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.”

PGA Tour gives CBRS a test

Volunteers track shots with lasers on the fairways of PGA Tour tournaments. Credit: Chris Condon/PGA TOUR (click on any photo for a larger image)

CBRS technology doesn’t need spikey shoes to gain traction on the fairways, if early results from technology tests undertaken by the PGA Tour at courses around the country are any indication.

A recent 14-state test run by the top professional U.S. golf tour tapped the newly designated Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which comprises 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. Golf courses, which typically lack the dense wireless coverage of more populated urban areas, are easily maxed out when thousands of fans show up on a sunny weekend to trail top-ranked players like Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy or perennial favorite Tiger Woods.

To cover the bandwidth needs of tournaments, the PGA Tour has over time used a mix of technologies, many portable in nature given the short stay of a tournament at any given course. Like Wi-Fi or temporary cellular infrastructures used in the past, the hope is that CBRS will help support public safety, scoring and broadcast applications required to keep its events operating smoothly and safely, according to the PGA Tour.

“We’re looking at replacing our 5 GHz Wi-Fi solution with CBRS so we can have more control over service levels,” said Steve Evans, senior vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour. Unlike 5 GHz Wi-Fi, CBRS is licensed spectrum and less prone to interference the Tour occasionally experienced.

CBRS will also make a big difference with the Tour’s ShotLink system, a wireless data collection system used by the PGA Tour that gathers data on every shot made during competition play – distance, speed and other scoring data.

“CBRS would help us get the data off the golf course faster” than Wi-Fi can, Evans explained. “And after more than 15 months of testing we’ve done so far, CBRS has better coverage per access point than Wi-Fi.”

The preliminary results are so encouraging that the Tour is also looking to CBRS to carry some of its own voice traffic and has already done some testing there. “We need to have voice outside the field of play, and we think CBRS can help solve that problem,” Evans added.

But as an emerging technology, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of CBRS. Compatible handsets aren’t widely available; the PGA Tour has been testing CBRS prototypes from Essential. Those units only operate in CBRS bands 42 and 43; a third, band 48, is expected to be added by device makers sometime in the first half of 2019.

“We’re waiting for the phones to include band 48 and then we’ll test several,” Evans told Mobile Sports Report. “I expect Android would move first and be very aggressive with it.”

CBRS gear mounted on temporary poles at a PGA Tour event. Credit: PGA Tour

The PGA Tour isn’t the only sports entity looking at CBRS’s potential. The National Football League is testing coach-to-coach and coach-to-player communications over CBRS at all the league’s stadiums; the NBA’s Sacramento
Kings are testing it at Golden 1 Center with Ruckus; NASCAR has been testing video transmission from inside cars using CBRS along with Nokia and Google, and the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz., recently launched a live CBRS network that it is currently using for backhaul to remote parking lot Wi-Fi hotspots.

Outside of sports and entertainment, FedEx, the Port of Los Angeles and General Electric are jointly testing CBRS in Southern California. Love Field Airport in Dallas is working with Boingo and Ruckus in a CBRS trial; service provider Pavlov Media is testing CBRS near the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana with Ruckus gear. Multiple service providers from telecom, cable and wireless are also testing the emerging technology’s potential all around the country.

Where CBRS came from, where it’s going

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 new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Merceds-Benz Stadium, home of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

CBRS has undergone a 6-year gestation period; 150 MHz worth of bandwidth was culled from the 3.5 GHz spectrum, which must be shared (and not interfere) with U.S. government radar operations already operating in that same spectrum.

From a regulatory perspective, CBRS’s experimental status is expected to give way to full commercial availability in the near future. Consequently, wireless equipment vendors have been busy building – and marketing – CBRS access points and antennas for test and commercial usage. But entities like the PGA Tour have already identified the benefits and aren’t waiting for the FCC to confer full commercial status on the emerging wireless technology.

CBRS equipment vendors and would-be service providers were hard to miss at last fall’s Mobile World
Congress Americas meeting in Los Angeles. More than 20 organizations – all part of the CBRS Alliance – exhibited their trademarked OnGo services, equipment and software in a day-long showcase event. (Editor’s note: “OnGo” is the alliance’s attempt to “brand” the service as something more marketable than the geeky CBRS acronym).

