Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi saw 12 TB of data used at January’s college championship

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

The Wi-Fi network at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of data used at the 2018 College Football Playoff championship on Jan. 8, 2018, according to officals from the Atlanta Falcons, owners and operators of this city’s new distinctive venue.

We’d long suspected that Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in August of 2017, had seen big data days inside the 71,000-seat arena with its innovative technology, but until Sunday the Falcons had never made any network-performance data publicly available. But a day after the venue saw another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used during the SEC Championship game, Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, revealed the statistics during a live MSR visit at an Atlanta Falcons home game. The 12 TB mark (which was an estimate — we’ll check back with the Falcons for exact numbers) is the second-highest we’ve ever seen in our unofficial research of single-day Wi-Fi totals, trailing only the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII in February at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re confident and ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch during a pregame stadium tour, details of which we’ll dig into deeper in a full profile for our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report. Multiple network speed tests taken by MSR during Sunday’s 26-16 Falcons loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens showed robust Wi-Fi performance on the network that uses gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in a design from AmpThink.

DAS renovation complete

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

According to Branch, the cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) network inside Mercedes-Benz — a deployment that is at the center of a current lawsuit filed by contractor IBM against gear supplier and designer Corning — is also now at full deployment, with the completion of 700 new under-seat DAS antenna deployments, mostly in the upper seating deck.

MSR speed tests taken during Sunday’s game showed a wide range of DAS results, from single-digit tests in some tough-deployment areas to results near 100 Mbps directly in front of what looked like some new antenna deployments. Again, look for more details in our upcoming profile in the Winter Stadium Tech Report (due out in mid-December).

“We’re in a good place [with the DAS],” said Branch, though he did say there was going to be more DAS work done on the outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to when Super Bowl LIII comes to the venue on Feb. 3, 2019, mainly to help ensure that the move toward more digital Super Bowl tickets goes smoothly. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a couple of MatSing ball antennas in its rafters, there to bring DAS coverage to the sidelines of the playing field.

Sunday the Mercedes-Benz Stadium staffers were hosting a rare big-game back-to-back event, following Saturday’s packed-house tilt between SEC powers Alabama and Georgia, a championship-game rematch won by Alabama 35-28 after a dramatic comeback.

“That was a massive flip,” said Branch of the two-day stretch, which saw another huge data day Saturday with 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used. The network, sponsored by backbone provider AT&T, averages about a 50 percent take rate from event attendees, according to Branch, who gave praise to Aruba and AmpThink for their combined deployment efforts.

“The expectation for fans now is that there will be Wi-Fi [in a sports venue],” said Branch. “But I love it when friends come to me after a game and tell me ‘the Wi-Fi is so fast!’ ”

THE MSR TOP 17 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB*
3. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
4. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
5. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
6. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
7. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
8. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
9. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
10. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
11. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB*
12. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
13. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
14. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
15. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
16. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
17. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

* = pending official exact data

NFL CIO: Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s wireless is ‘ready for the Super Bowl’

The entry concourse at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The wireless networks at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium are “ready for the Super Bowl,” according to Michelle McKenna-Doyle, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NFL, who spoke to Mobile Sports Report via phone last week.

Though McKenna-Doyle would not comment on any of the particulars of the recent lawsuit filed by IBM against Corning that revolves around issues with the stadium’s distributed antenna system (DAS) cellular network, she did assert that any past problems have since been fixed, and that the league is confident the venue’s wireless systems will stand up to the stress test that will likely arrive when Super Bowl LIII takes place on Feb. 3, 2019.

“The [Atlanta] Falcons have been super-cooperative in remedying one of the challenges they had,” said McKenna-Doyle. “The networks will be ready for the Super Bowl.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium also has an Aruba-based Wi-Fi network, which has not been the subject of any lawsuit; however, stadium officials have also not ever released any performance statistics for the network since the stadium’s opening. According to IBM’s lawsuit documents, the company said it had to pay extra to fix the DAS network, a task it said was completed before the end of the 2017 NFL season.

