AT&T sees 9 TB of wireless data use at World Series

The latest statistic showing that wireless data use at sports venues continues to grow comes from AT&T, which said that it saw 9 terabytes of wireless data use on its networks at this year’s World Series games, an 80 percent increase from last year’s total of 5 TB.

According to AT&T, the biggest single-game use of this year’s series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros came during Game 2 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where fans on AT&T networks used 1.5 TB of data. An AT&T blog post about the series has some interesting statistics about when data use surged, mainly right after dramatic events took place on the field.

Last year, AT&T said it saw 5 TB of data used on its networks at Wrigley Field and Progressive Field during the seven-game series between the Cubs and the Indians. We don’t have any Wi-Fi data yet from either park this year but it will be interesting to see what happened on the network at Minute Maid Park in Houston during the phenomenal Game 5, a contest that kept many baseball fans up late at night.

Verizon Wireless said it didn’t keep track of DAS statistics for this year’s World Series games.

Orlando City Stadium adds high-density Wi-Fi for soccer fans

Orlando City Stadium, home of the MLS’s Orlando City SC. Credit all photos: Jenna Cornell (click on any picture for a larger image)

Resilient. Connected. Reliable. Even before its new stadium opened in March of this year, Orlando City SC, the Major League Soccer franchise in central Florida, knew exactly what it wanted from fan-facing Wi-Fi.

Leading that list was networking infrastructure to support the stadium’s 25,500 capacity. The team needed to be able to deliver live streaming video to fans through the team’s LionNation app. And they wanted a way to begin collecting user info and building relationships with fans, according to Renato Reis, CIO for the club.

And with so many professional sports teams having already installed wireless infrastructure, Reis knew there was no reason to reinvent the Wi-Fi wheel. “I had the privilege to travel and interview other organizations,” he said, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where the NFL’s Dolphins and the University of Miami both play football, as well as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., shared by the NFL’s Jets and Giants. Reis said Orlando City SC’s technology drew heavily on the experience and deployment of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “I used what I learned,” he laughed.

Paying their own way

Orlando City is barely 3 years old and played its first two seasons in the nearby Citrus Bowl, now called Camping World Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi deployment at Orlando City Stadium.

After some confusion with the City of Orlando, Orange County and the state of Florida over money and budget for a new stadium, Orlando City SC’s ownership abandoned a public-private partnership to go its own way. Orlando City Stadium was built with private funds and opened in time for this year’s opener. Orlando City SC shares the venue with the Orlando Pride, the women’s professional soccer team.

“We had a brand-new stadium and no installed Wi-Fi, two factors that really benefited us,” Reis told Mobile Sports Report. “We planned the position of our antennas and leveraged lessons from other organizations to design something from scratch and build for the future.”

Orlando City SC had some help there. The MLS franchise partnered with managed service provider Spectrum Enterprise, a division of Charter Communications; Spectrum in turn has a longstanding partnership with Orlando City’s equipment vendor, Cisco. Together, they installed networking gear, lots of new fiber-optic cable, and the wireless infrastructure that rides atop the stadium’s 10-Gbps backbone network.

The fan-facing Wi-Fi consists of more than 550 wireless access points around the stadium, or about one AP for every 45 users. The APs are installed under seats, in handrails and on posts. “It was more of a challenge to find the right places, design-wise, for APs to keep them out of people’s line of vision,” Reis said.

Orlando City CIO Renato Reis, posing in front of some cool graffiti and below a Cisco AP.

Supporting streaming video

AP density and processing power were important considerations for Orlando City SC. With such dense coverage, each AP delivers 50-80 Mbps per user, Reis said. That ensures that users of the team’s LionNation app enjoy high performance when using its streaming video capability; users posting to social media or checking email also get faster throughput, he added.

That sort of performance is essential, especially for users of the premium version ($8.99) of the LionNation app. In addition to live-streaming video, premium members get access to behind-the-scenes content, as well as 10 percent discounts off food, drink and merchandise purchases (and points for every dollar spent). They also get priority access to post-season tickets and single-game tickets.

