Commentary: Cheer, Cheer for old Wi-Fi

A hoops fan records action during the FInal Four at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

News item: Super Bowl 53 sees 24 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used.

Second news item: Final Four weekend sees 31.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used.

Even as people across the wireless industry seem ready to dig Wi-Fi’s grave, the view from here is not only is Wi-Fi’s imminent death greatly exaggerated, things may actually be heading in the other direction — Wi-Fi’s last-mile and in-building dominance may just be getting started.

The latest ironic put-down of Wi-Fi came in a recent Wall Street Journal article with the headline of “Cellphone Carriers Envision World Without Wi-Fi,” in which a Verizon executive calls Wi-Fi “rubbish.” While the article itself presents a great amount of facts about why Wi-Fi is already the dominant last-mile wireless carrier (and may just get stronger going forward) the article doesn’t talk at all about the Super Bowl, where Verizon itself basically turned to Wi-Fi to make sure fans at the big game who were Verizon customers could stay connected.

Wi-Fi speedtest from U.S. Bank Stadium during the Final Four championship game.

As readers of MSR know, the performance of the cellular DAS at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has been a question mark since its inception, and the emergence of competing lawsuits between lead contractor IBM and supplier Corning over its implementation means we may never learn publicly what really happened, and whether or not it was ever fixed. Though stadium tech execs and the NFL said publicly that the DAS was fine for the Super Bowl, Verizon’s actions perhaps spoke much louder — the carrier basically paid extra to secure part of the Wi-Fi network bandwidth for its own customers, and used autoconnect to get as many of its subscribers as it could onto the Wi-Fi network.

While we did learn the Wi-Fi statistics in detail — thanks to the fact that Wi-Fi numbers are controlled by the venue, not the carriers — it’s interesting to note that none of the four top cellular providers in the U.S. would give MSR a figure of how much cellular traffic they each saw in the stadium on Super Sunday. For the record, stadium officials said they saw 12.1 TB of data used on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS on Super Bowl Sunday, a figure that represents the total traffic from all four carriers combined. But how that pie was split up will likely forever remain a mystery.

AT&T did provide a figure of 23.5 TB for Super Bowl traffic inside the venue as well as in a 2-mile radius around the stadium, and Sprint provided a figure (25 TB) but put even a less-measurable geographic boundary on it, meaning Sprint could have basically been reporting all traffic it saw anywhere inside the greater Atlanta city limits. Verizon and T-Mobile, meanwhile, both refused to report any Super Bowl cellular statistics at all.

An under-seat Wi-Fi AP placement in the end zone seating at the Final Four.

Verizon also did not reply to a question about how much traffic it saw on the Verizon-specific Wi-Fi SSID inside the venue. While we get the marketing reasons for not reporting disappointing stats (why willingly report numbers that make you look bad?), it seems disingenious at best for one Verizon executive (Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and president of Verizon Wireless) to call Wi-Fi “rubbish” when another part of the company is relying heavily on that same rubbish technology to make sure its customers can stay connected when the cellular network can’t keep up. One man’s trash, I guess, is another division’s treasure.

Wi-Fi 6 and more spectrum on the way

For venue owners and operators, the next few years are likely going to be filled with plenty of misinformation regarding the future of wireless. The big carriers, who pull in billions each quarter in revenue, are staking their near-term future on 5G, a label for a confusing mix of technologies and spectrum chunks that is unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon. Unlike the celluar industry change from 3G to 4G — a relatively straightforward progression to a new and unified type of technology — the change to 5G has already seen carriers willing to slap the marketing label on a different number of implementations, which bodes many headaches ahead for those in the venue space who have to figure out what will work best for their buildings and open spaces.

There’s also the imminent emergence of networks that will use the CBRS spectrum at 3.5 GHz, which will support communications using the same LTE technology used for 4G cellular. Though CBRS has its own challenges and hurdles to implementation, because it is backed by carriers and the carrier equipment-supply ecosystem, you can expect a blitz of 5G-type marketing to fuel its hype, with poor old Wi-Fi often the target for replacement.