The CBRS Alliance envisions five potential use cases of the technology, according to Dave Wright, alliance president and director of regulatory affairs and network standards at Ruckus:
• Mobile operators that want to augment capacity of their existing spectrum
• Cable operators looking to expand into wireless services instead of paying a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)
• Other third-party providers looking to offer fixed broadband services
• Enterprise and industrial applications: extending or amplifying wireless in business parks and remote locations; Internet of Things data acquisition.
• Neutral host capabilities, which some have likened to LTE roaming, an important development as 5G cellular services ramp up.

Previously, if customers wanted to extend cell coverage inside a building or a stadium, their best option was often distributed antenna systems (DAS). But DAS is complicated, expensive and relies on carrier participation, according to Wright. “Carriers also want to make sure your use of their spectrum doesn’t interfere with their macro spectrum nearby,” he added.

CBRS uses discrete spectrum not owned by a mobile operator, allowing an NFL franchise, for example, to buy CBRS radios and deploy them around the stadium, exclusively or shared, depending on their requirements and budgets.

More CBRS antenna deployment. Credit: PGA Tour

On a neutral host network, a mobile device would query the LTE network to see which operations are supported. The device would then exchange credentials with the mobile carriers – CBRS and cellular – then permissions are granted, the user is authenticated, and their usage info gets passed back to the carrier, Wright explained.

With the PGA Tour tests, the Essential CBRS devices get provisioned on the network, then connect to the CBRS network just like a cell phone connects to public LTE, Evans explained. The Tour’s custom apps send collected data back to the Tour’s network via the CBRS access point, which is connected to temporary fiber the Tour installs. And while some of Ruckus’s CBRS access points also support Wi-Fi, the Tour uses only the CBRS. “When we’re testing, we’re not turning Wi-Fi on if it’s there,” Evans clarified.

While the idea of “private LTE” networks supported by CBRS is gaining lots of headline time, current deployments would require a new SIM card for any devices wanting to use the private CBRS network, something that may slow down deployments until programmable SIM cards move from good idea to reality. But CBRS networks could also be used for local backhaul, using Wi-Fi to connect to client devices, a tactic currently being used at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

“It’s an exciting time… CBRS really opens up a lot of new opportunities,” Wright added. “The PGA Tour and NFL applications really address some unmet needs.”

CBRS on the Fairways

Prior to deploying CBRS access points at a location, the PGA Tour surveys the tournament course to create a digital image of every hole, along with other data to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates, like the tee box and the player’s first shot or the shot location and the location of the hole. The survey also helps the Tour decide how and where to place APs on the course.

Courses tend to be designed in two different ways, according to the PGA Tour’s Evans. With some courses, the majority number of holes are adjacent to each other and create a more compact course; other courses are routed through neighborhoods and may snake around, end-to-end.

“In the adjacent model, which is 70 percent of the courses we play, we can usually cover the property with about 10 access points,” Evans explained.

Adjacent-style courses where the PGA Tour has tested CBRS include Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.; Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Penn.; and East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

In the second model, where the holes are strung back to back, the PGA Tour may have to deploy as many as 18 or 20 APs to get the coverage and throughput it needs. That’s the configuration used during a recent tournament at the TPC Summerlin course in Las Vegas, Nev., Evans told Mobile Sports Report.

On the course, CBRS APs get attached to some kind of structure where possible, Evans added. “Where that doesn’t make sense, we have portable masts we use – a tripod with a pole that goes up 20 feet,” he said. The only reason he’d relocate an AP once a tournament began is if it caused a problem with the competition or fan egress. “We’re pretty skilled at avoiding those issues,” he said.

A handful of PGA Tour employees operates its ShotLink system, which also relies on an army of volunteers – as many as 350 at each tournament – who help with data collection and score updates (that leader board doesn’t refresh itself!). “There’s a walker with each group, recording data about each shot. There’s technology for us on each fairway and green, and even in the ball itself, as the ball hits the green and as player hits putts,” said Evans.

The walker-volunteers relay their data back to a central repository; from there, ShotLink data then gets sent to PGA Tour management and is picked up by a variety of organizations from onsite TV broadcast partners; the pgatour.com Website; players, coaches and caddies; print media; and mobile devices.

In addition to pushing PGA Tour voice traffic over on to CBRS, the organization is also looking for the technology to handle broadcast video. “We think broadcast video capture could become a [CBRS] feature,” Evans said. The current transport method, UHF video, is a low-latency way to get video back to a truck where it can be uploaded for broadcast audiences.

A broadcast program produced by the organization, PGA Tour Live, follows two groups on the course; each group has four cameras and producers cut between each group and each camera. That video needs to be low latency, high reliability, but is expensive due to UHF transmission.

