Verizon’s new DAS is in play at U.S. Open

A new DAS from Verizon is covering the grounds at the U.S. Open tennis championship this year.

Fans at this year’s U.S. Open tennis championship should have a solid swing at cellular connectivity, thanks to a new distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed by Verizon at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.

According to Verizon, the deployment was added to the U.S. Open facility during the past year, and includes coverage not only in and around the main playng facility — the 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium — but also among the numerous other courts and fan-gathering areas in the sprawling facility.

Mike Haberman, Verizon vice president of network support, said the venue’s DAS was “a little bit different” than a traditional stadium DAS since it was spread out among multiple buildings, like the smaller (14,000 seats) new Louis Armstrong Stadium and all the side courts. But with more than 20 sectors deployed, and 155 DAS antennas used, he said coverage is strong across the venue.

Previously, Haberman said Verizon used to cover the tournament with portable cellular antennas. But to meet the ever growing bandwidth demands of mobile device users, Verizon built a neutral-host system in the venue to provide more consistent coverage. Haberman said AT&T is also on the DAS at the tennis center.

BNP Paribas Open serves up new app from YinzCam

Screen shot of new BNP Paribas Open app from YinzCam.

The BNP Paribas Open, one of the premier stops on the professional tennis tour, has tapped YinzCam to provide a new app for this year’s event that includes support for a wide range of services including ticket purchases, wayfinding, transportation to and from the venue, and a schedule of matches.

The new app, available for iOS and Android devices, is the first tennis-venue app for YinzCam, whose market-leading list of customers is mainly in U.S. professional sports, including the NHL, the NFL and the NBA. Reflecting YinzCam’s historic excellence in providing content to mobile apps, the BNP Paribas Open app will include biographies and photos for the more than 200 women and men players from the WTA and the ATP World Tour. According to YinzCam, the app will also support live scoring and real-time match results.

Probably one of the more important features to fans at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the tournament’s host venue, is the interactive map, which provides information on food and beverage options as well as other services (restrooms, ticket offices, etc.) as you scroll through the map. YinzCam said the app also has a chatbot to answer questions, though when we tried asking it “will Roger Federer win?” it asked us to rephrase the question because it didn’t understand.

As previously reported by MSR, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is well covered for Wi-Fi with a network using gear from Ruckus; apparently, the new app replaces the previous app developed by The App Company of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.

Stadium Tech Report: Indian Wells Tennis Garden serves up an ace with Ruckus Wi-Fi for BNP Paribas Open

Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home of the BNP Paribas Open. Credit all photos: IWTG (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home of the BNP Paribas Open. Credit all photos: IWTG (Click on any photo for a larger image)

In tennis, a player gets two chances to serve the ball in. Mark McComas, lead project manager for the public Wi-Fi installation at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in southern California, knew he’d have just one shot to get it all to work properly.

McComas, VP for systems integrator West Coast Networking of Palm Desert, Calif., began working on a wireless system to handle IWTG’s administrative and corporate offices as well as handle box-office scanning in July 2013. But then a smartphone app for the famed BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament with schedules, results, player bios and live streaming video got added to the mix, and IWTG’s public Wi-Fi network wasn’t so much born as mushroomed into being.

At this year’s tournament, where play in the women’s main draw started today, the 400,000-plus fans who attend over the two weeks of play will be able to once again use the app to enhance their on-site visit, with features like live video from different courts, updated stats and play-by-play audio coverage. It all runs on the free Wi-Fi service available at the venue, a project McComas and West Coast Networking helped deploy in time for last year’s event.

Building a net for tennis fans

McComas, working with engineering help from Hewlett-Packard, went to work building out the venue’s network elements, spending slightly more than $1 million along the way on things like:

— The design and installation of wireless switches, antennas and 138 access points from Ruckus Wireless;

PR view of the BNP Open app. Usually you can't see the Wi-Fi!

PR view of the BNP Open app. Usually you can’t see the Wi-Fi!

— Ensuring sufficient bandwidth for the BNP Paribas smartphone app, developed by The App Company of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.

— Figuring out how to stream video from the four stadiums, and whether they should produce their own video locally; pick up feeds from the Association of Tennis Players and the Women’s Tennis Association; or work with a third-party. (They went with the ATP/WTA feed.)

— Configuring the subscriber gateway from RG Nets, Reno, Nev., that rate-limits onsite users to 5 Mbps upstream and 5 Mbps downstream.

In addition to staff and thousands of spectators to satisfy, there was also the man who owns IWTG and the BNP Paribas tournament: Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, who’s not exactly known for initiating group hugs. According to McComas, the tournament staff was great to work with and very technology-fluent. “They gave us the tools and expected us to perform and do it right the first time,” he added.

Fine tuning the bandwidth

McComas also credits all the vendors involved for their input and cooperation. As a result, the network easily handled the demands from densely packed users and the steep pitch of each stadium. Predictably, that’s where the toughest engineering problems emerged. “The biggest problem was density and co-channel interference at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz,” McComas said. “We used directional antennas and a corkscrew pattern in the upper and lower levels of Stadium 1 and Stadium 2, with directional antennas pointing at banks of seats.”

Overhead view of the IWTG complex

Overhead view of the IWTG complex

The capacity of Stadium 1 is 16,000 fans; Stadium 2 has 8,000 seats.

In addition, if a user connects at 2.4 GHz, if their device can support it IWTG pushes them to 5 GHz, which McComas said was critical since the overlap on the 2.4 GHz part of the spectrum is only three channels.