While the Wi-Fi Alliance and other industry groups rallying around Wi-Fi might seem like the Rebel Alliance against a First Order dreadnought, if I’ve learned anything in my career of technology reporting it’s that you should never bet against open standards. I’ve been around long enough to see seemingly invincible empires based on proprietary schemes collapse and disappear under the relentless power of open systems and standards — like Ethernet vs. DEC or IBM networking protocols, and TCP/IP vs. Novell — to count out Wi-Fi in a battle, even against the cellular giants. In fact, with the improvements that are part of Wi-Fi 6 — known also as 802.11ax in the former parlance — Wi-Fi is supposed to eventually become more like LTE, with more secure connections and a better ability to support a roaming connection and the ability to connect more clients per access point. What happens then if LTE’s advantages go away?

With Wi-Fi 6 gear only now starting to arrive in the marketplace, proof still needs to be found that such claims can work in the real world, especially in the demanding and special-case world of wireless inside venues. But the same hurdles (and maybe even more) exist for CBRS and 5G technologies, with big unanswered questions about device support and the need for numerous amounts of antennas that are usually ignored in the “5G will take over the world soon” hype stories. I’d also add to that mix my wonder about where the time and talent will come from to install a whole bunch of new technologies that will require new learning curves; meanwhile, as far as I can tell the companies supporting Wi-Fi continue to add technology pros at ever-growing user and education conferences.

So as we ready for the inevitable challenge of sifting through cellular FUD and hype let’s have a cheer for good old Wi-Fi — for now the champion of the biggest data-demand days in venues, and maybe the leader for years to come.

Super Bowl cellular report: AT&T, Sprint combine for almost 50 TB of game-day traffic

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Let the cellular traffic reports begin! AT&T is the first to report numbers for our annual unofficial tabulation of wireless traffic from the Super Bowl, with 11.5 terabytes of data in and around Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Sunday’s Super Bowl 53.

While the New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams can and will be debated for its entertainment value (or lack thereof), as usual the fans there for the “bucket list” event apparently held up the trend of mobile wireless traffic continuing to grow. According to AT&T it also saw a total of 23.5 TB of traffic on its network in a 2-mile radius around the stadium Sunday. Both the near-stadium and wider metro numbers were records for AT&T; previously it had seen a high of 9.8 TB of near-stadium traffic at Super Bowl 51 in Houston, and a wider metro total of 21.7 TB last year at Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis.

Next in with numbers is Sprint, which said it saw 25 TB of traffic “in and around” the stadium on game day, but with Sprint this number is usually the bigger geographical area of the downtown area around the stadium, and not just in and directly outside. Right now Sprint is declining to provide any more granularity on the size of its reporting area “for competitive reasons,” so feel free to speculate if the 25TB comes from network activity actually close to the stadium or if it includes all of downtown Atlanta.

It’s worthwhile to note that Sprint’s reported total grew from 9.7 TB last year to 25 TB this year. So the big-area total is now at 48.5 TB, and that is all the reporting we are going to get this year. A spokesperson from Verizon said that while the company saw “record-breaking” traffic at the event, the spokesperson also said that Verizon “decided to no longer release specific performance statistics around this event.” T-Mobile also declined to provide any traffic figures.

Sprint did have more to say this year about upgrading Atlanta-area infrastructure, adding its massive MIMO technology in an effort to boost performance.

Even without actual numbers from Verizon or T-Mobile it’s clear that last year’s total of 50.2 TB of total metro cellular traffic was most likely surpassed, by a huge margin.

Wi-Fi numbers for Super Bowl 53, reported Friday at 24.05 TB, are an indication that traffic overall is still climbing year to year, with no ceiling in sight.

