Fans use 16.31 TB of Wi-Fi data during Super Bowl 52 at U.S. Bank Stadium

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

It is now official — we have a new record for most Wi-Fi data used at a single-day event, as fans at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52 used 16.31 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network.

According to statistics compiled by Extreme Networks during the Philadelphia Eagles’ thrilling 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday night, the AmpThink-designed network which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear also saw 40,033 unique users — 59 percent of the 67,612 in attendance — a new top percentage total for any single-game network experience we’ve been told about. (The Dallas Cowboys saw approximately 46,700 unique Wi-Fi users during a playoff game last season, about 50 percent of attendance at AT&T Stadium.)

The network also saw a peak concurrent connection of 25,670 users, and a peak data transfer rate of 7.867 Gbps, according to the numbers released by Extreme. Though Extreme gear was not used in the operation of the network, Extreme has a partnership deal with the NFL under which it provides the “official” network analytics reports from the Super Bowl.

The final total of 16.31 TB easily puts Super Bowl 52 ahead of the last two Super Bowls when it comes to Wi-Fi data use. Last year at NRG Stadium in Houston, there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi use recorded, and at Super Bowl 50 in 2016 there was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi data used at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. So in reverse chronological order, the last three Super Bowls are the top three Wi-Fi events, indicating that data demand growth at the NFL’s biggest game shows no sign of slowing down. Combined with the 50.2 TB of cellular data used in and around the stadium on game day, Super Bowl 52 saw a total of 66.51 TB of wireless traffic Sunday in Minneapolis.

Confetti fills the air inside U.S. Bank Stadium after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Credit: U.S. Bank Stadium

Super Bowl 52 represented perhaps a leap of faith, in that the handrail-enclosure Wi-Fi design had not yet seen a stress test like that found at the NFL’s biggest event. Now looking ahead to hosting the 2019 Men’s NCAA Basketball Final Four, David Kingsbury, director of IT for U.S. Bank Stadium, can be forgiven for wanting to take a bit of a victory lap before we set our Wi-Fi sights on Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Super Bowl 53.

“AmpThink, CenturyLink and Cisco designed and built a world-class wireless system for U.S. Bank Stadium that handled record-setting traffic for Super Bowl LII,’ Kingsbury said. “AmpThink president Bill Anderson and his team of amazing engineers were a pleasure to work with and the experts at Cisco Sports and Entertainment supported us throughout the multi-year planning process required for an event of this magnitude. High-density wireless networking is such a challenging issue to manage, but I am very happy with our results and wish the team in Atlanta the best next year. The bar has been raised.”

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
4. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
5. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
6. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
7. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
8. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
9. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
10. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB

U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis before the start of Super Bowl LII

‘Super’ Wi-Fi and DAS at U.S. Bank Stadium ready for Super Bowl 52

A look at downtown Minneapolis from inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After Sunday’s stunning last-second victory, the Minnesota Vikings are one step closer to becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own home stadium. Should the Vikings beat the Eagles in Philadelphia this weekend, Super Bowl 52 visitors should prepare for a true Norse experience inside U.S. Bank Stadium, with repeated blasts from the oversize “Gjallarhorn” and a fire-breathing dragon ship that will launch the home team onto the field. Skol!

But even if the hometown team falls short of making the big game this season, on Feb. 4, 2018 the stadium itself should do Minneapolis proud, especially when it comes to wireless connectivity. With two full regular seasons of football and numerous other events to test the networks’ capacity, both the Wi-Fi and DAS networks inside the 66,655-seat U.S. Bank Stadium appear more than ready to handle what is usually the highest single-day bandwidth stress test, namely the NFL’s yearly championship game. (Though the selfies and uploads following Sunday’s walk-off touchdown toss may have provided an early indicator of massive network use!)

In a mid-November visit to U.S. Bank Stadium for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, Mobile Sports Report found robust coverage on both the Wi-Fi and cellular networks all around the inside of the stadium, with solid performance even amidst thick crowds of fans and even in the highest reaches of the seating bowl. Speedtests on the Wi-Fi network, built by AmpThink using Cisco gear, regularly hit marks of 40 to 50-plus Mbps in most areas, with one reading reaching 85 Mbps for download speeds.

