State of the art network shines through at SunTrust Park

Opening weekend at SunTrust Park. Credit all photos: Atlanta Braves (click on any photo for a larger image)

Seasoned major-league baseball fans know better than to get too excited by good performances in April. Many times, long seasons and league-wide competition have a way of taking some of the shine off a sparkling start.

In Atlanta, however, Braves fans can start rejoicing now about their brand-new ballpark. If network performance is any clue, the thought, care and execution that went into the building of SunTrust Park seems pretty much state of the art, guaranteeing a great fan experience, no matter what happens on the field.

Like any other stadium or large public venue network, the Wi-Fi deployment at the Braves’ new home (located about 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta) will likely be tested sometime in the near future, either by large crowds or a bandwidth-taxing moment like a milestone home run or an important victory. But some early positive user reviews and hard numbers showing 8.4 terabytes of data used on the network in and around the park on its MLB opening weekend, it appears that the Braves and their partners put together a network ready for high performance from the first call of “Play Ball.”

It takes a village… of partners

Editor’s note: Welcome SEAT attendees to Atlanta! This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, Westfield’s Century City Mall, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Bird’s-eye view of SunTrust Park and The Battery.

To be sure, the networking inside SunTrust Park and in the surrounding mixed-use entertainment/retail/residential/business area known as “The Battery Atlanta” had many hands in its making, starting with major partner Comcast, which helped bankroll the almost $12 million spent on the core networking components. Cisco, the main supplier of Wi-Fi and networking gear to many MLB parks, was also involved at SunTrust, not just on the equipment side but also by bringing its StadiumVision digital-display software system to the facility’s numerous TV screens.

Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company, in somewhat of a coming-out party for the firm’s advanced technology solutions division that serves the sports, entertainment and retail industries, led the way with display deployments at SunTrust Park and The Battery, starting with the stadium’s main video board, a 120.9-foot wide by 64.3-foot high 16mm-pixel pitch SMD LED display. While we don’t have any performance measurements yet, SunTrust Park also has a neutral-host DAS built by Verizon, with AT&T already on board and T-Mobile scheduled to join later this summer.

Also in the mix was the organizational and consulting efforts of Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment. Bob Jordan, senior vice president of team and venue services at Van Wagner, said the Wi-Fi network at SunTrust Park and The Battery is “the culmination of a lot of information, including best practices and learning from all the stadiums we’ve done and seen.”

Close-up of a railing Wi-Fi AP during installation.

Jordan said having a commitment to building “the most comprehensive wireless platform” available meant that known possible constraints were eliminated ahead of time, producing something close to the sum of all the good experiences seen elsewhere.

Planning for speed and capacity

With the opening weekend’s traffic numbers — supported by some on-the-scene reports of device speedtests in the 60- and 80-Mbps ranges — perhaps the Braves can be forgiven for sending out some enthusiastic press releases right after the first home series that proclaimed the SunTrust Park network as the fastest in any stadium, anywhere. While we here at MSR would rather see more data before making such broad proclamations — and would caution against trying to compare the network at a 41,149-seat baseball stadium to those built in 100,000-seat football stadiums — we have little doubt that the project is at the very least among the best, given just the raw stats and smarts behind its deployment.

Some of that starts with the backbone bandwidth supplied by sponsor Comcast, a pair of 100 Gbps pipes that are for now probably overkill, since even fully loaded football stadiums at Super Bowls will only use a fraction of that kind of throughput. While those knowledgeable about networking know that just having lots of backbone capacity doesn’t automatically mean your network will have great client-side speeds, it also doesn’t hurt to have way more than you need before you even start.

Another aerial view of the park.

“We wanted to make sure we had ample connectivity for everything we did,” said Greg Gatti, senior director of information technology for the Braves, in part explaining the humongous backbone bandwidth, which so far in sports we’ve only heard of at one other new stadium, the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center, where Comcast also was the supplier of two 100 Gbps connections.

According to Gatti the Wi-Fi network “is the enabler for everything we do” at the park and the surrounding business areas, including fan-facing services as well as business needs and things like concession kiosks. The Wi-Fi runs off a fiber-based network that Gatti said connects almost all devices in the stadium. “Pretty much every single thing, including sprinklers, HVAC, elevators and lighting are connected to the network,” he said.

And while we here at MSR would like to see more data and tests before we agree with any self-proclaimed claims of being “the fastest” stadium network, with 900 Wi-Fi APs in the stadium — many of those Cisco’s newest 3800 series — and another 450 APs out in The Battery — Gatti is confident that the Braves won’t have any issues delivering high-density Wi-Fi bandwidth to fans.

“We’ll give you as much connectivity as your device can handle,” he said.

