Colorado brings Wi-Fi and DAS to Folsom Field

Folsom Field at night. Credit: University of Colorado (click on any picture for a larger image)

There will be a change in the air at Folsom Field this fall, and not just from the team that new head coach Mel Tucker will lead onto the gridiron. For the first time, the mile-high atmosphere inside the University of Colorado’s historic venue will be filled with fan-facing Wi-Fi and cellular signals, thanks to new networks being installed this offseason by third-party host Neutral Connect Networks (NCN).

In a deal that will also bring Wi-Fi and a cellular DAS to the school’s basketball arena, NCN will use Cisco gear for the Wi-Fi network and JMA Wireless gear for the cellular networks. A centrally located head-end will serve both venues via fiber connections, some run through existing tunnels from the campus’ old steam-heating infrastructure.

Due to be live before the 2019 football season begins on Sept. 7 when CU hosts Nebraska, the Wi-Fi network will use 550 APs in a mostly under-seat deployment at Folsom Field, where there are no overhangs over any of the seating areas. DAS deployment in Colorado’s historic football stadium — which first hosted games in 1924 — will use antennas pointing down from the stadium’s top edges, with some new flagpoles scheduled to help provide antenna-mounting locations.

While its incredibly picturesque location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains has historically made Folsom Field a fan-favorite place to visit (at least for photos), the lack of any comprehensive wireless coverage of any sort has produced some grumbling from Buffs fans in recent years. According to Matt Biggers, CU’s chief marketing officer and associate athletic director for external affairs, wireless coverage inside the sports venues has been a topic of internal research for more than 6 years.

“It was all about finding a partner and a financial model that works for us,” said Biggers. “It finally got to a point where it made sense to pull the trigger.”

Neutral host model appealing to schools

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the Wi-Fi records set at Super Bowl 53, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

The CU Events Center, home of Colorado hoops teams. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The model brought to CU is a classic neutral-host operation, where a provider like NCN (which bought the former sports-stadium practice from 5 Bars) will build a school’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks under a revenue-sharing deal with the school where the carriers help some with upfront payments and then provide payments over a long-term lease to operate on the DAS.

The neutral-host option is one good way for schools or teams with smaller budgets or lightly used facilities to bring connectivity to arenas. CU’s Folsom Field, for example, doesn’t see much use other than the six home games per football season. This year, the stadium will see big crowds beyond football only at a few events, including the Memorial Day Bolder Boulder 10K footrace (which ends inside the stadium), a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, and a couple of July concerts featuring the Dead & Company tour.

According to James Smith, vice president of carrier services for NCN, AT&T will be the anchor tenant on the DAS, and will be first to be operational. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, Smith said, are still negotiating long-term agreements but are expected to be on the DAS by 2020.

NCN [then under its old name of 5 Bars] negotiated a similar neutral-host deal with CU’s neighbor to the north, Colorado State University, for CSU’s new football stadium which opened in 2017. Now known as Canvas Stadium, the 41,000-seat venue had 419 total Wi-Fi access points when it opened, with approximately 250 of those used in the bowl seating area. Like CSU’s deployment, the Wi-Fi network at Folsom Field will use primarily under-seat AP deployments, mainly because the stadium’s horseshoe layout has no overhangs.

DAS gear already installed in the CU Events Center

According to NCN’s Smith, the current plan sees a deployment of 550 APs in Folsom Field, with another 70 APs in the basketball arena, the CU Events Center. Both venues’ networks will be served by a central head-end room located in an old telephone PBX space near the center of campus. Fiber links will run from there to both Folsom Field and the Events Center.

At Folsom, the NCN team will have a long list of deployment challenges, mainly having to navigate the construction particulars of a stadium that has been gradually expanded and added onto over the years.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s behind a brick,” said NCN director of program management Bryan Courtney, speaking of existing infrastructure that has been around for decades. Smith said the Folsom Field DAS will make use of overhead antennas, including some that will require new flagpole-type structures that will need to match Folsom Field’s architectural heritage.

Basketball arena is all top-down

At the 11,064-seat CU Events Center, formerly known as the Coors Events Center, deployment of both Wi-Fi and DAS will be somewhat easier, as all the gear servicing the seating area will be suspended from the catwalks. With the main concourse at stadium entry level and all the seats in a single rectangular bowl flowing down from there, the ceiling is close enough for good top-down coverage for both Wi-Fi and celluar, NCN’s Smith said.