Outside connectivity a challenge as well

While the Super Bowl is almost always the biggest single-day sports events for wireless connectivity, McKenna-Doyle added that this year’s version will be even a little more challenging than others since the league is in the process of moving fans to digital ticketing for its championship event.

“This year one of the new challenges is the move to paperless ticketing,” said McKenna-Doyle in a wide-ranging interview about NFL technology issues (look for a full breakdown of the interview in our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report). Though this year’s game will still have some paper-based ticket options, McKenna-Doyle said the lessons learned in ensuring good connectivity outside the stadium gates will help prepare for future Super Bowls, which will likely be all-digital ticketing.

One Super Bowl technology not yet decided is the game-day app, which for the past two years has been built by the NFL. In previous years, the league used versions of local game-day apps with Super Bowl additions, a direction McKenna-Doyle said the league might still take this year. Designed mainly as a way to help visitors find their way around an unfamiliar stadium and city, the Super Bowl app this year might need to lean on the local app to help integrate the digital ticket functionality, McKenna-Doyle said. The Falcons’ app for Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built by IBM.

MSR News Wire: Aruba introduces new series of 802.11ax access points

Editor’s note: Welcome to a new feature for Mobile Sports Report, the MSR News Wire, in which MSR will now post press releases from companies in the stadium technology sector. These releases are prepared by the companies, and are NOT an MSR editorial product. For information on how to get your company releases on the MSR News Wire, please contact Paul Kapustka at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com.

Aruba Introduces New Secure, AI-Powered Mobility Innovations for the Experience Edge

New Series of 802.11ax Access Points, 802.11ax-optimized Switches, and AI-Powered Software to Give Organizations a Secure, Autonomous Network for the Mobile, Cloud and IoT Era

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – November 13, 2018 – Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company (NYSE: HPE), today announced a new family of 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) IoT-ready wireless access points and complementary access switches, along with innovations in security, intelligent power management, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered automation and service assurance, to deliver the performance, simplicity and reliability that organizations need to give users exceptional digital experiences.

The new wireless access points support the latest Wi-Fi standard and are the first to be Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) certified for the new WPA3 and Enhanced Open security standards to provide stronger encryption and simpler IoT security configuration. Aruba is also the first Wi-Fi vendor to integrate Bluetooth 5 into its APs combined with an integrated ZigBee® capabilties. These new capabilities enable IoT use cases, such as smart door locks and electronic shelf labels, while Bluetooth 5 also delivers user-aware indoor location allowing IT to create personalized experiences. In addition, Aruba is delivering industry-first power management innovations allowing customers to preserve their existing PoE switch investments while significantly reducing access point power consumption during off hours. These unique features include Intelligent Power Monitoring, a capability delivered by Aruba Operating System (AOS) 8, and NetInsight Green AP, part of Aruba’s AI-powered analytics and assurance solution.

Enabling the Experience Edge
Organizations are expecting IT professionals to deliver IoT-enabled innovation that will allow them to create extraordinary digital experiences for their employees, customers and guests. New types of experiences such as location-aware mobile engagement, digitally-assisted patient care, and user-aware meeting rooms can give organizations a competitive advantage. According to Gartner, “Enterprises preparing for the future of work must offer engaging, consumer-like experiences and deliver technologies that enable, rather than hinder, streamlined work execution [1].”

The network at the edge is what connects people and IoT to this digital world. It is the platform for building these digital experiences and it must be secure, intelligent and always on. However, a solid network foundation is not enough. To enable these new experiences, IT must be able to deliver improved and consistent service levels to address growing business demands and heightened user expectations. This requires not only a state-of-the-art network, but also the ability for IT to proactively anticipate issues in an ever-changing environment before they impact users and the business.

