Wireless connectivity strong at Colorado Rockies’ ‘old’ Coors Field

The main gate at Coors Field, the third-oldest ballpark in the NL. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

For someone who covered the origin of major league baseball in Denver, it somehow doesn’t seem possible that Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, is the third-oldest stadium in the National League. But after venerable venues Wrigley Field and Dodgers Stadium, there sits Coors as the next-oldest in line.

Opened in 1995, the brick-and-steel venue in Denver’s lower downtown has another oldest-type attribute, in the fact that Coors was one of the first MLB stadiums to get a Wi-Fi network built for it by MLB’s Advanced Media arm, a deployment that went fully live in time for the 2015 season. Like its bricks-and-mortar host, the “old” network is still doing fine, even if it was built without some of the newer technology and techniques that have appeared in stadium networking in the lifetime of the past couple years.

With an opening-day Wi-Fi data total of 2.2 terabytes used, Coors Field’s Wi-Fi network is more than ready and able to handle any increases in activity that may or may not be related to the Rockies’ resurgence on the field, where the purple players have spent most of the season so far in playoff contention.

During an early May visit, Mobile Sports Report found the network performing strong throughout the venue, with many 60+ Mbps readings for Wi-Fi download speeds in all seating areas as well as on heavy-traffic concourses. What follows here is some history of the park and its role in the MLBAM Wi-Fi rollout, as well as our random speedtests from a visit during a doubleheader with the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs, whose well-traveled fans add to the capacity in any ballpark where the team happens to be playing.

One of the earliest in ‘downtown parks’ resurgence

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, new Wi-Fi for Westfield’s Century City Mall in Los Angeles, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

The green box at the bottom of the aisle is a Wi-Fi antenna pointing up the rows.

A little personal history for yours truly intersects with the origin of Coors Field — way back in 1991, I was one of the lead baseball writers for the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera, and our main story that spring was the question of whether or not Denver would land one of the two NL expansion franchises soon to be awarded. Like many other cities and regions hopeful for pro sports, Denver and Colorado voted for a tax that would help build a new baseball-only park, which looked great in those artist-concept sketches that are always floated around.

But for me what really hit home was when the team behind Denver’s bid actually went out and chalked out a baseball field in the vacant lots where Coors Field would actually sit, among the old brick warehouses in the city’s lower downtown neighborhood. On the day of the official National League visit, there was even a group of kids playing baseball on that field — whether it was staged or not, the presentation was cool, and it probably stuck in the minds of many others like it did in mine, that a downtown park would be a great thing in Denver.

After being awarded the franchise and playing a couple years in the old Mile High football stadium, the Rockies finally moved into their new home for the 1995 season, in a building inspired by Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the downtown venue built for the Baltimore Orioles a few years earlier. My first impressions at the time were favorable, noting the wider concourses and seats tilted to the action on the field, along with a ballpark brewpub as being good trends for others to imitate.

Fast forward 20 years, and at Coors Field, lots has changed from the fan perspective. With personal digital devices everywhere, and fans wanting to use social media to share experiences, the home of the Rockies is no different from any other large sports or entertainment venue in needing solid connectivity. As perhaps befits the pro sport with the best digital league-wide plan, MLB’s advanced media arm (MLBAM) in 2014 embarked on a program to make Wi-Fi and DAS deployments happen in every stadium that didn’t have them (or had older. underperforming networks). By cutting deals with carriers and equipment suppliers and teams. MLBAM put together $300 million in the kitty for a buildout that reached 23 stadiums by this year’s ASG.

Some orderly DAS wiring coming out of the head end room.

(Some teams, like the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park and the Atlanta Braves at new SunTrust Park, have opted to build their own physical networks, even while working closely with MLBAM on matters like the league-wide Ballpark app.)

Coors Field was among the very first in the MLBAM buildout efforts, with fan-facing Wi-Fi available in time for the 2015 season. Though its buildout predated some of the newer techniques and technologies used for stadium Wi-Fi deployments — like under-seat or handrail-mounted Wi-Fi APs — our tests showed the Coors Field Wi-Fi network, which now has approximately 550 APs, to be as strong as any we’ve tested, with signals in the 60 Mbps download range throughout most of the park. We didn’t test all the DAS carrriers but from all appearances, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are well represented on the AT&T-built cellular network. According to AT&T there are 322 antennas in the newer version of the DAS, also built in 2015, which AT&T said has roughly six times the capacity of the previous network.

