Stadium Tech Report: San Francisco’s AT&T Park lives up to its wireless reputation

Another tough day at the office for MSR. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR. (Click on any picture for a larger image)

Another tough day at the office for MSR. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR. (Click on any picture for a larger image)

Many times here at Mobile Sports Report we’ve referred to AT&T Park as the “most connected” or “best connected” stadium in baseball, if not for all sports anywhere. But even after multiple network tours and numerous reports from stats given to us by Giants CIO Bill Schlough and his staff I realized that one thing I’ve never done is to roam around the park on a game day, checking to see if its renowned Wi-Fi and DAS networks perform as promised.

Now after attending a recent day game as the guest of AT&T, I can tell you that the stadium that first put in fan-facing Wi-Fi for every seat is still at the forefront of ballpark connectivity, with Wi-Fi and DAS performance that knocks the ball out of the park almost every time. I say “almost” because during my walkaround tour I was able to find one place in the park that had almost no connectivity at all — but I will also bet you that as soon as this story is published, Schlough and his team will likely be out there the next day installing some kind of coverage since he and they have an almost unmatched enthusiasm for making their fan-facing network the best it can be. That, plus a strong partnership with AT&T, gives fans at Giants games perhaps the best stadium network anywhere, with performance so good for so long that it has almost become somewhat of an afterthought, one of the best kind of compliments a network staff can receive.

Nothing beats a strong team

Dynasty is a word fans like to use around Third and King Street in San Francisco, especially after the Giants won their third World Series title in 5 years last fall. Schlough, who loves baseball and the Giants as much as he loves networks, used the press-day gathering to show off his most recent Series ring, a chunk of gold and diamonds that probably gives you a wrist-curl workout when you put it on.

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

(Point of reference: Schlough offered the ring to me to try on, but as a dyed-blue Cubs fan I refused. “Waiting for one with ‘Cubs’ on it,” I told him. As we say in Chicago, “if it takes forever.”)

You might have heard some of the early Wi-Fi stories from AT&T Park before, but they’re fun to repeat. Then known as SBC Park, after the sponsoring “Baby Bell” that would later revive the family name of AT&T, the Wi-Fi network that debuted in 2004 attracted an average of about 94 fans a game, Schlough said, diehard geeks who would have to put up with people mocking them for bringing laptops to a ballgame. Remember, the iPhone was still 3 years away from existing, and you had to stick a PC card in a laptop to connect to Wi-Fi.

Fast forward to 2015, and now for regular season games the Giants see an average of just more than 13,000 people connecting to the Wi-Fi network, a number that has basically leveled off over the past 3 years, Schlough said. What hasn’t leveled off, however, is data use — even from last season, when fans used an average of 591 gigabytes of data per game, so far this season they’re averaging 915 GB per game. That’s why this season Schlough and team will be busy adding another 400+ Cisco Wi-Fi access points to the park, a total that should hit 1,700 by the time October rolls around.

“We’ll be working hand in hand with AT&T trying to stay one step ahead of demand,” Schlough said.

AT&T Park cabling runs are SRO

AT&T Park cabling runs are SRO

Scott Mair, AT&T’s senior vice president of technology, was on hand to help lead network tours before the game and to talk about how AT&T was using a new device called the EchoBOT to help gauge network performance in the park. Though it’s a bit of inside baseball, EchoBOT — which is basically an off-the-shelf cell phone that sits in a ruggedized box — is the kind of thing that can come out of the smart-person pool at a technology giant like AT&T. Invented in-house, the EchoBOT basically gives network operators an on-the-spot way to determine not just how the network is working, but what the actual user experience is like from the end-user point of view.

With 18 EchBOTs scattered throughout AT&T Park, Schlough and AT&T can get a much more granular view of how the stadium’s network is performing, just another way of using the resources of one of the world’s biggest telecom companies helps the fan experience at AT&T Park.

