First Look: Shining start for Notre Dame’s stadium renovations, new Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football field and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

At this past Sunday’s “New and Gold” game, a sort of glorified scrimmage, the public (including Mobile Sports Report) got its first look at the University of Notre Dame’s Campus Crossroads project, a $400-million plus effort to bring premium seating, a large video board and high-density Wi-Fi to a venue that came to life in 1930, according to university history.

While we will have a full report on our visit to Notre Dame Stadium in our upcoming Fall STADIUM TECH REPORT issue, we wanted to give you a “first look” at the new facilities, which basically include three new large buildings built into the sides of the existing structure, to provide support for the video board as well as two expanded premium-seating and press box areas on either side of the field.

Wi-Fi AP overlooks a concession stand

One of the coolest parts we saw were the new rooftop premium seating areas, where you can sit on a couch and see the full field while also peering out over the edge of the stadium to see Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the rest of the world (well, OK, mostly South Bend, Indiana) while enjoying your favorite beverage and speedy Wi-Fi.

The new Wi-Fi network design using Cisco gear was led by AmpThink, and includes custom-designed enclosures for railing-mounted APs that feature a sharp version of the “ND” logo known to any football fan. Though the network hasn’t yet been optimized or tested with a full house of fans, we were still getting solid up/down signals in the 60-70 Mbps range throughout the building, even in low and high bowl seating areas. There is also a new neutral-host DAS in the stadium, built by Crown Castle. According to Notre Dame, Verizon Wireless and AT&T will be live on the cellular network by the start of the season, with T-Mobile to follow soon.

Like we said, look for more details in our upcoming report… but for now enjoy some scenes from Sunday’s game!

A good look across the main east seating section, with Wi-Fi handrail enclosures visible

DAS in the grass: A DAS antenna finds a home in the grassy strip separating seats from the field

The new big screen video board now dominates the south end zone

A good look at how the new structures bookend up to the stadium on its sides

Now that’s a premium suite: Rooftop couch area provides full view of field, plus scenic views over campus and beyond

Additional seating Wi-Fi coverage from small antennas over VOMs

Painted Wi-Fi AP blends in to column in main concourse outside seating area

The view of ‘Touchdown Jesus’ remains unobstructed

Inside look at the swanky, wood-paneled club for premium seatholders in west building

Scoreboard plug for the Wi-Fi

Notre Dame fans already figuring out how to use social media to get on the big screen

Smart fans at Notre Dame — early arrivers went right for the new, padded premium seats

How do you get bandwidth to APs located below grade level? By being clever and using routing down the side of stairways… more details on this trick coming soon!

T-Mobile joins DAS at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field

Corning ONE DAS headend equipment at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field deployment

The DAS network at Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field will now support T-Mobile cellular customers, according to an announcement from the school.

According to Texas A&M, T-Mobile will pay $3.5 million to have its signals carried on the DAS inside the 102,512-seat Kyle Field. Previously, AT&T and Verizon Wireless had paid $5 million each to be the first carriers on the stadium’s new DAS, which was installed ahead of the 2015 football season as part of a network deployment that cost north of $20 million according to school officials.

The network, one of the highest-performing deployments in U.S. sports stadiums, saw an 8.2 terabyte traffic day for a game this past season against Tennessee, with 3.8 TB of that traffic on the DAS network.

College Football Playoff championship sees 2.4 TB of Wi-Fi — big decline from 2016

We finally have numbers for the Wi-Fi usage at the most recent College Football Playoff championship game, and in somewhat of a first the total data used during the event was much lower than the previous year’s game, with just 2.4 terabytes of data used on Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. — compared to 4.9 TB of Wi-Fi used at the championship game in 2016, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

The reason for the decline is probably not due to any sudden dropoff in user demand, since usage of in-stadium cellular or DAS networks increased from 2016 to 2017, with AT&T’s observed network usage doubling from 1.9 TB to 3.8 TB in Tampa. More likely the dropoff is due to the fact that the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium had been through recent upgrades to prepare for both the college championship game and Super Bowl XLIX, while the network in Raymond James Stadium hasn’t seen a significant upgrade since 2010, according to stadium officials. At last check, the Wi-Fi network at University of Phoenix Stadium had more than 750 APs installed.

Joey Jones, network engineer/information security for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said the Wi-Fi network currently in use at Raymond James Stadium has a total of 325 Cisco Wi-Fi APs, with 130 of those in the bowl seating areas. The design is all overhead placements, Jones said in an email discussion, with no under-seat or handrail enclosure placements. The total unique number of Wi-Fi users for the college playoff game was 11,671, with a peak concurrent connection of 7,353 users, Jones said.

