Federated Wireless completes ESC network for CBRS

One of the coastal sensors deployed in Federated Wireless’ ESC network. Credit: Federated Wireless

Federated Wireless announced Monday the completion of its environmental sensing capability (ESC) network, in what may be one of the final stepping stones toward commercial deployments of networks in the CBRS band.

Under the unique shared-spectrum licensing structure of the CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band, a swath of 150 MHz in the 3.5 GHz range, an ESC network must be in place to sense when U.S. Navy ships are using the band. What Federated is announcing Monday is that its ESC network is ready to go, one of the final things needed before commercial customers of Federated’s products and services would be able to formally start operating their networks.

Though the Federated ESC network is still pending final FCC approval, Federated president and CEO Iyad Tarazi said in a phone interview that the company “expects to get the green light [from the FCC] in June,” with the commercial customer launches following soon behind. Federated, a pure-CBRS startup with $75 million in funding, also offers Spectrum Access Services (SAS), another part of the CBRS puzzle to help ensure that any network operators who want to play in the shared-space sandbox that is CBRS are only using spectrum chunks that are free of any higher-priority traffic.

According to Tarazi Federated already has 25 customers testing its gear and services in getting ready to launch CBRS networks, a yet-unnamed group of entities that Tarazi said includes wireless carriers, enterprise companies looking to launch private networks, and even some large public venues.

Private networks first for venues?

The early thinking on CBRS use cases for sports stadiums includes the possibility of using private LTE networks for sensitive internal operations like ticketing and concessions, or even for closed-system video streaming and push-to-talk voice support. In the longer-term future, CBRS has been touted as a potential way to provide a neutral-host network that could support fan-facing carrier offload much like a current distributed antenna system (DAS), but to get to that place will still likely require some more-advanced SIM technology to be developed and deployed in client devices like cellphones.

But the potential of a new, huge chunk of spectrum — and the possibility of teams, leagues and venues being able to own and operate their own networks — has created a wide range of interest in CBRS among sports operations. While many of those same entities already operate stadium Wi-Fi networks, CBRS’s support for the cellular LTE standard theoretically could support faster, more secure networks. However, the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard may close the performance gaps between cellular and Wi-Fi in the near future; many networking observers now seem to agree that most venues will likely see a continued mix of Wi-Fi and cellular systems in the near future, possibly including CBRS.

Already, the PGA and NASCAR have live tests of CBRS networks underway, and the NFL and Verizon have kicked the ball around with CBRS tests, reportedly for possible sideline headset network use.

While CBRS will potentially get more interesting when the commercial deployments become public, if you’re a network geek you will be able to appreciate some of the work done by Federated to get its ESC network operational, starting with the deployments of sensors on coastal structures as varied as “biker bars and luxe beach resorts,” according to a Federated blog post.

Tarazi, who was most recently vice president of network development at Sprint, said the Federated ESC network is “triple redundant,” since losing just one sensor could render a big chunk of spectrum unusable.

“If you lose a sensor, you lose hundreds of square miles of [available] network,” Tarazi said. “That’s a big deal.”

And ensuring network availability is in part what Federated’s clients will be paying the company for, part of the puzzle that when put together will theoretically open up wireless spectrum at a much lower cost compared to purchasing licensed spectrum at auction. As one of the pick-and-shovel providers in the CBRS gold rush, Tarazi and Federated may be the only ESC game in town for a while, as the joint effort between CommScope and Google to build another ESC is not expected to be completed until later this year at the earliest.

“I feel like we’re at an inflection point now,” Tarazi said. “It feels good to be leading this wave.”

Verizon, JMA bring high-speed DAS to Sonoma Raceway

Entrance to the track at Sonoma Raceway. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

For the second year in a row, NASCAR fans who are Verizon Wireless customers should have a speedy cellular experience at this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, thanks to a neutral-host DAS Verizon built there two winters ago.

According to Verizon, at last year’s races the carrier saw 2.7 terabytes of data used by its customers over the weekend of race activity. The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event includes practice and qualifying heats Friday and Saturday on the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road track built into the hills just south of Northern California’s famed Wine Country, before Sunday’s main event.

With one main grandstand and numerous other seating areas spread out around the course’s twists, turns, climbs and dips, bringing enhanced cellular connectivity to the venue had as many curves to conquer as a driver during a 350-mile race. Built during the winter of 2015-16, Verizon said the deployment was a “considerable construction project,” using more than 25,000 feet of underground boring runs and conduit to reach different tower locations on the raceway property.

On a recent tour of the raceway, Jere Starks, the facility’s vice president for facilities and operations, showed why the boring was necessary, since trenching of fiber would have disrupted the integrity of the hills and surfaces that support not just the track but the seating areas, many of which back into hillsides.