To address these challenges, Aruba is introducing the following new products and innovations:
• The Aruba 510 Series APs, a new series of 802.11ax, IoT-ready APs, with advanced security, AI-powered RF optimization, intelligent power monitoring, and integrated ZigBee and Bluetooth 5 capabilities.
• The Aruba 2930M access switches, with support for the 802.3bt standard to provide higher power PoE (up to 60 watts per port), a requirement for some high-end 802.11ax access points.
• Support for Wi-Fi Alliance WPA3 and Enhanced Open Security Standards to deliver state-of-the-art device security. Aruba is the first vendor in the industry to receive WFA certification for these new standards.
• Green AP, a unique, new feature of NetInsight, Aruba’s AI-powered analytics and assurance solution, that dynamically powers down APs when user devices are not present, offsetting the increased power requirements associated with select 11ax APs.

Leveraging Aruba’s Rich Heritage to Bring Intelligence to the Network
An effective AI solution requires domain expertise, a historical pool of clean data to feed the algorithms that deliver precise and trusted network automation and assurance, and real-world experiences to validate the solution. Aruba has a unique advantage over many competitors, including 16 years of Wi-Fi expertise, with learnings and best practices built into the AI algorithms from the largest edge networks in the world and from millions of installed APs to deliver secure, autonomous network operations.

The new 510 Series APs work in concert with Aruba NetInsight to proactively monitor and troubleshoot the network, generating actionable insights and recommendations based on peer comparisons and benchmarks, and applying these recommendations to the network autonomously. This allows businesses to deliver the kind of improved performance and efficiency needed for today’s highly mobile and IoT-centric environments, while continually adapting to changing requirements and improving experiences for their users and customers.

Built for IoT with ZigBee and Bluetooth 5 Integration
The Aruba 510 series is the industry’s first set of 802.11ax APs with integrated support for ZigBee and Bluetooth 5, enabling Aruba customers to support 74% of IoT devices. Having all three wireless technologies available in a single access point gives customers powerful, extensive connectivity. In addition, customers can significantly reduce both their capital and operational expenditures since the Aruba infrastructure with ZigBee integration eliminates the need to deploy and operate a separate Zigbee network.

Smart Energy Management with Green AP and Intelligent Power Monitoring

As higher performance 802.11ax APs will handle a greater number of devices and traffic, they will also consume more power. In addition, network architects generally design AP configurations for the highest capacity scenarios, and these combined factors mean that many organizations are confronted with rising power costs.

Green AP, a new feature of NetInsight and a new innovation for the networking industry, allows IT to intelligently manage APs to reduce power consumption by up to 72% dramatically lowering costs, while supporting social responsibility. Using Green AP, APs can be automatically turned on or off based on utilization, resulting in significant energy costs savings and an environmentally-friendly network.

Additionally, Aruba’s Intelligent Power Monitoring (IPM), a feature in AOS 8, actively measures the power utilization of an AP and dynamically adapts to the available power resources. IT organizations can define and prioritize which capabilities to disable when an AP is operating over its power budget. IPM will begin taking power reduction steps autonomously as defined by the priority definition until the AP is operating within the power budget.

State-of-the-Art Security with WPA3 and Enhanced Open
Aruba is the first networking vendor to release products that have received WPA3 and Enhanced Open certifications from the Wi-Fi Alliance. With support for WPA3 and Enhanced Open, Aruba’s new suite of 11ax APs can deliver the security enterprises need as more users, devices and things join their networks.

WPA3 adds new features to simplify Wi-Fi security, enable more robust authentication, and deliver increased cryptographic strength for highly sensitive data markets, such as government or finance. Wi-Fi Enhanced Open complements the security protection WPA3 delivers by improving data privacy while maintaining ease-of-use in open public networks where user authentication is not used, such as local coffee shops, airports and stadiums.

Pricing and Availability
The Aruba 510 Series APs are available now, beginning at a list price of $1,095. The Aruba 2930M access switch is available now, starting at $10,799 list. The new version of NetInsight with Green AP will be available in the first quarter of 2019, with one-year subscriptions beginning at $50 per year per AP.