Once 5G standards are created for video capture, the PGA Tour could use public LTE to bond a number of cell signals together. Unfortunately, that method has higher latency. “It’s fine for replay but not for live production,” Evans said, but is expected to eventually improve performance-wise. “The idea is eventually to move to outside cameras with CBRS and then use [CBRS] for data collection too,” he added. “If we could take out the UHF cost, it would be significant for us.”

In the meantime, the Tour will continue to rely largely on Cisco-Meraki Wi-Fi and use Wi-Fi as an alternate route if something happens to CBRS, Evans said. “But we expect CBRS to be primary and used 99 percent of the time.”

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.

PGA bans fan mobile-device videos, audio recordings at all events

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.40.33 PMThe PGA Tour has issued some new rules governing fan use of mobile devices during tournaments, including a new ban on any fan video or audio recording during any PGA tournament.

In a press release titled “PGA TOUR expands use of mobile devices by spectators at PGA TOUR tournaments,” the Tour claimed it was expanding the days and times fans could use their mobile devices to take photographs, but the accompanying restrictions seemed aimed more at reducing fans’ ability to obtain images, not expanding them. Though the new rules allow pictures to be taken during competition days, it also states that photos may not be taken “within any areas of competition,” including greens, tee boxes and landing areas — maybe leaving putting greens and clubhouses the only “new” areas where competition-day photos can be legally taken.

The new specific rules on audio and video — “Devices may not be used to capture audio/video at any time during tournament week” — may be an attempt to correct a seeming disparity that gained notice last year when a reporter’s PGA Tour credentials were pulled in part for her use of the live-streaming video Periscope app. At that time, fans were still permitted to shoot video and use Periscope at certain times, a strange double standard that the PGA Tour never fully explained. Now, it appears that nobody other than the PGA’s approved media partners will be able to show or record videos from golf tournaments.

Of course, rules are one thing and enforcement is another, and the idea that the PGA Tour could police every instance of fan mobile-device usage is somewhat absurd. Even if Tour officials were watching a fan, it’s hard to tell how the official could determine if a fan was taking a picture or a video, so our guess is the new “rules” are meant mainly as a self-policing measure. It’s possible that the Tour could work with app providers like Periscope, YouTube or Instagram to try to get golf videos removed from those sites, but so far we haven’t heard of any such instances.

We will update this post if and when we can talk to PGA folks. In the meantime, the new rules are below.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.26.14 AM

PGA Tour’s live-action online service for Thursday-Friday rounds debuts this week at $4.99 per month

Screen shot of PGA TOUR LIVE service on iPhone. Photo: PGA Tour

Screen shot of PGA TOUR LIVE service on iPhone. Photo: PGA Tour

The PGA’s over-the-top live action service for Thursday and Friday rounds debuts this week during the Quicken Loans National event, with a seven-day free trial before the $4.99 per month charge applies.

Announced earlier this year, the service produced by Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media (MLBAM) operations will be initially available for any desktop devices at PGATOURLIVE.com, but only for Apple iPhones and iPads on the mobile front. According to the PGA Tour the service will be available through Android and other platforms “at a later date.”

Here’s the official skinny on who you’ll be able to watch live (yes of course tournament “host” Tiger Woods will be part of the coverage) as part of the service’s “marquee group” format, which basically follows selected groups of players over their entire round. For those who can’t get enough golf it will be an interesting “second screen” to the Golf Channel cable coverage of Thursday and Friday rounds.

PGA TOUR LIVE debuts Thursday at 7:30 a.m. ET and will provide exclusive shot-by-shot coverage of the following groups on Thursday: 8:10 a.m., THE PLAYERS champion Rickie Fowler paired with Ben Crane and James Hahn; 8:21 a.m., former Quicken Loans National champion and The Presidents Cup 2015 International Team vice-captain K.J. Choi from host country South Korea with International Team hopefuls Danny Lee of New Zealand and John Senden of Australia.

Friday’s 8:10 a.m. feature group includes three former Quicken Loans National champions: tournament host Tiger Woods, Bill Haas and Nick Watney. At 8:21 a.m., defending Quicken Loans National champion Justin Rose tees off with Jimmy Walker, No. 3 in the FedExCup points standings with two wins this season, and David Lingmerth of Sweden, who won his first PGA TOUR title last month at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

Following the conclusion of the featured groups on Thursday and Friday, PGA TOUR LIVE will shift its live broadcast coverage to the Featured Holes at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club – a pair of par-3s, the 11th and 16th. Overall, PGA TOUR LIVE will deliver access to more than 11 hours of live coverage to fans each day.

