Preakness gets Aruba Wi-Fi network just in time for Saturday’s race

Selfies should be easier to share this year at the Preakness, thanks to a new Wi-Fi network at Pimlico Race Course. Credit: Preakness Instagram (click on any photo for a larger image)

Talk about a photo finish: According to executives at the Pimlico Race Course, a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, will be ready to greet fans who arrive for Saturday’s 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes.

Thanks to some hard work from network construction teams who are good mudders, the new network and its 330-plus APs for both the main buildings and the infield at the Baltimore, Maryland track that hosts the second stop of the Triple Crown got finished at the wire, according to Joe Blaylock, director of IT for Pimlico.

“We took a 4-to-6 month project and did it in 3 weeks,” said Blaylock in a phone interview, chuckling as he recalled the challenges of deploying a network around bad weather and tight deadlines.

“We weren’t laughing three weeks ago,” Blaylock said. “But we’re at 99 point 5 percent. Anyone at the property [Saturday] will get on Wi-Fi.”

Improving the fan experience

Though Pimlico had some limited Wi-Fi prior to this year, Blaylock said Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of track owners the Stronach Group, gave his group a goal to bring more extensive connectivity to the venue so fans could use mobile devices however they wanted. With a history of using Hewlett Packard technology in its back end networks the track’s IT team found what they needed in the Aruba Wi-Fi offerings and with the help of deployers MS Benbow, got the network installed just before post time.

Two hundred-plus new APs will serve the infield crowd at the Preakness

According to Blaylock the new network increased the AP count for the infield (where 60,000 or more of the expected Preakness crowd of 140,000 congregates) to 200 APs, up from about 38 last year; in the main seating structures, there are now 130 Wi-Fi APs, up from 40 in 2017.

“Last year we could barely support 4,000 or 5,000 fans [on the network],” Blaylock said. “Now we can handle 50,000 concurrent users.”

One thing the new network will enable is mobile betting for the entire facility, through the Xpressbet service also owned and run by the Stronach Group. While the venue does not have a distributed antenna system (DAS) for enhanced cellular service, Blaylock said both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have brought in Matsing Ball antennas for temporary coverage, especially for the infield crowds. There is also a new 10 Gbps backbone pipe to support the new Wi-Fi network, Blaylock said.

And thanks to his crew’s ability to conquer a construction “trifecta” of “no time, bad weather and tired humans,” fans at this year’s race who don’t cash in at the betting window should still find the Wi-Fi connectivity a winning bet, Blaylock said.

(Thanks to the Pimlico folks, Aruba and MS Benbow for sending along the following photos.)

We are guessing on these photos, but some like this one are pretty self-explanatory.

Guessing again but most likely an infield AP deployment.

That’s one way to get an AP out over the overhang to cover seats below.

AP in upper right corner to serve what looks like betting/hospitality area.

If you look closely there are APs on larger front stanchions serving this premium seating area.

Vegas Golden Knights get Wi-Fi boost at T-Mobile Arena

Vegas Golden Knights fans congregate during pregame in the outdoor “Park” next to T-Mobile Arena. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In hockey, it’s called being caught shorthanded. Outnumbered on a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rush, or down a player due to a penalty, it’s never fun to compete without an appropriate amount of resources.

In Las Vegas this winter the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, found themselves somewhat shorthanded on the wireless side of things when the Wi-Fi network in their castle — a building also known as T-Mobile Arena — couldn’t quite keep up with the demand generated by the Knights’ smashing debut.

But by deploying a classic Vegas strategy — going “all in” with a quick network upgrade that added nearly 200 access points — The Knights, T-Mobile Arena and connectivity partner Cox Business brought the Wi-Fi in line with the team’s first-place level of play, ensuring that fans will be able to share whatever happens in Vegas during the upcoming playoff run on a high-density network that reaches from the rink to the roof, as well as outside the arena.

Needing the feedback of regular fans

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of new venue construction in Los Angeles and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Visiting team fans also have made T-Mobile Arena a popular NHL spot this season.

While the building itself has been open now for nearly 2 years, its original accelerated construction time frame and the uncertainty of the NHL bid meant that network deployments inside T-Mobile Arena were always going to have some wait and see attached.

“The original network design was kind of a best guess,” said Vikrant Bodalia, director of technology operations for MGM Resorts International (which co-owns T-Mobile Arena in a joint venture with the Anschutz Entertainment Group), during an interview and tour of the stadium the day after MSR attended a Knights game during the regular season.

When the arena opened there were approximately 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs throughout the building, but according to Bodalia there were only about 66 of those in the lower seating bowl. While there were some that were mounted under seats, those APs were few in number and mainly in the lowest rows, where Bodalia said performance was weakened by interference from fans’ bodies.

