Giants, AT&T say new under-seat antennas triple cell capacity at AT&T Park

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures at AT&T Park now have DAS antennas in them as well. Credit: SF Giants/AT&T

An offseason experiment by AT&T and the San Francisco Giants may change the way sports venues and carriers think about cellular deployment, as a massive installation of under-seat antennas has significantly improved the cellular capacity at AT&T Park for AT&T customers, according to the team and the carrier.

By installing cellular antennas inside 916 existing under-seat Wi-Fi antenna enclosures, AT&T and the Giants made a huge bet that by densifying the coverage, they could significantly improve the cellular experience for AT&T customers at the ballpark.

While admitting that data accumulated so far is only a small sample, the Giants and AT&T are nonetheless convinced their move is already a win, as early season declines in Wi-Fi use and increases in cellular data use seem to point toward a conclusion that fans are using more cellular service because it’s providing a better connection. The change is so effective that it’s even making the Giants’ networking team wonder if Wi-Fi will be necessary moving forward, if other carriers added the same kind of network capacity to their cellular infrastructures.

‘Most significant upgrade, ever’

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new DAS for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

With technologies like the multiple proposed iterations of 5G cellular and other plans to mine new spectrum territory on the near horizon, large public venues looking to keep up with wireless data demands are seeking whatever ways they can to keep customers connected. Historically, AT&T Park has been in the lead in this arena, from being the first pro venue to provide Wi-Fi to fans (in 2004) to staying committed to pushing the envelope, including the pioneering move of putting Wi-Fi access points under seats to improve and expand coverage.

New Ericsson radio gear (long grey box) powers the new under-seat DAS antennas at AT&T Park. Credit: AT&T

As the neutral-host provider of a distributed antenna system (DAS) at AT&T Park to provide cellular coverage for its own customers as well as customers from all the top wireless service providers, AT&T has also kept its cellular systems at the top levels of performance, at least at the levels possible for traditional top-down antenna placements. However, as demand for wireless services keeps growing — pushed somewhat by the recent revival of so-called “unlimited” data plans — many large venues (especially those facing “bucket list” events like Super Bowls or World Series games) have been challenged to find ways to expand DAS capacity.

At the past three Super Bowls, Verizon Wireless has increased DAS capacity by using extra DAS antenna installations under seats (Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium), under seating-area concrete (Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium) and inside handrail enclosures (Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium). According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, the team and AT&T conducted a small experiment last fall, to see if putting cell antennas inside the existing under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures could help provide a better signal for fans.

“We did a small swath of stands and it worked well,” said Schlough in a recent phone interview. “So we said, ‘let’s do the whole ballpark.’ ” Some 916 antennas later, installed by crews who worked every day of the offseason, AT&T Park had what Schlough called “our most significant connectivity upgrade, ever,” no small statement for a network that has required more than $30 million in spending in its existence, according to Schlough. What’s kind of funny is that this paradigm-changing “experiment” has so far only netted a one-paragraph simple explanation in a “What’s new” public press release from the Giants and AT&T Park.

WCS band comes into play

If the Giants and AT&T seem to be soft-pedaling the deployment a bit, some of that modesty may come from the fact that this deployment may not be easy to replicate. Gordon Spencer, an area manager in AT&T’s RAN engineering group, said the deployment uses only spectrum from the WCS band, a chunk of wavelengths near the 2300 GHz region. None of the other top carriers has any licensed spectrum in this band; by using only WCS wavelengths, Spencer said, AT&T easily avoided any interference with its existing DAS, which uses a number of more-common cellular frequencies. There was also a huge construction savings by using the existing under-seat Wi-Fi infrastructure, which meant there was no extra core drilling necessary to deploy the new cellular devices.

Another part of the program AT&T is reluctant to talk about is how exactly it got the WCS antennas to work inside a Wi-Fi box, without having to open up the boxes from the top. Spencer would not comment about specifics of the antenna deployment, but did say that having WCS spectrum close to the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum used by some Wi-Fi communications “made construction pretty simple.” Like under-seat Wi-Fi, Spencer said the under-seat cellular network designs in the interference caused by human bodies (aka “bags of water”) to allow antennas to be placed closer together.