And on the DAS side of things, Verizon Wireless, which built the neutral-host network inside U.S. Bank Stadium, said in December that it has already seen more cellular traffic on its network for a Vikings home game this season than it saw at NRG Stadium for Super Bowl LI last February. With 1,200 total antennas — approximately 300 of which were installed this past offseason — Verizon said it is ready to handle even double the traffic it saw at last year’s game, when it reported carrying 11 terabytes of data on stadium and surrounding macro networks.

Good connectivity right inside the doors

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi).

James Farstad, chief technology advisor for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the entity that owns U.S. Bank Stadium, said he and his group are “very pleased” with the state of the wireless networks inside the venue heading toward its Super Bowl date.

“You’re never really satisfied, because you want it to be the best it can be,” said Farstad in an interview during our November visit to Minneapolis. “But generally speaking, we’re very pleased with the state of the networks.”

Those networks are tested the very moment the Vikings open the doors for home games, especially in warmer weather when the signature big glass doors — five of them, all 55 feet wide and ranging in height from 75 to 95 feet — swing out to welcome fans. As the entry that points toward downtown, the west gate can account for as much as 70 percent of the fans arriving, according to the Vikings, putting a big crush on the wireless networks in the doorway area.

To help keep people connected in crowded situations, Verizon deployed extra DAS antennas on short poles in front of both the west and east end zone concourse areas, part of a 48 percent increase in overall DAS antenna numbers added during the football offseason. Even with thick crowds streaming into the stadium, we still got a DAS speedtest of 77.35 Mbps download and 32.40 Mbps upload on the concourse just inside the west doors, and just below the Gjallarhorn.

Walking around the main level concourse, connectivity hardware is easy to see if you know what you’re looking for; part of the extensive DAS coverage includes dual antennas hanging off a single pole above wide walkway segments. And in one instance, we saw a good example of aesthetic integration, with a Wi-Fi AP attached just behind two IPTV screens, with a beacon attached to the side and a DAS antenna mounted just above everything else.

First big test of railing-mounted Wi-Fi?

Moving into the seating bowl, visitors may not know that many of the Wi-Fi network’s 1,300 APs are hiding there in plain sight — inside silver handrail enclosures, many of which now sport bright, bold section numbers to help fans find their seats. Believed to be the first big football-sized stadium that relied mainly on railing-mounted APs, the proximate network design from AmpThink is proving to be a winner in performance, producing regular-season game data totals of around 3 terabytes per event and maybe more importantly, keeping an optimal number of fans attached to the AP closest to them for the speediest connection.

Top-down antennas provide coverage for suite seating

Sitting next to AmpThink president Bill Anderson in the stadium’s press box you get a great view of the field, but it’s doubtful Anderson watches much football action given that he spends most of a game day glued to a screen that shows live detailed performance for every Wi-Fi AP in the building. While the analytics program produces a wealth of interesting data, the one metric that keeps Anderson’s attention is the one showing how many fans are connected to each AP, a number that will be no more than 50 and ideally somewhere around 25 connections if the network is performing as it should be.

On the day we visited, on Anderson’s screen there was one AP showing more than 200 devices trying to connect to it, an issue Anderson noted for immediate problem-solving. But with only a handful of others showing more than 50 connections, Anderson was confident that AmpThink has been able to figure out how to solve for the main dilemma for Wi-Fi in large enclosed structures, namely keeping APs from interfering with each
other. The large clear-plastic roof and wall areas at U.S. Bank Stadium don’t help, since they reflect RF signals to add to the network design degree of difficulty.

But the multiple railing-mount network design – which AmpThink duplicated at Notre Dame University, whose new network is seeing the highest-ever data totals seen at collegiate events – seems to be fulfilling AmpThink’s goal to produce networks with steady AP loads and consistent, high-density throughput in extremely challenging environments. The railing-mounted APs provide connectivity that couldn’t be delivered by overhead antennas, like in Notre Dame’s open concrete bowl and in U.S. Bank Stadium’s similar wide-open seating area, where no overhead structure is within 300 feet of a seat.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

“I think we have a network strategy that produces good uniform performance” in venues like U.S. Bank Stadium, Anderson said. “It’s pretty darn exciting to have a formula that works.”