In between the time when T-Mobile Arena opened its doors in April of 2016 and the start of the current NHL season, every event was different from the next one, meaning that new fans filled the arena each time. The high percentage of “transient” crowds, Bodalia said, made it hard to get good feedback on how the Wi-Fi network was performing.

Cisco Wi-Fi APs in custom enclosures designed by Cox Business ring the overhangs above the main seating bowl.

Once the Golden Knights started playing, however, fan feedback was “very vocal and very good,” Bodalia said. Though it was always expected that there would be some rush in popularity for an expansion team, the surge in season ticket sales (team officials said attendance is more than 75 percent season ticket holders) is probably at the high end of expectations.

Add in to that the appeal for visiting teams’ fans to spend time in Vegas, along with the completely unexpected division-leading on-ice performance, and you have a sort of perfect storm that pushed bandwidth demands early on. For Bodalia and his IT team it was game on, with a quick research project into the best way to add more capacity, followed by an all-hours plan to get the job done.

Going under seat, without core drilling

One technique that has worked well in other stadiums — putting Wi-Fi APs into handrail enclosures — didn’t work at T-Mobile Arena mainly because the height of the railings was too low. A few test deployments didn’t produce the desired performance, Bodalia said, so that path was rejected.

Instead, the team of Cox Business, T-Mobile Arena and Bodalia’s MGM squad settled on a plan to deploy under-seat Wi-Fi APs, a deployment with a split degree of difficulty since about half the lower-bowl seats are on a retractable metal infrastructure to allow for customizable seating arrangements.

New under-seat Wi-Fi APs in the lower bowl

For the APs placed under concrete-mounted seats, Bodalia’s team devised a method of deployment that did not require them to drill through the concrete for each placement. Instead, the APs used low-profile conduit that stretched beneath the seats to the walkways, where connections could be consolidated. The T-Mobile Arena crew even tucked some of the wiring underneath rubber gaskets between concrete partitions, a method also used at Notre Dame Stadium to get cabling to APs without going through the concrete.

For the APs located on movable stands, Bodalia said the key was to find a method that didn’t disrupt the sometimes daily need to move the seats back and forth to comply with the venue’s busy schedule of concerts and events other than Knights games. What they ended up with was a design that included multiple switch-mounting sites on the walls underneath the backs of the stands, and then flexible “caterpillar” tracks to host cables, which would curl up or stretch out as needed, without having to detatch cables while physically moving the stands. At project’s end, there are now 200-plus APs in the main lower seating bowl, more than triple the initial deployment.

Wi-Fi as solid as the team on the ice

So with the three-month project now finally complete — after a lot of midnight shifts to get the work done between games and other events — how does the T-Mobile Arena Wi-Fi perform now? In a one-game visit by Mobile Sports Report during a Knights contest against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, we found Wi-Fi connectivity solid in every part of the venue, from the fan park outside to the rinkside seats to the upper reaches of the “castle.”

One of the many solid Wi-Fi speed tests we took in T-Mobile Arena.

What was surprising upon arriving at the venue was the relative “maturity” of the fan base — while some had predicted that visiting fans would overwhelm the locals this season, instead the opposite is true, with families, couples and packs of Knights fans flooding the zone outside T-Mobile. In a well-thought arrangement, the surrounding area between the New York, New York, the Monte Carlo and T-Mobile Arena is an already successful “fan zone” with open spaces for games and portable concession stands, and several watering holes filled to the brim an hour before game time.

After clicking a single box on a splash screen to accept terms for the Wi-Fi service, we got speed results of 42.4 Mbps on the download and 33.7 Mbps on the upload standing in the middle of the plaza outside the main gates as fans flowed by. Switching to cellular, we got a reading of 16.2 Mbps/9.25 Mbps at the same spot on the Verizon network. According to T-Mobile Arena, there is a neutral host DAS in and around the venue that supports all four of the top carriers.

Inside the arena, we went right down to the lower bowl to find and test some of the new under seat APs, and got a mark of 56.5 Mbps/54.7 Mbps in Row J of Section 17, in line with a face-off circle near one of the goal lines. Moving up we got a test of 61.5 Mbps/52.3 Mbps in a packed-house Bud Light Club on the main concourse and a 56.2 Mbps/50.3 Mbps mark in the Goose Island club, which serves the suite level on the third floor.

The world’s lonliest seat.

We couldn’t get inside either of the two “sky lounges” or the Hyde Park club on the arena’s top levels since they had private parties that night, but we did find the lonliest seat in the arena — a single-seat row in section 209, at the highest regular-seating apex. Even with the challenging RF and tight spaces we still got a Wi-Fi reading of 21.8 Mbps/22.4 Mbps, showing that Bodalia’s team didn’t ignore the hard places.

