JMA touts virtualized RAN for DAS with new XRAN platform

The marketplace for in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments got an interesting jolt Monday with JMA Wireless’s announcement of its new XRAN software platform, which promises to bring the flexibility and cost savings of hardware virtualization to the world of Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment.

In a quick nutshell, the idea behind JMA’s XRAN is to use software and off-the-shelf Intel-based servers to replace the dedicated racks of equipment that are traditionally used to carry signals from celluar carrier lines to antenna infrastructure in a DAS. In addition to potential large savings in amounts of equipment needed, cooling and power costs, and sheer space, the XRAN also promises to allow cloud-based sharing and administration of systems, which could allow multiple buildings or a campus to share an integrated system for flexible capacity control.

A stadium with XRAN, in an example provided by JMA, could theoretically share its DAS deployment infrastructure with nearby office buildings, allowing for better use of resources. Though not yet deployed anywhere commercially, JMA also announced Monday that XRAN software is being used by Telecom Italia Mobile in a “live dense urban network application.” The announcements were officially made at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

Looking to cut costs for enterprise wireless deployments

The XRAN announcement may be of most immediate interest in the stadium wireless marketplace to third-party network operators, who typically build a DAS network for a stadium and rent space on it back to carriers. That model, employed by companies including Boingo, Mobilitie, ExteNet and 5 Bars, has come under pressure lately as carriers have voiced displeasure over having to pay what they sometimes consider exorbitant prices for access. If costs for DAS deployments and operations could be cut, third party operators might be able to offer more attractive rates to ensure carrier participation.

To be sure, virtualized RAN operations (also sometimes known as “C-RAN” for Cloud-based RAN) have been the focus of many companies inside the telecom services space, for the same cost-saving and feature flexibility promises made possible by switching from dedicated hardware to commodity platforms. In the press literature accompanying its announcement, JMA notes that while some “partially virtualized” RAN architecture equipment exists, JMA claims the XRAN platform is the first fully virtual RAN, software “that can process the full protocol stack” from Layer 1 through Layer 3.

If the cost savings and functional flexibility of RAN virtualization follow the curves seen by virtualization in the application world, XRAN or any similar platforms that may follow could also potentially hold interest for commercial real estate owners and operators. With most industry estimates showing that many large commercial buildings like office towers currently lack a comprehensive indoor wireless coverage solution, by eliminating a big chunk of the cost of a DAS — or by allowing campuses or multiple buildings to share the costs — a DAS could become a more attractive option.

“Cost, simplicity, footprint, power, and cooling changes dramatically with XRAN,” said Todd Landry, corporate vice president of product and market strategy at JMA Wireless, in a prepared statement. “XRAN is designed from its inception to close the gap between rapidly growing in-building mobile connectivity demands and today’s complex, proprietary hardware solutions unable to evolve and adapt for multi-operator services.”

More as we hear more from what is sure to be a talked-about subject in the big-building wireless world!

New Colorado State stadium has winning Wi-Fi network

Colorado State University has a new on-campus football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even though it’s not completely finished, the Wi-Fi network at Colorado State University’s new football stadium has already shown strong signs of promise, signaling a future with great connectivity for Rams fans at their new on-campus venue.

Being built by integrator 5 Bars, the network is in its final phases of completion, with enough of it turned on to get some positive results in the first two home games for Colorado State this season.

On Aug. 26, during Colorado State’s 58-27 win over visiting Oregon State, a sellout crowd of 37,583 crammed into the new on-campus venue for the Fort Collins, Colo., school. During the inaugural event, the not-yet-finished Wi-Fi network nevertheless saw 5,891 unique connections during the day with a peak concurrent number of 3,680 users at 3 p.m. local time, according to 5 Bars. Even with most of the under-seat Wi-Fi connections not yet online (5 Bars said the network was about at 35 percent capacity), the network still saw 2.7 terabytes of data used, an average of 458 MB per connected user.

Some under-seat Wi-Fi APs needed conduit cored through the concrete steps

A couple weeks later, Mobile Sports Report was in the house for CSU’s second home game, a 38-10 victory over Abilene Christian. With 27,038 fans in attendance, many wearing bright orange to celebrate CSU’s “Ag Day” heritage (the official school colors are green and gold), the network saw 4,548 unique users and 1.8 TB of traffic, according to 5 Bars.

Under-seat coverage impressive

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

If there is a design tactic that seems to have paid off, it’s 5 Bars decision to go under-seat with Wi-Fi APs in most of the lower seating bowl. With 250 in-bowl APs out of the estimated 419 total APs used in the venue, many are in under-seat enclosures, both in premium areas with seats with backs, as well as in seating areas with metal benches.

And while building a stadium from scratch with Wi-Fi in mind usually means under-seat deployment can be easier, 5 Bars found that in the end it needed to place some APs in different spots, leading to some on-site construction that included coring holes in concrete steps to thread conduit across some aisles. The end result, however, is impressive, with MSR speed tests hitting the mid-50 Mbps and into the 60-Mbps marks for both download and upload speeds in most of the lower bowl seating, with tests taken before the game in an empty stadium.