The Golden Buffalo Marching Band on a CU game day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though deployment of both networks in the Events Center is currently underway, neither will be active until after the current college basketball season is completed. However, the Events Center stays somewhat more busy than the football stadium, with events like local high school graduations and other special events (like a Republican Party debate in 2015) making use of the space. Both networks should be fully up and running by the next basketball season, according to NCN.

Unlike some other universities that are aggressively pursuing digital fan-connection strategies, CU’s Biggers said the school will start slowly with its fan-facing networks, making sure the experience is a solid one before trying too hard.

“We’re pretty conservative, and this is a complicated project and we want to make sure we get it right,” said Biggers. Though Biggers said CU fans haven’t been extremely vocal about connectivity issues inside the sports venues, he does admit to hearing about “some frustration” about signals in some areas of the stadium (which until now has only been served by a couple of dedicated macro antennas from the outside).

“There’s definitely a hunger [for wireless service],” Biggers said.

On the business side, Biggers said CU will also be taking more time to evaluate any additions to its game-day digital operations. Though CU recently introduced a mobile-only “buzzer beater” basketball ticket package that offered discounted passes that would deliver an assigned seat to a device 24 hours before game time, Biggers said that for football, a longtime paper-ticket tradition for season ticket holders would likely stay in place.

Colorado will also “re-evaluate” its game-day mobile application strategy, Biggers said, with the new networks in mind. “But the real game-changer for us is data collection,” he said. “We’re most excited about having data to better serve the fans.”

Levi’s Stadium sees 5.1 TB of Wi-Fi data used at college football championship

Fans and media members at Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game used a total of 5.1 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium, according to figures provided by the San Francisco 49ers, who own and run the venue.

With 74,814 in attendance for Clemson’s 44-16 victory over Alabama, 17,440 of those in the stands found their way onto the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. According to the Niners the peak concurrent connection number of 11,674 users was seen at 7:05 p.m. local time, which was probably right around the halftime break. The peak bandwidth rate of 3.81 Gbps, the Niners said, was seen at 5:15 p.m. local time, just after kickoff.

In a nice granular breakout, the Niners said about 4.24 TB of the Wi-Fi data was used by fans, while a bit more than 675 GB was used by the more than 925 media members in attendance. The Wi-Fi data totals were recorded during an 8-1/2 hour period on Monday, from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time.

Added to the 3.7 TB of DAS traffic AT&T reported inside Levi’s Stadium Monday night, we’re up to 8.8 TB total wireless traffic so far, with reports from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile still not in. The top Wi-Fi number at Levi’s Stadium, for now, remains Super Bowl 50, which saw 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi traffic.

AT&T: Lots of DAS traffic for college football championship

DAS on a cart: DAS Group Professionals deployed mobile DAS stations to help cover the parking lots at Levi’s Stadium for the college football playoff championship. Credit: DGP

This may not be a news flash to any stadium network operations team but the amount of mobile data consumed by fans at college football games continues to hit high levels, according to some new figures released by AT&T.

In a press release blog post where AT&T said it saw 9 terabytes of cellular data used over the college football playoff championship-game weekend in the Bay area, AT&T also crowned a cellular “data champion,” reporting that Texas A&M saw 36.6 TB of data used on the AT&T networks in and around Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

(Actually, AT&T pointedly does NOT declare Texas A&M the champs — most likely because of some contractural issue, AT&T does not identify actual stadiums or teams in its data reports. Instead, it reports the cities where the data use occurred, but we can figure out the rest for our readers.)

For the College Football Playoff championship, AT&T was able to break down some specific numbers for us, reporting 3.7 TB of that overall total was used inside Levi’s Stadium on game day. Cell traffic from the parking lots and tailgating areas (see photo of DAS cart to left) added another 2.97 TB of traffic on AT&T’s networks, resulting in a game-day area total of 6.67 TB. That total is in Super Bowl range of traffic, so we are excited to see what the Wi-Fi traffic total is from the game (waiting now for the college playoff folks to get the statistics finalized, so stay tuned).

DAS antennas visible at Levi’s Stadium during a Niners game this past season. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For the additional 2+ TB of traffic, a footnote explains it somewhat more: “Data includes the in-venue DAS, COWs, and surrounding macro network for AT&T customers throughout the weekend.”

Any other carriers who want to add their stats to the total, you know where to find us.

Back to Texas A&M for a moment — in its blog post AT&T also noted that the stadium in College Station (which we will identify as Kyle Field) had the most single-game mobile usage in the U.S. this football season, with nearly 7 TB used on Nov. 24. Aggie fans will remember that as the wild seven-overtime 74-72 win over LSU, an incredible game that not surprisingly resulted in lots of stadium cellular traffic.

