Eagles see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi data for NFC Championship game on new Panasonic network

Panasonic Everest Wi-Fi APs (lower left, middle right) mounted underneath an overhang at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Credit: Panasonic (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Philadelphia Eagles saw 8.76 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 21 during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, a new high in one-day Wi-Fi usage for reported marks in games not called the Super Bowl.

Though the game’s position as No. 3 on our unofficial “top Wi-Fi” list (see below) may change as we get reports from other recent NFL playoff games, the mark is nevertheless impressive, and perhaps a big confirmation metric for Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business. According to Panasonic, its 654-Access Point network inside “The Linc” also saw 35,760 unique connections during the game, out of 69,596 in attendance; the network also saw a peak of 29,201 concurrent devices connected (which happened during the post-game trophy presentation), and saw peak throughput of 5.5 Gbps.

What’s most interesting about the new Panasonic network in Philadelphia is that it is a completely top-down deployment, meaning that most of the APs (especially the 200 used in the seating bowl) shoot signals down toward seats from above. While most new networks at football-sized stadiums (and some smaller arenas) have turned to under-seat or railing-mounted APs to increase network density in seating areas, Panasonic claims its new “Everest” Wi-Fi gear has antennas that can provide signals up to 165 feet away, with “electronically reconfigurable directional beam profiles” that allow for specific tuning of where the Wi-Fi signal can point to.

By also putting four separate Wi-Fi radios into each access point, Panasonic also claims it can save teams and venues money and time on Wi-Fi deployments, since fewer actual devices are needed. By comparison, other big, new network deployments like Notre Dame’s often have a thousand or more APs; Notre Dame, which uses railing-mounted APs in the seating bowl, has 685 in the seating bowl out of a total 1,096 APs. Many of the Notre Dame APs are Cisco 3800 devices, which have two Wi-Fi radios in each AP.

‘The Linc’ before last week’s NFC Championship game. Credit: Kiel Leggere, Eagles

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which uses Aruba Wi-Fi gear mainly deployed under seats in the bowl, has nearly 1,800 APs, with 1,000 of those in the seating bowl.

Antennas close to fans vs. farther away

From a design and performance standpoint, the under-seat or railing-mounted “proximate” networks are built with many APs close together, with the idea that fans’ bodies will intentionally soak up some of the Wi-Fi signal, a fact that network designers use to their advantage to help eliminate interference between radios. The under-seat AP design, believed to be first widely used by AT&T Park in San Francisco and then at a larger scale at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., was developed to help bring better signals to seats where overhang-mounted APs couldn’t deliver strong connectivity. Older concrete-bowl stadiums like Notre Dame’s also went with a proximate railing design for a similar lack of overhangs.

Though the Eagles’ IT team has repeatedly turned down interview requests from MSR since this summer, Danny Abelson, vice president connectivity for Panasonic Enterprise Solution Company, met with MSR last week to provide details of the deployment. Citing new, patented antenna technology developed specifically by Panasonic to solve the limitations of prior overhead gear, Abelson claims Panasonic can deliver a similar stadium experience for “two-thirds the cost” of an under-seat or railing-mount network design, with savings realized both in construction costs (since it is usually cheaper to install overhead-mounted equipment than under-seat or railing mounts due to drilling needed) and in the need for fewer actual APs, since Panasonic has four radios in its main Wi-Fi APs.

Eagles fans cheering their team to the Super Bowl. Credit: Hunter Martin, Eagles

Abelson, however, declined to provide the exact cost of the Panasonic network at Lincoln Financial Field, citing non-disclosure agreements. There are also more questions to be answered about a Panasonic deployment’s cost, including charges for management software and/or administration services. Currently, Abelson said, Panasonic includes the costs for management software and management personnel in its bids.

When it comes to how the Eagles found Panasonic, the team and the company already had an existing relationship, as Panasonic’s video-board division had previously supplied displays for the Linc. According to Abelson, Panasonic went through a performance test at several Eagles games last season, bringing in Wi-Fi gear to see if the new technology could provide coverage to areas where the Eagles said they had seen lower-quality coverage before. One of the forerunners in the NFL in bringing Wi-Fi to fans, the Eagles had previously used Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear to build a fan-facing network in 2013. Though the Eagles would not comment about the selection process, after issuing an RFP this past offseason the team chose Panasonic for a new network, which Abelson said was deployed in three months during the football offseason.