Spectrum helped with the stadium’s engineering and remains active in day-to-day management, said Reis. Spectrum performed three rounds of Wi-Fi tuning and collecting data to see where usage was greatest. No surprise: Entry gates and concession areas, according to Reis. They then made adjustments, repointing APs where needed, thus ensuring bandwidth is available where it’s needed most.

Orlando City SC has also been testing wireless food ordering in one stadium section with 1,500 users since the beginning of the year. “The challenge there isn’t technology but rather logistics,” Reis explained.

Screenshot of the Orlando City app

The team is planning to extend the capability more broadly, but needs more experience to help decide how to proceed. “We’ll probably run the test for the rest of the season and make changes next year,” he said.

Reis’s biggest challenge for the moment is encouraging Wi-Fi usage – and also persuading users to register if they’re not on the app. Even with Orlando City Stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage, most users will stick to cellular (the stadium’s DAS network is serviced by AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile and Sprint), he said.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is who is at the stadium,” Reis explained, adding that the only information he has is that a fan bought four tickets, for example, and when they get scanned at the gates. So how to learn more? “Most landing pages are boring,” he laughed; still, he’s considering offering different incentives for Wi-Fi users to check in.

“Can I loyal-ize you so I can learn what you like, what offers are more appealing, what you enjoy and don’t?” Reis asked. That’s a primary challenge for most sports teams, entertainment companies and ecommerce entities. Luckily for Reis and the Orlando City SC, he’s got the bandwidth, backbone and people resources to learn more about fans and build those relationships going forward.

Mobilitie brings interim Wi-Fi to L.A. Coliseum

The Los Angeles Coliseum is home to the NFL’s Rams and the University of Southern California. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Previously reliant solely on DAS coverage, the Los Angeles Coliseum added Wi-Fi coverage last November in the student section – about 7,500 seats on the bowl’s east side – thanks to a donation of equipment and labor by Mobilitie.

The wireless services provider is also in the process of adding Wi-Fi to two sets of club suites — behind the southern end-zone and on the deck of the Coliseum’s iconic peristyle. These are used by fans of the Los Angeles Rams, the recently relocated NFL franchise playing its second season in the City of Angels. The Rams’ new $2.6 billion stadium is under construction in nearby Inglewood, projected to be done in 2019 and ready for the 2020 NFL season.

In addition to the Rams, the Coliseum is also home field for the University of Southern California’s football team. It’s also slated to be the stadium for the 2028 Summer Olympics, playing host to the world’s athletes for an unprecedented third time.

More renovations coming soon

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, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Mobilitie’s generosity notwithstanding, all the fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum is temporary, according to Derek Thatcher, an IT manager for USC, which manages the Coliseum on behalf of the County of Los Angeles. Demolition at the stadium will get underway in January 2018; while much of the bowl’s structure will remain, permanent club suites will be added as will new seating and new aisles with handrails. That will translate to a reduction in bowl capacity from 94,000 to 77,500, according to USC.

Close-up of the under-seat Wi-Fi APs

The $270 million refresh was already underway before LA’s eleventh-hour entry in the Olympics sweepstakes, activated after Boston voted down a bid. The U.S. Olympic Committee has earmarked $175 million for other upgrades at the Coliseum for the quadrennial gathering of the world’s athletes – and broadcasters.

A surprise part of LA’s Olympic bid was a proposal for simultaneous opening ceremonies at two venues, Thatcher explained. Under the USOC’s plan, the visual and logistical extravaganza could be split between the Coliseum and the gleaming new NFL stadium that the Rams will share with the Los Angeles Chargers (formerly of San Diego). Though the Games are more than 10 years away, it’s unclear how the use of two venues would work logistically. But the potential wow factor of such a spectacle is undeniable.