It was fun to watch the Golden Knights’ Vegas-style pregame ceremony, which includes a fun “pulling the sword from the stone” routine to help fire up the fans. But the very vocal Vegas contingent — watch out for their clever coordinated shout during a certain part of the national anthem — doesn’t appear to need much help, as there is an infectious enthusiasm pervading the building, one that you might not expect from such a non-traditional “hockey town” as Las Vegas.

On one level, the team is a perfect antidote for the local pain caused by the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay last fall; many fans sported Knights jerseys with “Vegas Strong” written across the top of the back, and there is a very classy segment during the evening where a “Vegas Strong Hero” gets honored. The night we attended the “hero” was a nurse who stayed on duty that dark night helping to save many lives; she was honored with a standing ovation.

But now, following the Knights’ first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, you can add Stanley Cup excitement to the mix, adding to the network pressure as fans will want to connect and share more. The good news is, thanks to the recent upgrades there is now a Wi-Fi network to match the team’s performance, no matter how far they advance.


Fans pack a nearby beer garden before a Knights game

A view of the Park from one of the arena’s outside lounge areas

Some premium loge seats have interactive TVs at T-Mobile Arena

One of the two sky lounges that extend over the main seating area

Knights games offer a savvy blend of hockey and Vegas showbiz expertise

Wi-Fi gear for new APs mounted on walls underneath the moveable stands

APs for under-seat deployments in moveable stands were mounted underneath the seating floor

A unique ‘caterpillar’ track keeps APs connected as stands are moved back and forth

Final Four sees 9.97 TB of data used on Alamodome Wi-Fi

Fans at the Alamodome using mobile devices before the big game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The final stats are in, and this year’s men’s NCAA basketball tournament Final Four weekend in San Antonio saw a total of 9.97 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network inside the Alamodome, according to official NCAA network reports.

With 4.9 TB of traffic used during the Saturday semifinal games and 5.07 TB used during the Monday night final the Alamodome Wi-Fi mark fell a bit below the 11.2 TB of data use seen during the 2017 Final Four weekend at the University of Pacific Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. With about 10,000 more fans per game (attendance at last year’s two sessions was 77,612 for Saturday’s semifinals and 76,168 for Monday’s championship, which were both second-highest ever numbers) and a more mature network it’s not surprising that there was a dip in Wi-Fi usage; the somewhat smaller Alamodome had 67,831 in attendance for the Monday night championship game.

So far only AT&T has reported DAS stats from this year’s Final Four, with 2 TB used on Saturday and 1.1 TB used Monday. Last year in Glendale AT&T said it saw 6.4 TB of DAS use. We have asked Verizon and Sprint for numbers but so far have not yet gotten any replies. As a stated policy T-Mobile does not report data traffic numbers from big events.

In a slight change from the preliminary reports we got, the official numbers show that the Alamodome Wi-Fi network saw 19,557 unique devices connect to the network on Saturday, with a peak concurrent total that day of 12,387 devices. On Monday night those numbers were 17,963 unique connections and 12,848 peak concurrent connections. Peak throughput for the Wi-Fi network on Saturday was 2.1 Gbps, while on Monday the mark was 1.6 Gbps.

New Report: Wi-Fi scores at Final Four, Vegas Knights get more Wi-Fi, and more!

A live in-person report of the Wi-Fi network performance at this year’s Final Four is just the beginning of our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Mobile Sports Report traveled this spring to San Antonio, Texas, to get a firsthand look at the new networks installed at the venerable Alamodome, including one new permanent Wi-Fi deployment and another specifically tailored for the temporary courtside seats the NCAA brings in for its crown jewel event of the men’s basketball season.

Download our free report to get the details on how this network was able to deliver a superb wireless experience to the almost 70,000 fans in attendance.

The report from San Antonio, however, is just the beginning of our content-rich Spring 2018 issue, which also contains another in-person review, this one of the updated Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, the home-ice castle for the NHL’s newest sensation, the Vegas Golden Knights. Prompted by the team’s somewhat unexpected on-ice success, the quick network upgrade is a great lesson on how to respond to fan-experience demands. And it’s all explained in the STADIUM TECH REPORT.

More Wi-Fi for Vegas Knights, new construction in LA

There’s also a profile of the new network that was part of the refurbishment of Minneapolis’ Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves, as well as a look at some innovative marketing programs combining digital signage and Wi-Fi for greater fan engagement. Our Terry Sweeney also provides a look at new venue construction and old venue remodels in Los Angeles, and we also have a full recap of the record-breaking Wi-Fi and DAS traffic at this year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — all available for free download from our site!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Cox Business, Boingo, Oberon and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers.

Wrigley Field gets new DAS in time for Cubs’ home opener

The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field will have a new DAS working for opening day. Credit for these 2017 season pictures: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After some construction delays that no Chicago Cubs fans minded, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will have a new high-performance distributed antenna system (DAS) operational for Monday’s scheduled Cubs home opener for the 2018 season.