Re-opening the debate for antenna placement?

Though Mobile Sports Report has not yet been able to get to Philadelphia to test the new network in a live game-day situation, if Panasonic’s new gear works as promises the company may find many potential interested customers, especially those who had shied away from deploying under-seat networks due to the construction issues or costs.

The Panasonic system may be of particular interest to indoor arenas, like hockey and basketball stadiums, where the gear could be potentially mounted in catwalk areas to cover seating. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic deployment going in at the arena whose networks he oversees:

But even as the impressive 8.76 TB mark seen at the NFC Championship game now sits as the third-highest reported Wi-Fi data use event we’ve heard of (behind only the 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi seen at Super Bowl 50 and the 11.8 TB seen at Super Bowl 51), that number may fall a bit down the list if we ever get verified numbers for some network totals we’ve heard rumors about lately. (Or even any older ones! C’mon network teams: Check out the list below and let us know if we’ve missed any.)

So far this season, we haven’t gotten any reports of Wi-Fi usage out of the network team at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which recently hosted the college football playoff championship game), and we’ve only heard general talk about oversized playoff-game traffic at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. Like Notre Dame Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium uses a mostly railing-mounted AP deployment in its seating bowl; both networks were designed by AmpThink. We are also still waiting for reports from last week’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, where the previous non-Super Bowl top mark of 8.08 TB was set in September; and from any games this fall at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the NFL’s biggest stadium has 2,567 Wi-Fi APs.

Will overhead still be able to keep up as demand for more bandwidth keeps growing? Will Panasonic’s claims of lower costs for equal performance hold up? At the very least, the performance in Philadelphia could re-open debate about whether or not you need to deploy APs closer to fans to provide a good Wi-Fi experience. If all goes well, the winners in renewed competition will be venues, teams, and ultimately, fans.

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
6. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
7. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
8. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
9. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
10. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB

Bird of a different feather: Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes tech in a new direction

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As you walk up to it, the striking angular architecture of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a way of telling you, before you even set foot inside, that this building is different from any other stadium you may know. When you get inside, see the eight-petal roof and the circular video “halo board” right below it, those feelings are confirmed.

Deeper inside the venue’s construction, the theme is continued with the building’s network technology, which is similarly different if less easily seen. With more fiber optical cabling than perhaps any comparable stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons is built more with an eye toward what comes next, while also debuting with systems built with the peak of current knowledge and deployment designs.

Unlike the owners and operators of some other new arenas, the Falcons’ aren’t wasting much bandwidth trying to paint Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the best-ever when it comes to stadium technology. (In fact the stadium network crew is being very closed-mouth about everything, not providing any game-day statistics even though informed rumors tell us that the Wi-Fi network is doing very well.) But come back in 5 years, or even 10 years from now, and see if the decisions made here were able to consistently keep the Falcons’ new roost at the top of the stadium-technology game.

Table stakes, plus a halo board

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Inside the Falcons’ new roost, with the halo board and roof visible

What’s working now, as the venue enters the Falcons’ 2017 NFL season, includes a Wi-Fi network built with nearly 1,800 Aruba access points. Of the 1,000 of those installed in the main seating bowl, most are mounted underneath the seats, a trend that gained steam a couple years ago and now has numerous proof points behind the higher capacity and faster performance of so-called “proximate” networks. There’s also a neutral-host distributed antenna system, or DAS, for enhanced cellular coverage, built and owned by the arena with space rented out to all four of the major U.S. cellular carriers.

And then there’s the halo board, the circular or oval-shaped video screen that circumnavigates the roof right at the base of the also-innovative eight-petal roof, which is designed to open or close in seven minutes or less. If big video screens are a never-ending trend the Falcons are right out in front with their offerings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, starting with the halo board and the “mega-column,” a hundred-foot high vertical screen just inside the main entryway. The 2,000-plus other regular-sized screens scattered around the venue should ensure there’s always a display visible, no matter where guests are looking.

And while the team has future plans for video, the one piece of network technology that may matter most is the optical fiber, which can support wider bandwidth and faster speeds than traditional copper cabling. The statistic thrown around often in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium press materials — nearly 4,000 miles of fiber used — is meaningless to most who repeat it, other than it seems like a lot of glass wiring.