As the Rockies enjoy an on-field resurgence (Colorado was in or near first place in its division through most of the spring and remain in the wild-card hunt as of this writing), fans should be happy to know their connectivity is competitive as well, with both team IT types and MLBAM keeping an eye on keeping customers connected.

Deck locations help ‘front to back’ work well at Coors Field

With three main tiers of seating, the 50,398-seat Coors Field has plenty of overhangs to work with as antenna mounts, making the so-called “front to back” design philosophy work well. Michael Bush, senior director of information systems for the Rockies, led us on a tour of the stadium, noting that at the tops of most seating areas there were two antennas, one pointing straight down and a “Gillaroo” panel antenna pointing down the rows of seats.

Good camoflauge on antennas serving the left field bleachers area.

At the bottom of most seating areas, including close to field level, there are Wi-Fi APs mounted either on the playing-field walls, or on the railings in the upper decks, pointing back up the rows of seats. In section 131, right behind home plate, we got readings as high as 63.10 Mbps on download and 48.75 Mbps for upload, almost exactly halfway between field level and the concourse at the top of the lower bowl.

In row 16 of section 138, behind the Rockies’ dugout, we got a speedtest reading of 63.32 / 41.63 Mbps, and in the outfield seats behind the left-field foul pole we saw speeds of 68.29 / 49.66 Mbps. Up in the “Rockpile” seats, way up top in straightaway center, we still got a Wi-Fi mark of 66.69 / 41.44 Mbps, probably from one of the four antennas we saw mounted on the back-side railings.

In the back of the walk-around “Rooftop” club and bar area in the upper deck of right field we got speeds of 61.21 / 28.86 Mbps, and then marks of 61.52 / 40.53 Mbps when we moved around to the front of the Rooftop, where you can lean on a railing while watching the game below. The lowest marks we got were in the upper deck of section 317 along the first-base line, where the speeds were 42.16 / 25.33.

All of these tests came during a break between games during a doubleheader versus the Cubs, when the stadium was cleared between games. The marks also varied between being on the main Rockies fan Wi-Fi SSID, and one reserved for Verizon Wireless customers, which our device kept autoconnecting to. But even as the stadium filled up for the nightcap, our signals stayed strong, including a 67.62 / 29.78 Mbps mark up in section 342, in the upper deck along the third-base line.

On Verizon’s LTE network we got a reading in the left-field bleachers of 14.99 / 15.19 Mbps, and a reading of 11.26 / 7.69 Mbps up in front of “The Tavern,” one of the bars in the Rooftop area. We did not have devices to test cellular signals for AT&T or T-Mobile, both of which like Verizon are also on the stadium DAS. Sprint, according to Bush, serves its Coors Field customers with a macro antenna deployment on a rooftop across the street from the stadium along the first-base side.

Wi-Fi antennas in the back of the ‘Rockpile’ centerfield bleacher area.

In our tour of the venue, Bush led us down to the head end rooms, where the DAS deployment looked military in its precision and organization. He also pointed out the cooling vents, which went from field level through the ceilings to finally pop out above the concession stands on the main concourse level, out of view for anyone who wasn’t trying to look down to see them.

Though Coors Field’s lower level seemed to have more than enough room for head end rooms, Bush did show us the parking lot “shed” that MLBAM built to house its video operations, including the on-field replay system that shuttles signals back to league headquarters. There is also some Wi-Fi coverage outside the building, mainly in the north parking lot which doubles as an area for media tenting for large events like postseason games. But for the most part Bush said Coors Field is careful to limit its Wi-Fi footprint to the facility’s walls, so there isn’t any bleed-over use by the residential and commercial buildings that are just across the street from three sides of the stadium.

Making sure the tech fits the park

As one of the first MLBAM deployments, the Coors Field network might have been excused for being more functional than aesthetic, but as our visit showed the opposite is true. Unless you are explicitly looking for Wi-Fi and other networking gear, it’s hard to see with the naked eye. In our unofficial wanderings we’d put Coors Field among the best in terms of hiding things in plain sight, with exact paint color matches as well as finding locations for mounting where gear doesn’t stick out. Helping out with this task is Coors Field’s overall embrace of brick and exposed steel beams, a sort of benign camoflauge that the network deployment team made good use of.

“A huge part of the fight” was making the antennas and other gear disappear, Bush said, pointing out several deployment spots we otherwise might have missed (including a huge bank of DAS gear right above a concession stand, perfectly painted to blend in with the green structural steel right above).

“The owners wanted to make it look like it [the network] was always there from the start,” said Bush.

