Stadium Tech Report: Network finishes season strong at Niners’ Levi’s Stadium

Arriving at Levi's Stadium for last 2014 season game

Arriving at Levi’s Stadium for last 2014 season game

While the football season didn’t turn out like 49ers fans wanted, the wireless network at the team’s new Levi’s Stadium closed out the year with strong performances to complete a largely glitch-free stretch of events at what is one of the world’s most technologically advanced stadiums.

With more than 2 Terabytes of data used by fans at each of the last two home games for the San Francisco 49ers, the Wi-Fi and DAS networks at Levi’s Stadium closed out a season of superb connectivity that eventually allowed the team to not just offer in-seat food and beverage delivery, but also ordering and delivery of merchandise like hats and T-shirts, an option that was available for the Dec. 20 game against the San Diego Chargers and the Dec. 28 closer vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

According to the Levi’s Stadium network crew, the Wi-Fi network carried 2.34 TB of data for the Chargers game and another 2.11 TB for the Cardinals game, with 20,096 fans using the network on Dec. 20 and 20,164 on Wi-Fi on Dec. 28. Peak concurrent user numbers were 13,700 for the Chargers game, and 14,400 for the season closer.

All season long, our speed tests in various parts of the stadium showed strong signals for both the Wi-Fi as well as the distrbuted antenna system (DAS) enhanced cellular network. At the final game it was no different; we found Wi-Fi download speeds of 16 Mbps on the rooftop deck, 25 Mbps in a suite and a scorching 39 Mbps in the Levi’s 501 Club seats (no doubt in part because there was a Wi-Fi antenna under the seat next to us).

Both Verizon and AT&T 4G LTE services also worked well, consistently scoring download speeds in the 4-6 Mbps range in most places and much higher in others. In short, we didn’t find any flaws in the network coverage in five games of walking all around the stadium, testing everywhere we went.

CalTrain to VTA a smooth ride

Caltrain crown en route to Arizona game

Caltrain crown en route to Arizona game

At the final game, Mobile Sports Report (me) tested out the full public-transit method of getting to the game, starting from San Mateo on CalTrain at 10:51 a.m. The parking lot at the station was almost completely empty, and free since it was Sunday; it’s possible that crowds were lighter since the Niners had been eliminated from postseason play, but nevertheless the ride to Mountain View went without hitch, a good sign for next year when many fans in town for Super Bowl 50 will no doubt be using CalTrain to get from San Francisco to Levi’s.

At the Mountain View CalTrain/VTA station operations were at their best I’ve seen, with more neon-vested VTA helpers offering clear instructions on why you might want to take an express bus instead of the light rail. Insider tip: If the express bus is available, take it, because in our testing it arrived at Levi’s in about half the time as the train trip (~20 minutes as opposed to almost 40 minutes for the light rail option).

Express bus option at Mountain View

Express bus option at Mountain View

The only thing that still remains to be ironed out is the fare confusion in switching from CalTrain to VTA, which are two different operators. On CalTrain there was advertising for a $6 “combo ticket” that would let you ride VTA and could be purchased at the same time you bought your CalTrain pass. But an online single-day ticket purchased via the VTA app was only $4.50, so it’s not clear why you would buy the CalTrain pass. Especially for the Super Bowl, it’d help fans if there was one price and one place to buy a single “Get to Levi’s” public-transit ticket.

Food order arrives as promised

Another thing I tried at the season closer was the in-seat food ordering feature on the Levi’s Stadium app. Sitting in the Levi’s Club section seats on the third level, I consulted the app to order a cold beer and a warm pretzel, which the app said could be delivered in 10 minutes.

Food runner bringing me my cold beer and warm pretzel

Food runner bringing me my cold beer and warm pretzel

After entering credit-card information into the app and hitting the order button the app updated itself with timely notices about the order being prepared, and that it was on its way. I found that information to be very assuring, a sign that things were indeed happening; there was even a big number associated with my order that appeared, apparently to make it easier for the food runner to confirm the order.

The order arrived exactly in 10 minutes’ time, as predicted by the app — it also arrived in a lot of extra packaging, a separate plastic bag for the steel bottle of beer and a paper sack holding a cellophane wrapper-encircled pretzel. Since there is no way to add a gratuity in the app, I gave the runner a cash tip, which seemed appropriate even though there is a $5 charge added to the order cost for the delivery service. I have to admit it felt a little weird to have someone bring me my food and drink but in the time it took to order and deliver I sat in my seat and watched the Niners’ game-winning TD drive so it’s clearly a fan-friendly option.

Video replays work well, for small amount of viewers

Another part of the Levi’s Stadium technology that was at peak performance by year’s end was the app’s instant replay feature. Though it started slowly and had some hiccups early on, by the final game instant replays were appearing in the app even before the next play had concluded (see our feature on how the VenueNext team gets the replays to the app so quickly).