Leaning toward a 5 GHz-only future

Like several other sports stadium networks, the Braves will be using mostly 5 GHz channels only for fan-facing Wi-Fi. The reasoning behind this so far (at stadiums like Golden 1 Center, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and SAP Center) is that with most fan devices now having 5 GHz support, it’s easier and cheaper to offer only 5 GHz channels, leaving behind the challenges of supporting the 2.4 GHz band.

Putting the gear in place.

During an exhibition game ahead of the Braves’ MLB opener, Gatti said the SunTrust Park Wi-Fi network offered only 5 GHz connections for the first five innings. “After that, we turned on 2.4 [GHz] but we didn’t have much uptake,” Gatti said. “We’re leaning toward staying with 5 GHz only and avoiding 2.4 GHz if at all possible.”

Some of the 700 Wi-Fi APs in the main seating bowl are mounted in handrail enclosures designed by Wi-Fi integration experts AmpThink, devices used in many MLB deployments. “AmpThink has a lot of experience in MLB stadiums,” Gatti said.

One interesting note is that the Braves and Comcast did not participate in the ongoing MLB advanced media (MLBAM) program that helps pay for networking deployments in MLB stadiums; instead, Gatti said, the Braves and their sponsors footed the technology bill directly.

The Braves did work closely with MLBAM, however, on the stadium app front. According to Gatti, the team was interested in building a secondary app to expose new services available in and around the stadium and commercial area; but given that (according to Gatti) the Braves fans have the highest “take rate” on using the MLB-standard Ballpark app, MLBAM saw fit to help the Braves add additional SunTrust Park-only features to the Ballpark app; right now the Braves’ version of Ballpark includes support for digital ticketing and parking with mobile entry, mobile check-in, interactive maps and directories, integration with Waze, and seat and experience upgrades, according to the team. Some other services are not yet unveiled, as Gatti said the Braves are still testing beacon technology that will be used for wayfinding and other applications. The Braves also unveiled a kiosk-based wayfinding application, developed by YinzCam, to help fans find their way around the new stadium and The Battery area, which is all new to Atlanta and anyone visiting.

Bright future ahead

While most of the story about whether or not SunTrust Park and The Battery will be a successful combination of entertainment plus real-life activity, so far things look good, especially from a networking perspective. With The Battery’s office buildings, restaurants and living spaces, the combination may be the first real test of whether or not it building “city spaces” right next to stadiums is a winner for both customers and the owners.

Whether or not that business idea succeeds, its fortunes apparently won’t be decided by whether or not there is a good network in place. That test has already been passed, after what Gatti called “a fun and aggravating experience at the same time,” a greenfield project that doesn’t come around often in the stadium networking marketplace, that had one driving goal: Make sure the wireless worked well.

“It was pretty simple — in a modern ballpark, the expectation for fans is to have good connectivity,” Gatti said. If the opening weekend is any indication, the Braves and SunTrust Park have already recorded an important win in that category.

Editor’s note: SEAT attendees, see you at the Braves game Tuesday! This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, Westfield’s Century City Mall, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Opening day fly-by is repeated on the video board.

Let the networking fireworks begin!

Indiana Pacers upgrade Wi-Fi at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers. Credit all photos: Frank McGrath/Indiana Pacers

Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers. Credit all photos: Frank McGrath/Indiana Pacers

Whenever you undertake a Wi-Fi retrofit project, one thing is for certain: You can always expect surprises along the way.

For the Indiana Pacers, the biggest surprise in their recent renovation of the Wi-Fi network at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was finding out that their venue already had holes drilled in the concrete under the seats, greatly simplifying (and reducing the cost) of the mainly under-seat deployment that just went live in December.

The new 400-plus AP network, using gear from Ruckus, replaces one of the NBA’s first in-stadium Wi-Fi networks, one built and run by SignalShare using gear from Xirrus. With SignalShare now in bankruptcy and facing legal charges of fraudulent behavior, the Pacers went a different route for their new network, which is part of a plan to bring more digital-based fan services to the 17-year-old venue in downtown Indianapolis, which seats roughly 18,000 for basketball games.

According to Kevin Naylor, vice president of information technology, Pacers Sports and Entertainment, that plan got an unexpected (and welcome) boost when the Pacers’ IT team looked and found pre-drilled holes underneath many of the seats, covered up with temporary aluminum plates. With Ruckus able to use the pre-drilled holes for its under-seat Wi-Fi design, the Pacers were able to save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in deployment costs, Naylor said.

A new digital plan for fans

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace. Read about the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center and the new Wi-Fi network for the Super Bowl in our report, which is available now for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site!

Leading the venue’s new digital direction is Ed Frederici, chief technology officer, Pacers Sports and Entertainment, who joined the organization in the fall of 2015, after spending almost 6 years as the CTO of ExactTarget, a marketing automation provider that was aquired by Salesforce in 2013.

