Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi, DAS and live video get good reception at Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Sometimes, the best surprise is no surprise. That’s the case when it comes to technology deployments at the still-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Wi-Fi, DAS and live video on both fixed and mobile platforms are all performing pretty much as expected.

According to Chip Foley, vice president of building technology for Forest City Ratner Companies (the developer of Barclays Center), perhaps the only mild surprise so far at the just-over-a-year-old Barclays is that the biggest Wi-Fi usage came not during a sporting event, but instead at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony this past August.

“We had 7,000 people using the Wi-Fi network at the VMAs, and I was a little surprised at that,” said Foley. At Brooklyn Nets games, Foley said, the average Wi-Fi load in the 17,500-seat arena is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 users per game. In a recent phone interview, Foley recapped the performance of the stadium’s cutting-edge technology, which also includes one of the first deployments of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile, which brings live video feeds to fans using the stadium app. There’s also Cisco-powered digital displays throughout the arena, and a robust DAS deployment to make sure regular cellular connections don’t fail.

HD Wi-Fi attracts 20 percent of attendees

Barclays Center, which opened in September of 2012, had the benefit that few NBA stadiums have in that it was built from the ground up with networking as a key component. If Foley has any regrets about the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi deployment, it’s that it hasn’t really been fully tested yet. Even during the VMAs, Foley said he was using the in-building Wi-Fi to watch 10 different streaming video views on his laptop, from the red carpet cameras to the behind-the-scenes views of stars getting their awards.

Chip Foley

Chip Foley

“Our goal was to build as robust a network as possible, so that we can handle big needs of one-off events [like the VMAs] as well as the 41+ Nets games every season,” Foley said. With two 1-gigabit backbone lines providing Internet access, Foley said the Barclays network is meeting its goal of being “as fast as your fiber connection at home.”

The only drawback so far seems to be getting more fans to try out the network connection when they are at the games or events. According to Foley, despite advertising and promotions, Nets crowds almost always hit a figure of between 20 percent and 25 percent of them being online, a “Groundhog Day” situation that has Foley wondering whether it’s a natural limit.

“That may just be the number of fans who want to use it [the network]” at a game, Foley said.

The Barclays Center DAS, deployed by ExteNet Systems using gear in part from TE Connectivity, is another non-surprise center for Foley.

“The DAS is great, we never get complaints [about cellular connectivity],” Foley said. “You dread hearing that people can’t send texts. That just hasn’t happened.”

Digital displays, both mobile and fixed

One of the more compelling features of the Barclays tech experience is the implementation of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile technology, which brings several live “channels” of video to any fan using the Wi-Fi connection and the stadium app, which was built by WillowTree. With views from the benches, behind the basket and quick replays, Barclays can bring an up-close and personal view to even those far away from the court.

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

“StadiumVision Mobile is great for the upper pavilion seats, you can now get a view from a different perspective, and get replays,” Foley said. According to Foley, Cisco engineers tested the technology’s performance to ensure that it worked at every seat in the house.

Fixed digital displays are also a key technology at Barclays, starting with the unique Oculus display built into the striking exterior of the building, and continuing to the hundreds of digital displays inside. Using the Cisco Stadium Vision digital display technology, Barclays Center is able to change and update information on single screens or on all screens on the fly, allowing for greater flexibility in terms of messaging and information like concession-stand prices. Barclays also uses its displays to show train schedules, giving fans better information to plan their departures from events.

“The Stadium Vision displays have been nothing but great for us — we sold a lot of advertising on them even before launch,” Foley said. “It’s fun for our content group to build out content for the L-boards [displays where an L-shaped advertisement brackets other information on the screen], and keep it changing. Restaurant operators can use an iPad to change prices [on their screens] right before an event. They don’t have to talk to us. Overall, it’s a lot less maintenance than I expected or anticipated.”

If Foley had one chance to do anything over again with displays, it would be to add more of them to the original mix. His lesson to future stadium display builders is: If you’re in doubt, put up more.

“We must have had 30-plus meetings regarding [internal] TV locations, with 3D modeling and fly-throughs,” Foley said. “For the most part, I’m happy. But if I could, I would have more clusters [of screens]. Wherever there is one screen now, I wish I had three. People always look at a cluster.”

