First Look: Shining start for Notre Dame’s stadium renovations, new Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football field and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

At this past Sunday’s “New and Gold” game, a sort of glorified scrimmage, the public (including Mobile Sports Report) got its first look at the University of Notre Dame’s Campus Crossroads project, a $400-million plus effort to bring premium seating, a large video board and high-density Wi-Fi to a venue that came to life in 1930, according to university history.

While we will have a full report on our visit to Notre Dame Stadium in our upcoming Fall STADIUM TECH REPORT issue, we wanted to give you a “first look” at the new facilities, which basically include three new large buildings built into the sides of the existing structure, to provide support for the video board as well as two expanded premium-seating and press box areas on either side of the field.

Wi-Fi AP overlooks a concession stand

One of the coolest parts we saw were the new rooftop premium seating areas, where you can sit on a couch and see the full field while also peering out over the edge of the stadium to see Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the rest of the world (well, OK, mostly South Bend, Indiana) while enjoying your favorite beverage and speedy Wi-Fi.

The new Wi-Fi network design using Cisco gear was led by AmpThink, and includes custom-designed enclosures for railing-mounted APs that feature a sharp version of the “ND” logo known to any football fan. Though the network hasn’t yet been optimized or tested with a full house of fans, we were still getting solid up/down signals in the 60-70 Mbps range throughout the building, even in low and high bowl seating areas. There is also a new neutral-host DAS in the stadium, built by Crown Castle. According to Notre Dame, Verizon Wireless and AT&T will be live on the cellular network by the start of the season, with T-Mobile to follow soon.

Like we said, look for more details in our upcoming report… but for now enjoy some scenes from Sunday’s game!

A good look across the main east seating section, with Wi-Fi handrail enclosures visible

DAS in the grass: A DAS antenna finds a home in the grassy strip separating seats from the field

The new big screen video board now dominates the south end zone

A good look at how the new structures bookend up to the stadium on its sides

Now that’s a premium suite: Rooftop couch area provides full view of field, plus scenic views over campus and beyond

Additional seating Wi-Fi coverage from small antennas over VOMs

Painted Wi-Fi AP blends in to column in main concourse outside seating area

The view of ‘Touchdown Jesus’ remains unobstructed

Inside look at the swanky, wood-paneled club for premium seatholders in west building

Scoreboard plug for the Wi-Fi

Notre Dame fans already figuring out how to use social media to get on the big screen

Smart fans at Notre Dame — early arrivers went right for the new, padded premium seats

How do you get bandwidth to APs located below grade level? By being clever and using routing down the side of stairways… more details on this trick coming soon!

NFL Wi-Fi update: Cox Business signs tech deal with Arizona Cardinals; Panasonic replaces Extreme at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field

The Arizona Cardinals and Cox Business announced a new multi-year agreement that makes Cox Business the “exclusive technology solutions provider” for the team and its home stadium, the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The new deal sees Cox Business replacing CDW as the main integrator for technology deployments at UoP Stadium, a venue that regularly sees big-time audiences for NFL games, Super Bowls, and the Fiesta Bowl.

While the Cardinals and Cox Business have been partners since 2006, the new deal calls for Cox Business to add in support and development of the stadium’s Wi-Fi and networking infrastructure, as well as to provide technical support. Previously, CDW handled those tasks at UoP Stadium.

On the other side of the country, Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business got a win when the Philadelphia Eagles selected Panasonic to replace the Extreme Networks Wi-Fi deployment inside Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field this offseason. Though the Eagles declined to comment on the new deployment to MSR at this time, John Pawling, the team’s vice president of information, had this to say in a Panasonic press release:

“Upgrading Lincoln Financial Field’s Wi-Fi network is all part of our team’s ongoing commitment to providing the best in-game experience for our fans,” Pawling said in what Panasonic said was a prepared statement. “Our hope is that by staying ahead of the curve and collaborating with global leaders like Panasonic, we will have the ability to take the fan experience to the next level.”

Extreme, whose gear is currently used in nine other NFL venues, was part of a Wi-Fi deployment at the Linc done back in 2013, part of at $125 million renovation done at that time. Neither Extreme nor the Eagles would comment about the switch to Panasonic.