The one place without Wi-Fi

With our network tours concluded and some crispy chicken fingers inhaled in the comfy confines of the AT&T suite just above the third-base line, it was time to go to work to see if the AT&T Park network could deliver as promised. Since I’ve sat in seats at the park many times and had great connectivity there, I spent my time during the afternoon game seeking out what I thought might be some of the hardest places to bring connectivity. The first, in the second-level concourse, looked like it might be a tough antenna spot, with narrow halls and lots of concrete. But bam, on my Verizon iPhone 6 Plus I got a Wi-Fi signal of 31 Mbps down, 21 Mbps up; on my companion loaner device from AT&T, an LG Optimus G Pro, I got a 4G LTE connection of 26.15 Mbps down, 18.02 up. (For all remaining measurements I’ll just use the down/up convention to save time; I was using the standard app from Ookla for all measurements.)

So yeah, you can connect while you’re in line to get a hot dog.

Here's the only place we couldn't find decent Wi-Fi. #firstworldproblem

Here’s the only place we couldn’t find decent Wi-Fi. #firstworldproblem

Strolling through the concourse toward right field, I saw several Wi-Fi advertisement signs, letting fans know they should definitely connect to the network. That’s a sign of deployment confidence, unlike many parks that install Wi-Fi but don’t really promote it, perhaps in order to keep user numbers down. After walking outside to get a view of McCovey Cove and the kayaks waiting for home-run balls to clear the park’s fences for a “splash landing,” I found a spot with almost zero connectivity — in the standing-room-only area backed up against the wall overlooking the bay.

With a Wi-Fi reading of 0.93/2.23 on the Verizon device and a 0.94/3.24 on Verizon 4G the SRO perch on the promenade was easily the poorest connection I found all day. But looking around, it’s kind of a silly place to be looking at your phone since from one direction a well-hit ball might be landing on your head and in the other direction there’s great views of the San Franicsco Bay. But still it does go to show that even in the most-connected stadium perhaps on earth, it’s not easy to get a signal everywhere. With no roof overhead and no railings close by, there simply isn’t a place to put an antenna out there. (But I bet Schlough and team will soon come up with a solution.)

Concourses covered, and upper deck too

I kept wandering around the outfield concourse and found decent connectivity at the centerfield Coors Light bar, 9.32/17.31 for Wi-Fi on the Verizon device and 14.21/43.00 for Wi-Fi on the AT&T device, as well as outside the Giants’ social media cafe in left-center, 14.32/32.20 for Wi-Fi on the Verizon device and 13.61/34.70 for Wi-Fi on the AT&T phone. Unless you’re a Wi-Fi geek like me you probably won’t ever see the APs since they are painted to match the structures they’re attached to. But I could see multiple APs hanging off the centerfield scoreboard structure, a piece of architecture that helps to deliver such solid connectivity to the open outside areas.

You can see Wi-FI APs -- if you know where to look.

You can see Wi-FI APs — if you know where to look.

Taking a break in a standing area behind the left field foul pole I got a smoking result for Wi-Fi on the Verizon phone, 22.46 Mbps on the download side and an amazing 52.05 on the upload. (I think it’s important to note that some of the best signals were on a device from an AT&T competitor, a sign that the facility does a great job of ensuring that any customer will get a good signal, no matter where you purchased your phone or service plan.) Climbing the stairwells to the view deck I still got a good signal on the concourse behind the seats in upper left field — 7.24/8.75 on the Verizon phone.

Since it was getting windy and cold (summer in SF!) I ducked back inside and found an empty seat in section 332, near the upper left field corner of the park. There I got a Verizon Wi-Fi mark of 17.52/24.33, and a Verizon 4G LTE mark of 5.62/6.81, again showing that the AT&T Park DAS is also delivering solid performance for customers on other carriers. The AT&T phone at that location saw 12.46/18.79 on Wi-Fi and 12.68/17.06 on 4G LTE. According to Schlough, the AT&T neutral-host DAS, which uses CommScope ION equipment, is so good that many fans don’t even bother to switch their phones to Wi-Fi. The upper deck, or view level, is scheduled to get many of the APs slated for installation this summer, in the under-the-seat enclosures that bring the network right into the seating areas.

Conclusion: Like the Giants, AT&T Park is tough to beat

Here at MSR we get the question a lot — “what’s the park with the best network?” — and I would have to say that like its tenants, AT&T Park is tough to beat. Schlough and the impressive IT team down at AT&T Stadium have a friendly rivalry, and you can’t have the most-connected discussion without mentioning Levi’s Stadium. But the park that did Wi-Fi first continues to improve year in and year out, never resting on its historic laurels. That’s a “dynasty” that is perhaps as impressive as the one built by the team on the field.