More antennas get DAS ready for big game

And even though Verizon knew the Super Bowl was coming to U.S. Bank Stadium when it built the neutral host DAS for the 2016 opening, it came right back this past offseason and added approximately another 300 new antennas (mainly for its own use and not for the shared DAS), all in the name of unstoppable demand for mobile bandwidth from fans attending events.

Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, said in a phone interview that “the consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” especially at the NFL’s biggest game, where DAS use has grown at a fast clip the past few years. Scudder said these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game, and adds network capacity accordingly. Verizon’s numbers from the past three Super Bowls are a good guide, with the carrier reporting 4.1 TB used at Super Bowl 49, 7 TB at Super Bowl 50, and 11 TB at Super Bowl 51.

AmpThink’s handrail-mounted AP enclosures seem to have played a hand in part of Verizon’s DAS upgrade, as some of the new DAS enclosures seem to mimic the Wi-Fi ones with their smaller silver enclosures. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. Verizon also deployed some under-seat antenna enclosures for its upgrade, a tactic the company also used for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even up in the most nosebleed of seats — in U.S. Bank Stadium’s case, section 345, which has seats almost touching the roof in the southwest corner, we got a DAS speedtest on the Verizon network of 60.87 Mbps / 44.22 Mbps, most likely from some antennas we could see mounted just above the seats on ventilation pipes a bit toward the field. And hanging from the middle of U.S. Bank Stadium’s roof are a pair of Matsing Ball antennas, which point down to provide cellular service for media and photographers on the sidelines, as well as for floor seating for concerts and other events.

Ready to add more bandwidth on the fly

Even less unseen and probably not appreciated until it’s needed is the stadium’s backbone bandwidth, provided by sponsoring partner CenturyLink.

A Wi-Fi enclosure in section 345, near the stadium’s roof

Though some stadiums are touting 100 Gbps pipes coming in, the U.S. Bank Stadium setup makes the venue its own ISP, according to Farstad.

With six 10-Gbps pipes that are always active — and on two separate network infrastructures for redundancy — the stadium can turn up its bandwidth on the fly, a test the venue got on its first public event.

According to Farstad, when U.S. Bank Stadium opened for the first time with a soccer game on Aug. 3, 2016, the stadium operators expected about 25,000 fans might show up for a clash between Chelsea and AC Milan. But a favorable newspaper article about the stadium led to more than 64,000 fans in the house, a surge that backed up the light-rail trains and saw the concession stands run out of food.

“We were watching the Wi-Fi system during the first break [in the soccer game] and it was coming down fast,” Farstad said. But the ability to increase capacity quickly — Farstad said that within 45 seconds, the stadium was able to provision new bandwidth, a task that in other situations could take weeks — the Wi-Fi survived the unexpected demands, proof that it should be able to handle whatever happens on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I think we can handle the Super Bowl traffic,” Farstad said.

Denver Broncos, Verizon bring Wi-Fi blitz to Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Railing-mounted Wi-Fi enclosures in the lower seating bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as the team on the field seeks to regain its recent Super Bowl champion status, Denver Broncos fans will have something they can all cheer this season — vastly improved Wi-Fi networking service, which is now available to all fans and not just Verizon Wireless customers.

Even though we found good connectivity on our last visit to Sports Authority Field at Mile High two seasons ago, the caveat was that Wi-Fi was only available to Verizon customers, since the carrier couldn’t find another wireless provider who would chip in to fund the system. Fast-forward to later in 2016, when Verizon and the Broncos sought to upgrade the entire system and ended up picking a $6 million bid from Cisco to install a total of 1,470 new Wi-Fi APs, replacing the 640 APs in the old system, which started out with 500 Cisco APs in 2011 and added some more over the years.

The new network, which is scheduled to be fully completed by late October or early November this year, is already live in parts of the lower bowl at Mile High as well as in many concourse, suite and back-of-house locations. The big difference inside the hardware is the Broncos’ and Verizon’s choice of using the new Cisco 3800 APs, which can have two separate antennas in each device, basically doubling the amount of connectivity per unit. The new network will be powered by a new 10-gig backbone pipe provided by CenturyLink, replacing the 1-Gbps pipe that was previously used.