Still tops among college playoff championship games in Wi-Fi is the first one held at AT&T Stadium in 2015, where 4.93 TB of Wi-Fi was used. Next year’s championship game is scheduled to be held at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where one of the latest Wi-Fi networks should be in place and operational.

AmpThink’s Wi-Fi data reveals interesting attendance trends for collegiate customer

AmpThink infographic about how Wi-Fi data can help teams discover attendance information (click on photo for link to infographic page)

AmpThink infographic about how Wi-Fi data can help teams discover attendance information (click on photo for link to infographic page)

If there’s a single business concern we hear over and over again from stadium owners and operators, it’s the desire to answer a simple but powerful question: Who, exactly, is sitting in our seats?

Before digital technology arrived, that question was exceedingly hard to answer, as teams, schools and other ticket-sellers often only knew details of a small percentage of the actual fans in attendance. Paper tickets could be given to family, friends or sold to brokers, meaning the people actually at the game might very well not be the person who purchased the tickets.

While digital ticketing has improved the insight somewhat, many fans at many stadiums still use printed tickets for access, which may still keep the at-game attendee somewhat anonymous. But with a high-definition Wi-Fi network in place, stadium owners and operators can gain deep insights from the fans who do attend, even whether or not they actually log on to the network for access.

Wi-Fi deployment firm AmpThink, which has customers in all the U.S. pro leagues as well as in many major university venues, has put together a deeply sourced infographic showing how Wi-Fi analytics from a full season of games at a Power 5 college football stadium can produce some interesting insights — like the fact that 71 percent of all attendees only went to one game, and that only 2 percent of attendees went to all six games.

Using data to replace assumptions

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.

While we here at Mobile Sports Report don’t often recommend company-produced infographics, the data and conclusions surfaced in this one are eye-opening and are likely to be informative to venue owners and operators in a wide range of sports; that’s why we agreed to make this information available to our readers.

We also like the detailed explanations accompanying the infographic, spelling out how the data were collected and how Wi-Fi can be used to identify fans (including those with devices that may not even be purposely connected to the network). The last part of the infographic page, which asks “How could Wi-Fi data change sports marketing?” is a question we’ve already seen others starting to answer — and one we expect many to test in the near future as teams deploy not just Wi-Fi networks but also Bluetooth beacons, login portal pages and other methods to increase the granularity of fan identification.

For the unidentified client, AmpThink said the results “surprised” the school, which had (like others) believed in “long-held industry assumptions about fan loyalty and audience size.” It’s our guess that digital data will increasingly be used to replace assumptions, and we’re looking forward to sharing your stories of how that happens.

Arizona State upgrades DAS, Wi-Fi at Sun Devil Stadium

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

When Arizona State University started renovating Sun Devil Stadium three years ago, the project wasn’t so much a simple wireless refresh as it was a total reset of what technology, sports and academia could co-create.

In addition to expanded Wi-Fi and DAS for the stadium (a venue that includes classrooms, meeting rooms and retail outlets), ASU activated a virtual beacon trial. The university also joined up with Intel to explore how Internet of Things devices might yield better environmental information about the bowl, including acoustic data, Jay Steed, assistant vice president of IT operations, told Mobile Sports Report.

The university’s IT department understood that a richer fan experience for football and other events would require a robust network. Steed and his colleagues visited other venues like Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Stanford and Texas A&M to get a better handle on different approaches to networking, applications and services.

Regardless, some sort of refresh was overdue. Wedged between two buttes in the southeastern Phoenix suburb of Tempe, the 71,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium was completed in 1958 and needed infrastructure and technology updates. Wi-Fi access was limited to point-of-sale systems and stadium suites; fans generally relied on a DAS network.

Time for an upgrade

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace. Read about the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center and the new Wi-Fi network for the Super Bowl in our report, which is available now for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site!

“The stadium needed a lot of facelifting, not just from a technology perspective but also for the fan experience, like ADA compliance and overall comfort,” Steed said. “We didn’t just want to rebuild a venue for six football games a year, but extend its availability to 365 days and make it a cornerstone and anchor for the whole campus.”

The 'Inferno' student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The ‘Inferno’ student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The reset included tearing out the lower bowl to “punch some new holes” — new entry points to the stadium — and to add conduits and cabling for the new 10-gigabit fiber backbone for the stadium. The network can be upgraded as needed to 40- and even 100-gigabit pipes, according to Steed.

“We wanted to make sure it could support fans’ [connectivity needs] and all the facility’s operations with regard to video and StadiumVision, learning and education, and Pac-12 needs as well,” he said.

The overall stadium renovation was budgeted at $268 million; the technology upgrades will total about $8 million.