When the NASCAR series was sponsored by Sprint, Starks said cellular connectivity for the NASCAR event was provided mainly by mobile COWs, or cell trucks on wheels. Like any other large venue, the increased digital activity of fans on mobile devices (“they do everything on their phones except their income taxes,” joked Starks) meant that a higher-capacity solution was in order.

A new DAS tower at the track

According to Verizon, its customers used another 1.7 TB of data during last fall’s IndyCar race, the other “big” event on the Sonoma Raceway calendar. Though it is designed as a neutral network, according to Verizon no other wireless carrier is yet using the DAS.

Getting power to the towers

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, the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, and even a profile of a new Wi-Fi network for Westfield Century City Mall! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

For its DAS hardware, Verizon turned to JMA Wireless, which said it used its multi-band, multi-carrier TEKO DAS gear at the raceway. According to JMA, there are 76 low-power, five-band remote units and four high-power, five-band remote units, as well as 88 ODAS (outdoor DAS) antennas deployed at various strategic locations around the track as well as between seating and parking-lot areas. The deployments mesh in well with existing infrastructure, even sometimes sharing poles with speakers to blend in with the racetrack elements.

The headend building (can you see the fiber lines?)

JMA said the deployment also made use of its FUZE wireless power technology, which can bring electricity to DAS tower gear without having to have the local utility bringing AC power to each location. According to JMA, using digital electricity also allowed for the use of composite cable (fiber and copper together in one sheath), making installation faster and easier by utilizing a single “pull” cable.

Touring the facility with Starks, Mobile Sports Report saw towers located at the front of main grandstand areas pointing back, and at the back of some seating areas with antennas pointing both toward the seats as well as down the hills to the main parking areas located to the east of the racing area. Farther east to almost the edge of the property is the network’s headend building, a facility whose build-in story is probably worth a novel-length essay all by itself.

According to both Starks and Verizon, the prefab headend building was shipped to Sonoma from Louisiana, a process that took months both due to the logistics of simply shipping such a large, heavy building (according to Starks the trailer bringing in the main part of the facility had 11 axles) as well as negotiating its passage with the highway patrols and departments of transportation for states along the way. According to Starks and Verizon, the headend deployment process included having to build a new road across the dirt parking lot to support the buildings’ transport, as well as a strengthened concrete pad to support the facility.

A trackside tower that points back to seating

(Starks told a longer, great story about how some local ingenuity helped speed up final deployment after a legal delay kept the main building tied up at a state border for a few weeks. After the delay meant certain crane placements wouldn’t work, someone suggested the crew spread sand on the concrete pad and bulldozer the bigger building into place, a trick that Starks said worked well — “it just slid right in there.”)

Ready for more connectivity

With another 100,000-plus fans expected during the NASCAR weekend, as well as at the venue’s popular drag-racing events and the fall IndyCar stop, Starks is happy that fans will be able to use their mobile devices as much as they want, now for Verizon Wireless customers and for other carriers’ subscribers in the future.

“When you have 50,000 people all doing video [on their phones] at the same time, we knew we had to overhaul the system,” Starks said. “Verizon did a great job, they were very sensitive to the facility and it was a great experience working with them.”

A look at one grandstand area, with several DAS antennas in front

A concession stand for old-school fans who remember the track as simply “Sears Point”

New Report: State of the art Wi-Fi network at Braves’ new SunTrust Park

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Wi-Fi for concourses, suites makes its debut at Daytona 500

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Then connect to Wi-Fi!

Fans at Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR season opener will be able to connect to free Wi-Fi services in the new, wide concourses, suites, and midway area of the newly refurbished Daytona International Speedway, thanks to a new deployment led by Arris International, using Wi-Fi gear from Ruckus Wireless, management software from Aptilo and a new wiring infrastructure from CommScope.

According to Pete Wagener, senior vice president of sales operations at Arris, the already operational “phase 1” of the Wi-Fi network serves the new concourses, the VIP suites and the front-stretch “midway” area behind the seating structure. As part of the $400 million refurbishing of the historical racetrack, the first permanent deployment of Wi-Fi at Daytona was targeted at areas where the 101,500 fans who fill Daytona can congregate, Wagener said. A “phase 2” deployment will bring Wi-Fi to campgrounds and parking areas next year, but a “phase 3” plan to bring Wi-Fi directly to seating areas is still not yet a confirmed deal, Wagener said.

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

Under the “Daytona Rising” refurbishing of the speedway, the addition of wide concourse areas behind the main seating area and a newly designed “midway” area on the ground level gives fans more areas to congregate, and with video monitors and Wi-Fi, they can stay connected to the action on the track. A new mobile app is also ready for its Daytona 500 debut, with features like live wayfinding inside the stadium and a parking locator, no small thing in the huge lots that are filled on race days.