Close-up of a lower-bowl railing AP mount.

Cisco 3800s are proving to be a popular choice in venues lately, being picked for recent deployments at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center and at Notre Dame Stadium.

“The 3800 is a game-changer,” said Russ Trainor, the Broncos’ vice president of information technology, during a stadium tour Tuesday, citing its ability to connect more fans per device. Perhaps the most visually striking note of the upgrade is the huge amount of new railing-mounted APs in the building, with several per row not an uncommon sight in the lower bowl. Jason Moore, a senior IT engineer with the Broncos (and as Trainor calls him, a “Wi-Fi wizard”) said the enclosures are all custom designs from a local provider, with some of the fiberglass structures housing not just Wi-Fi but Verizon DAS antennas as well.

(Right now, the DAS situation at Mile High remains unchanged from our last visit, with all cellular carriers basically running their own operations.)

Going under-seat in bright orange fashion

The other new deployment method being used by the Broncos is under-seat placement, a tactic used for about 90 APs so far, half of those in the South end zone seats, where there are no overhead structures at all. Overhead AP placements are also being used in the main seating bowl, mainly to serve rows at the tops of sections.

No mistaking where the under-seat APs are at Broncos games.

Unlike other stadiums, who try to hide the under-seat APs as best they can, the Broncos have gone the opposite direction, painting many a bright Broncos orange to show up under the Broncos blue seats. “The mounting options are just about getting the APs as close to fans as we can,” Moore said. “Railing [mounts] work great. Under seat is new to us, and we’re excited to see how they work.”

In a quick empty-stadium test, MSR found Wi-Fi speeds in the south stands of 46 Mbps download and 47 Mbps up, on both the all-access and Verizon-customer SSIDs. In section 309, right at the 50-yard line, we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 69 Mbps down, 75 Mbps up. Verizon execs at the tour said that like at other NFL stadiums where Verizon helps provide the Wi-Fi, Verizon customers will have reserved bandwidth and an autoconnect feature that links them to Wi-Fi without any sign-in needed. Trainor said the Broncos are still undecided how to approach the all-access Wi-Fi onboarding, though the team is leaning in the favor of having some kind of portal approach to gather information from fans using the service.

Of the 1,470 planned new APs (that count may change as final tuning is made, Moore said), the Broncos plan to deploy 920 of those in the seating bowl. With many of those devices having two 5 GHz antennas for each AP, the Sports Authority Field at Mile High crowds should enjoy one of the league’s top network experiences when all the work is completed.

Both railing and under-seat deployments are used to bring Wi-Fi to the south stands.

Those readers who closely track MSR stories for such stats should know that we are now working on a new chart to show not just the top numbers of APs in stadiums, but actual radios and antennas thanks to devices like the Cisco 3800 that have more than one per unit. (Any and all help with such counts is appreciated, you know where to find us!)

Like other stadiums, the network in the bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will switch to only 5 GHz connections when complete. Even a few years ago, stadiums needed to still support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connections for fans, but the quick shift in consumer devices has shown that almost all mobile devices used these days have a 5 GHz radio.

A string of summer concerts at the stadium (which still bears the name of the now-bankupt and closed sporting-goods business as the Broncos search for a new title sponsor) kept the network deployment from being completed sooner, but Trainor and Moore said the incremental improvements are already being noticed. With both the old system and new system working simultaneously, Moore said that at last week’s college game between the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, the network saw approximately 35,000 unique users — more than the typical 25,000 unique connections during a Broncos game when only Verizon customers could use the network.

“Our goal and challenge is to connect as many fans as possible,” Moore said.

A smaller railing mount seen in the upper deck (300 level) seating section

Wi-Fi antenna mounts in the ceiling of the United Club

Wi-Fi coverage also exists for the fan-gathering area outside the stadium to the south

No Wi-Fi here, just white horses

AT&T beefs up ski resort reception with stealthy DAS

AT&T DAS antenna stand (right) near the American Eagle lift at Copper Mountain. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In order to improve cellular reception at the Copper Mountain ski area, AT&T this winter installed a stealthy seven-antenna DAS in several base-area locations, including inside ski-lodge buildings and inside a rooftop cupola.