Adding new screens after the fact, Foley said, isn’t as simple as going to Best Buy to pick up a discount TV.

“You might be able to buy a TV for a couple hundred bucks on Black Friday, but no one tells you that to put that in a venue, once you get past union costs, connectivity and everything else, it’s about $5,000,” Foley said. “It’s way more money to add them now.”

What’s next: iBeacon, Google Glass and more analytics

What’s in the future for Barclays technology? For starters, Foley will oversee deployment of Wi-Fi services for the outside spaces surrounding the arena.

“It’d be nice to have Wi-Fi for ticket scanning outside the venue,” said Foley. “That’s one of those things that you don’t understand the need for it until you open the stadium and see what happens.”

Barclays is also looking into testing the Apple iBeacon technology, which can send text messages to devices in very close proximity. Technologies like iBeacon and even digital signage must also cross internal administrative hurdles, such as simply training sales forces and alerting advertisers to the opportunities.

“For some of the streams, there’s the question of ‘how do we sell this’ — the team has never done this and sponsors may not be aware,” Foley said. “You also have to figure out things like how many notifications and emails should we send out. You don’t want to send out too many, because that turns people off.”

Foley said the Barclays social media team is also at the start of a process of mining statistics from places like Twitter, Facebook and other social media streams, to get a better handle on what fans are using the technology for and how the experience might be improved. One possible way is through a Google Glass application, something Foley agreed might not be for everyone.

“I’m fascinated by the possibility of something like an XML stats feed [in Google Glass] where you’d still be able to watch the game,” Foley said. “We’re getting closer! It’s not for everybody, but some portion of the population is probably thinking that way.”

Wi-Fi News: Big Traffic Surge at AT&T Stadium, New Network in Philly, Cisco Video at Barclays

Jerry jonesStill think the Wi-Fi in stadiums thing is a fad that will pass with time? If so we’re not at the peak yet; according to the folks at AT&T, wireless traffic for the NFL season opener at their new namesake AT&T Stadium (aka Cowboys Stadium in Dallas) jumped considerably from last year, with three times the amount of Wi-Fi data used this year compared to last year’s opening game.

According to AT&T network statistics, fans at the Cowboys-Giants Sunday night game made more than 25,000 Wi-Fi connections, using up 1.3 million Mbytes of data in the process. Another 207,000 MBytes were used on the cellular and DAS networks in the building, 30,000 more MBytes than used during last year’s opener, according to AT&T. Good thing AT&T spent the offseason improving the networks inside the stadium, which were almost brand new. So even if your facility has Wi-Fi, it might already need an upgrade. Blame the device makers!

Enterasys Scores Network Win at Philly’s Linc

When Enterasys emerged as the network builder for the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium last year, there were questions throughout the industry wondering whether the company was a player in the big-stadium game, or whether it got the deal because of its local presence in New England. Now Enterasys can talk about its next big win, a network for the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field. Todd Weiss has a good story with all the details over at CITEWorld, one of our new favorite sites for enterprise IT information.

Cisco Video at Barclays

It’s not exactly news, but the video embedded below is a good explanation of how Barclays Center and its technology leader Chip Foley is making use of Cisco’s stadium video technology to be one of the few cutting-edge arenas that is really offering powerful applications to fans in the building. Look for an extended interview with Chip in our upcoming Fall Technology Review. We met Chip at the SEAT Conference last month, and can’t wait to share his enthusiasm and ideas for bringing a better experience to fans.

Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: Cisco Scores Big Wi-Fi (and Video!) Win at Nets’ Barclays Center

The biggest vendor in the stadium Wi-Fi space scored a big win last week when Cisco announced it would supply the Wi-Fi network and the digital video services to the new Brooklyn Nets stadium, aka the Barclays Center.

Just after the announcement last week we caught up via phone with David Holland, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Entertainment Solutions Group, and Stuart Hamilton, Cisco senior director for sports and entertainment, to get the skinny on the Barclays deal as well as their thoughts on how fast the stadium Wi-Fi movement was picking up. According to Hamilton, the pace of stadium Wi-Fi installs has picked up significantly since late last year, when Cisco seemed to be preaching to a sort-of interested choir.