“It works much better when the stadium’s full of people… we designed it that way,” Spencer said.

Could more dense cellular replace the need for Wi-Fi?

While the public press release doesn’t give any exact throughput numbers for proof, it does state that “This densification initiative effectively triples wireless capacity for AT&T customers at AT&T Park,” and notes that approximately 32 miles of fiber and copper cable were used to enchance 97 cell sectors.

But since AT&T customers typically are in the majority at most AT&T Park events, by moving many of them to a new network, the team was able to effectively free up space on the regular DAS as well as on the Wi-Fi, a network Schlough said could soon fall out of favor.

“Imagine if the other carriers were able to leverage this new AT&T cellular network,” Schlough said. “Could it come to a point where we ask ourselves, do we need Wi-Fi anymore?”

Some venues, of course, may want to keep expanding their Wi-Fi systems since by owning the network they also own the network user data, a trove of information not usually shared by wireless carriers for DAS usage. But unlike some theoretical 5G designs — which may call for “microantennas” in a much larger number — the more-dense via piggybacking on Wi-Fi idea may have some legs.

“If you have a greenfield design it may make sense to use microantennas everywhere,” Spencer said. “This deployment was pragmatic, and it works.”

New Report: DAS deployments rule, with new networks at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park and Amalie Arena

Call it the ‘Connect the DAS’ issue — our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT is heavy on DAS news, with new deployments at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, and Amalie Arena — all of them breaking news, as in you heard it here first!

At AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, there is a brand new upgrade to the stadium’s DAS network, an AT&T-only deployment of DAS antennas inside the same under-seat enclosures used for stadium Wi-Fi. An experiment at first, just a few months into the season it has surprised both the team and the carrier with how well it’s doing. Get the details by DOWNLOADING OUR FREE REPORT right now!

Second at bat in the news-scoop arena is another DAS deployment, this one just getting underway at Amalie Arena in Tampa, home of the NHL’s Lightning. The twist on this new network — also being installed by AT&T — is that it will exclusively use MatSing ball antennas, those quirky-looking “big ball” antennas that you may have seen used in a temporary fashion at outdoor events. What’s bringing them inside? DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and read our exclusive story!

And at venerable Wrigley Field — the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs — a long-planned upgrade to the venue’s cellular systems is finally in place, using JMA Wireless equipment deployed by DAS Group Professionals. Our in-person visit took a look at how DGP and the Cubs merged new technology with one of baseball’s most historic structures. Who says DAS is dead?

In addition to those stories we also have a complete, in-person visit and profile of the new networks at the newest stadium in MLS, the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium. We also have a Q&A with Sprint CTO Dr. John Saw, all packed into one issue ready for FREE DOWNLOAD right now!

We’d like to thank our sponsors for this issue, which includes Mobilitie, Corning, Huber+Suhner, JMA Wireless, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Oberon, Boingo, MatSing, ExteNet and DAS Group Professionals — without their support, we wouldn’t be able to make all this great content available to you for no cost. Thanks for your interest and we hope you enjoy the latest issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series!

The MSR Interview: San Francisco Giants CIO Bill Schlough

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

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

Who better to talk about stadium Wi-Fi than the guy who was there when it all started? Our guest for our first MSR Interview (part of our Stadium Tech Report Podcast series) is San Francisco Giants senior vice president and chief information officer Bill Schlough, who goes old-school talking about stadium Wi-Fi back in 2004… and brings it to the current day with stats from the most recent season at AT&T Park. Plus, his thoughts on game-day apps and why great connectivity is the real winner. Listen in now!