Going into Sunday’s game there had been some lingering questions about whether or not the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS would hold up to the demands, given that its initial deployment is now the subject of a lawsuit between IBM and Corning. As usual, all the wireless carriers said that they had made substantial improvements to infrastructure in the stadium as well as in the surrounding metro Atlanta area ahead of the game, to make sure Super Bowl visitors stayed connected, so for now it seems like any DAS issues were corrected before the game.

An interesting factoid from AT&T: At halftime, AT&T said it saw more than 237 GB of data crossing its network within 15 minutes. Sprint also said that it saw the most data cross its network at halftime. More as we hear more! Any in-person reports welcome as well.

Mercedes-Benz Wi-Fi (and DAS) ready for Super Bowl LIII

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Wi-Fi network is ready for its moment in the Super Bowl sun. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With less than two weeks to go before Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosts Super Bowl LIII, there’s no longer any doubt that the venue’s Wi-Fi network should be ready for what is historically the biggest Wi-Fi traffic day of the year.

Oh, and that DAS network you were wondering about? It should be fine too, but more on that later. On a recent game-day visit to the still-new roost of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (and the latest MLS champions, Atlanta United), Mobile Sports Report found that the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, in a design by AmpThink for lead technology provider IBM, was strong on all levels of the venue, including some hard-to-reach spots in the building’s unique layout.

And in our game-day interview with Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, we also finally got some statistics about Wi-Fi performance that should put any Super Bowl capacity fears to rest. According to Branch, Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of Wi-Fi used during the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Jan. 8, 2018, the second-highest single-game Wi-Fi total we’ve seen, beaten only by the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“We’re confident, and we’re ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch about his stadium’s network preparedness, during an interview before the Dec. 2 Falcons home game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The night before our talk, Mercedes-Benz Stadium had hosted the SEC Championship Game, where a classic comeback by Alabama netted the Tide a 35-28 win over Georgia, while fans packing the stadium used another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi data, according to Branch.

Along with lawsuit, DAS gets 700 new antennas

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 the renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Wi-Fi totals revealed by Branch were the first such statistics reported by Mercedes-Benz Stadium since its opening in August of 2017. While initially the lack of reports of any kind last fall were thought to have been just some kind of Southern modesty, MSR had been hearing back-channel industry questions about the wireless coverage in the venue since its opening, particularly with the performance of the DAS network.

Those whispers finally became public when IBM filed a lawsuit on Oct. 31 in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleging that subcontractor Corning had failed to deliver a working DAS. In its lawsuit complaints IBM said that the DAS had not worked correctly throughout 2017, and that IBM had to spend large amounts of money to fix it. Corning has since countered with its own legal claims, asking IBM’s claims to be dismissed.

While that battle is now left to the lawyers, inside the stadium, Branch said in December that the DAS was getting its final tuning ahead of the Super Bowl. In addition to (or as part of) the IBM DAS improvements, Branch said that an additional 700 under-seat DAS antennas have been installed in the seating bowl. In our walk-around review during the Falcons’ game, MSR noticed multiple DAS antenna placements that seemed to be new since our last visit in August of 2017, during the stadium’s press day.

“IBM addressed the DAS issues, and we’re in a good place,” said Branch. The NFL’s CIO, Michelle McKenna, also gave her office’s approval of the readiness of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium networks in a separate phone interview. And MSR even got to witness a live opening of the stadium’s unique camera-shutter roof, another technology that ran into some bugs during football season last year but now appears to be solved.

Selfies and speedtests

So how do the networks perform at a live event? The short answer is, on the Wi-Fi side we saw steady speeds wherever we tested, typically in a range between 20 Mbps on the low side to 60+ Mbps on the high side, for both download and upload speeds. On the DAS side, our Verizon network phone saw a wide range of speed results, from some single-digit marks all the way up to 99 Mbps in one location; so perhaps the best answer is that on cellular, your speedtest may vary, but you will most likely always have a strong enough signal to do just about any task you might want to at a stadium, even on Super Sunday. All four major wireless carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, use the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS. And you can also expect all the major carriers to beef up local bandwidth with a combination of permanent and temporary upgrades, to ensure good connectivity throughout downtown Atlanta during Super Bowl week. Sprint and AT&T have already made announcements about their local upgrades, and we are sure Verizon and T-Mobile will follow suit with announcements soon.