In the meantime, Thatcher, many of his USC counterparts and busloads of subcontractors will have their hands full once the current NFL season ends early next year. Fan-facing Wi-Fi is part of the plan for the Coliseum refresh; no word on which vendors are in the running or when the university will award the Wi-Fi contract.

Another look at the under-seat AP deployment

Gaining insight for the future

The USC Trojan faithful and Rams fans at the Coliseum had been reliant on DAS from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. But Wi-Fi coverage is envisioned from the gates to the concourses and bowl. The Coliseum Wi-Fi will not extend to adjacent parking lots, which are owned by the State of California, not USC, Thatcher added.

And though the equipment and service contract hasn’t been awarded yet, Mobilitie made a smart move with the interim gear it donated – Wi-Fi access points all made by Aruba (now owned by HP Enterprise), the same Wi-Fi gear in use across the rest of USC’s campus. The donated network also gives Mobilitie insight to usage patterns, user habits and engineering challenges that are unique to the venue.

The Coliseum’s renovation is projected to be done by August 2019, though the facility will be useable for home games played by both USC and the Rams in the interim, according to Thatcher.

In the meantime, 166 Aruba APs will power fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum. Mobilitie installed under-seat APs; rather than drill new conduits or use saw-cuts through stadium concrete, the service provider used low-profile rubber matting to conceal the wiring. Many of the APs are also installed on angled concrete, which helps preserve storage space beneath the seats, a plus for fans and their sacks and packs.

AT&T Stadium, Kyle Field lead in AT&T DAS football traffic

Full house at Kyle Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Two of the biggest stadiums in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and Kyle Field at Texas A&M, have seen the most AT&T cellular traffic on those stadiums’ distributed antenna system (DAS) networks so far this football season, according to AT&T.

According to statistics provided by AT&T, the Cowboys’ home stadium has seen 4.82 terabytes of data for games through Oct. 5, leading all pro stadiums where AT&T has DAS installations. On the college side, Kyle Field has seen a total of 5.80 TB through Oct. 5, tops for university venues. These statistics are only for AT&T customers, and only on in-stadium networks; the numbers do not include macro traffic seen outside stadiums, according to AT&T.

All the college game stats include three home games at each venue; on the pro side, Dallas, Houston and the 49ers stats are from just two home games; Denver and Green Bay stats are from three home games.

Rounding out the top five in the pro stadium list are: NRG Stadium, Houston, 3.89 TB; Lambeau Field, Green Bay, 3.0 TB; Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, 2.92 TB; Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., 2.91 TB.

On the college side, the rest of the top five after Texas A&M are: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La., 5.55 TB; Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C., 4.63 TB; Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 4.27 TB; Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala., 4.25 TB.

Bird of a different feather: Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes tech in a new direction

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As you walk up to it, the striking angular architecture of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a way of telling you, before you even set foot inside, that this building is different from any other stadium you may know. When you get inside, see the eight-petal roof and the circular video “halo board” right below it, those feelings are confirmed.

Deeper inside the venue’s construction, the theme is continued with the building’s network technology, which is similarly different if less easily seen. With more fiber optical cabling than perhaps any comparable stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons is built more with an eye toward what comes next, while also debuting with systems built with the peak of current knowledge and deployment designs.

Unlike the owners and operators of some other new arenas, the Falcons’ aren’t wasting much bandwidth trying to paint Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the best-ever when it comes to stadium technology. (In fact the stadium network crew is being very closed-mouth about everything, not providing any game-day statistics even though informed rumors tell us that the Wi-Fi network is doing very well.) But come back in 5 years, or even 10 years from now, and see if the decisions made here were able to consistently keep the Falcons’ new roost at the top of the stadium-technology game.