Supporting Quotes
Home to the Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium is located in Charlotte, North Carolina and supports more than 75,000 fans.

“Our fans expect an outstanding connected stadium experience,” said James Hammond, Director of Information Technology for the Carolina Panthers. “In order to continue to deliver that experience, we need to prepare for the future demands on our network which is why we’re evaluating Aruba’s .11ax APs to support new applications and greater IoT and mobile device density requirements.”

The University of Minnesota has 48,000 students, 18,000 faculty and staff, and connects over 120,000 devices on its network daily.

“As we prepare for the introduction of 802.11ax devices on campus, we need to understand the impact of the additional traffic and device density to the infrastructure and IT staff,” said Louis Hammond, service owner for data and voice network services for the University of Minnesota. “Testing Aruba’s 802.11ax APs will help determine how to best integrate ax with our current system while improving the user experience, and look at ways to leverage Aruba’s NetInsight Green AP capabilities to potentially reduce energy usage and costs.”

CSPI is a Florida-based solutions provider helping customers meet the performance, availability and security requirements of their network, applications and services.

“The real value in the Aruba 802.11ax solution is that the infrastructure is leveraged with automation and IoT in mind,” said Peter Kaufman, Vice President, Advanced Technologies, CSPi. “By using NetInsight and new IoT protocols like ZigBee, our customers will be able to create the autonomous experiences they want while delivering performance-stringent applications and securely connecting IoT devices over Wi-Fi with ease.”

Zunesis is a Colorado-based IT Solution Provider and Value Added Reseller (VAR) that delivers end-to-end infrastructure solutions, IT business solutions, and IT professional and consulting services in the Western United States.

“Our customers are seeing a major increase in IoT use cases resulting in additional requirements for the network and IT,” said Steve Shaffer, Founder and CEO, Zunesis. “A significant benefit of the Aruba 802.11ax solution is that it’s built with integrated IoT connectivity capabilities. Having one hardware platform with Aruba that supports ZigBee and Bluetooth 5 will help eliminate the need for separate IoT networks, allowing organization to get more out of their infrastructure investment while reducing IT overhead.”

Additional Resources
• Blog – Deliver Amazing Experiences with Amazing Simplicity with Aruba
• Blog – Discover a New Way to Save: Green APs

Footnote 1: Gartner, Cool Vendors in Employee Engagement and Enablement in the Digital Workplace, September 2018, ID: G00355285

About Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company
Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, is a leading provider of next-generation networking solutions for enterprises of all sizes worldwide. The company delivers IT solutions that empower organizations to serve the latest generation of mobile-savvy users who rely on cloud-based business apps for every aspect of their work and personal lives.

To learn more, visit Aruba at http://www.arubanetworks.com. For real-time news updates follow Aruba on Twitter and Facebook, and for the latest technical discussions on mobility and Aruba products visit Airheads Social at http://community.arubanetworks.com.

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.

Eagles see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi data for NFC Championship game on new Panasonic network

Panasonic Everest Wi-Fi APs (lower left, middle right) mounted underneath an overhang at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Credit: Panasonic (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Philadelphia Eagles saw 8.76 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 21 during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, a new high in one-day Wi-Fi usage for reported marks in games not called the Super Bowl.

Though the game’s position as No. 3 on our unofficial “top Wi-Fi” list (see below) may change as we get reports from other recent NFL playoff games, the mark is nevertheless impressive, and perhaps a big confirmation metric for Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business. According to Panasonic, its 654-Access Point network inside “The Linc” also saw 35,760 unique connections during the game, out of 69,596 in attendance; the network also saw a peak of 29,201 concurrent devices connected (which happened during the post-game trophy presentation), and saw peak throughput of 5.5 Gbps.