While it’s an impressive addition to the in-game experience, the replays are a feature that only a small amount of fans are watching. According to the team network stats there were only 1,253 unique users watching replays on Dec. 20, and 1,019 during the Dec. 28 game. Total replays viewed for the Chargers game were 6,285, while 4.310 replays were watched during the season closer.

Why aren’t the replays catching on? Our main guess is that the Levi’s Stadium big screens are so clear and so quick to show replays (they also show live action as it’s happening), fans don’t find it necessary to use their phones to watch replays. It’s also possible that many fans in the stadium who are using the network aren’t using the Levi’s Stadium app. Indeed, according to the team network stats, the team app hasn’t yet cracked the top-four apps being used at any of the games this season; for the Dec. 20 game the top apps being used on the network were Amazon cloud drive, Facebook, Google APIs (probably Gmail) and Apple; for Dec. 28 the list was Amazon, Google, Facebook, then Apple.

We’ll try to get some season-long stats to share for both the network and the app features, but our quick conclusion after five live-game visits to Levi’s Stadium this year is that the wireless network and the app both pretty much lived up to their pre-season billing and hype, delivering a wireless game-day experience that is the standard other large public facilities will be measured against, going forward. More photos from our last visit below.

The Microsoft Surface/sideline Wi-Fi unit

The Microsoft Surface/sideline Wi-Fi unit

close-up of cable connection

close-up of cable connection

Niners' Flickr promotion on scoreboard -- very popular

Niners’ Flickr promotion on scoreboard — very popular

Sideline Surface tablets for Niners players and coaches

Sideline Surface tablets for Niners players and coaches

Colin Kaepernick exchanges his radio helmet for his flat-brimmed hat after throwing a TD pass

Colin Kaepernick exchanges his radio helmet for his flat-brimmed hat after throwing a TD pass

View from the Levi's skydeck out over Santa Clara

View from the Levi’s skydeck out over Santa Clara

If you throw a rooftop party, the cheerleaders might visit

If you throw a rooftop party, the cheerleaders might visit

View from the Levi's 501 Club section seats

View from the Levi’s 501 Club section seats

Wi-Fin antenna right under the seat next to me (probably why my speedtest was 40+ Mbps)

Wi-Fin antenna right under the seat next to me (probably why my speedtest was 40+ Mbps)

In-stadium signing help to get fans to light rail

In-stadium signing help to get fans to light rail

End of game view from skydeck

End of game view from skydeck

A final toast to the season at the BNY Club

A final toast to the season at the BNY Club

VTA train line. Only took 15 minutes from here to get on bus.

VTA train line. Only took 15 minutes from here to get on bus.

Caltrain platform at Mountain View. Extra trains helped make ride home easy

Caltrain platform at Mountain View. Extra trains helped make ride home easy

Turner, March Madness app ready for NCAA tournament


March Madness, one of the sports world’s iconic events is on the horizon and no doubt fans are already plotting out strategies to get out of the office or school to watch their favorite team attempt to advance in its bracket. However thanks to Turner Sports there is an alternative.

It has released NCAA March Madness Live, an app that will provide portable access to all of the games in the tournament, with a total of 150 hours available during the event. Even better the app will now be supported by three platforms, Apple’s iOS, Android and for the first time Microsoft as well. Now fans can use a smartphone or tablet as a second screen if at a bar or as a primary device if at work.

To use the app a fan and watch all of the matchups that will be broadcast on TNT, TBS, and truTV a fan needs to log in with their TV service provider information. Games will also be available online at various sites, including This year, NCAA March Madness Live will launch from more platforms than ever before including the NCAA March Madness page, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report. There is no registration required for games on CBS. The app will also provide a temporary preview period giving fans access to live game streaming before login is required.

The app, Developed in partnership with the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports is a follow up to previous years’ offerings but it has made several major enhancements to the app since last year, aside from the Microsoft support.

Of importance to the fans of bracketology and seeing if they are winning in their office pool the app has a new interface that has been designed for work with the smaller screens that smartphones feature as well with the slightly larger screens on tablets. It allows users to go directly from this feature to a live game and includes broadcast times and schedules. It also has additional view modes for brackets.

The heart of the app might be the GameCenter, one of the features that has been redesigned. It is the central [point to find which games are currently live streaming as well as pre-game matchup analysis, live in-game stats, key social moments and fan chat.

To complement the enhanced features in the bracket area there is the almost obligatory bracket for fans, this one entitled Capitol One NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge. The app developers have enhanced its social media functionality as well as supporting computers as well as smartphones and tablets. It allows for the formation of groups, sharing brackets and chat via Facebook.

