we knew great technology would absolutely play a role.”

Like a team drafting top players, the Warriors ended up choosing Verizon to lead the distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular wireless, and Aruba for Wi-Fi. To build its neutral-host system, Verizon chose Corning and the Corning ONE platform, with an installation led by Communication Technology Services (CTS).

“We certainly leveraged the expertise of Verizon, as well as AT&T (which is also on the DAS as a client),” said Fulmer. “They’ve done this countless times, and they have the lessons learned of painful experiences.”

Building a DAS that can handle growth

Anyone in the stadium business in Northern California doesn’t have to look too far or remember too long ago to recall one such example of the pain that the nonstop growth in cellular demand can cause. After the San Francisco 49ers’ brand-new home, Levi’s Stadium, opened in 2014, the also brand-new DAS had to be upgraded the very next season to ensure it had enough capacity for the upcoming Super Bowl 50. Verizon, which basically invented under-seat DAS antennas for that deployment, said it had a goal at Chase Center to build a DAS that didn’t need upgrading for at least a few years.

A Wi-Fi AP painted to blend into the outside facade.

Terry Vance, senior manager for Verizon’s Pacific market network performance group, said “the plan from day 1 was to build a DAS with capacity for today and tomorrow. We needed to build this DAS so that for the next 3 to 4 years, we won’t have to touch it.”

Verizon also had to build the DAS in a way that complied with the Warriors’ stringent requirements for clear sight lines, especially in the main bowl seating area. According to the Warriors’ Fulmer, the team “looked at handrail [enclosure] designs,” but rejected them in favor of an under-seat approach. Though more costly in both equipment and construction, the under-seat approach was Verizon’s favored method as well to get more density in the arena.

What Verizon ended up with was a design that currently uses 71 active sectors, with 42 of those in the seating bowl. According to Vance, all the sectors in the bowl area can basically be split into two parts if needed, for a total of 84 potential bowl sectors. Currently, Vance said there are 598 under-seat DAS antennas in use.

According to Vance the Corning ONE system’s extensive use of optical fiber makes it easier to add capacity to the system as needed.

“The fiber to the edge [in the Corning system] is especially useful as you go to 5G,” Vance said. Though it’s not part of the shared DAS system, Verizon also has full 5G bowl coverage at Chase Center, one of the first arena deployments in California. Verizon also is using a couple of MatSing ball antennas, mounted in the rafters to provide cellular coverage to the floor area for concerts and other non-basketball events.

Right now AT&T is the only other carrier on the DAS, with participation from T-Mobile and/or Sprint pending depending upon the outcome of those two companies’ potential merger.

A Verizon 5G speedtest. Credit: Verizon

Jessica Koch, sports and entertainment director of business development for Corning optical communications, gave praise to integrator CTS for its deployment know-how, which she said was “critical to the success of this project.” Corning, Koch said, knows that for fans in large venues like Chase Center, “reliable connectivity without restriction – all the time, at full speed, on any device, from anywhere – has become the expectation in our connected world.”

For Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, the best wireless system is one fans don’t see or worry about, but just use without concern.

“The best thing is if the phone just works, and I don’t have to think about it,” said Welts, who led a stadium tour during MSR’s October visit.

Though Verizon said the system went through some necessary optimization during the hectic early events schedule at Chase Center, Verizon engineers in December were getting DAS speed tests in excess of 100 Mbps for both download links in most locations, according to Philip French, vice president of network engineering for Verizon. Download speeds for 5G connections, he said, are breaking the 1 Gbps mark.

“This DAS is unique since it was the first one we’ve built with 5G in mind from the ground up,” French said. “It’s a very robust design, and for us this is the design of the future.”

Leading the way with Wi-Fi 6

Like several other stadiums that were being finished this past summer, Chase Center was able to take advantage of the release of Wi-Fi equipment that supports the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard. Though all the new capabilities won’t be fully realized until most end-user devices also support the new version of Wi-Fi, having support for the technology inside the arena was key for the Warriors’ plans.

“You can never really be ‘future proofed’ but we were extremely fortunate with the timing [of Wi-Fi 6 gear arriving],” said the Warriors’ Fulmer. “We were right in the sweet spot for an initial deployment.”

Wi-Fi and DAS gear on the catwalk.

According to Aruba, Chase Center has approximately 250 Aruba 500 Series APs (which support Wi-Fi 6) deployed in the main seating bowl, mostly in under-seat enclosures. Overall, there are approximately 852 total APs used in the full Chase Center network, which includes coverage inside the building as well as in the connected outdoor plaza areas.