Hear Bill talk about:

— New Wi-Fi records set… during the Warriors’ playoff run

— Why going under-seat with Wi-Fi was a necessary thing to do

— How the Giants are experimenting with virtual reality

— Why he thinks great connectivity matters most (even more than stadium-app features)

Some story links that offer some history about AT&T Park’s networks from MSR:

S.F. Giants add more Wi-Fi, ‘virtual reality experience’ to AT&T Park for 2016 season

SF Giants fans used 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data at AT&T Park during 2015 season

Stadium Tech Report: World Series set new wireless records at AT&T Park

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

Giants: NLCS stadium Wi-Fi usage at AT&T Park quadrupled since 2012


Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

S.F. Giants add more Wi-Fi, ‘virtual reality experience’ to AT&T Park for 2016 season

The view from AT&T Park's left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The view from AT&T Park’s left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The first ballpark to bring Wi-Fi to its fans is still padding its networking lead, as AT&T Park will have 543 new or upgraded Wi-Fi access points for the 2016 season, according to the San Francisco Giants.

Most of the new APs are of the under-seat variety, completing the team’s three-year plan to put more APs under seats to increase network density and capacity. According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, the park now has a total of 1,628 Wi-Fi APs, the most of any MLB stadium and more than most big football stadiums as well. With 78.2 terabytes of data used during the baseball season and another 20+ TB used during other events, Schlough said AT&T Park’s Wi-Fi network carried more than 100 TB of data in calendar 2015.

Since it’s an even year, the Giants expect to win the World Series again, so the action on the field should be pretty good. If you want to leave reality, however, the Giants can accomodate you in that realm this season with the addition of a “virtual reality experience” at the team’s @Cafe social media spot, located on the concourse behind the left-field bleachers.

Since it's an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

Since it’s an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

According to the Giants, fans can be “transported” to Scottsdale Stadium to view practice from spring training, or they can see views from the AT&T Park field, the batting cages and “even Sergio Romo’s car” through a VR headset.

The Giants said fans will also notice an upgrade to the stadium’s LED ribbon boards, which circle the park on the facings of the upper decks. The new Mitsubishi screens, the Giants said, offer 150 percent more pixels than their predecessors, meaning that you might not need those reading glasses to get stat updates or read advertising messsages.

On the DAS side of things, AT&T Park finally has all four major U.S. wireless carriers on its in-house cellular network, with the DAS and Wi-Fi serviced by 13 1-Gbps backbone pipes from AT&T.

Betting the Under: Putting Wi-Fi antennas under seats is the hot new trend in stadium wireless networks

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

What do you typically find under stadium seats on game days? The traditional list might include bags and purses, and get-out-of-the-way items like empty popcorn tubs, used hot dog wrappers and drink cups no longer filled with fluids.

And now you can add Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas to the list.

A growing trend is emerging to use under-seat antenna placements to bring wireless signals closer to fans, for both Wi-Fi networks as well as cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments. First used to compensate for a lack of overhang or railing placement spaces, under-seat deployments are now winning favor in all sorts of arenas for their ability to use human bodies to help build a more dense network, one that proponents say can carry far more capacity than an infrastructure that relies mainly on overhead antenna placements.

With proof points emerging quickly at venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, as well as at pioneers AT&T Park and AT&T Stadium, under-seat Wi-Fi deployments may soon become more common, as more integrators and equipment suppliers embrace the under-seat method.

New stadiums under construction including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center as well as new Wi-Fi deployments at existing stadiums like Houston’s NRG Stadium and the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte are also planning to primarily use under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, both for the performance and aesthetic benefits. With such high-profile deployments embracing the method, under-seat APs may become the default placement position going forward, especially as stadium mobile-device usage by fans keeps growing.

History: a need required by architecture

Editor’s note: This excerpt is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our long-form PDF publication that combines in-depth stadium tech reports with news and analysis of the hottest topics in the world of stadium and large public venue tech deployments. Enjoy this PART 1 of our lead feature, or DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and read the whole story right now!

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

When Wi-Fi first arrived in stadiums, the obvious solution to questions about antenna and access point placement seemed evident — just mount them on ceilings, overhangs and walls, like they had always been placed historically. Mostly that decision kept the antennas out of sight, and provided good-enough reception for most network deployments.