Now, pretty much all stadium operators are singing the Wi-Fi tune. “They [stadium owners] have gone from ‘should we do it’ to ‘when are we going to do it,’ ” Hamilton said. “They all know they have to do it. And budgets are being moved up.”

After talking big about the stadium business earlier this year, Cisco has been somewhat quiet, without any real big wins — and even smaller victories, like getting the Wi-Fi network bid for the Super Bowl — were curiously understated, perhaps just part of the business since sometimes stadium owners or their telecom provider partners don’t want to talk too much about gear suppliers since giving praise means less leverage at the negotiating table.

Though the space is attracting a lot of innovative gear makers — Xirrus, Ruckus and Meru all come to mind — Holland thinks Cisco’s might gives it an edge, especially when it comes to scalability. “The me-too people out there, the question is, can they scale,” Holland asked. “We have a high density platform. It’s easy to look good when there’s only one person on your network, but how does it act when it’s heavily loaded?”

The Barclays Center is a big win for Cisco because it includes the StadiumVision feature, Cisco’s sports-specific implementation of networked digital signage. From the press release, here’s just part of what will be deployed:

700 HDTV’s and approximately 100 concession menu boards throughout the venue will provide content ranging from action on the court, to concession specials (all boards update simultaneously and are integrated with point of sale), to out-of-town games and scores, to traffic updates, and much more.

We’ve seen a live demonstration of this stuff (Cisco’s entertainment group has a building on Cisco campus that is set up like a stadium/sports bar, with HDTVs and concession menus to show the capability of the system) and it’s a big leap for the fan experience. And perhaps most importantly for Cisco the Barclays deal also includes a contract for the infrastructure network, the routers, switches and other gear that will power a network that will run not just the fan Wi-Fi service, but also help with wireless connectivity for ticketing, security, internal communications and more. That’s where Cisco makes its big dollars, so that combo makes the Barclays deal more than just a Wi-Fi install.

The bonus kicker from our conversation was a claim by the Cisco folks that they might not be out of the running for the new San Francisco 49ers Stadium, currently being built in Santa Clara. Though Niners CEO Jed York has tweeted about a pending technology deal with wireless provider Brocade, there might be several such contracts before all is said and done. First of all, the Brocade folks told us earlier in the summer that an official announcement was pending… but it hasn’t happened. And just this week the Niners announced a sponsorship deal with software vendor SAP, so it looks like there might be a bigger pie to divvy up when it comes to tech and the new Niners stadium.

Will Cisco get a slice? Stay tuned.

ExteNet Scores Another DAS Win, At the Brooklyn Nets’ new Barclays Center

Chalk up another impressive stadium-network win for middleman ExteNet Systems, which will install and maintain a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) network in the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA.

The Barclays Center, a 19,000-capacity stadium set to open in September, will host hundreds of events a year including home games for the old “New Jersey” Nets, who will move to the borough of Brooklyn for the next NBA season. Like it does at the new Marlins Stadium in Miami, ExteNet will act as the network service provider, connecting the small cellular DAS antennas to any wireless service provider who wants to improve its in-building coverage.

If you missed our previous post about ExteNet, here’s a quick primer on how it uses DAS to bring better service to fans, and better business to service providers and stadium owners:

If you’re not familar with how a DAS works, it’s essentialy a bunch of small cellular antennas that are mounted on ceilings and walls inside buildings, instead of on huge towers like traditional cellular antennas. A DAS network administrator provides normal cellular connectivity to users, and then connects those signals to the appropriate cellular vendor on the network’s back end. DAS deployments can also add Wi-Fi antennas to their infrastructure mix. ExteNet, like many DAS operators, can connect its back end to any number of cellular networks, meaning that fans don’t have to be a customer of a certain provider to get better in-stadium service.

The openness of ExteNet’s design may make it a better choice for stadium operators than an internal network designed and owned by a single carrier, since fans wouldn’t have to be customers of a specific carrier to get better service. ExteNet runs a network operations center 24/7 to provide support to all its networks, and signs a service level agreement (SLA) with both the stadium owner and its cellular partners to give both parties what they really want — happier customers.

No word yet from ExteNet on which carriers might be signing up to provide service to Nets fans. But it’s a big win for the relatively new player ExteNet, in a high profile installation.