The on-campus proximity of the new stadium is a welcome change for CSU fans

But even later, with orange-clad CSU fans filling the seats, the working Wi-Fi network still performed admirably, with a 63.58 down and 48.35 up reading in the middle of the student section on the stadium’s east side during the first quarter. Closer to the end of the first quarter, we got a 24.33 / 9.96 reading in the lower section of the west side, the most tightly packed area in the stadium that day.

Light standards and beer gardens

While under-seat placements may be the workhorses at CSU’s new stadium, there are also plenty of overhead APs to fill in the gaps, such as at the top of the lower-bowl sections, mounted underneath the overhang. There are also Wi-Fi APs as well as DAS antennas on the large light standards that top the east stands. Though we didn’t test the DAS network, 5 Bars has a neutral host deployment that currently has Verizon Wireless online, with AT&T and T-Mobile to follow soon. Sprint is scheduled to be added next year, with support for Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum, 5 Bars said.

One thing that makes the new CSU stadium unique is the New Belgium Brewing beer garden that fills the north end zone of the stadium. With several rows of long, stand-up tabletops where fans can sip a beer while watching the game, as well as a bar area behind, the beer garden was already a popular place to hang out, as evidenced by the big line that formed shortly after the stadium opened.

And thanks to the structures over the bar area, the beer garden was well covered by Wi-Fi APs mounted above the taps. Even down in one of the stand-up rows close to the field we were still able to get a Wi-Fi reading of 55.69 down and 24.11 up. We also taste-tested New Belgium’s “Old Aggie Lager,” a brew made specifically by the local company for CSU. It’s crisp and refreshing, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And it goes perfectly with good Wi-Fi.

Fans are able to share social media posts via the new big screen video board

A look at the west stands from the back of the student section

An overhead look at the north end zone beer garden, with a view to the mountains just west of the venue

The beer garden standing area provides an up-close look at the action

As always, Mobile Sports Report tests, tests and tests again

Colorado State fans connect with Wi-Fi at stadium-opening victory

For both stadium networks and football teams, the first games are always a challenge; but at Colorado State there was nothing but smiles and celebrations as fans enjoyed great Wi-Fi connectivity at the new CSU stadium during the Rams’s 58-27 win over Oregon State Saturday.

With a sellout crowd of 37,583 crammed into the new on-campus venue for the Fort Collins, Colo., school, the not-yet-finished Wi-Fi network built by 5 Bars nevertheless saw 5,891 unique connections during the day with a peak concurrent number of 3,680 users at 3 p.m. local time. Even with most of the under-seat Wi-Fi connections not yet online (5 Bars said the network was about at 35 percent capacity), the network still saw 2.7 terabytes of data used, an average of 458 MB per connected user.

And though we don’t have the connection locations, some enclosed speedtest screen shots sent to us by the 5 Bars crew seems to show very good connectivity via Wi-Fi, with a top reading of 47.70 Mbps down and 65.88 up, as well as a couple other readings in the 20 Mbps range. Mobile Sports Report plans to be on hand for the next home game at the new CSU stadium on Sept. 9, so stay tuned for more testing. According to 5 Bars the Wi-Fi network should be “75 percent complete” by then, so we will test wherever we can.

The 5 Bars crew also said that Verizon was live on the stadium DAS, but so far we have not seen any stats from Verizon about performance. Stay tuned for more tests and pictures when we head north a couple weeks from now!

Picture of the west stands overhang, with a Wi-Fi antenna highlighted. Credit all photos below: 5 Bars

Gear locations on the east-side lighting stanchions

Under-seat AP enclosure. Pretty sure Wi-Fi can go through popcorn

Good speeds!

New third-party wireless infrastructure company buys 5 Bars’ stadium business

NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. Credit: AP / Morry Gash/

Neutral Connect Networks (NCN), a newly formed third-party operator of wireless systems for sports and entertainment venues, has purchased the stadium business part of 5 Bars as part of its inception, a transaction publicly announced last week.

As part of its rollup NCN also acquired DAS Communications, a third-party infrastructure provider with deployments in Boston and New York. The new company also received a $30 million funding round from M/C Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm.

Though 5 Bars recently basked in the successful glow of its biggest stadium project — building the Wi-Fi network at Houston’s NRG Stadium, home of the recent Super Bowl LI — the firm had faced challenges winning deals due to its smaller size, according to Paul McGinn, the CEO of NCN. With more personnel resources along with the $30 million war chest, McGinn said the 5 Bars sports business has a better chance to compete.

“We’re going to put tens of millions into 5 Bars,” said McGinn in a phone interview. “We’re looking forward to growing that business quickly.”

In addition to NRG Stadium, 5 Bars had built third-party networks at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Angels Stadium, and is constructing DAS and Wi-Fi networks at the new football stadium at Colorado State University, which is scheduled to be completed in time for this fall’s season.