New Report: Texas A&M scores with new digital fan-engagement strategy

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

That question gets an interesting answer with the lead profile in our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Winter 2018-19 issue! These quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators, and digital sports business executives a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, as well as news and analysis of topics important to this growing market.

Leading off for this issue is an in-depth report on a new browser-based digital game day program effort launched this football season at Texas A&M, where some longtime assumptions about mobile apps and fan engagement were blown apart by the performance of the Aggies’ new project. A must read for all venue operations professionals! We also have in-person visits to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovated State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena. A Q&A with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle and a report on a CBRS network test by the PGA round out this informative issue! DOWNLOAD YOUR REPORT today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, Neutral Connect Networks, Everest Networks, and ExteNet Systems. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

BYU scores with new Wi-Fi, app for LaVell Edwards Stadium

BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium. Credit all photos: photo@byu.edu (click on any picture for a larger image)

At Brigham Young University, the wait for Wi-Fi was worth it.

After a selection and deployment process that took almost three years, the first full season of Wi-Fi at BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium was a roaring success, with high fan adoption rates and a couple 6-plus terabyte single-game data totals seen during the 2018 football season. Using 1,241 APs from gear supplier Extreme Networks, the Wi-Fi deployment also saw high usage of the new game-day app, built for BYU by local software supplier Pesci Sports.

Duff Tittle, associate athletic director for communications at Brigham Young University, said the school spent nearly 2 1/2 years “studying the concept” of bringing Wi-Fi to the 63,470-seat stadium in Provo, Utah. After looking at “five different options,” BYU chose to go with Extreme, based mainly on Extreme’s long track record of football stadium deployments.

“We visited their stadiums, and also liked what they offered for analytics,” said Tittle of Extreme. “They had what we were looking for.”

According to Tittle, the deployment was actually mostly finished in 2017, allowing the school to do a test run at the last game of that season. Heading into 2018, Tittle said the school was “really excited” to see what its new network could do — and the fans went even beyond those expectations.

Opener a big success

For BYU’s Sept. 8 home opener against California, Tittle said the Wi-Fi network saw 27,563 unique connections out of 52,602 in attendance — a 52 percent take rate. BYU’s new network also saw a peak of 26,797 concurrent connections (midway through the fourth quarter) en route to a first-day data total of 6.23 TB. The network also saw a peak bandwidth rate of 4.55 Gbps, according to statistics provided by the school.

Sideline AP deployment

“It blew us away, the number of connections [at the Cal game],” Tittle said. “It exceeded what we thought we’d get, right out of the gate.”

With almost no overhangs in the stadium — there is only one sideline structure for media and suites — BYU and Extreme went with mostly under-seat AP deployments, Tittle said, with approximately 1,000 of the 1,241 APs located inside the seating bowl. Extreme has used under-seat deployments in many of its NFL stadium networks, including at Super Bowl LI in Houston.

Another success story was the new BYU app, which Tittle said had been in development for almost as long as the Wi-Fi plan. While many stadium and team apps struggle for traction, the BYU app saw good usage right out of the gate, finishing just behind the ESPN app for total number of users (2,306 for the BYU app vs. 2,470 for ESPN) during the same Cal game. The BYU app just barely trailed Instagram (2,327) in number of users seen that day, and outpaced SnapChat (1,603) and Twitter (1,580), according to statistics provided by Tittle. The app also supports instant replay video, as well as a service that lets fans order food to be picked up at a couple express-pickup windows.

What also might have helped fuel app adoption is the presence of a “social media” ribbon board along the top of one side of the stadium, where fan messages get seen in wide-screen glory. Tittle said the tech-savvy locals in the Provo area (which has long been the home to many technology companies, including LAN pioneer Novell) are also probably part of the app crowd, “since our fan base loves that kind of stuff.”

Tittle also said that Verizon Wireless helped pay for part of the Wi-Fi network’s construction, and like at other NFL stadiums where Verizon has done so, it gets a separate SSID for its users at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Verizon also built the stadium’s DAS (back in 2017), which also supports communications from AT&T and T-Mobile. (More photos below)

Under-seat AP enclosure

A peek inside

The social media ribbon board above the stands

LaVell Edwards Stadium at night, with a view of the press/suites structure

Big Wi-Fi numbers for Big Red fans at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium

A view of the west stands at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

When you visit Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Neb. you can’t avoid a history of devotion to football and fans. The stadium itself still contains much of its old bones dating back to its inception in 1923, and when the red-clad faithful assemble for their football ceremonies, you can see generations of fans loyal to the Cornhuskers streaming in to fill the nearly 90,000 available seats.