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Though we didn’t get any tests during the brief on-field part of our tour, Branch did point out some Wi-Fi APs on the sidelines for media access. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a pair of MatSing ball antennas perched way up near the roof openings, to help with cellular coverage down to the sidelines.

MSR started our speedtest tour in the place where most Falcons fans probably pull out their phones, in front of the metal falcon structure outside the main entry gate. Even with digital ticketing activities taking place close by and groups of fans taking selfies in front of the bird, we still got a high Wi-Fi test of 35.8 Mbps on the download side and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. On cellular our top speeds in the same area were 3.94 Mbps / 17.2 Mbps.

Just inside the stadium doors from the Falcon is what the team calls the stadium’s “front porch,” an extended concourse with a clear view down to the field. On the Sunday we visited there was a stage with a DJ and rapping crew providing pregame entertainment, in front of two of the stadium’s more distinctive Daktronics digital displays, the 101-foot-tall “Mega Column” and the 26-foot-tall (at its highest point) triangular “Feather Wall” display, which frame part of the porch.

In the middle of a slowly moving crowd that was taking selfies in multiple directions, MSR still got good connectivity, with Wi-Fi speeds of 22.4 Mbps / 12.3 Mbps, and a cellular mark of 5.38 Mbps / 12.0 Mbps. As far as we could see, the wide-open space was being served by antennas mounted on walls on two sides of the opening.

Bridges, nosebleeds and concourses

Looking for some tough-to-cover spots, we next headed to one of the two “sky bridges,” narrow walkways that connect over the main entry on both the 200 and 300 seating levels. Out in the exact middle of the 200-level sky bridge we still got a Wi-Fi test of 14.6 Mbps / 8.19 Mbps; celluar checked in at 4.07 Mbps / 4.59 Mbps.

For some more fan-friendly speeds we wandered in front of the nearby concourse watering hole, the Cutwater Spirits bar, where our Wi-Fi signal tested at 35.8 Mbps / 42.4 Mbps, and the DAS signal (directly in front of an antenna mounted above the concourse) reached 99.2 Mbps / 25.4 Mbps even with heavy foot traffic coming by.

The roof opens at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Right before kickoff, we wandered into the top sections of the Falcons’ new roost, where about halfway up in section 310 (near the 50-yard line) we got Wi-Fi speeds of 11.6 Mbps / 1.86 Mbps, and cellular speeds of 13.1 Mbps / 2.50 Mbps, during the height of the on-field pregame festivities. In that section and in others we walked around to, many fans were busy with phones during pregame, with many watching live video.

One interesting technology note: The stadium’s unique Daktronics halo video board, a 58-foot-high screen that circles around underneath the roof, is partially obscured in the uppermost sideline seats. But that’s pretty much the only place you aren’t wowed by the screen’s spectacle, which from most of the rest of the stadium offers multiple-screen views no matter where you are looking up from.

One final speedtest on the 300-level concourse saw the Wi-Fi speeds at 35.8 Mbps / 38.2 Mbps, while another one of those new-looking DAS antennas gave us a speed test of 77.0 Mbps / 21.4 Mbps. During the third quarter we visited the AT&T Perch, a section above the end zone area opposite of the entry porch where there are large displays with multiple TV screens and even some recliner-type chairs where fans can get their other-game viewing on while inside the arena. Wi-Fi in the Perch tested at 42.1 Mbps / 61.0 Mbps.