During our October visit, MSR got Wi-Fi speedtests of 27.3 Mbps on the download side and 18.2 Mbps on the upload side while standing outside the east entry doors near the big mirror balls that are selfie central for fans visiting the new arena. Inside the doors, our speedtest in the lobby got a mark of 55.8 Mbps / 68.6 Mbps.

On one upper concourse area, near several concession stands outside portal 57, we got a speedtest of 10.5 Mbps / 11.2 Mbps. In the seats in upper section 220 just before tipoff we got a mark of 46.0 Mbps / 28.0 Mbps, and in a lower-bowl concourse area outside portal 9 we got a test mark of 53.7 Mbps / 71.5 Mbps.

According to Aruba, several events other than the Metallica concerts have passed the 2 TB Wi-Fi data mark so far, with several events seeing more than 8,000 unique clients connected and marks of 6,000+ concurrent connected devices and 2.6 Gbps of throughput.

The Warriors’ Fulmer praised not just the Wi-Fi gear but the full “end to end network solutions” available from Aruba as well as from parent Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which is a founding partner at Chase Center.

“We’re still only three months in, and there’s a lot more that we want to do,” Fulmer said. “It was not a small undertaking. But I think we can let the technology speak for itself.”

Fiserv Forum’s wireless networks ready for the Democratic Convention

Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and also the locale for this summer’s Democratic Convention. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With one of the most demanding arena-sized events headed its way this upcoming summer, the wireless networks at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum appear to be more than ready to handle any audience demand for mobile connectivity.

With a full-featured distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed and operated by ExteNet Systems using gear from JMA Wireless, as well as a Wi-Fi network using Cisco gear, Fiserv Forum shows both the expertise of wireless providers who have a long history of knowing what works, as well as the foresight to add new techniques and technologies to combine high performance with the quality aesthetics that are the hallmark of the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

And while a Mobile Sports Report visit this past fall for a Bucks game found all the wireless elements in top working order, the big event for the venue’s second year of operation will be the Democratic National Convention in July 2020. While the four-day nomination gathering is a test for any locale, Fiserv Forum’s forethought on how to prepare for numerous types of events in and around its uniquely designed structure has it well prepared to handle whatever wireless needs the convention will require.

It all starts with the DAS

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and the University of Florida! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Even in these days of predictions of the death of DAS, Fiserv Forum is proof that for high-profile venues, carriers will still participate in a quality deployment. And while many venues have just two or three cellular providers on their DAS, according to ExteNet, the Fiserv Forum DAS has five major carriers participating — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular.

Wi-Fi AP on an outdoor plaza light pole

Unlike some new arenas, where wireless is an afterthought to construction, ExteNet was involved early on, according to Manish Matta, vice president of marketing at Extenet.

“Getting in sooner rather than later is always better,” said Matta, who said ExteNet was well involved in the overall construction plans, ensuring that there were no delays associated with wireless deployments holding up construction of other parts of the building.

During a pregame tour in October with a team from ExteNet as well as with Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at some of the inside parts of the DAS network design, including the headend room and multiple antenna installations that were hard to find given their well-designed placements and camouflaging.

In addition to regular enclosures that were painted or otherwise placed in areas out of the main sight lines, ExteNet and JMA also utilized some of the newer circular flat-panel antenna enclosures that fit flush to ceilings, minimizing the exposure.

The 215 DAS antennas are powered by 40 remote units. According to JMA, the remotes are connected to the backbone with optical fiber, and use digital power to bring power to elements up to a mile away. With 16 sectors in the bowl design, the DAS is able to segment coverage to all parts of the arena, including the bowl as well as concourses and other in-house areas.

DAS antenna in a concourse location

ExteNet, which owns and operates the DAS as a neutral host, also installed 10 extra MatSing ball antennas in the rafters for additional top-down coverage. Though only AT&T is using the MatSings right now, ExteNet said they are integrated into the DAS design if other carriers should wish to utilize them in the future.

During a short walk-around before the Bucks game started, MSR got a DAS speedtest of 85.8 Mbps on the download and 14.9 Mbps on the upload, even though our older iPhone (on the Verizon network) doesn’t support all the latest DAS capabilities. Near the start of the game, as the pregame introductions were at their peak, we got a DAS mark of 18.0 Mbps / 15.7 Mbps in the middle of an upper-deck seating area (Section 227) and then a little bit after the game started, we got a mark of 21.3 Mbps / 12.5 Mbps near a bar area on the upper-level concourse.