What’s most interesting about the new Panasonic network in Philadelphia is that it is a completely top-down deployment, meaning that most of the APs (especially the 200 used in the seating bowl) shoot signals down toward seats from above. While most new networks at football-sized stadiums (and some smaller arenas) have turned to under-seat or railing-mounted APs to increase network density in seating areas, Panasonic claims its new “Everest” Wi-Fi gear has antennas that can provide signals up to 165 feet away, with “electronically reconfigurable directional beam profiles” that allow for specific tuning of where the Wi-Fi signal can point to.

By also putting four separate Wi-Fi radios into each access point, Panasonic also claims it can save teams and venues money and time on Wi-Fi deployments, since fewer actual devices are needed. By comparison, other big, new network deployments like Notre Dame’s often have a thousand or more APs; Notre Dame, which uses railing-mounted APs in the seating bowl, has 685 in the seating bowl out of a total 1,096 APs. Many of the Notre Dame APs are Cisco 3800 devices, which have two Wi-Fi radios in each AP.

‘The Linc’ before last week’s NFC Championship game. Credit: Kiel Leggere, Eagles

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which uses Aruba Wi-Fi gear mainly deployed under seats in the bowl, has nearly 1,800 APs, with 1,000 of those in the seating bowl.

Antennas close to fans vs. farther away

From a design and performance standpoint, the under-seat or railing-mounted “proximate” networks are built with many APs close together, with the idea that fans’ bodies will intentionally soak up some of the Wi-Fi signal, a fact that network designers use to their advantage to help eliminate interference between radios. The under-seat AP design, believed to be first widely used by AT&T Park in San Francisco and then at a larger scale at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., was developed to help bring better signals to seats where overhang-mounted APs couldn’t deliver strong connectivity. Older concrete-bowl stadiums like Notre Dame’s also went with a proximate railing design for a similar lack of overhangs.

Though the Eagles’ IT team has repeatedly turned down interview requests from MSR since this summer, Danny Abelson, vice president connectivity for Panasonic Enterprise Solution Company, met with MSR last week to provide details of the deployment. Citing new, patented antenna technology developed specifically by Panasonic to solve the limitations of prior overhead gear, Abelson claims Panasonic can deliver a similar stadium experience for “two-thirds the cost” of an under-seat or railing-mount network design, with savings realized both in construction costs (since it is usually cheaper to install overhead-mounted equipment than under-seat or railing mounts due to drilling needed) and in the need for fewer actual APs, since Panasonic has four radios in its main Wi-Fi APs.

Eagles fans cheering their team to the Super Bowl. Credit: Hunter Martin, Eagles

Abelson, however, declined to provide the exact cost of the Panasonic network at Lincoln Financial Field, citing non-disclosure agreements. There are also more questions to be answered about a Panasonic deployment’s cost, including charges for management software and/or administration services. Currently, Abelson said, Panasonic includes the costs for management software and management personnel in its bids.

When it comes to how the Eagles found Panasonic, the team and the company already had an existing relationship, as Panasonic’s video-board division had previously supplied displays for the Linc. According to Abelson, Panasonic went through a performance test at several Eagles games last season, bringing in Wi-Fi gear to see if the new technology could provide coverage to areas where the Eagles said they had seen lower-quality coverage before. One of the forerunners in the NFL in bringing Wi-Fi to fans, the Eagles had previously used Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear to build a fan-facing network in 2013. Though the Eagles would not comment about the selection process, after issuing an RFP this past offseason the team chose Panasonic for a new network, which Abelson said was deployed in three months during the football offseason.

Re-opening the debate for antenna placement?

Though Mobile Sports Report has not yet been able to get to Philadelphia to test the new network in a live game-day situation, if Panasonic’s new gear works as promises the company may find many potential interested customers, especially those who had shied away from deploying under-seat networks due to the construction issues or costs.

The Panasonic system may be of particular interest to indoor arenas, like hockey and basketball stadiums, where the gear could be potentially mounted in catwalk areas to cover seating. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic deployment going in at the arena whose networks he oversees:

But even as the impressive 8.76 TB mark seen at the NFC Championship game now sits as the third-highest reported Wi-Fi data use event we’ve heard of (behind only the 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi seen at Super Bowl 50 and the 11.8 TB seen at Super Bowl 51), that number may fall a bit down the list if we ever get verified numbers for some network totals we’ve heard rumors about lately. (Or even any older ones! C’mon network teams: Check out the list below and let us know if we’ve missed any.)