Though he came into the job “relatively ignorant of sports,” Frederici said he saw “a really interesting problem to solve” revolving around the ongoing evolution of the live-event fan, and who the new attendee was. With a plan to help drive the fan engagement through technology, Frederici, Naylor and the Pacers’ organization began a thorough assessment of Wi-Fi gear providers as part of their plan to bring a new network to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, replacing one that didn’t stand up to current use patterns.

“The old network tapped out when it got to about 3,000 [concurrent] users,” Frederici said.

Pacers director of IT Kevin Naylor shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP

Pacers director of IT Kevin Naylor shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP

According to Frederici, the Pacers looked at “all the major providers” of Wi-Fi gear, testing implementations live by putting gear into mobile merchandise-selling stands in use on the stadium concourses. The final decision, Frederici said, came down to a battle between Ruckus and Xirrus, with Ruckus the final winner.

Under seat the best option

According to Bart Giordano, vice president for business development and strategic partnerships, for Brocade’s Ruckus business unit, going under-seat with Wi-Fi seems to be the direction large public venues are all headed in.

“It [under seat deployment] is sort of standard now,” said Giordano. “You really need to have users close to the APs, and it’s hard to achieve that with overhead.”

With just over 430 APs in the new network, Frederici was worrying about the drilling costs — until it turned out that most of the drilling had already been done, apparently as part of the arena’s original electrical configuration.

“Seventeen years ago, cables were much thinner, and it looks like [the holes] were cored for electrical,” Frederici said. “But it worked out fabulously.”

And like several other venues have done recently, the Pacers have decided to scrap support for fan-facing services on the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which makes administration of the fan Wi-Fi network easier and cheaper. The team will still keep some 2.4 GHz connections for back of house use.

With 2.4 GHz, Naylor said, “the noise level just got really bad in the lower bowl. It’s much easier to go to [only] 5 GHz. Every phone made now has 5 GHz.” For the older phones, Naylor said, the arena’s neutral-host DAS run by ExteNet Systems can provide connectivity, with AT&T and Verizon Wireless already on the system with plans to add more carriers in 2017.

While the Pacers currently have a basic YinzCam-based game-day app, Frederici is looking forward to more services in the future, including the possibility of having amenities like live parking and traffic information available via the app, as well as blue-dot wayfinding to the seat. For this year, the Pacers have already added concession and restroom wait time alerts to the app, the first step in a planned process of greater digital engagement.

“We want to own the experience from your driveway to the stadium, then back home,” Frederici said. Part of the new network deal includes analytics software services from Ruckus partner Purple, which helps teams mine data from fan interaction with the Wi-Fi network.

“We’re excited to see what kind of data we can pull from them [Purple],” Naylor said.

New Report: First look at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center

q4 thumbMOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Winter 2016-2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, with a first look at the pervasive stadium technology built into the Sacramento Kings’ new home, the Golden 1 Center.

Also in our latest in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace is a profile of a new Wi-Fi deployment at the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and a profile of new Wi-Fi and DAS networks deployed at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium. We also provide an update on how the new Wi-Fi network at Houston’s NRG Stadium is getting ready for the upcoming Super Bowl LI.

Renting a Wi-Fi network?

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our fourth issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at whether or not stadiums will soon be able to lease their Wi-Fi networks. Download your FREE copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, and Extreme Networks. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

Pacers get new Wi-Fi network from Ruckus to replace SignalShare

Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 1.15.36 PMThe Indiana Pacers have signed a 3-year deal with Ruckus Wireless and Wi-Fi analytics and deployment firm Purple to put a new Wi-Fi network into Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home of both the NBA’s Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

The new network, which the firms said would use 437 Ruckus Wi-Fi APs, will replace a Wi-Fi network installed at Bankers Life Fieldhouse by SignalShare, a Wi-Fi deployment firm that recently went bankrupt in the middle of legal issues that alleged fraudulent practices. According to Ruckus, the new network should be live by early December; stay tuned for a more thorough profile of the new deployment.

So far, all of the teams that we’ve contacted who were caught up in the SignalShare snafu (under which some of the network leases were being offered for auction before the SignalShare bankruptcy put a halt to things) seem to be coming out of the mess OK. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new manager for their Wi-Fi network, and the Pacers will have a new Ruckus-gear network.

It’s still a little unclear as to what is happening at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena, but press representatives there said the building will have an Extreme Networks Wi-Fi deployment up and running for this season; previously, SignalShare had run the network using Extreme gear so our best guess is that Extreme somehow took over the SignalShare lease. Neither the Warriors nor Extreme would comment on any SignalShare matters.

In Indianapolis, the press release said that Purple, previously known as Purple WiFi (a “cloud-based marketing and analytics WiFi software company,” according to the firm), will be providing analytics from the Wi-Fi network to the Pacers. Terms of the deal were not diclosed, so it is unknown if Purple is paying for the Wi-Fi gear and making money off analytics and advertising sales; again, stay tuned for more details when we speak to the Pacers IT team in more detail.