Wireless connectivity strong at Colorado Rockies’ ‘old’ Coors Field

The main gate at Coors Field, the third-oldest ballpark in the NL. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

For someone who covered the origin of major league baseball in Denver, it somehow doesn’t seem possible that Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, is the third-oldest stadium in the National League. But after venerable venues Wrigley Field and Dodgers Stadium, there sits Coors as the next-oldest in line.

Opened in 1995, the brick-and-steel venue in Denver’s lower downtown has another oldest-type attribute, in the fact that Coors was one of the first MLB stadiums to get a Wi-Fi network built for it by MLB’s Advanced Media arm, a deployment that went fully live in time for the 2015 season. Like its bricks-and-mortar host, the “old” network is still doing fine, even if it was built without some of the newer technology and techniques that have appeared in stadium networking in the lifetime of the past couple years.

With an opening-day Wi-Fi data total of 2.2 terabytes used, Coors Field’s Wi-Fi network is more than ready and able to handle any increases in activity that may or may not be related to the Rockies’ resurgence on the field, where the purple players have spent most of the season so far in playoff contention.

During an early May visit, Mobile Sports Report found the network performing strong throughout the venue, with many 60+ Mbps readings for Wi-Fi download speeds in all seating areas as well as on heavy-traffic concourses. What follows here is some history of the park and its role in the MLBAM Wi-Fi rollout, as well as our random speedtests from a visit during a doubleheader with the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs, whose well-traveled fans add to the capacity in any ballpark where the team happens to be playing.

One of the earliest in ‘downtown parks’ resurgence

Editor’s note: 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 Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, new Wi-Fi for Westfield’s Century City Mall in Los Angeles, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

The green box at the bottom of the aisle is a Wi-Fi antenna pointing up the rows.

A little personal history for yours truly intersects with the origin of Coors Field — way back in 1991, I was one of the lead baseball writers for the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera, and our main story that spring was the question of whether or not Denver would land one of the two NL expansion franchises soon to be awarded. Like many other cities and regions hopeful for pro sports, Denver and Colorado voted for a tax that would help build a new baseball-only park, which looked great in those artist-concept sketches that are always floated around.

But for me what really hit home was when the team behind Denver’s bid actually went out and chalked out a baseball field in the vacant lots where Coors Field would actually sit, among the old brick warehouses in the city’s lower downtown neighborhood. On the day of the official National League visit, there was even a group of kids playing baseball on that field — whether it was staged or not, the presentation was cool, and it probably stuck in the minds of many others like it did in mine, that a downtown park would be a great thing in Denver.

After being awarded the franchise and playing a couple years in the old Mile High football stadium, the Rockies finally moved into their new home for the 1995 season, in a building inspired by Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the downtown venue built for the Baltimore Orioles a few years earlier. My first impressions at the time were favorable, noting the wider concourses and seats tilted to the action on the field, along with a ballpark brewpub as being good trends for others to imitate.

Fast forward 20 years, and at Coors Field, lots has changed from the fan perspective. With personal digital devices everywhere, and fans wanting to use social media to share experiences, the home of the Rockies is no different from any other large sports or entertainment venue in needing solid connectivity. As perhaps befits the pro sport with the best digital league-wide plan, MLB’s advanced media arm (MLBAM) in 2014 embarked on a program to make Wi-Fi and DAS deployments happen in every stadium that didn’t have them (or had older. underperforming networks). By cutting deals with carriers and equipment suppliers and teams. MLBAM put together $300 million in the kitty for a buildout that reached 23 stadiums by this year’s ASG.

Some orderly DAS wiring coming out of the head end room.

(Some teams, like the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park and the Atlanta Braves at new SunTrust Park, have opted to build their own physical networks, even while working closely with MLBAM on matters like the league-wide Ballpark app.)