What’s more interesting from a stadium-design perspective is not exactly the total but instead the reach of the fiber, as the network designers pushed fiber out to the edges much further than before, betting that by putting more capacity farther into the reaches of the stadium, there will be less needs for big-time network upgrades in the future, when the inevitable need for more bandwidth arrives.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP

“We like to say we’re future flexible, not future proof,” said Jared Miller, chief digital officer for the Falcons. “Future proof does not exist in technology.”

Informed by Texas A&M

In picking IBM as its lead networking technology partner, the Falcons most certainly gleaned a lot of their stadium network design lessons from the 2015 deployment of a new Wi-Fi network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, a project also led by IBM. Making deep use of Corning fiber networking technology, A&M’s Wi-Fi network hit the ground running hard, as a big number of under-seat APs supported several big days of data use by the 100,000-plus Aggie fans who filled the building on home-game weekends.

The basic idea behind using fiber is that optical cabling can carry far more bandwidth at faster speeds than a comparable copper wire. By putting more fiber farther out into all reaches of a stadium, a network can be “future proofed” by being able to support many more new devices on the end of each fiber strand. By not having to string new cabling everywhere to support greater demand, a stadium will theoretically spend far less money in the long haul.

Wi-Fi and DAS will have the bathroom lines covered

From a network backbone perspective, the Falcons took what Texas A&M did and pushed even farther with fiber, taking the glass circuits as close to the edge devices (mainly Wi-Fi APs) as possible. In our mid-August press tour at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we saw many of the so-called “mini-IDFs,” small closets with three or four pieces of gear in them, mounted on walls throughout the stadium.

“We kept the use of copper as short as possible,” said Miller. “With bandwidth demands continuing to grow at an exponential rate, we need to make sure we keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.”

If there is one big drawback to using fiber, it has to do with the intricacies of dealing with the construction end of building fiber networks, since the cables need to be precisely cut and joined, often with highly specialized equipment. There are also far more network technicians who are trained in copper wiring deployments than in fiber, so personnel issues can also increase costs and complexity.

On the eve of the Falcons’ first regular-season home game, a mid-September playoff rematch with the Green Bay Packers, Miller and his crew had not yet provided any traffic or network throughput statistics from the preseason games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, some inside sources told MSR that the Wi-Fi traffic during the preseason and the early September college game was at the top range of what has been historically seen for NFL game days, so it appears that the system is ready to go.

Holding off on more bells and whistles

Though it may be hard for any other stadium to top the halo board for a while, on some other technology-related items the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium are taking a step back and not pushing digital solutions to where they might not be needed.

One of the many ‘mini-ISFs,’ this one in the press box

On the stadium app side, for instance, the IBM-developed application does not support some services seen at other NFL or pro-league stadiums, like “blue dot” wayfinding or in-seat food delivery or even express pickup for concessions. Instead, the app uses wayfinding based on static maps, where you need to put in both a location and a desired destination; and on the food-ordering side, fans can enter in an order and their credit card information, but must then take it to a stand to be scanned and fulfilled.

And while the Falcons’ new app does have a fun FAQ chatbot called “Ask Arthur” (for the team’s owner, Arthur Blank), there won’t be any live instant replay features in the app. With all the video screens in the stadium, the Falcons think they have the replay angle thing covered. The Falcons will use the app, however, for expanded digital-ticketing features as well as to help fans find and pay for parking. On the concessions side, the Falcons’ well-reported “fan friendly” pricing with low costs for most stadium food staples might prove more interesting to fans than being able to have food delivered.

Miller was also adamant that fans won’t see any portal or other marketing messages between finding and connecting to the Wi-Fi network.

“You just join ‘AT&Twifi’ and you’re on,” Miller said. “You’re a guest in our house. The last thing we want to do is slow you down from getting on the network.”

The big metal falcon in front of the stadium looks out over downtown Atlanta

More Wi-Fi APs visible under the overhang

A view from the AT&T Porch out through the windows

Notre Dame’s new Wi-Fi, Mercedes-Benz Stadium first look — all in our new Stadium Tech Report!

We always get excited here at Mobile Sports Report when we have a new quarterly report out, but the stories, profiles and analysis in our Fall 2017 issue just may be our best-ever effort. With a detailed look at the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, and a first look at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, our Fall 2017 issue starts off with a doubleheader of deep information profiles and it doesn’t stop there!