(More AT&T Park visit pictures below)

A little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see the Giants showing fan social media posts on the big screen.

A little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see the Giants showing fan social media posts on the big screen.

These signs are up all over the park

These signs are up all over the park

EchoBOT enclosures (white) next to a Wi-FI AP

EchoBOT enclosures (white) next to a Wi-FI AP

View from the Coors Light concourse walk-up bar in center field

View from the Coors Light concourse walk-up bar in center field

Good connectivity here in left field. Maybe the buttons on the hat improved reception?

Good connectivity here in left field. Maybe the buttons on the hat improved reception?

MLB app ads greet you as you walk up the stairs at AT&T Park

MLB app ads greet you as you walk up the stairs at AT&T Park

Nice place for a ballpark, don't you think?

Nice place for a ballpark, don’t you think?

For Giants fans only: I swear that thing weighs about 3 pounds

For Giants fans only: I swear that thing weighs about 3 pounds

MSR editor Paul Kapustka, your man on the Wi-Fi scene.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka, your man on the Wi-Fi scene.

Report excerpt: At Bat app driving the MLB digital experience bus

Editor’s note: The following excerpt from our MLB technology deployment analysis comes from our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which includes a wealth of information, research and analysis about the stadium tech marketplace. With a focus on Major League Baseball technology deployments, the report is available free for download so get your copy today. Enjoy the excerpt that follows.

At Bat driving the application bus

If there is one other thing that defines MLB’s digital advantage, it’s the league-wide requirement to use the’s At Bat app as the only in-stadium app offered by every team. Though there is some grumbling heard from time to time from teams who want to innovate at a faster pace, for these early days of digital in-stadium experience having At Bat as a base is most likely a huge bonus, since it makes it easier for fans to learn how to find and use the features, no matter which stadium they are in.

Though we here at MSR are more in favor of an eventual open infrastructure – say, a package of MLB-approved APIs that third-party developers could use to bolster the At Bat ecosystem – in these days when fans are still learning how to connect to Wi-Fi and are still getting familiar with the idea of using their phones to purchase in-game seat upgrades or to order concessions, it’s probably not a bad idea to limit choices.

The interesting thing to watch may be to see if, in a few years, MLB has metrics to back up its all-for-one strategy, or whether the MLB digital team decides (like Apple and the iPhone) that opening up the platform could lead to more innovation. The good news for fans is, with better connectivity and more apps, going to games should be easier and more fun as time goes on.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park's main DAS head end facility.

Giants CIO Bill Schlough (left) talks with workers in the park’s main DAS head end facility.

DAS upgrades are good news

Maybe the best news on the DAS front is what seems to be (finally) some benefit from the always-improving pace of technology – accord- ing to several teams we’ve talked to recently, a pleasant surprise that comes about during DAS upgrades is the fact that head end equipment footprints are actually decreasing, meaning that the space crunch often caused by DAS may be easing somewhat.

Of course, some of those space savings may be eaten right back up by additional carriers joining in, or by existing carriers adding more coverage support. A continued issue that we will keep watching is whether or not more teams and stadium owner/operators choose neutral third- party hosts for their DAS, or whether they trust that a single carrier will be able to balance the needs of all. In our interview with AT&T’s John Donovan for this issue he said that he doesn’t think any carriers want to use DAS deployments as a strategic advantage over others; we will track your stories and what happens in the wiring closet to see if his opinion reflects reality.

To read the rest of our analysis, download your free copy of our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014.

Stadium Tech Report: Miami Marlins rely on ExteNet DAS to keep wireless traffic flowing

Marlins Park. Credit all photos: Miami Marlins.

Marlins Park. Credit all photos: Miami Marlins.

If you know anything about Marlins Park, maybe it’s the stadium’s unique retractable roof or the spectacular art that catches your eye. But there’s also something you can’t see that is equally exciting, at least when it comes to the in-stadium connectivity experience: A neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) that has more than kept pace with the rapid, continual increase in fan cellular activity.

“When it came to DAS, we were ahead of the game,” said David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins, in a recent phone interview. Well before the 37,000-seat stadium opened in 2012, Enriquez said the Marlins’ IT team was researching and planning for enhanced cellular connectivity – even before “DAS” became a hot industry acronym.