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, new Wi-Fi for Westfield’s Century City Mall in Los Angeles, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

DAS gear hidden in plain sight above a concession stand

Cubs fans invaded the Rooftop, among other areas

A good look at the Rooftop area, with its open gathering spaces

A Wi-Fi AP pointing back up toward the seats from the field level wall

The view from center field

Coors Field’s beer stands were playing to the Cubs visitors with this offering

Let’s play two!

The pro pick for your after-Coors Field jazz consumption

MLBAM: Miami’s Marlins Park will have new Wi-Fi for All-Star Game

As part of its continuing effort to help major league baseball teams outfit their stadiums with fan-facing Wi-Fi, MLB’s advanced media department said that Miami’s Marlins Park will have a new Wi-Fi network fully operational by this year’s All-Star Game, to be held on July 11.

In a recent interview with MSR, Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and chief technology officer for BAMtech, said the new network at Marlins Park will be “fully operational by the All-Star game.” Inzerillo said that by mid-season this year, there will be 23 MLB stadiums with networks built by or upgraded through the ongoing MLBAM plan to bring wireless connectivity to all league parks, a $300 million effort started several years ago.

Previously, Marlins Park had a Wi-Fi network built on Meru gear. Right now specifics of the network aren’t known, but most of the MLBAM network deployments have used Cisco gear for Wi-Fi. The Marlins also previously had a neutral-host DAS run by ExteNet Systems.

Minnesota Twins’ Target Field: Photo Essay and Wi-Fi tests

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

During Mobile Sports Report’s visit to Minneapolis earlier this summer, we had a free afternoon so we took the public tour of the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, home of the 2014 MLB All Star Game. Though it was a kind of drizzly day we still got a lot of looks (and tests) of the thing we came to see: The park’s new Wi-Fi and DAS networks, which were operational and since it was an empty house, probably running at full capacity for all our tests.

After a short (~30 min.) light rail trip from the airport to downtown, we dumped our bags at the hotel and hoofed it over to Target Field, staying dry by cleverly using the city’s skywalk pathways. Once at the stadium it was just a short wait for the 3 p.m. tour to start, so we cruised the Twins’ gift store where the full-body Twins jammies made us think of cold September nights.

Tech you can and can’t see

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

I’d never been on one of these public tours before, but our group of 7 dudes learned a lot of lore from our excellent guide Rick, who had his stats down cold. The big glove outside the stadium, he let us know, is 522 feet from home plate, the longest home run recorded by Twins legend Harmon Killebrew. That home run was hit in 1967 at the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.

Rick started out our tour by informing us that the $600 million Target Field, which opened in 2010, has a whole lot of technology under the field, pipes that heat the field and carry water away from it; there’s no dirt on the playing field, just sand underneath a very thin covering of grass. Baseball capacity now is 38,868, Rick said, though on opening day the park had 40,000+ there. That’s great stuff, man, but what about the Wi-Fi? Though I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal outside the gates, once inside the network was clearly humming: As Rick took us through the press box, where there were Ethernet cords in front of each seat, I wondered how necessary those were with a reading of 59.26 Mbps down and 62.67 up as I sat in a front-row seat.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

As one the MLBAM-led technology deployment deals (in part to get ready for the All Star Game demands) the Wi-Fi inside Target Field is mainly Cisco gear, at least those that you can see. The familiar white boxes (now with MLBAM ID stickers) are fairly ubiquitous. Since we weren’t able to get ahold of the Twins’ IT crew before our visit I’m not sure what the final AP or DAS antenna count is these days. But if you know where to look, and we do, you can see a lot of antennas around.

Dealing with outside-the-park interference

One of the interesting things we learned in our profile of the park prior to the All Star Game was that since the stadium is right downtown, the Twins and the major carriers had to figure out how to keep macro antennas on buildings outside the ballpark from bleeding into the stadium’s DAS. According to another source we spoke with in Minnesota, this year was the first year that Target Field’s DAS didn’t need any more alterations; as you can see by one of pictures here of the Ford Center, which is across the street from the back side of Target Field, there’s a lot of RF on rooftops in the near vicinity.

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what's that cord for?

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what’s that cord for?

Down near field level, the Wi-Fi was still cranking in the mid-40s, an excellent score for a place that’s normally hard to cover. Looking around I didn’t initially see any APs, with none on the wall facing backwards as some stadiums do it. Then after some more inspection I saw the source of the bandwidth, some well-covered railing APs mounted on the railing behind the 10 or so rows of near-the-field seats. On our way out I saw some of the distinctive AmpThink-designed sideways railing enclosures, for the open-bowl seating not covered by overhangs.