Aside from the five national championships and many years of top-level success, the university takes care of the people responsible for sellouts dating back to the 1960s by keeping the stadium up to date with high-definition connectivity, inlcuding both cellular and Wi-Fi networks, and a wide range of digital displays for visual information and entertainment. In a recent visit to Memorial Stadium for a Saturday day game, Mobile Sports Report found excellent connectivity, especially on the Wi-Fi network, even in some areas where construction materials and stadium design presented unique challenges to wireless communications.

Nebraska fans have found the Wi-Fi as well, as according to statistics not released previously by the school Nebraska saw one game last season with 7.0 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used. Nebraska also saw a 6.3 TB game last season and started off 2018 with Wi-Fi totals of 6.3 TB and 6.2 TB, the first coming at a game that wasn’t even played due to massive rain and thunderstorm activity that canceled the event just after kickoff.

The connectivity reach even stretches out to some of the football parking lots, where external Wi-Fi AP placements keep fans connected while they are tailgating. What follows here is an on-the-scene description of what connectivity and the fan experience looks and feels like on yet another sellout day, this one from the Sept. 8 game versus old rival Colorado.

Getting ready for the red

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the DAS deployment at StubHub Center, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new Wi-Fi network being added to Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

A Ventev railing enclosure in the north stands

Even the day before the game, there was noticable excitement in Lincoln for Nebraska football, with groups of fans roaming around outside the stadium while VIP tours were taking place inside. On game day itself, the connectivity experience starts in the parking lots, where MSR saw Wi-Fi gear on light poles and sides of buildings that was clearly there to cover the tailgating activities. Stopping to check it out we found and quickly connected to the FanXP SSID, with no splash screen or email login required, just a quick connection to fast bandwidth. Throughout the day, the FanXP network connected and reconnected no matter where we roamed, or if we turned Wi-Fi off and on (as we do to test cellular signals).

With perhaps one of the most devoted fan bases in any sport — the team and the stadium have a record sellout streak dating back to 1962 — the Husker sports operation is well funded, meaning they don’t have to bother with concerns about whether or not Wi-Fi or other technologies produce any direct returns on investment. In turn, the school rewards its fans by staying at the forefront of stadium technology deployments, including being the first college stadium to install video boards, back in 1994. Wi-Fi using Cisco gear was first brought to Memorial Stadium for the 2014 season, and has since then gone through various upgrades and tunings, and now has 855 total Wi-Fi APs in the venue and the surrounding parking lots.

The current video board over the north end zone (which was the largest in the country when it was first installed) now is even sharper to look at, having gone through an upgrade last year from 20 millimeter pixel density to 10mm. Last year also saw the introduction of two two-sided “wrap-around” video screens on north sides of the east and west sections, providing video viewing for fans in the north stands who previously had to turn all the way around to see a screen. The north tower screens, as well as two other similar flat screens on the south sides of the east and west stands all also have 10mm pixel sharpness.

Also before last fall, ribbon boards on the east- and west-side balconies were replaced with 16mm displays that run the full length of the structures. An additional ribbon board was also added to the middle east balcony, providing even more inventory for messages, advertisements and game information. Overall, the venue has approximately 1,400 screens of various sizes and shapes to bring game day action, concessions menu and other communications to fans there for game day. Nebraska uses Cisco’s Cisco Vision (formerly known as Stadium Vision) to manage and operate all its digital signage from one central control.

North and South stands the biggest connectivity challenge

With the gates open and the stadium starting to fill up, MSR went directly to the north stands, which Nebraska IT operations manager Chad Chisea and director of information technology Dan Floyd had previously told us was the most challenging area to cover with wireless connectivity. With extremely wide rows of bench seating and no overhangs for antenna placements, Nebraska brought in small Wi-Fi antenna enclosures from Ventev and mounted them onto small “p-railings” that dot the aisles. The area is also covered by Wi-Fi antenna placements on top of the scoreboard structure pointing down.