In addition to Notre Dame and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this issue also has a detailed look at the new football stadium at Colorado State University, which also has high-performing Wi-Fi and a neutral-host DAS deployment. We also take a look at the Wi-Fi renovation taking place at the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a network upgrade that should lift the Broncos’ home to the top of the list of NFL stadium networks. And we’re still not done!

Also in this issue is a well timed, deeply informed essay from Chuck Lukaszewski about unlicensed LTE and what it means to venues. Chuck, the top wireless guru at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, digs into this developing cellular/Wi-Fi issue and delivers some heads-up knowledge that all venue tech professionals should absorb. We also have one more profle in the issue, a look at a temporary Wi-Fi network being installed at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That’s a lot of reading, so get started by downloading your free copy today!

Part of the reason we’re able to bring you so much good content is the support we get from our industry sponsors. In this issue we also have a record number of sponsors, including Mobilitie, Crown Castle, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, Extreme Networks, Oberon, Cox Business, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. The support of our sponsors allows Mobile Sports Report to not only do all the work necessary to bring you these great stories, but it also allows us to offer our reports to readers free of charge! We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers.

Download the Fall 2017 Stadium Tech Report today!

Ready or not, Unlicensed LTE is here. What should your venue do?

The entry concourse at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

By Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

There’s much excitement around the coming of “unlicensed LTE” and for good reason. In our anytime, anywhere world the last device many of us use at night, and the first one we pick up in the morning, is a mobile phone, tablet or computer. Although much of the time our devices connect via Wi-Fi, when we’re in transit we depend on cellular.

With consumers quick to express their disappointment when their apps fail to respond – or don’t respond fast enough – on a wireless network, cellular providers are keenly aware they must keep pace with rapidly escalating user experience expectations. Research suggests mobile data traffic will grow by 47 percent annually through 2021. Combine the two and the drivers for expanding network capacity are clear.

While the lure of more bandwidth can be attractive, stadium and venue operators need to carefully evaluate the technological impact and operational overhead unlicensed LTE introduces.

Gigabit cellular coming soon

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

To provide gigabit speeds, the cellular industry has enhanced LTE technology to bond multiple channels together, called “carrier aggregation.” Although originally designed only to combine different licensed frequencies, it has now been extended to aggregate licensed spectrum with 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum (where Wi-Fi operates). Two competing technologies for doing so have emerged, with notable differences when deploying in high-density environments like stadiums in the U.S.

LTE-U (LTE in the Unlicensed Spectrum) is a proprietary technology, developed by the LTE-U Forum, a consortium of several cellular-related companies. It enables simultaneous operation of LTE over both licensed and unlicensed spectrum by aggregating the bands together, resulting in a performance boost. However, the way LTE-U takes control of a channel – while legal in the U.S. – is controversial and may significantly degrade performance of Wi-Fi equipment using the same channel. The Wi-Fi and cellular industries worked together to produce a coexistence test plan, but so far none of the test results for LTE-U equipment authorized by the FCC have been made public.

LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) can be thought of as the standardized version of unlicensed LTE, designed to meet European “listen-before-talk” (LBT) requirements, so it can be deployed anywhere on the planet. It was developed through the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) worldwide standards organization, with wide participation including input from the Wi-Fi community.

DAS gear above concession stand at Coors Field

Think of LBT like the telephone party lines of yesteryear, where multiple customers share a communal phone line but only one person can use it at a time for their conversation while others wait. When there is no conversation happening on the party line and two or more people try to speak at once, other customers of the party line graciously “back off” to allow one person to go first. In cellular terms, this makes LAA a more “polite” technology than LTE-U, as it waits to transmit until a channel is clear. The back-off method it uses is compatible with Wi-Fi at least on paper, although 3GPP does not require vendors to perform or publish any kind of test results.

The Road Ahead

Of course what you want to know is how the advent of LTE-U/LAA impacts your stadium and whether to add gigabit cellular to the connectivity mix.

As a robust, stable and mature technology, Wi-Fi’s strength and ability to handle exceptional stadium data traffic loads is well established. To make informed decisions about whether to consider LTE-U/LAA technologies alongside Wi-Fi, here are five essential technical considerations.