Wagener said the Wi-Fi network has already been tested a couple times, at the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, and at the Daytona qualifying events earlier in the month. He added that the network management system has already allowed the IT team to make adjustments, adding more Wi-Fi access points (there are now 250 in the current phase) to get ready for the expected traffic on race day.

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris

Planning for future needs now

Putting fan-facing networks into huge race tracks like Daytona has always been something owners were reluctant to do, since it was hard to justify the costs of covering hundreds of thousands of seats that only might be filled with fans a few days a year. Daytona itself had seen some mobile Wi-Fi deployments, mainly to cover areas like campgrounds or parking, but had never brought Wi-Fi into the actual stadium itself.

But now with more events scheduled for the Daytona facility — and a plan to use the Daytona network operations center as the central control unit for Wi-Fi deployments at other International Speedway Corporation tracks — Wagener said that with the highly granular analytics its system will produce, NASCAR will be able to more easily justify the cost of the network through targeted marketing and maybe even charging for higher tiers of service in the future, especially at the campgrounds and parking areas, where fans may want to consume more bandwidth during their overnight stays.

Wagener also said that Arris, which deployed Wi-Fi networks at the Charlotte Arena and at World Cup soccer sites in Brazil, is looking toward more stadium deployments in the future, calling it “the next frontier for our industry.” Best known perhaps for its work providing gear and infrastructure for Comcast’s consumer network, Wagener said Arris brings “carrier class expertise” that is necessary for deployments on the scale of a Daytona Speedway.

In a separate announcement, CommScope said that it was also a partner in the communications infrastructure for “Daytona Rising,” deploying miles of copper cabling and fiber optic lines to support the new Wi-Fi system as well as TV displays and other stadium infrastructure needs.

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

App developer theScore lands $15 million venture deal

thescore

A few years back there was a steady stream of sports apps from small, independent developers all seeking to establish themselves in a niche and grow (or be acquired) to become one of the go-to programs for sports fans.

Fast forward a few years and the first wave has sadly mostly died off, victims of a variety of issues from over completion in their selected market, underfunding, well funded rivals, delivering an overall poor app and a host of other issues, so it is always nice when somebody breaks through to a new level.

One that has done that is theScore which has not only has stayed in the game but is now in a position to increase its exposure and enhance its platform with the influx of $15 million in venture funding that is expected to close in mid-May.

The private round already has a number of investors announcing their intention to participate including Levfam Holdings Ltd., Relay Ventures Fund II L.P. and Relay Ventures Parallel Fund II L.P. The publicly traded company is based in Toronto.

For those not familiar with theScore’s app, which is available on Android and Apple iOS devices, it is a customizable sports app that provides not only news and scores in real time but also information for fantasy teams and leagues. It tracks a huge number of sports leagues both domestic and international, along with their individual teams.

Hopefully the influx of cash will help enable the company to further establish itself as a mainstream app with broad based acceptance.

USA Today launches enhanced sports weekly app

usatod

While I often read USA Today online I did not realize that it had a separate sports app called USA Today Sports Weekly that is available for free from iTunes, Amazon Kindle and Google Play, and which has just been upgraded to include new interactive features.

USA Today said that the revamp was due to the changing viewership habits of its readers which are continually moving from the print copy to digital versions.

The app will feature pretty much what a user would expect from USA Today with coverage of all of the major pro and college leagues with a heavy emphasis on the NFL as well as a solid influx of news from international sports and leagues. There will be editorials, opinion pieces and polls and it will handle fantasy sports including tips and advice.

A new feature that came out with the latest rev is called Stream and it is a social feature that in real time enables a crowd sourced stream of user suggested sports news feed. It also enables users easily cut and send or save articles that interest them. This will be moderated by the community.

There are few things that a prospective user should be aware of if they download the free app, since it has that little + sign next to it, which means in app purchases ahead. The app itself is just a shell, like an embedded e-reader. To actually get the copy for each week requires an in-app purchase, which starts at $2.99 for a single issue. A three-month subscription will run a user $12.99 while the six-month version is $17.99 and the full year is $38.99. Each week provides a preview so that if you are looking just for one that focuses on a specific event or issue, say the NFL Draft, you can find that out prior to purchasing.

I will be interested to see how well the subscription model does for USA Today. While I read the publication’s sports section I also know that there are plenty of free alternatives on the web, ranging from local newspapers up to ESPN. In an age where you can find any number of dedicated bloggers that covers an issue very closely such as NFL cap issues and make their findings available for free why would someone pay for a generalists view?