Though ideally we’d love to come back on a game day, from the looks of the physical placements we were able to see and the tests we took, it seems like both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks at Target Field are high performers, good news for Twins fans who need connectivity. And if you need to drown your sorrows or celebrate, there is also an in-stadium beer network, which supplies suds from main keg rooms through conduits that are definitely more tasty than copper or fiber. Prosit!

Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

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Target Field in panoramic view.

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A silhouette of a Wi-Fi antenna. MSR geek art.

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A Wi-Fi AP and some kind of gun antenna. Anyone know what that is?

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You bought it, you put your name on it.

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Another panoramic view, showing how close downtown is.

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The Ford Center is across the street from the back of the park. We’re guessing those macro antennas on top had to be tuned to keep their signals from interfering.

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Not Wi-Fi, but a network worth building for thirsty fans.

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Anyone want to test download speeds of these pipes?

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Great quote overheard in Minnesota: “It takes a lot of wire to make a park wireless.”

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Tour guide Rick getting set to take his “team” out on the field. BUT NOT ON THE GRASS!

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The railing APs that cover the field-level seats.

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An AmpThink railing enclosure. Rick didn’t know what those were, but he does now.

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Nice hardware in the Twins’ high-rollers club area.

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Our tour didn’t get to see inside, but we can guess what’s behind that door.

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If you can hit one here, the Twins want to talk to you.

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That’s about as close as MSR will ever get to being in “The Show.” Until next time!

All-Star Wi-Fi: Cincinnati crowds used 4.3 TB over All-Star Game activities

Fans at All-Star Game taking pictures of Pete Rose. Photo: Screenshot courtesy Fox Sports/Cincinnati Reds

Fans at All-Star Game taking pictures of Pete Rose. Photo: Screenshot courtesy Fox Sports/Cincinnati Reds

Like a player added to the roster just before game time, the new Wi-Fi network at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati handled some all-star traffic levels, carrying a total of 4.3 terabytes of data over the three separate events that made up Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game festivities earlier this week, according to IT execs at the ballpark.

Though it only came online a couple weeks before the big event, the GABP Wi-Fi network held up admirably for the big game, carrying 2.36 TB during Tuesday night’s main event, according to Brian Keys, vice president of technology for the Cincinnati Reds. Almost another 2 TB was recorded during the ancillary events, the futures game and the Home Run Derby, proving once again that “big event” crowds like their Wi-Fi and are adept and finding and using in-stadium wireless networks. We don’t have DAS stats yet but it’s an easy guess that all four DAS deployments inside the stadium also carried significant traffic loads during the All-Star activities.

In a phone interview Friday, Keys said that the peak concurrent Wi-Fi user number hit 9,700 at one point during the actual All-Star Game, with a total of 12,000 unique Wi-Fi connections over all of Tuesday night. And even though the game attracts a national audience, the hometown fans provided the biggest traffic surges during Cincinnati Reds-specific moments — like at the end of Monday’s Home Run Derby when local hero Todd Frazier won in dramatic fashion, and when former Reds star Pete Rose had a brief pre-game introduction.

“Especially when Todd [Frazier] got up to bat, that really tested the limits of our [bandwidth] pipe,” Keys said. The Rose introduction, he said, put similar stress on the 576 Wi-Fi access points, but with Keys’ staff as well as a special group from Wi-Fi gear provider Cisco on hand to help out, the new network performed in big-league fashion, Keys said.

During construction, the IT team had to overcome one structural hurdle, namely the lack of any railings in the lower bowl to mount Wi-Fi APs on. Keys said some of that was solved by putting APs at the bottom of seating rows pointing up, and using overhang space for other antenna mounts. The Great American Ball Park did not use any under-seat APs, Keys said.

Pete Rose. Photo: Screen shot of Fox Sports broadcast courtesy of Cincinnati Reds.

Pete Rose. Photo: Screen shot of Fox Sports broadcast courtesy of Cincinnati Reds.

Though the ballpark had explored putting Wi-Fi in last season, the initial deployment was stalled last summer due to what Keys called contract issues. But with the All-Star game coming this season, the park re-started its Wi-Fi deployment, which was part of the Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) plan to bring Wi-Fi to all parks for this season. Keys said the new network deployment began in March and finished up on June 26, giving his team a few home dates to kick the tires and tune it up quickly for its big event.