Spectrum Availability. The unlicensed radio spectrum is comprised of 24 channels in the U.S., which is analogous to a 24-lane freeway. Until now, only Wi-Fi traffic traveled on that roadway, with many years spent developing technologies to ensure steady traffic flow, particularly in stadiums. Wi-Fi includes its own LBT solution, which helps assure data merges smoothly onto the freeway. It’s been proven at six Super Bowls plus countless other concerts and sporting events.

Most stadium Wi-Fi networks are already spectrum-constrained, meaning they are just managing to carry the existing load – much less new fan technologies like AR/VR. A large body of evidence demonstrates that stadiums and arenas need 20-24 fulltime-equivalent channels to make a 5 GHz system work (regardless of technology). These Wi-Fi networks are carefully optimized to eliminate all unnecessary transmissions.

Adding one or more LTE-U or LAA systems will reduce available capacity for Wi-Fi operations. As of this writing, there are no public technical measurements of deployed systems so the actual impact is unknown. If four separate unlicensed LTE networks are actually deployed, the impact will be even greater.

Number of LTE-U/LAA Networks Required. Visitors to your stadium likely utilize each of the four U.S. cellular operators: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Therefore, to offer gigabit cellular connectivity, you’ll need to permit all four to deploy an LTE-U, or LAA, network. Because the technologies are so new, they lack a “neutral host” methodology, so each operator will require its own separate physical network and spectrum.

DAS gear under seating area at SunTrust Park

Compatibility with Existing DAS. Most stadiums and arenas have either separate antenna systems for each major cellular operator or a converged neutral-host DAS. Although LTE-U and LAA are intended to support “dual connectivity” to a separate macro base station (or “eNodeB”) on paper, the products currently being shipped are intended as co-located small cells that contain two paired LTE radios – one licensed and one unlicensed. Stadium operators should validate whether their DAS systems are compatible with an expansive LTE-U/LAA small cell deployment where the primary cell (or “PCell”) is the DAS and each PCell has dozens of secondary cells (or “SCells”) providing 5 GHz service.

Cost vs. Benefit. Of no small consideration is the added amount of equipment, and the costs, in a hybrid Wi-Fi/cellular situation. If every cellular operator requires a separate LAA/LTE-U overlay, this implies up to four full new sets of equipment must be deployed under seats or on handrails. For a 60,000-seat stadium at typical under-seat densities, it would only require about 850 Wi-Fi access points (APs). In contrast, for LAA/LTE-U stadium operators would need over 3,000 additional small cells– with each one requiring a sturdy waterproof housing, a 30-watt POE connection, Cat-6 cabling, conduit and, of course, a hole drilled in the concrete. Meaning, LTE-U/LAA small cell deployments would require essentially the same physical footprint for each carrier as Wi-Fi which is likely already installed and is inherently a neutral host technolgy.

Risk. It’s also critical to consider the corresponding risks of adding up to four cellular unlicensed LTE networks to your Wi-Fi environment. It took about seven years and three full generations of radio designs for Wi-Fi vendors to perfect high-capacity stadium systems whereas LTE-U/LAA equipment is only beginning to ship. In short, it may be wise to delay comingling Wi-Fi and LTE-U/LAA networks until unlicensed LTE equipment becomes proven in less mission-critical settings than your venue.

Chuck Lukaszewski is Vice President of Wireless Strategy & Standards at Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. For over a decade he has engineered and deployed large-scale 802.11 networks, joining Aruba in 2007.

Chuck has built Wi-Fi systems in stadiums, seaports, rail yards, manufacturing plants and other complex RF environments, including serving as chief engineer for many stadiums ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 seats that provide live video and other online amenities. He is the author of six books and design guides including Very High Density 802.11ac Networks and Outdoor MIMO Wireless Networks.

First Look: Inside the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Big Bird greets all visitors to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

We’ll have much more to report on what we saw at the press day at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but we thought it was important to share these views as soon as we could — so here is an extended photo essay from the newest NFL venue (which will also be used for soccer). Unfortunately the Wi-Fi and DAS networks were live but not yet optimized, so we weren’t able to do any comprehensive speed testing (but hey, that’s what a regular season game is for!).

Overalll first impressions, technology wise — this is another well thought out venue specifically from a technology standpoint but also mainly just from a visual feel. The halo board is as impressive as advertised, though we would want to see it in action during a game (while sitting in a seat) to fully judge whether or not it fits in with the flow of an event. For advertisers it’s a wonder, as watching all the video screens in the house go to a synchronized ad video was a big wow factor.