A Wi-Fi enclosure points back up from field level

Though the section wasn’t completely full when we tested it, we still got a strong Wi-Fi mark of 28.5 Mbps download and 19.8 Mbps upload about halfway up the west corner side of the north stands. In another spot on the east side we got a test mark of 28.0 Mbps / 12.2 Mbps; and in possibly the hardest place to cover, as far as we could get from an aisle or the scoreboard, we still got a Wi-Fi test of 11.0 Mbps / 13.1 Mbps. DAS coverage for Verizon 4G LTE at the same spot was 16.9 Mbps download, but just 1.40 Mbps upload.

With more and more fans finding their way inside, we tested several spots on the concourses and found them with extremely strong coverage, including one mark of 63.8 Mbps / 61.1 Mbps just inside Gate 7. The concourse areas in several parts of the stadium are very architecturally interesting since there are some places where newer construction was simply placed outside the older structures, producing a kind of stadium-inside-a-stadium effect. Originally, the IT staff thought that Wi-Fi APs on the newer outside walls would be able to bleed through the old structures, which had glass windows along the old outside walls; but because those windows contain leaded glass (which shut out the Wi-Fi signals), Nebraska was forced to install APs on either side of the old walls.

Such attention to detail and a clear desire to keep fans connected no matter where they roam was evident in other places as well, such as finding strong Wi-Fi connectivity (30.6 Mbps / 15.2 Mbps) even while taking escalators up to the top levels of the east stands. In the top 600-level concourse we got Wi-Fi readings of 25.5 Mbps / 11.6 Mbps, and in row 5 of section 607 — about as high as you can go at Memorial Stadium — we got a Wi-Fi reading of 18.2 Mbps / 10.6 Mbps, most likely from the antennas mounted on the top railing of the stadium or on the LED light fixtures that also poke up from the east side.

Just before kickoff, we were in the middle of the lower-bowl seats on the west side of the stadium, where most fans were standing, phones ready to record the Cornhuskers as they came out of the locker room and took the field. With APs mounted on field-level railings pointing up probably providing coverage, we got a mark of 7.73 Mbps / 1.74 Mbps in the fifth row of seats.

Wi-Fi usage among the top of all venues

According to Floyd, only Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile use the stadium’s DAS network, which was built by Verizon. Since Verizon dominates the customer base of the Lincoln, Neb. area (Floyd estimates it has about 70 percent of the market), the other major carriers haven’t seen the need to participate in the DAS; instead, U.S. Cellular built a platform for macro antennas inside the north scoreboard area, and AT&T and Sprint use that area for similar deployments. For backhaul bandwidth for the Wi-Fi, Chisea said Nebraska has one circuit that transmits between 1.5 and 2 Gbps, along with a backup circuit that can carry 500 Mbps of traffic.

Children of the corn get ready for game day

And all those circuits and antennas got a free stress test during Nebraska’s first scheduled game of the season, a Sept. 1 contest against Akron that was cancelled almost immediately after kickoff when severe thunderstorms moved into the area. While the fans didn’t get to see any football, according to Floyd many stuck around for a considerable amount of time, using a full regular-game amount of wireless data — 6.3 TB of Wi-Fi — doing things like taking live Facebook Live video streams of the storm.

“If you looked at the network stream that day it was absolutely full,” Floyd said. For the Colorado game (a 33-28 Colorado victory), Nebraska reported 6.2 TB of Wi-Fi data used, with 34,728 peak concurrent connections on a day with 89,853 announced attendance. The top Wi-Fi game so far for Memorial Stadium, a 7.0 TB mark recorded on Sept. 2, 2017, saw 36,892 peak concurrent connections for a game with 90,171 in attendance. Nebraska saw an average of 5.93 TB and 31,115 peak concurrent connections per game in 2017, according to statistics provided to us by the school. An Oct. 7, 2017 game against Wisconsin also saw 6.3 TB of Wi-Fi data used.

With a constant attention to detail and a devotion to good network performance (during the Colorado game, MSR saw the Nebraska IT staff identify and fix a Wi-Fi network configuration issue that briefly impacted upload speeds) the Nebraska IT staff treats its stadium networks like a coach treats a team, always looking for ways to improve. So no matter what happens on the field, the faithful fans who fill the venue every game day can rest assured that if and when they want to use their mobile devices to connect, the Memorial Stadium networks will take them wherever they want to go.

More pictures from our visit below. Please download your free copy of our most recent Stadium Tech Report for all our photos from our Nebraska visit!

Lots of connectivity atop east stands makes for an easy upload of selfies

A look at one of the wrap-around video boards serving the north stands

Cisco Vision at work on concession stand menu displays

Artsy panoramic view from the north seats