McGinn, who was most recently at Vertical Bridge as director of business development, leads a team that includes Brian Porter, a former vice president of in-building operations at telecom gear provider Ericsson. Porter will be NCN’s senior vice president of sales and operations. Bruce Banigan, II, vice president of business development for 5 Bars’ sports operations, will continue in that role at NCN.

John Clarey, 5 Bars’ former CEO, who will continue as an investor in NCN, said in a prepared statement that “the financial commitment from NCN and M/C Partners provides 5 Bars the needed resources to continue to build and operate the large projects it has in its pipeline.” The terms of the all-cash deal for buying 5 Bars’ sports business were not revealed. UPDATE: 5 Bars said its other main business line, a nascent operation looking to provide third-party wireless infrastructure for cities and communities, will continue to operate under the name XG Communities.

Though some recent comments by telco executives seem to be signaling a change in their companies’ willingness to participate in third-party DAS and Wi-Fi deployments may be waning, NCN’s McGinn said his new company will approach third-party deals with a different mindset, mainly one that looks longer into the future.

“We’re not going to be looking to recoup 100 percent of the cost of the system in one to three years,” said McGinn. Instead, McGinn said the new NCN/5 Bars approach will be one of looking for smaller cash contributions over a longer time frame.

5 Bars, JMA Wireless, Cisco part of Wi-Fi and DAS at new Colorado State stadium

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Panoramic view of the west and south outsides of the new CSU football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Network components haven’t yet been installed at the new under-construction football stadium at Colorado State University — but when they do, integrator 5 Bars and wireless suppliers JMA Wireless and Cisco will all be part of the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS networks, according to the companies.

Scheduled to open in time for next year’s football season, the yet-unnamed new stadium is a busy construction scene, as you can tell from the photos we took during a sneak peek at the venue last week (thanks to CSU, Mortenson, 5 Bars and JMA Wireless for the access).

Though specifics on numbers of APs aren’t set yet, 5 Bars said it will be using Cisco equipment in a mixed design of overhead and under-seat AP deployments, depending upon the area of the stadium. JMA Wireless will handle the DAS.

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

Nice roomy head-end room for all that DAS gear!

As you can see from the photos, parts of the stadium have good overhang coverage for mounting, while other parts of the planned 40,000-seat venue are open-bowl construction, which will need under-seat APs for optimal coverage. 5 Bars and JMA reps on hand also said that the distinctive light towers (especially on the east side of the stadium) will also provide antenna mounting sites for top-down coverage.

Unlike Hughes Field, the three miles west-of-campus football facility that just hosted its last game this weekend, the new stadium sits right in the middle of the campus in Fort Collins, Colo. According to our first glances, it looks like there will be sevearl open-terrace type areas inside the stadium as well as a beer garden (or so we heard rumored) outside one of the main entrances. According to CSU, Hughes has been used for football since 1968.

What will be interesting to see is how CSU handles parking for the new venue, which won’t have any large lots surrounding it. We’ll have more updates between now and next football season, so stay tuned!


A look at the west side stands with press box and suites above


A look underneath the west side overhang — lots of antenna room


This shot of the north end of the east stands shows the proximity to campus


Before long, this tray will be filled with cable and fiber


Panoramic view of the east and south stands

Comcast bringing backbone bandwith to NRG Stadium Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi is something Houston Texans fans will be able to cheer about this season at NRG Stadium. Credit:

Free Wi-Fi is something Houston Texans fans will be able to cheer about this season at NRG Stadium. Credit:

With the new Wi-Fi network just getting ready to go live at Houston’s NRG Stadium, Comcast announced that it will provide backbone bandwidth to the network under a sponsorship deal, with two 100-gig pipes that will both be available to the stadium facility.

Michael Bybee, a Houston-based director of external affairs for Comcast, said the company has a large fiber network throughout the Houston area, and a longtime relationship with the NFL’s Texans, making the network sponsorship deal a great fit. Comcast supplies (or will soon supply) similar broadband bandwidth to a number of other large stadiums, including the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center, the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field, the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Field and the Oakland A’s Oakland Coliseum, among others.

In Houston, where integrator 5 Bars is installing a new Wi-Fi network using Extreme Networks gear ahead of next February’s Super Bowl 51, Bybee said Comcast will have two 100-gigabit per second pipes coming into the stadium, where they will feed a main 10-Gbps circuit for the regular-season NFL Wi-Fi needs. Should the stadium require more circuits, Bybee said, the facility will be able to “seamlessly add additional circuits” given the surplus of bandwidth supplied by the 100-Gbps pipes.

Though there hasn’t yet been an official announcement of the network being ready for public use, sources tell us that fans at Saturday’s preseason game between the Texans and the New Orleans Saints should finally find fan-facing Wi-Fi (look for the xfinitywifi SSID), an amenity that had been missing at NRG Stadium in the past. Anyone who goes to the game — send us a speed test!