“We planned for a DAS even before they were in vogue,” said Enriquez. “We saw it as a necessary evil.”

With the iPhone and all its cataclysmic changes already in motion, Enriquez said the Marlins wanted to avoid what had happened recently at another arena that opened in the Sunshine state without good connectivity.

“What we didn’t want to see was something like what happened in Orlando, when they opened the arena [in 2010], it had bad coverage, and they were crucified in the press for bad [cellular] service,” Enriquez said. “We said, what we’d love to have is the complete opposite of that.”

David Enriquez

David Enriquez

At the opening of Marlins Park, the connectivity inside the walls was better than most, with a full-park Wi-Fi network using gear from Meru Networks and a neutral-host DAS deployed by integrator ExteNet Systems. And though Wi-Fi often gets the headlines when there is talk about stadium networks, in many facilities like Marlins Park, the DAS is an equal workhorse, since many fans still either don’t know how or don’t take the time to switch their devices over to Wi-Fi.

DAS is the workhorse

According to Enriquez, on an average night at the ballpark the Wi-Fi network will handle 40 percent of the wireless traffic, with the DAS taking care of the other 60 percent. That may be because of lack of knowledge, or perhaps satisfaction with the signal the DAS is giving them, Enriquez said.

“Early on, most people, honestly, did not know how to change [their phone] to Wi-Fi,” Enriquez said. Most fans, he added, weren’t typically streaming lots of video — they may, he said, have used the MLB At Bat app to look at a replay or two, but that could all be handled by DAS. “That trend is changing though and we are seeing much more video traffic, especially with the younger generation of guests,” Enriquez said.

Marlins Park outside

Marlins Park outside

“The truth is, many users may not take the time to switch [to Wi-Fi],” Enriquez said. “If they’re getting 4 to 5 bars on their cellular signal, they’re happy.”

Though the Marlins and ExteNet now have five major carriers on their DAS – AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and MetroPCS (now part of T-Mobile), Enriquez said there was a bit of the chicken and egg problem at the start.

“Early on, nobody wanted to be the first on (the neutral DAS),” Enriquez said. “ We [the stadium] were just another node. Now, 3 years later, we are a central node in the Miami area and all the carriers are here. We’re a very central location.”

Staying in neutral

Enriquez, who has considerable experience in the large-venue IT world, said that having a neutral host for the DAS eliminates any potential concerns about favoritism between service providers. Even though costs to the team or stadium may be lower if they allow a carrier to take over DAS deployment, Enriquez said that for the Marlins a neutral host was worth the extra price.

“We didn’t want an advantage to be held by one carrier,” Enriquez said. Even if a carrier says it will act as a neutral host, when one carrier owns the deployment, others can “find it hard to believe there will be an equal time slice” when it comes to antenna access.

“We just wanted to avoid that, and make it irrelevant [as a concern],” Enriquez said.

The choice of bringing in an integrator like ExteNet, he said, provides an additional streamlining of operations, as there is now a single point for vendors to interact with to work out technology and deployment issues.

“We wanted to deal with one vendor – I didn’t want to be the middleman between the carriers and the Marlins,” Enriquez said. In that regard, he said, ExteNet has been “wonderful” as a neutral host. “They deal with all the carrier issues that I have no desire to deal with,” Enriquez said.

Less space needed for DAS upgrades

And even as fan cellular bandwidth use continues to grow – requiring carriers to constantly upgrade their systems – Enriquez said that DAS infrastructure is benefiting from improved technology to the point where even as carriers upgrade, their head end footprint is shrinking.

AT&T, for instance, has upgraded its DAS presence in Marlins Park four times over the past 2 years, Enriquez said, to the point where the carrier now has coverage for all four frequency bands. “They [AT&T] have done quite a bit to expand their coverage,” Enriquez said.

Still, the Marlins Park DAS head end hasn’t had to find new space beyond its original 1,500-square foot enclosure.

“Every time someone comes in to replace gear, we have a smaller [DAS] footprint,” Enriquez said. “It’s not going to eat you out of house and home anymore.”

Like other stadium IT directors, Enriquez is still surprised by the amount of wireless traffic generated by the fans who come to the games. “It’s incredible to see the need [for bandwidth” grow,” he said. “But people continue to give our network a thumbs up, we see that in our guest comments all the time. I just don’t know what we would do without the DAS.”