Table stakes, plus a halo board

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, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Inside the Falcons’ new roost, with the halo board and roof visible

What’s working now, as the venue enters the Falcons’ 2017 NFL season, includes a Wi-Fi network built with nearly 1,800 Aruba access points. Of the 1,000 of those installed in the main seating bowl, most are mounted underneath the seats, a trend that gained steam a couple years ago and now has numerous proof points behind the higher capacity and faster performance of so-called “proximate” networks. There’s also a neutral-host distributed antenna system, or DAS, for enhanced cellular coverage, built and owned by the arena with space rented out to all four of the major U.S. cellular carriers.

And then there’s the halo board, the circular or oval-shaped video screen that circumnavigates the roof right at the base of the also-innovative eight-petal roof, which is designed to open or close in seven minutes or less. If big video screens are a never-ending trend the Falcons are right out in front with their offerings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, starting with the halo board and the “mega-column,” a hundred-foot high vertical screen just inside the main entryway. The 2,000-plus other regular-sized screens scattered around the venue should ensure there’s always a display visible, no matter where guests are looking.

And while the team has future plans for video, the one piece of network technology that may matter most is the optical fiber, which can support wider bandwidth and faster speeds than traditional copper cabling. The statistic thrown around often in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium press materials — nearly 4,000 miles of fiber used — is meaningless to most who repeat it, other than it seems like a lot of glass wiring.

What’s more interesting from a stadium-design perspective is not exactly the total but instead the reach of the fiber, as the network designers pushed fiber out to the edges much further than before, betting that by putting more capacity farther into the reaches of the stadium, there will be less needs for big-time network upgrades in the future, when the inevitable need for more bandwidth arrives.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP

“We like to say we’re future flexible, not future proof,” said Jared Miller, chief digital officer for the Falcons. “Future proof does not exist in technology.”

Informed by Texas A&M

In picking IBM as its lead networking technology partner, the Falcons most certainly gleaned a lot of their stadium network design lessons from the 2015 deployment of a new Wi-Fi network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, a project also led by IBM. Making deep use of Corning fiber networking technology, A&M’s Wi-Fi network hit the ground running hard, as a big number of under-seat APs supported several big days of data use by the 100,000-plus Aggie fans who filled the building on home-game weekends.

The basic idea behind using fiber is that optical cabling can carry far more bandwidth at faster speeds than a comparable copper wire. By putting more fiber farther out into all reaches of a stadium, a network can be “future proofed” by being able to support many more new devices on the end of each fiber strand. By not having to string new cabling everywhere to support greater demand, a stadium will theoretically spend far less money in the long haul.

Wi-Fi and DAS will have the bathroom lines covered

From a network backbone perspective, the Falcons took what Texas A&M did and pushed even farther with fiber, taking the glass circuits as close to the edge devices (mainly Wi-Fi APs) as possible. In our mid-August press tour at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we saw many of the so-called “mini-IDFs,” small closets with three or four pieces of gear in them, mounted on walls throughout the stadium.

“We kept the use of copper as short as possible,” said Miller. “With bandwidth demands continuing to grow at an exponential rate, we need to make sure we keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.”

If there is one big drawback to using fiber, it has to do with the intricacies of dealing with the construction end of building fiber networks, since the cables need to be precisely cut and joined, often with highly specialized equipment. There are also far more network technicians who are trained in copper wiring deployments than in fiber, so personnel issues can also increase costs and complexity.

On the eve of the Falcons’ first regular-season home game, a mid-September playoff rematch with the Green Bay Packers, Miller and his crew had not yet provided any traffic or network throughput statistics from the preseason games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, some inside sources told MSR that the Wi-Fi traffic during the preseason and the early September college game was at the top range of what has been historically seen for NFL game days, so it appears that the system is ready to go.

Holding off on more bells and whistles

Though it may be hard for any other stadium to top the halo board for a while, on some other technology-related items the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium are taking a step back and not pushing digital solutions to where they might not be needed.