There is also a general chat forum called the Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena that enables fans t converse about games and other events as well as follow game tweets, post and view Instagram photos and Vine videos. Fans can participate in the social commentary by using the hashtag #marchmadness.

Understanding that some fans might want to set up schedules to just see specific matchups the app now includes a TV Schedule that helps with planning. This feature can be accessed from various other features such as game schedule or bracket and provides the round, date, time and network for each game. Also new this year is a Tournament News feature that provides news and updates as well as highlights, recaps and additional information each day.

Following the broadcasting of all of the just concluded Winter Olympic events online by NBC hopefully this is the wave of the future. While MLB enables fans to watch a huge number of games either online or on their television via a subscription model the NBA and NFL trail well behind it.

WatchESPN app now supports Windows 8 devices


Mobile users that utilize devices that run on Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system no longer have to be second class citizens when it comes to viewing content generated by ESPN’s family of networks as there is now a WatchESPN app for their devices.

What this means in real terms is that if you have a subscription to a network that shows the network’s lineup they can have access to that includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes and ESPNEWS through WatchESPN.

The free app also includes the ability for users pin the app with a Live Tile that provides an instant view from the start screen that displays the top live events as well as features such as Snap functionality, a channel guide, the ability to browse by sport, access to featured live and on-demand content. ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater will also be accessible when those channels are in season.

In case you are unaware of which cable and satellite video providers that do or will soon feature ESPN and so enable you to access this feature here is a short list. AT&T U-verse TV, Bright House Networks, Cablevision’s Optimum TV, Charter, Comcast Xfinity TV, Cox, Google Fiber, Midcontinent Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon FiOS TV.

This is very good news for supporters of that operating system, which consistently comes in third when versions of sport apps are delivered. MLB almost always delivers a version of its numerous apps first for Apple’s iOS platform and then for Android. Others apps also tout the rival OS first and often there is no mention of Windows support.

Windows 8 had a strong fall growth spurt but has slowed while the older Windows 7 has seen strong growth in recent weeks. Hopefully this and increased support from other mobile apps will provide some much needed impetus for additional growth.

Friday Grab Bag: $1 Billion for perfect March Madness bracket?

Every year you hear, usually third hand, about somebody who correctly picked all of the winners in the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. A side note is that they won an office pool with maybe a few hundred dollars in it.

Well Warren Buffett is changing the stakes to the game, along with Berkshire Hathaway and Quicken Loans. They are offering an award of $1 billion for the person that correctly selects all 63 winners. You can ask for that in either $25 million a year over 40 years or a lump sum of $500 million. Such tough choices.

More Thursday night games from NFL
Remember those games that the NFL said it was not going to be playing on Thursday nights. Well the networks have all started bidding on the rights to broadcast the games that will start this upcoming September and the deal is expected to be for one season.

In the mix are CBS, Fox and NBC and the rumored amount is in the $400 million and is expected to be for eight games. However it appears that the deals are not exclusive but rather the NFL will also broadcast the same games on its NFL Network.

More NASCAR changes coming
NASCAR does not seem to want to leave good enough alone and is once again altering the rules that establish who wins the championship each season. The sport has been tinkering off and on with changes since it established the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

More teams seem to be the answer, at least according to NASCAR, which is trying to recapture its former broadcasting ratings glory. SportsOnEarth does a very nice job tearing down the proposal and pointing out how the sports executives seem bent on destroying the unique nature of the sport.

MLB Advanced Media honcho looks into the future
MLBAM has gotten a lot of news so far in this young year, deals streaming the new WWE online channel and a relationship with Sony that will leverage the MLBAM’s technical know-how for its back end technology.

Now its CEO Bob Bowman is talking about where he sees streaming video going and what impact the recent high profile deals will have on MLBAM

X Games have started
The prelude to the Winter Olympics has begun with ESPN’s annual X Games, hosted in Aspen, Colo. Just prior to the start of the Winter Olympics. However it looks like a few big names will not be seen at the events.

One is 13-time gold medal winner Shaun White, who said that he needed the time to prepare for the Sochi Games. The other is Red Bull, one of the top sponsors for the event. Monster Energy has replaced it and Forbes speculates that this could be the start of Monster establishing itself as a rival to Red Bull in the sports action market.

Sharp goes big in tablet spaceIf the current generation of tablets, now edging out to 13-inches, is too small to meet your needs then you might want to take a gander at the latest from Sharp, the RW-16G1, that boasts a 15.6 inch display.

The tablet runs Windows 8.1 operating system and is seen as a tool for those looking for a powerful tablet to replace a desktop or laptop computer. Among its features are 128GB storage, 3200 x 800 screen resolution and is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB RAM.

Will Firefox on tablets lead to lower-cost offerings?