Fans are finding the Wi-Fi

Though we haven’t yet seen any more detailed network use statistics, like unique game-day connections or peak concurrent connections for any events, Branch said fans are definitely finding the network. Sponsored by AT&T with an “ATTWifi” SSID, there is no landing page or portal for the network asking for any information — once fans find the network and connect, they’re on.

This type of personal assistance might be even more needed at the Super Bowl.

“In the first year we didn’t promote it [the Wi-Fi] heavily, because we were making sure everything worked well,” Branch said. But this year, he said the team has been promoting the network in emails to season ticket holders, and with video board messages on game days. At a high school football weekend this past fall, Branch said the Falcons saw 75 percent of attendees connect to the Wi-Fi network.

“AmpThink and Aruba did a really good job” on the Wi-Fi network, Branch said. “I love it when my friends tell me how fast the Wi-Fi is.”

By adding solid wireless connectivity to the host of other amenities found inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — including fan-friendly food and drink prices that are simply the lowest you’ll see anywhere — Branch said he felt like the Falcons’ ownership had succeeded in creating a venue that was “an experience,” where fans would want to come inside instead of tailgating until the last minute.

With the Super Bowl looming on the horizon, Branch knows there’s still no rest until the game is over, with new challenges ahead. The Sunday we visited, the Falcons debuted a new footbridge over the road outside the back-door Gate 1 entry, and Branch knows there will be networking challenges to make sure fans can still connect when the NFL erects its Super Bowl security perimeter far out from the actual stadium doors.

“Our motto is be prepared for anything,” said Branch, noting that there is really no template or historical model for a building unique as Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re changing tires on a car going 100 miles per hour,” Branch said, only partially in jest. “But we’re confident we’ll be ready for the Super Bowl.”

The metal falcon is selfie central for visitors new and old

Wi-Fi and DAS antennas cover the ‘front porch’ landing area inside the main entry

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure

A shadowy look at one of the MatSing ball antennas in the rafters

The gear behind the under-seat DAS deployments

The view toward downtown

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.

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

Chargers, Mobilitie pump up the DAS at StubHub Center

While the new LA stadium is being built, the soccer-specific StubHub Center is the home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Mention StubHub Center to your average sports fan in southern California and they’ll likely assume you’re talking about soccer’s LA Galaxy or the Los Angeles Chargers, the recently relocated NFL franchise subletting space while its permanent stadium gets built.

But StubHub Center, built on the campus of California State University/Dominguez Hills, also includes a velodrome, an 8,000-seat tennis stadium (with several adjacent courts), and an outdoor track and field facility. Throw in the far-flung parking lots and it adds up to 125 acres that all need wireless connectivity.

With such wide spaces to cover, StubHub management opted not to spend on fan-facing Wi-Fi and instead focused on distributed antenna system (DAS) technology to keep fans and tailgaters connected. Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager, looked to the major cellular carriers to invest in and support the connectivity needs of Galaxy and Chargers fans, and other eventgoers at the open-air StubHub.

Carriers help bear the cost of connectivity

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 Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, 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!

Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager

“With our DAS-only approach, the investment is 100 percent on the carriers and doesn’t cost us anything,” Pandolfo told Mobile Sports Report. While they got a few complaints about no public Wi-Fi during events in 2017, when the 29-zone DAS system was activated, fans quickly acclimated and now use bandwidth from Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon on the shared network. AT&T isn’t part of the DAS system, but has operated a macro site at StubHub for years, according to Pandolfo.

Mobilitie helped build StubHub’s DAS system and offered its engineering expertise; the turnkey provider also manages the system. The DAS-only approach is common in southern California; in addition to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Honda Center in Anaheim and Viejas Arena (under construction) at San Diego State University are also DAS-only venues with no fan-facing Wi-Fi.

StubHub Center, located in Carson, Calif., is 17 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and upwind from a nearby Goodyear blimp mooring station; gusty coastal winds apparently make this a good training ground for new blimp pilots. The 27,000-seat StubHub originally opened in 2003 as Home Depot Center; the new sponsor came onboard in 2013. Anschutz Entertainment Group owns and operates StubHub Center.