Since much of the stadium interior is unfinished concrete, there wasn’t much of an effort to hide networking components — but given all the other piping and cabling, the equipment does kind of fade out of sight in plain view.

MSR welcomes you to the big house

It’s our educated guess that the AT&T Porch — a wide open gathering area in the end zone opposite the windows toward downtown — is going to be a popular hangout, since you can see the field and have multiple big screen TV options behind you. We also liked the “technology loge suites,” smaller four-person private areas just off the main concourse with their own small TV screens and wireless device charging.

On the app side of things, it’s fair to say that features will iterate over time — both the wayfinding and the food-ordering options are not wirelessly connected yet, but according to IBM beacons are a possible future addition to the mix. And while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to all-digital ticketing, season ticket holders will most likely use RFID cards on lanyards instead of mobile phone tickets simply because the RFID is a quicker option. The ticket scanners are by SkiData, fiber backbone by Corning, Wi-Fi APs by Aruba, and DAS by Corning and a mix of antenna providers.

Like we said, more soon! But enjoy these photos today, ahead of the first event on Aug. 26.

The view inside the main entry, with halo board visible above

The view from the other side of the field, from the AT&T Porch

Just hard to fit all this in, but you can see here from field to roof

I spy Wi-Fi, APs point down from seat bottoms to main entry concourse

One of the many under-seat APs

A good look at the roof: Eight “petals” that all pull straight out when open, which is supposed to take 7 minutes according to design

Good place for maximum coverage

View from the field

One of “hundreds” of mini-IDFs, termination points that bring fiber almost right to edge devices

The mega-vertical TV screen, just inside the main entry. 101 feet tall!

Something Falcons fans may like the most: Look at the prices!

MORE SOON!

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium nears the finish line

Sorry, this venue is not open yet! Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

If there’s a huge tease to the audience at this year’s SEAT Conference in Atlanta it’s that there is no official visit planned to the nearby stadium that is on everyone’s mind, the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Built right next door to the Georgia Dome, the new venue looks all finished from the outside, but there are still construction chain-link fences around it keeping anyone from getting too close to the building. A quick visit by yours truly Sunday afternoon got the pictures seen here, including the angular, glassy construction, the big metal falcon (caged for now) but no live look at the halo video board (though we thought we could see the curves inside).

Jared Miller, chief technology officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, told us on the phone last week that Mercedes-Benz Stadium “is definitely in the final throes” of development, which is scheduled to end on Aug. 26 when the Falcons host their first NFL preseason game. There also may be an earlier public-unveiling event but the NFL date is the first scheduled full-scale opening of the Falcons’ new roost.

Miller spelled out a few previously unconfirmed facets of the technology deployment going on inside the stadium — the Wi-Fi gear is from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company; and lead contractor IBM will also be supplying the stadium’s mobile apps, with separate versions for the Falcons, the Atlanta United FC of the MLS, and one for the stadium itself (to be used for concerts, college football games and other non-NFL or non-MLS events).

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in all its glory

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also have a neutral host DAS run by the Falcons using Corning ONE gear.

No in-seat delivery for concessions

Another interesting twist is that Miller said the while the Falcons’ apps will have the ability to allow fans to order food and drink, it will be for pickup at express windows only, and NOT for delivery to seats, a service seen at other venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. Miller said the AMB team has taken a different approach and expects fans to roam about more inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has many different “experiential” zones where fans can watch the action from someplace other than their seat.

But even with all the different technology and lower food prices, Miller is betting that the one thing that visitors will keep talking about is the halo video board, the main “big screen” that wraps around the inside of the roof in a full circle.

“When fans enter they’re going to look up and go, ‘Wow!’ and do it the first time, and the 10th time they visit,” Miller said. Miller said he was walking back to the stadium recently and saw the halo board in action, and stopped in awe. “I look up and am just blown away by it,” he said. Falcons fans and other interested visitors are looking forward to feeling that feeling soon. More photos below!

Anyone see a halo board in there?

Yes, it’s very close to the Georgia Dome.

Mr. Blank, uncage this bird!

Seen on the MARTA train in from the airport: Still time to get a gig at the stadium!

A better look at the big bird