The specs for the first tablet that has been designed to run Mozilla’s Firefox operating system have been published this week by project head Asa Dotzler as the OS prepares to give Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Google’s Android a run for their collective money.

The blog posting says that the tablet will feature an ARM Cortex A7 quad core processor running at 1GHz with a PowerVR GPU and 2GB of RAM. It will have 16GB of flash storage that presumably can be upgraded via its MicroSD slot.

The tablet, called the InFocus New Tab F1, will feature a 10.1 inch 1200 x 800 touch screen and have dual cameras, a 2megapixel and a 5MP camera as well as support 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi but no cellular support, at least in the first go-around.

The tablet is not a surprise since the company showed the OS for mobile phones a year ago at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and has been talking about the tablet since last summer when it said that it would partner with Foxconn to build the device. The interesting thing will be what impact it will have, if any, on its rivals.

The Firefox operating system has taken a big chunk on market share in the PC browser space, which along with Chrome has given Microsoft’s Internet Explorer much more competition that it could have wished for.

A number of handset developers use the mobile Firefox OS in offerings for emerging markets and now we will see if tablet developers will follow suit. There are an increasing number of low-cost offerings that offer primarily Android OS but along with the OS there are already a huge number of apps, probably as important as the OS.

It looks like an uphill battle for the OS, but it is also a hill that the development team has surmounted in the past. I could see purchasing a low-cost tablet that could be dedicated for single use. However for fans who want a tablet to serve as a second screen option, slow, low resolution offerings will not make it, but could serve to free up a primary, higher quality tablet for a more dedicated use as well.

Tablets, phablets and rumors at CES


Tablets have already taken the market by storm, essentially killing PC growth while moving into ever increasingly different areas of our lives. A host of new or possible tablets are making the rounds this week at the International CES show in Las Vegas, and here are a few of the more interesting ones.

There are major names involved in some of the news, and some that you may have never heard of before, or never considered in context with tablets, like Audi. Yes Audi has a tablet, although it functions as an extension of a car’s entertainment and directional equipment.

The Audi Smart Display is one of the first fruits of the recently announced Open Auto Alliance and it is a tablet designed to be used with the cars’ in-vehicle infotainment system. The 10-inch tablet will allow passengers to control a car’s connected features including navigation, telephone, audio and other features. Expect this to be the first of many announcements over the next year from car manufacturers in this area.

Among the big names Samsung again stood out, even if you pay no attention to the 105-inch television with a curved screen or director Michael Bay’s melt down at the press conference! The company expanded its tablet lineup with an additional four offerings, and a phablet. They are the 12.2-inch Galaxy TabPro, a 12.2-inch, 10-inch and 8.4-inch TabPro products as well as the latest Galaxy Note phablet, called the Galaxy NotePro and available in a 12.2-inch format..

Count Panasonic in with its Toughpad FZ-M1, a 7-inch format tablet that will be running the Windows Pro 8.1 operating system. Designed to be used in the field in situations a good deal more rugged than more traditional models it has a sealed designed to keep out dust and moisture and has been designed to withstand falls of five feet. It has an Intel i5 Core, a 1280 x 800 resolution display, 128GB SSD that can be upgraded to 256GB supports Wi-Fi up to the ac standard and has a 5MP rear camera. Last year the company used the show to deliver a pair of ToughPads

If you are looking for a tablet that will help keep the kids occupied during a long cross country trip, or when you are watching the first full season of Boardwalk Empire you might want to take a gander at the Kurio 7x 4G LTE tablet unveiled at the show. Designed to be kid friendly the device is part of a pair of announcements from Techno Sources and KD Interactive, the other being a phone targeted at children.

Probably the best rumor from the show is about a possible hybrid iPad that Apple is supposedly working on. Actually the rumor started prior to the show but it has heated up a bit since it first made the rounds. What Apple is purportedly working on is an iPad that uses the iOS operating system in tablet mode and then when docked to a keyboard it would run Apple’s PC operating system OSX.

Another more or less confirmed rumor is a stylus using tablet from Asus, the VivoTab Note 8 that will run on the Windows 9.1 operating system although complete details on the device are still lacking.

I suspect that after the deluge at the show, and probably several major real announcements down the road this year, new tablets will be greeted much the way new PCs were in the past, interesting but hardly worth flying people across the country for. That spot will most likely be filled by the emerging class of wearable computing devices such as Samsung Gear and Google Glass.

Already at the show Sony announced that it was planning on expanding its wearable offerings come spring with several, as yet unnamed, offerings in its SmartWear Experience lineup. They will be based around a component that it calls the Core.

Intel is also fanning the flames with a “Make it Wearable” challenge that will award $1.3 million in cash and prizes to developers that create wearable devices that help advance computing to become even more wearable, I mean connected.