Going forward, Keys said the four-DAS deployment — with four sets of antennas and four different headends — will be consolidated into a single, neutral host DAS operation. Keys is also looking forward to adding features enabled by the Wi-Fi network, like expanded food ordering and greater use of beacon technology. “It’ll be great to add more things to improve the fan experience,” he said.

All-Star Game has DAS Grand Slam: Four different DAS systems online at Great American Ball Park

Google Map screenshot of Cincinnati riverfront area, showing Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park. Somewhere in between is a DAS headend.

Google Map screenshot of Cincinnati riverfront area, showing Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park. Somewhere in between is a DAS headend.

Call it the DAS grand slam — to cover wireless customer demand, the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati has four separate DAS deployments, one for each of the major U.S. wireless carriers, which are probably all getting a workout at tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Brian Keys, vice president of technology for the Cincinnati Reds, confirmed Tuesday that there are four separate DAS (distributed antenna system) networks in the ballpark, one each for AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. Through several interviews Mobile Sports Report was able to confirm that Solid is providing the gear for the Verizon DAS, and another source said that ADRF is providing the DAS for Sprint.

We also had a long interview with the folks at TE Connectivity, who initially installed a 2G/3G/4G DAS in the venue in 2011, and recently upgraded that DAS, adding support for the 2100 MHz AWS spectrum. And while TE Connectivity was not at liberty to name the carrier for which it provides the DAS, by process of elimination we are fairly confident that their customer is AT&T. T-Mobile, which is also on its own DAS in the park, is also believed to be a Solid customer but we haven’t yet confirmed that fact.

Why are there four systems in Cincinnati? We haven’t yet had a chance to talk to Brian Keys (he’s been a little bit busy this week) but it’s fairly likely that it was just a fairly normal occurrence in the DAS world — one big carrier doesn’t want to join a DAS already installed by another big carrier, so it just funds its own. At the Great American Ball Park, Verizon’s decision to build its own DAS may have been in part because the carrier already has a DAS headend facility nearby, serving Paul Brown Stadium, the GABP’s riverfront neighbor. In fact, the Solid folks told us Tuesday that both the baseball DAS and the football DAS for Verizon are served out of the same facility, which makes sense.

The TE Connectivity DAS, for the client it couldn’t name (AT&T!), was also recently upgraded to cover areas outside the stadium, including the parking lots, a trend we are seeing more of as venues realize that fans want connectivity the moment they arrive, not just when they’re in their seats. We’ll try to get more details on this somewhat unique DAS situation — which was also apparently approved by the technical and business folks at MLBAM, which helped bring a Wi-Fi upgrade to the park this past offseason — but for the meantime, let’s just be glad that customers of all four of the major U.S. carriers had DAS support at Tuesday’s All-Star Game — in their own private and separate ways.

MLB Stadium Tech and Wi-Fi Reports — AL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE BASEBALL (And Soccer!) ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AL Central

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium
Seating Capacity: 37,903
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Venerable Kauffman Stadium turned on its MLBAM-powered Wi-Fi network just in time for the Royals’ historic run to the World Series last year, where it was found and enjoyed by true blue fans even without any promotion. A new four-carrier neutral DAS is under construction for 2015.

Minnesota Twins
Target Field
Seating Capacity: 39,504
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Host of the 2014 All-Star Game, Twins fans can now enjoy the Wi-Fi and DAS networks installed last year. MLBAM helped install the Wi-Fi network, while the DAS includes gear and expertise from InSite Wireless and TE Connectivity.

Chicago White Sox
U.S. Cellular Field
Seating Capacity: 40,615
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the losers in the MLBAM program to bring Wi-Fi to all stadiums was Boingo Wireless, the previous provider of Wi-Fi at U.S. Cellular Field. For 2015, a MLBAM network will be in place with 550 new APs from MLBAM equipment provider Cisco.

Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park
Seating Capacity: 41,681
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Tigers fans are yet another group who have in-park Wi-Fi this season courtesy of MLB, with 600 APs installed for the 2015 season. A full-featured DAS is currently under construction, and is expected to be operational by mid-season with all four major wireless carriers participating.

Cleveland Indians
Progressive Field
Seating Capacity: 43,545
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Recognized as one of baseball’s most Twitter-friendly teams, the Cleveland Indians have stepped up their game with not one but two social media areas inside the stadium that will take advantage of the Verizon-powered Wi-Fi. Formerly known as the Social Suite, the Indians now have #Tribelive, which will have its own seating section inside a right-field bar; Cleveland will also have a Family Social Suite, in a more kid-friendly environment.