One of the many ‘mini-ISFs,’ this one in the press box

On the stadium app side, for instance, the IBM-developed application does not support some services seen at other NFL or pro-league stadiums, like “blue dot” wayfinding or in-seat food delivery or even express pickup for concessions. Instead, the app uses wayfinding based on static maps, where you need to put in both a location and a desired destination; and on the food-ordering side, fans can enter in an order and their credit card information, but must then take it to a stand to be scanned and fulfilled.

And while the Falcons’ new app does have a fun FAQ chatbot called “Ask Arthur” (for the team’s owner, Arthur Blank), there won’t be any live instant replay features in the app. With all the video screens in the stadium, the Falcons think they have the replay angle thing covered. The Falcons will use the app, however, for expanded digital-ticketing features as well as to help fans find and pay for parking. On the concessions side, the Falcons’ well-reported “fan friendly” pricing with low costs for most stadium food staples might prove more interesting to fans than being able to have food delivered.

Miller was also adamant that fans won’t see any portal or other marketing messages between finding and connecting to the Wi-Fi network.

“You just join ‘AT&Twifi’ and you’re on,” Miller said. “You’re a guest in our house. The last thing we want to do is slow you down from getting on the network.”

The big metal falcon in front of the stadium looks out over downtown Atlanta

More Wi-Fi APs visible under the overhang

A view from the AT&T Porch out through the windows

Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium gets new DAS for 2017

DAS antennas seen on flagpoles at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. Credit: Gary Turner / CWS (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans at the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium should finally have cellular connectivity this season, thanks to a new neutral-host DAS installed by Connectivity Wireless Solutions over the past offseason.

Though we don’t have any stats or speed test reports yet, Connectivity Wireless said the DAS was scheduled to begin operation at the start of the season, with fine-tuning taking place during the first few home games. Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular were active on the DAS at the start, according to Connectivity Wireless, with AT&T in testing at the season’s start.

Steven Morris, director of engineering for Connectivity Wireless, said the new DAS is using Corning One gear at the core, and has a mainly fiber infrastructure with coax used only in the “final 30 to 40 feet” for connection to edge gear and antennas. Connectivity Wireless also installed a new DAS at the school’s basketball stadium, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which should also be ready for the upcoming season. According to news reports, the DAS contract for Kinnick is $6 million, while the cost for the network at Carver-Hawkeye is $3 million.

The DAS for the 70,000-seat historic Kinnick Stadium, Morris said, has 13 sectors, and according to news reports, uses approximately 200 antennas. Like many older open-bowl stadiums, deployment at Kinnick was a challenge simply due to its design as well as to the fact the building has historical aesthetic elements, making antenna placement a job with multiple approvals necessary.

Overhead view of the bowl shape of Kinnick Stadium. Credit: University of Iowa

Overcoming aesthetic and design challenges

“There was no real place for antennas,” said Morris, who said Connectivity Wireless found a way to bring coverage to the main bowl seating partially through a strategy of replacing existing flagpoles mounted around the stadium’s edges with new custom-designed poles that had conduit and antenna mounts built in.

“It was a big challenge for us, with lots of approvals to go through,” said Morris. Connectivity Wireless also had to trench fiber from the stadium to the campus’ network head-end, which is located in one of the school’s hospitals about a mile away from Kinnick. All this work needed to be done in the spring and summer, Morris said, since you can’t dig underground in Iowa where winter weather can regularly produce sub-zero temperatures.

With plenty of fiber capacity now in place, Morris said Kinnick Stadium could also eventually install a Wi-Fi network, though it would most likely mean some kind of under-seat AP deployment with its associated coring costs. However, there still may be some legal entanglements regarding any future network deployments, as Iowa is still involved in a lawsuit with American Tower, which it had originally contracted with to build the Kinnick DAS. That 2013 deal, however, was terminated by the university in 2015, and the matter is still being adjucated under a lawsuit filed by American Tower. American Tower would not comment on the status of the lawsuit.

More flagpole-mounted DAS at Kinnick Stadium; Credit both photos: Gary Turner / CWS