So far this season, we haven’t gotten any reports of Wi-Fi usage out of the network team at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which recently hosted the college football playoff championship game), and we’ve only heard general talk about oversized playoff-game traffic at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. Like Notre Dame Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium uses a mostly railing-mounted AP deployment in its seating bowl; both networks were designed by AmpThink. We are also still waiting for reports from last week’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, where the previous non-Super Bowl top mark of 8.08 TB was set in September; and from any games this fall at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the NFL’s biggest stadium has 2,567 Wi-Fi APs.

Will overhead still be able to keep up as demand for more bandwidth keeps growing? Will Panasonic’s claims of lower costs for equal performance hold up? At the very least, the performance in Philadelphia could re-open debate about whether or not you need to deploy APs closer to fans to provide a good Wi-Fi experience. If all goes well, the winners in renewed competition will be venues, teams, and ultimately, fans.

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
6. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
7. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
8. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
9. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
10. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB

Full-stadium Wi-Fi lands at Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena

Wi-Fi APs mounted on catwalks at AmericanAirlines Arena. Credit: Miami Heat (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans attending Miami Heat games at AmericanAirlines Arena now have access to a full-stadium Wi-Fi network, as one of the last NBA venues without Wi-Fi has now fully embraced the wireless technology and what it enables.

“It’s all about wanting to elevate the fan experience,” said Matthew Jafarian, vice president for digital strategy and innovation for the Heat, in a recent phone interview. With construction on the network having started more than a year ago, the 350-plus access point network is now almost fully complete, with Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and main installation by M S Benbow & Associates (MSB).

Previously, AmericanAirlines Arena had been somewhat proud about its choice to rely only on cellular DAS for wireless connectivity inside the venue. But according to Jafarian, as fans of sporting events, concerts and other attractions steadily increase their digital activities, the inevitable need for more bandwidth caused the Heat to add Wi-Fi to the building they own and operate.

“With Heat games and with concerts and events, fans want to share more and we want them to be able to share their experience,” Jafarian said. Venue-wide Wi-Fi will also make it easier for fans to comply with the Heat’s decision to only allow digital ticketing for entry to Heat games. Jafarian added that the new Wi-Fi network will also allow for more back-of-house operations (like enabling mobile point-of-sale systems) to run more effectively.

‘Make it the best’

Following a directive to make the arena’s network “the best Wi-Fi out there,” the Heat went through an RFP process that looked at Wi-Fi gear providers like Cisco and Samsung before choosing the team of Aruba and MSB. Because of the need to get the network finished before this past season’s first games, Jafarian said the option of going under-seat with Wi-Fi APs wasn’t feasible because “there weren’t enough dark days” to complete the extensive construction needed for such a deployment.

Picture of a monitor at American Airlines Arena, showing wait time information (this photo was not taken during a game). Credit: Miami Heat

Instead, MSB engineered a top-down system with most APs mounted on the arena’s catwalks, which Jafarian said is “working well.” The network was live before the start of preseason games, Jafarian said.

The network also makes use of a captive portal from Purple for fan engagement management. According to Jafarian, the Heat saw more than 50,000 unique Wi-Fi connections over the first 60 days of operation, and sees an average of around 20 percent of attendees connecting to the network both for NBA games as well as for concerts, including recent performances by Jay-Z and The Weeknd.

This year the Heat also rolled out a new mobile app, developed by Built.io and Beyond Curious. “We’ve had a lot of success with the app,” said Jafarian. One of the more popular components, he said, is a wayfinding and line-length service powered by WaitTime, which is available both via the app as well as on monitors around the arena.

“The WaitTime [service] has been a big hit with fans,” said Jafarian.