The university added 250 new DAS antennas. The vendor-neutral network includes AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, which share 21 DAS sectors to keep cell service humming inside the stadium.

On the Wi-Fi side, ASU opted for Cisco’s access points. The networking vendor was already entrenched across the 642-acre campus; Steed and the IT department prefer the simplicity of a single-vendor network. Cisco helped with the hardware and RF engineering for Sun Devil Stadium. CenturyLink offered guidance on the networking and fiber pieces of the project, while Hunt-Sundt, a joint venture, was the contractor for most of the physical construction.

Wireless service for ‘The Inferno’

When the renovation is officially completed later in 2017 (most of the network is already live), there will be 1,100 APs in and around Sun Devil Stadium. The student sections, also known as The Inferno, get more APs and bandwidth since historical data has shown students to be the biggest bandwidth consumers in the stadium. Consequently, the ratio in the student sections is one AP to every 50 users; the rest of the bowl’s APs each handle about 75 users on average, Steed said.

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

ASU’s new Wi-Fi network was engineered to deliver 1.5 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, but Steed said so far users are getting better performance – 8 Mbps up and 12 Mbps down. “We’re getting about 25 percent saturation,” he added. “Many users put their phones away during the games, but we see spikes at halftime and during commercial breaks.” Regardless, ASU continually monitors Wi-Fi and DAS usage and adjusts bandwidth as needed.

Another big challenge is the desert climate – temperatures regularly soar into triple digits. With about 450 under-seat APs in the bowl, Steed and his team had to make sure the enclosures could withstand heat and didn’t obstruct the walkways. “We’ll see how well the electronics do, baking at 120 degrees six months out of the year,” he laughed.

ASU is also working with Intel, using the stadium’s APs as part of an Internet of Things trial. As Steed described it, IoT sensors work alongside stadium APs to measure temperature, noise, vibration and other environmental data. “We also look at lighting control and water distribution and flow,” he said.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Automating the control of environmental functions like heating, cooling, power usage and facilities management will help the university toward its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2025, Steed added. The trials are designed so that the technology can be expanded across the university, possibly for campus transportation kiosks or student concierge services. IoT devices could give students and visitors information about adjacent buildings or landmarks around campus.

Separate but related, the university is also testing cloud-based, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology from Mist Systems. These “virtual beacons” use sensors attached to an AP to flag information or a point of interest for students or stadium visitors. “The virtualized beacon technology helps us understand where people are walking around and what they’re looking at in the stadium and elsewhere around campus,” Steed said.

They’re currently being tested in some of Sun Devil Stadium’s suites; Steed foresees expanding that to the student union to help guide people to meeting rooms, retail facilities or food vendors, for example.

Steed credited excellent communication and collaboration among the university’s athletic and IT departments and other players in the upgrade equation. “Our athletic director, Ray Anderson, brought the CIO and me into his office and really worked together with us,” he explained. “The biggest piece of our success was knowing that the AD supported our recommendations and brought us in as valued advisors.”

Sprint sees 797 GB at college playoff title game; will have separate DAS for Super Bowl

Ready for the playoffs and Super Bowl! Credit: 5 Bars

Ready for the playoffs and Super Bowl! Credit: 5 Bars

More results from fan wireless usage at the recent College Football Playoff championship game is trickling in, with Sprint claiming it saw 797 gigabytes of data traffic from its sites in and around Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Added to the 3.8 TB reported by AT&T on its networks, we now have a running total of approximately 4.6 TB of DAS usage for the Jan. 9 game between Clemson and Alabama, which Clemson won 35-31 on a last-second TD. We are still waiting for reports from Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, so stay tuned.

We also have yet to receive any reports of Wi-Fi traffic from Raymond James Stadium officials, so it’s still undetermined how “big” of a wireless event the college championship game was this year. In the past two years, the CFP championship was among the top Wi-Fi single-day usage totals, but so far the Raymond James Stadium folks haven’t responded to any calls or emails requesting information. Anyone who was at the game who wants to comment on the Wi-Fi performance, feel free to jump in to the comments below.

Sprint on its own DAS at NRG Stadium

We also learned from Sprint and from NRG Stadium officials that Sprint will be on its own DAS and small cell network for the Super Bowl, and not on the new Verizon DAS that was installed last year. In a Sprint blog post the company said it saw 637 GB of data on its NRG Stadium network for a December Houston Texans game, ahead of what it saw on its networks during last year’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

According to David Moore, manager of information services for NRG Park, Sprint installed the original DAS in the venue, ahead of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. AT&T and Verizon “migrated” to the new Verizon DAS last season, and T-Mobile will also be on the Verizon DAS, according to Moore.