Wi-Fi inside and out

On the Wi-Fi side of things, a visitor to Fiserv Forum can connect to the network even before coming in the doors, as part of the 623-AP Cisco installation includes Wi-Fi APs mounted on light poles in the “Deer District,” the plaza area on the stadium’s east side that connects to an outdoor beer garden and several bars and restaurants that were all part of the planned environment built in sync with the arena’s opening.

Before we went inside, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 40.5 Mbps / 40.2 Mbps in the middle of the Deer District plaza, which was hosting a pop-up haunted house attraction sponsored by Jack Daniels.

Inside the building, we again needed some guidance from the Bucks’ Cordova to locate some of the Wi-Fi APs, which are inside triangular enclosures that are either painted to match wall surfaces, or utilized as high-visibility section number signs, hiding the gear in plain sight.

Wi-Fi AP blended in to the wall covering

In the seating bowl, Fiserv Forum again shows its commitment to aesthetics with the smallest handrail enclosures we’ve ever seen, a discreet hand-sized enclosure that tucks the antenna components neatly into the top part of a railing, with the AP electronics hidden below the seating areas. Designed by integrator Johnson Controls and its ecosystem partners, Abaxent and AccelTex, the 28 special enclosures are also designed to be easy to detatch and re-attach (with something Johnson Controls calls a simple two-click “dart connector”) which facilitates keeping the network working when the lower-bowl seating areas need to be reconfigured for different events.

Sitting in a courtside seat near one of the handrail enclosures about 20 minutes before tipoff, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest mark of 15.8 Mbps / 33.2 Mbps. On the main concourse just after the game’s start we got a Wi-Fi mark of 28.6 Mbps / 60.4 Mbps, and later on at that same upper-concourse bar we got a mark of 39.9 Mbps / 61.1 Mbps.

Later on during the second quarter of the game, we watched another fan in our lower-bowl seating area spend most of the period keeping one eye on Monday Night Football streaming on his phone. “The Wi-Fi is really good here,” he noted.

Looking ahead to CBRS and 5G

As ExteNet and JMA prepare for the onslaught of the convention’s needs, in many areas the Bucks are already looking farther ahead, to future communications improvements including 5G millimeter wave deployments, and a possible introduction of CBRS services. Cordova, who is an advocate of the capabilities of private LTE networks over the CBRS spectrum, said the flexibility of provisioning services in a CBRS environment could be extremely useful for temporary needs, like during last year’s NBA playoffs when the NBA on TNT crew set up a temporary stage out in the plaza.

While the Bucks have already prepared for connectivity of all sorts out on the plaza space – from the top-level outside Panorama deck at Fiserv Forum that lets fans look out over the city, Cordova pointed out several metal boxes in the plaza that have home-run fiber connections for broadcast TV as well as remote power – there’s going to be all sorts of temporary connectivity needs when the convention media tents set up in the empty lot next door where the previous stadium, the Bradley Center, used to stand.

The fact that the Bucks and ExteNet were already well involved with planning for a July event in October the year before is just another sign of a networking operation that is well positioned now and already thinking about what the next necessary steps are.

Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, in the headend room

MatSing ball antennas point down from the rafters

The Daktronics centerhung video board

Verizon sees 21.5 TB of cellular data used at Super Bowl LIV in Miami

Verizon, which led the DAS effort at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, said it saw 21.5 terabytes of data used on its network “in and around the stadium” during Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV.

While we are still circling back with Verizon to see if we can get more granular details, we are guessing that this number comes from the network inside and immediately adjacent to the venue, and not the “2-mile radius” that other carriers are also reporting. We will update as we get more info. With AT&T’s report of 10.2 TB inside/around the stadium and 14.5 TB in the two-mile radius, we are somewhere above 25 TB total of cellular traffic for the big game, even before we have any stats from other carriers.

We are also asking Verizon to provide a total number of users on the 5G network the carrier deployed inside the stadium, but don’t hold your breath since total number of users is not a statistic carriers like to provide (as opposed to Wi-Fi stats, which almost always report the unique connections).

On an interesting note, Verizon said in an email to MSR that it saw 20.5 TB of data traffic on its networks around the stadium at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta last year — as far as we know this is the first official number from Verizon about last year’s Super Bowl, when Verizon declined to provide MSR with any post-game numbers directly after the event. According to the Falcons IT staff there was only 12 TB total of DAS traffic on the in-stadium network during last year’s Super Bowl so the 20.5 TB of Verizon traffic must have included a lot of “around the stadium” traffic to get to that number.