For the remainder of the season, PGA TOUR LIVE will be available during the following tournaments: next week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational (Aug. 6-7), the Wyndham Championship (Aug. 20-21), and then the FedExCup Playoff events: The Barclays (Aug. 27-28), Deutsche Bank Championship (Sept. 4-5, which actually is Friday-Saturday with a Monday finish), BMW Championship (Sept. 17-18) and the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola (Sept. 24-25). According to the PGA, the $4.99 charge is good for 30 days whenever it is purchased, so time your buy accordingly.

Monday quick thoughts: Livestreaming comes of age on fight night; PGA’s digital moves confusing

Some quick thoughts on a Monday where yours truly is recovering from a week-plus as stage crew for my daughter’s musical, a much more physically taxing job than originally thought:

Livestreaming comes of age during Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

We’ve been pounding the drum a bit lately about livestreaming apps like Twitter’s Periscope and its twin Meerkat, which allow people to become personal broadcasters, relaying live video of whatever their phone cameras can see to their “followers” on the livestreaming services. Earlier this year we wondered if the services would cause a problem for sports like baseball (which is not worried about livestreaming just yet) but the big breakout in livestreaming and sports came this past Saturday night, when lots of people used Periscope and Meerkat to give others a free, completely illegal look at the closed pay-per-view fight by holding their phones up to TVs showing the live action.

The fallout still hasn’t hit in any official or legal way yet, but after HBO’s quick lawsuits trying to stop people from livestreaming episodes of Game of Thrones, you can bet that similar legal attempts to constrain the services from showing exclusive sports footage won’t be far behind. I also just saw a photo of the live crowd at the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that showed multiple fans holding up phones, no doubt some of them livestreaming. While Major League Baseball’s Bob Bowman thinks that most fans don’t want to hold their phones up for long stretches of time, my thinking is, that before long someone’s going to figure out how to link a GoPro helmet cam to their phone for HD livestreaming that’s hands-free. Then what?

I just think this is going to be a much bigger deal than leagues and sports think right now. The weird coolness factor of being your own broadcaster is strangely compelling, and is a step up from the ubiquitous selfie. While Twitter CEO Dick Costolo might think it was cool that Periscope “won the fight” Saturday night, let’s see how smug he is when lawsuits start showing up at the door.

And while the terms of service for both Periscope and Meerkat clearly state that the services may not be used to show copyrighted content — and while the services have made noises about being ready to kick off users who do so — the fact that you can sign up instantly makes the policing after-the-fact a fail before it starts. Nobody wants the return of phone and camera police at big events, a kind of enforcement that never really worked and won’t work now that videocameras can fit inside pockets. Twitter, which clearly wants to play ball with sports leagues — witness its deals with entities like the NFL to show approved replays — needs to get out in front on the livestreaming/sports issue or risk legal wrath. And we haven’t even talked yet about how livestreaming might affect bandwidth on stadium networks, a topic sure to be discussed at the upcoming SEAT Conference in San Francisco this July. More on livestreaming soon, you can bet.

PGA sends confusing message with credential pull

When I wrote an editorial suggesting that the PGA embrace livestreaming as a way to attract more fans with innovative use of new technology, I had no idea that earlier that day the Tour had pulled a season credential from reporter Stephanie Wei for using Periscope to show some live video of practice rounds from the World Golf Championships Match Play event at Harding Park last week. Coming just after the PGA announced a deal with MLBAM to produce an over-the-top service to show live Thursday and Friday morning rounds, it was thoroughly confusing: Was the Tour embracing new media, while slapping the wrists of other media who dared use the same technology?

In a quick call Friday with Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president for communications, we heard the Tour’s claim that Wei had a “long history of [policy] violations,” and that the suspension of her credentials was due to the long history, and not just her use last Monday of Periscope. Wei posted her own version of the story on her blog, Wei Under Par. As far as we know, Wei is the first major-sports reporter to get a credential pulled in part because of Periscope use.

While we clearly understand the need to protect copyrighted broadcasts, it’s our opinion that the Tour needs to lighten up on quick-hit video content, especially for coverage of things that the TV broadcasters don’t show, like practice rounds or range action. As we said, such content could attract a young golf-geek audience and reward hustling reporters like Wei, who we’ve been following mainly because of her fresh take and embrace of social-media methods of communication. For a deeper look inside the whole issue, you should read this column from Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck on the incident, and why he thinks (and we agree) that the losers here are golf fans.