StubHub will handle several events when Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028, including bicycle track racing, field hockey, pentathlon, rugby and tennis. Pandolfo expects firmer plans for the venue’s technology needs to emerge sometime in the next couple years. Technology – especially wireless technology – will change a lot in that time, she noted.

As the second soccer-specific stadium built in the U.S., Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy is the venue’s premier tenant. But in 2017 when the National Football League’s Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, the facility underwent some major upgrades. Additions include 1,000 new tip-up seats replacing bleachers on the east side of the stadium; another 330 bleacher seats were added in StubHub’s southeast corner. Luxury suites and the press box were renovated along with two new radio booths; they also added a security office for police and NFL officials, and camera booths at the two 20-yard lines and at the 50-yard line. Locker rooms were enlarged as was the press conference room.

DAS antennas look down from atop a wall

And tempting as it may be to lump all fans of any sport into a single heap, Pandolfo said Galaxy fans and Chargers fans behave very differently at StubHub Center. Chargers fans like to get up and walk around, visit concessions and take advantage of the venue’s amenities during the game. Not so for Galaxy fans, who tend to stay seated and don’t want to miss any of the action, she explained.

California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also just changed its rules and will now allow beer sales up and down the aisles of stadiums like StubHub Center. Beer hawking, she noted, didn’t used to be digital and required fans to pay cash. “Now it’s a quicker transaction that improves the fan experience,” using mobile pay systems or credit cards, Pandolfo said.

DAS upgrades mean faster speeds

In the meantime, Mobilitie continues to optimize StubHub’s DAS system; based on bandwidth speed tests conducted by Mobile Sports Report, things are moving in the right direction. MSR tested Verizon DAS connectivity right after the system was installed in August 2017, and a year later during a Chargers’ pre-season game against New Orleans. In 2017, Verizon’s DAS struggled in single-digit Mbps uploads and downloads; quite often, the throughput was even less.

What a difference a year makes. Mobilitie engineers’ fine-tuning has paid off; August 2018 tests show dramatic improvement, with the highest throughputs near the stadium’s northwest concessions area — 111.39 Mbps/12.15 Mbps (download/upload). A year previous, things were a lot more sluggish with 0.95 Mbps/0.04 Mbps speeds recorded in the same area.

Overhangs provide good places for equipment mounts

DAS performance has also improved just inside the gates past the ticket scanners at the bottom of the stairs; in 2017, we clocked only 1.87 Mbps/13.42 Mbps, but more recently throughput had jumped to 87.08 Mbps/21.42 Mbps. The concession area on the east side of the stadium checked in most recently at 76.55 Mbps/6.7 Mbps, another sizeable increase from last year when Verizon DAS throughput was a pokey 0.4 Mbps/0.06 Mbps.

Speeds inside the stadium have also improved year-over-year. Section 230 in the northeast corner of StubHub measured 2.83 Mbps/1.96 Mbps a year ago, but were up to 13.48 Mbps/8.71 Mbps in August 2018. Similarly, the sunny northern end of the stadium above the end zone delivered 0.21 Mbps/0.27 Mbps a year ago, but jumped to a more acceptable 16.44 Mbps/18.27 Mbps. The east side of the stadium is also more robust; a year ago, bandwidth tests yielded 3.1 Mbps/0.01 Mbps, but were up to 8.97 Mbps/1.74 Mbps.

Improvements to the DAS network performance can only help improve the fan experience at StubHub Center. Pandolfo wants fans to be able to do everything faster: Get parked faster, enter the stadium, and take advantage of all the food, drink and merchandise options. “We look at the whole package and then at the network we have to provide to make that happen,” she said. “We’re looking at it from the fan experience but also how to optimize revenue for the building.” It’s the right formula for sporting venues compelled to balance technology requirements against dollars and cents.