According to Quin Gelfand, a senior real estate and construction manager for AT&T’s Antenna Solutions Group, the mountain had previously been served only by a single macro tower located up near the slopes of the popular Colorado resort, which is located just off the I-70 Interstate between Frisco and Vail.

On heavy skier-visit days, Gelfand said, the macro tower recently caused some “capacity concerns,” leading AT&T to design a DAS solution for the several base areas at Copper Mountain. In addition to just being saturated by demand, Gelfand said the single macro antennas often didn’t provide strong signals inside buildings at the base areas.

“In a lot of areas around the resort, there were low bars for LTE,” Gelfand said.

AT&T’s Quin Gelfand shows off the main head end DAS gear rack.

But on Feb. 23 this year, that situation changed for AT&T cellular customers, as the DAS went live and immediately started moving lots of cellular traffic. By the time of our visit in early April, Gelfand said the DAS installation (which has the capacity equivalent of a single large macro tower) had already seen more than 7 terabytes of data moved, averaging about 175 GB per day. Like at many Colorado ski areas, March is a busy month at Copper with lots of spring break skiers and locals driving up on weekends from Denver.

Hiding antennas in a cupola

Brad Grohusky, senior IT manager for Copper Mountain, said AT&T approached the resort a couple of years ago to discuss the idea of a DAS. “When we had a dense population of guests, it was pretty easy to saturate a signal,” Grohusky said.

On weekends, Grohusky said Copper could often see as many as 10,000 guests, and might even see as many as 14,000 visitors on popular days or holidays. Wireless communications, he said, could get even more stress if the weather turned nasty or cold, driving more people inside buildings.

DAS antenna (upper top left) in Copper Station lodge

Starting from an existing telecom service room located in an underground garage, AT&T ran fiber this past offseason to three different antenna locations. The closest and most obvious is a three-antenna stand near the “Burning Stones” gathering area and the American Eagle chairlift base. As one of the resort’s main first chairs the American Eagle often has crowds at its base, and the Burning Stones area is a small clearing between the slopes and the base area buildings that is used often for concerts and other public gatherings.

“There was lots of digging last summer,” said Grohusky of the fiber-trenching effort, which gained some extra time thanks to a warmer-than-usual fall that kept the snow at bay. “We took advantage of that extra week,” Grohusky said.

If the American Eagle-area antennas are in plain sight, the two antennas at the Union Creek Schoolhouse base area to the west would be impossible to find if you didn’t know where they were; on the roof of a building AT&T built custom-designed baffling for a rooftop cupola that completely hides the antennas while allowing cellular signals to pass through.

“You would never know the antennas were up there,” Grohusky said. “AT&T really accomodated our architecture there.”

Closer look at DAS tower near American Eagle lift

Back farther to the east, two more antennas were located at the top windows of the Copper Station lodge building, pointed outward to cover the lift base areas and the condos and other buildings in that area. According to Gelfand AT&T used Nokia RAN gear as well as Corning fiber equipment, CommScope cabling components and antennas from JMA Wireless in the deployment. The DAS is powered by a 100 Mbps fiber link from CenturyLink, and supports three cellular bands — 700 MHz, AWS and PCS, according to Gelfand.

Even though ski season is all but over, the network will still get use in the non-snowy months as Copper Mountain, like many Colorado resorts, has an active summer schedule of on-mountain activities. The resort also has a limited free public Wi-Fi network in certain base area buildings, including in and around the Starbucks location right next to the Burning Stones area. Gohusky said there are no current plans to expand the Wi-Fi, and also said that none of the other major cellular carriers are planning to add any of their own DAS deployments.

But for AT&T customers, Grohusky said connectivity is vastly improved. “The feedback has been great,” he said. “Connectivity used to be poor inside buildings, but now it’s great.”

Look back toward the Burning Stones gathering area, near American Eagle lift

Union Creek Schoolhouse building — cupola with AT&T antennas is the one closest to ski hill

JMA Wireless antenna mounted high up inside Copper Station lodge

CommScope gear inside the Copper Station node equipment room

Corning optical gear inside the Copper Station node equipment room

Copper Station lodge building (with DAS antennas) on far right, showing proximity to eastern base area