Friday Grab Bag: MLB to live stream World Series

Taking its digital game up a notch MLB’s Advanced Media has announced that it will start permitting subscribers to its MLB.TV using its At Bat app to watch both the All-Star game as well as well as the entire World Series on their registered mobile devices and computers.

The games will be broadcast over the air by Fox Sports and some details still need to be worked out as Fox’s broadcast partners will be involved in some manner in the vetting process. Still this is a great move by MLB opening up the games to more viewers. Think it will go back to day games for the Series? Me neither.

Samsung teams with Mandalay Sports Media on second screen content
Samsung Electronics America will be working with Mandalay to develop new and original second screen content that will then be made available on select Samsung products. The content will be built around Samsung’s Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology platform to enable complementary and supplementary content experiences for TV programming.

The programs will initially be distributed on Samsung’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 Smart TVs as well as select tablets and smartphones. No word yet on what types of shows will be developed under the program.

NFL to add two more playoff teams in 2015?
The NFL has hinted that it is looking at adding additional playoff teams in the future because, well the owners will make more money. The rumors appear to be picking up steam and the Washington Post has reported that it will happen in 2 years.

This is interesting in that in the last postseason the league had issues selling playoff tickets and the addition of more teams will dilute the value of the regular season and possible create even more issues in selling playoff tickets.

ESPN talks about ESPN
There used to be an adage in reporting that “You reported the news, you are not part of the news.” Well that message has never sunk in at ESPN as the latest round robin of repeating itself has taken on comic qualities.

After one of its analysts reported that he would not take Johnny Manziel as a QB for his team, ESPN’s talking heads then discussed this comment endlessly for the next day or so. Awful Announcing does a great job in dissecting how much coverage the network gave to a comment made by one of its own people.

MLB’s At Bat app rakes in the viewers and sales


Major League Baseball has been very aggressive in developing and delivering a variety of apps that can enhance a fan’s appreciation of the game and the flagship product in that effort is clearly At Bat, a program that enables fans to watch and/or listen to games.

The program has seen strong demand, with 10 million downloads in a single season, and very high usage with 1 billion launches. MLB said that 60% of fans open it every day. Last year it had 6.7 million downloads.

Apple recently announced that the program is one of the 10 top grossing iOS apps of all time, and that is no surprise in view of how long the two have partnered. When Apple opened its App store in 2008, At Bat was one of the original apps available.

Of course the app is not just for Apple’s platform, although they are often the first to get the latest releases and have the most features, but it also has an Android version as well as BlackBerry and Kindle Fire.

It would be interesting to see if the growing popularity of the app, which helps fans view games that might not be broadcast in their area, or hear favorite broadcasters has had any impact on other areas of the game such as television viewership. The recently concluded series between Boston and St. Louis saw TV ratings jump 17% this year.

MLB.Com’s At Bat Expands Ballpark with BlackBerry 10 Support

Research in Motion has a lot riding on the upcoming release of its next generation BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry 10, but it now gains support from an important app market from which it has in the past been a virtual non-player, sports.

RIM is expected to unveil its latest smartphone next week at an event in New York City showing both a pair of handsets as well as its latest iteration of its operating system as the company seeks to halt the strong sales and user erosion that it has experienced in the past two years as new generations of smartphones have soared past it in popularity and sales.

The BlackBerry has long been viewed as a solid enterprise tool but was sadly lacking in apps and features that would help it expand out of its business centric sales, but this deal could be the start of a major change in that perspective.

Queue At Bat, one of the most popular apps available for smartphones, and one that seems to be the top app for some time for iPhone users. While pricing and availability details are not yet available, has said that the 2013 version will be available by Opening Day, or rather Opening Night, March 31, 2013.

At Bat is the official mobile app for Major League Baseball and has a huge array of features ranging from Winter Meetings news to analysis of what clubs are doing. Roster information, game scores, both this year and last are available as well as watching games and even for premium members, viewing classic games that are in baseball’s archives.

This is a strong move for RIM and should help it gain at least some credence in the consumer market space, helping break down the barrier from the enterprise into the bigger overall market. It will be interesting to see what other apps are available at announcement because even as popular as this one is, there is a lot of room for growth in this space by the company.