But as fan Wi-Fi usage started growing, poor reception areas cropped up, most often in the most expensive seats near the courts or playing fields, where there was often little architectural infrastructure other than the seats themselves. At the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park, the stadium where fan-facing Wi-Fi was first installed in 2004, the need for more bandwidth was a big problem that needed to be solved during the 2012-13 offseason, after the team’s second World Series title run in two years had produced record wireless usage.

Even with a Wi-Fi AP placed just about everywhere they could be, the San Francisco Giants’ IT team couldn’t keep up with demand. And the trick that has been tried at some stadiums — putting AP enclosures on handrails — wasn’t an option at AT&T Park, since its lower-bowl seating areas have no railings.

With options limited, that’s when an internal battle commenced around the new idea of placing APs under seats, a plan that met fierce resistance on many fronts.

“We got beaten up pretty bad over the idea [of under-seat APs],” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, who described the 2012-13 offseason as “a very stressful time,” with lots of internal strife and discord. With multiple stakeholders checking in on the plan, including the Giants’ facilities group, the marketing group and the ticketing group, concerns about the loss of under-seat space and the potential health concerns fueled opposition to putting APs under chairs.

But without any railings or overhangs for most of the park’s lower-bowl seats, Schlough and his team had “no other alternative” than to try placing Wi-Fi APs under seats. On the possible health issue, Schlough said the Giants were assured by technology partner (and ballpark title sponsor) AT&T that the deployment would be safe and comply with all FCC regulations; “We were assured that having [an antenna] 18 inches from your butt was the [radio] equivalent of having a cell phone in your pocket,” Schlough said.

On the storage-space concern side, Schlough said the Giants’ IT team made models of the antennas out of cardboard and duct tape, and placed them under seats to see how they worked.

“The [walking] flow through the aisles was good, with the AP models tucked under we never kicked them” during testing, Schlough said. With AT&T assuring the Giants that under-seat was “the way of the future,” the team took a leap of faith and added a large number of under-seat Wi-Fi APs in preparation for the 2013 season, more than doubling the number of APs in the park (to 760 total) in the process.

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Though Schlough and his team “spent a lot of time” communicating with season-ticket holders about the new technology, there was still consternation about what might happen when opening day arrived, and “fans find this box under their seat, and not have a place to put their garlic fries,” Schlough said.

As it turns out, there was almost no resistance to the method; according to Schlough the Giants only had two complaints about the under-seat APs that first day of deployment, which Schlough called “the biggest relief day of my life.”

The success of the under-seat idea was particularly noted at that time by another IT team in the Bay area, the one putting together the wireless plan for the San Francisco 49ers’ new home, Levi’s Stadium, which was being built just to the south in Santa Clara. Testing some under-seat placements of their own at Candlestick Park during that venue’s final season as the Niners’ home, the team building the Levi’s Stadium network became convinced that going under seat was the best way to build the high-density deployment they wanted to have.


SF Giants fans used 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data at AT&T Park during 2015 season

The view from AT&T Park's left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The view from AT&T Park’s left field corner. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

It didn’t end with a World Series championship but the 2015 season for the San Francisco Giants did see fans use 78.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi data during home games at AT&T Park, the most-ever at the venue, according to the Giants.

Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO for the Giants, sent over a bunch of wireless data statistics from the Giants’ season, and on both Wi-Fi and AT&T DAS usage, numbers were up significantly from the year before. In addition to the 78.2 TB of Wi-Fi data used during baseball games, Schlough said additional data used during preseason games, concerts and private parties (like the SEAT 2015 softball game!) probably added another 20+ TB to the total, putting the AT&T Park Wi-Fi usage for the year in the 100 TB range.

Anyone else out there with numbers that challenge for the total Wi-Fi season crown?

Here are some more precise measurements from the AT&T Park 2015 season, with comparisons to 2014 in parentheses:

— Average Wi-Fi Take-Rate: 34.8% (33.9% in 2014)

— Wi-Fi Traffic/Game: 966 GB (591 GB)

— AT&T DAS Traffic/Game: 264 GB (196 GB)

— Wi-Fi Traffic/Connection: +59% vs. 2014

— DAS Traffic/Connection: +35%