Another critical piece in the network was the platform from RG Nets, which in addition to rate-limiting, also handles clustering, failover and load balancing. McComas said the box acts as a “captive portal,” so that once the user connects there and agrees to the terms and conditions, they get Internet access based on a group policy that throttles their connection. “Public Wi-Fi needs rate-limiting,” he said. “You could make the best wireless network out there, but if you’re not throttling the connection on a per-user basis, you’re going to fail.”

Video streaming, video encoding and app hosting are all handled off-premises; that reserves bandwidth and processing power for onsite users, rather than hosting those functions for the entire world, McComas said.

In 2014, McComas said IWTG had as many as 9,000 concurrent users on the tournament app, accounting for nearly 3 TB of data per day from the public Wi-Fi network alone. “It was insane how may people downloaded the app and were using it,” McComas laughed. In addition, IWTG had 4 Gbps of fiber in 2014 dedicated to the public Wi-Fi network; McComas said they’ll bump that up to 5.5 Gbps this year. They’re also adding about 20 additional APs around the venue to relieve potential congestion points.

“It was very clear that the Indian Wells organization wanted to do it once and do it right the first time, and also accommodate their growth over the next 10 years,” he added. “We engineered the network for growth.”

Terry Sweeney is a Los Angeles-based writer who’s covered IT and networking for more than 20 years. He is also founder and chief jarhead of Paragon Jams.

USA Today launches enhanced sports weekly app

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruckus will provide Wi-Fi for new MLS Earthquakes stadium in San Jose

Ruckus Wireless has scored a deal to provide a Wi-Fi network for the San Jose Earthquakes, in the team’s new 18,000-seat stadium slated to open in 2015.

The sponsorship agreement will see Ruckus designing and supplying the high-capacity Wi-Fi network in the new stadium, which will be located on Coleman Avenue in San Jose, near the city airport. According to Ruckus the network will use more than 150 of the company’s Ruckus ZoneFlex access points. David Callisch, vice president of corporate marketing for Ruckus, said the deal is a “partnership” with the Earthquakes, with Ruckus providing both some equipment discounts and technical and marketing assistance to make sure the network works well and is readily discovered by the fans coming to the arena.

“This is an exciting project that our fans can look forward to utilizing at our new stadium,” said Earthquakes president Dave Kaval, in a prepared statement. “We want our stadium to reflect our community, and technological innovation is a key component of Silicon Valley. Ruckus Wireless is a great fit because of their local roots and experience working not just with Silicon Valley Wi-Fi network deployments, but with these types of deployments around the world.”

The San Jose deal adds to a growing list of soccer stadium deployment wins for Ruckus, which already provides Wi-Fi at 20,000-seat plus Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah (home of the MLS Real Salt Lake club) as well as at several venues in Brazil being readied for the upcoming World Cup. Ruckus also provides the Wi-Fi at Time-Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., home of the NBA’s Bobcats, and was also behind a new Wi-Fi network at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.

Callisch said the free app at the BNP Open, which allowed fans to watch live video of matches at courts other than the one they were sitting in front of, was the kind of in-stadium use that a cellular DAS just can’t handle.

“A 4G signal is just not suitable for something like high-quality video,” said Callisch. “You really need Wi-Fi for high capacity applications.”

Though Ruckus does sell gear for regular, indoor office-type networks, its line of advanced access points with directional antennas make it a good fit for stadium venues, where being able to fine-tune coverage is a necessity.

Ruckus, which went public on Nov. 16 of 2012, finished its fiscal 2013 year with $263.1 million in revenue, a 22.6 percent increase from the previous year. Its Q4 revenues were $73.0 million. Though Callisch wouldn’t break out what part of that total stadium and other large-venue contracts represent, he did say they all helped the bottom line.

Though large venue deals may involve discounts and other charges for marketing or extra technical help, Callisch did say that any time you deliver equipment in the hundreds, it’s a good business deal.

“We make money on all the [stadium] deals,” Callisch said. “It’s a growing vertical market for us.”

USA Today gets into sports-event ticket business

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I think fans everywhere agree that there are a huge number of sporting events that they would be interested in attending, at least once in their life, but finding out how to apply for tickets much less working your way through the red tape will always be an impediment.

Now leaping to the (possible) rescue is USA Today Sports Media Group which has teamed with QuintEvents to launch a joint venture called USA Today Sports Events that promises access to the biggest sports events.

The effort seeks to establish USA Today Sports as the go-to site for fans looking for tickets and packages to events such as the NFL’s Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and the NBA All-Star game, among others.

It does not just offer tickets but much more in some cases such as access to players and coaches, the ability to walk a field or arena prior to an event, hospitality tent and parties access, and other amenities. The packages it offers are not third-party ones that cobble together hotels, seats and transportation but ones from the official sponsors of the events.

A look at the website shows it is offering tickets for the upcoming Super Bowl next year, with a clock counting down the days, hours and minutes. It has a link to different ticket packages, then a second to extras that can be added to your package, then a seating chart and so on. Currently tickets max out at $11,799 each.

The Level White Package starts with seats at $5,899 and has seats in the corner of level 100 at MetLife Stadium. The amenities include a $100 In-Stadium Super Bowl XLVIII merchandise coupon, preferred on-location parking (for an addition fee for the actual parking) and access to the NFL On-Location venue.

It does seem that all but well-heeled fans are increasingly phased out of the modern sports picture and while I like the idea of this and if I had the cash might actually try and use the service but increasingly fans of teams are the last that get served by the leagues when the biggest events come around, forcing them to try all sorts of maneuvers to get tickets. Maybe USA Today can also start a business finding bargain seats for real fans who aren’t loaded with cash?