Designed and deployed by DAS Group Professionals, the new in-stadium cellular network was originally scheduled to be ready by last year; but when the Cubs took their historic march to the World Series title in 2016, many of the in-progress construction plans for Wrigley Field got delayed or rearranged, to the objection of nobody at all who cheers for the north siders.

And even though some of the most ambitious parts of the Wrigley renovation took place this winter — including removing most of the seats and concrete in the lower seating bowl to clear the way for some lower-level club spaces — the DGP crew along with the Cubs’ IT organization delivered the new cell network in time for the first pitches scheduled Monday afternoon.

Wi-Fi coming in as season goes on

“We definitely put scheduling and timing to the test, but we got it done,” said Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, in a phone interview. First announced back in 2015, the networking plan for the Wrigley renovations — which includes coverage for the plaza outside the stadium, the new team office building as well as the across-the-street Hotel Zachary that also just opened for business — also includes a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Extreme Networks. Since the Wi-Fi network is more construction-conflicted than the DAS deployment, it will be introduced gradually over the next few months, McIntyre said.

“By the All-Star break, we should have both systems online,” McIntyre said.

The DAS system deployed by DGP uses JMA equipment, just like DGP’s other big-stadium DAS deployments at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Steve Dutto, president of DGP, acknowledged the challenge of the Wrigley buildout, including one instance where DGP technicians needed to set up scaffolding to mount antennas but couldn’t because instead of a concrete floor there was a 60-foot hole in the ground.

Hey hey!

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto. According to Dutto DGP has signed up all four major U.S. wireless carriers for the DAS, with all except Sprint operational for opening day. The head-end building for the DAS, he said, is located in what he thinks is a former hot-dog stand a half a block from the park. (If you’re looking for a snack in the head end room, just remember, in Chicago there’s no ketchup on hot dogs.)

Dutto said the DAS antennas are all overhead mounts, not a problem in Wrigley since the overhangs offer plenty of mounting spaces. However, given the historic look and feel of the park, Dutto did say that “we definitely had to tuck things away better and make sure we had good paint matches.” Not a Chicago native, Dutto said that the charm of the stadium hit him on first view.

“When we pulled up for the first time,” he said, “it was… wow. There’s nothing like it.”

Under seat for Wi-Fi will take time to deploy

The Cubs’ McIntyre, who admits to guzzling coffee by the quart these days, said the field-level renovations — which included removing all lower seats and the foundational concrete to clear out room for field-level club spaces — made finishing the Wi-Fi deployment something that couldn’t be pushed. With no overhangs covering the premium box seat areas, Wi-Fi APs there will need to be mounted under seats, something that just couldn’t get finished by Monday.

“It’s less of a technical challenge and more of a structural engineering challenge,” said McIntyre of the under-seat deployment method, which usually involves a lot of work with drilling through concrete and mounting APs in weather-sealed enclosures. McIntyre said the Cubs and Extreme also plan to use under-seat deployments in Wrigley’s famous outfield bleachers, which also lack any overhead infrastructure. In what he termed a “slow roll,” McIntyre said parts of the Wi-Fi network will come online gradually as the season progresses, starting first with the spaces outside the stadium.

Bringing backbone power to the new network is partner Comcast Business, which just announced a sponsorship deal with the Cubs that will see a “XfinityWiFi@Wrigley” label on the Wrigley Wi-Fi SSID. According to McIntyre Comcast will bring in twin 10-Gbps pipes to power the Wrigley Wi-Fi network.

This panoramic view shows why the lower level seats will need under-seat APs for Wi-fi

Average per-fan Wi-Fi use total jumps again at Super Bowl 52

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

After a year where the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan at the Super Bowl dropped, the trend of more data used per fan reversed itself again to a new peak at Super Bowl 52, with an average total of 407.4 megabytes per user.

Even though the number of unique connections to the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 also increased to a record 40,033 users (according to the official statistics compiled by Extreme Networks), the jump from 11.8 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl 51 to 16.31 TB used at Super Bowl 52 pushed the average per-user number to the top, surpassing the 333 MB per user number from Super Bowl 51, as well as the 370 MB per user mark seen at Super Bowl 50.

While this statistic has not ever been called out by the Extreme Networks Super Bowl compilations, we here at MSR think it is a vital mark since it shows that even with more users on the network those connected users are still using more data. That means that IT departments at venues everywhere should probably still plan for no letup in the overall continued growth in demand for bandwidth at large-venue events, especially at “bucket list” events like the Super Bowl.

Last year we guessed the drop in per-user totals from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51 might have been due to a larger number of autoconnected users, but we never got an answer from the Extreme Networks team when we asked that question. At U.S. Bank Stadium there was also an autoconnect feature to the Wi-Fi for Verizon Wireless customers, but it didn’t seem to affect the per-user total mark.