Coors Field was among the very first in the MLBAM buildout efforts, with fan-facing Wi-Fi available in time for the 2015 season. Though its buildout predated some of the newer techniques and technologies used for stadium Wi-Fi deployments — like under-seat or handrail-mounted Wi-Fi APs — our tests showed the Coors Field Wi-Fi network, which now has approximately 550 APs, to be as strong as any we’ve tested, with signals in the 60 Mbps download range throughout most of the park. We didn’t test all the DAS carrriers but from all appearances, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are well represented on the AT&T-built cellular network. According to AT&T there are 322 antennas in the newer version of the DAS, also built in 2015, which AT&T said has roughly six times the capacity of the previous network.

As the Rockies enjoy an on-field resurgence (Colorado was in or near first place in its division through most of the spring and remain in the wild-card hunt as of this writing), fans should be happy to know their connectivity is competitive as well, with both team IT types and MLBAM keeping an eye on keeping customers connected.

Deck locations help ‘front to back’ work well at Coors Field

With three main tiers of seating, the 50,398-seat Coors Field has plenty of overhangs to work with as antenna mounts, making the so-called “front to back” design philosophy work well. Michael Bush, senior director of information systems for the Rockies, led us on a tour of the stadium, noting that at the tops of most seating areas there were two antennas, one pointing straight down and a “Gillaroo” panel antenna pointing down the rows of seats.

Good camoflauge on antennas serving the left field bleachers area.

At the bottom of most seating areas, including close to field level, there are Wi-Fi APs mounted either on the playing-field walls, or on the railings in the upper decks, pointing back up the rows of seats. In section 131, right behind home plate, we got readings as high as 63.10 Mbps on download and 48.75 Mbps for upload, almost exactly halfway between field level and the concourse at the top of the lower bowl.

In row 16 of section 138, behind the Rockies’ dugout, we got a speedtest reading of 63.32 / 41.63 Mbps, and in the outfield seats behind the left-field foul pole we saw speeds of 68.29 / 49.66 Mbps. Up in the “Rockpile” seats, way up top in straightaway center, we still got a Wi-Fi mark of 66.69 / 41.44 Mbps, probably from one of the four antennas we saw mounted on the back-side railings.

In the back of the walk-around “Rooftop” club and bar area in the upper deck of right field we got speeds of 61.21 / 28.86 Mbps, and then marks of 61.52 / 40.53 Mbps when we moved around to the front of the Rooftop, where you can lean on a railing while watching the game below. The lowest marks we got were in the upper deck of section 317 along the first-base line, where the speeds were 42.16 / 25.33.

All of these tests came during a break between games during a doubleheader versus the Cubs, when the stadium was cleared between games. The marks also varied between being on the main Rockies fan Wi-Fi SSID, and one reserved for Verizon Wireless customers, which our device kept autoconnecting to. But even as the stadium filled up for the nightcap, our signals stayed strong, including a 67.62 / 29.78 Mbps mark up in section 342, in the upper deck along the third-base line.

On Verizon’s LTE network we got a reading in the left-field bleachers of 14.99 / 15.19 Mbps, and a reading of 11.26 / 7.69 Mbps up in front of “The Tavern,” one of the bars in the Rooftop area. We did not have devices to test cellular signals for AT&T or T-Mobile, both of which like Verizon are also on the stadium DAS. Sprint, according to Bush, serves its Coors Field customers with a macro antenna deployment on a rooftop across the street from the stadium along the first-base side.

Wi-Fi antennas in the back of the ‘Rockpile’ centerfield bleacher area.

In our tour of the venue, Bush led us down to the head end rooms, where the DAS deployment looked military in its precision and organization. He also pointed out the cooling vents, which went from field level through the ceilings to finally pop out above the concession stands on the main concourse level, out of view for anyone who wasn’t trying to look down to see them.

Though Coors Field’s lower level seemed to have more than enough room for head end rooms, Bush did show us the parking lot “shed” that MLBAM built to house its video operations, including the on-field replay system that shuttles signals back to league headquarters. There is also some Wi-Fi coverage outside the building, mainly in the north parking lot which doubles as an area for media tenting for large events like postseason games. But for the most part Bush said Coors Field is careful to limit its Wi-Fi footprint to the facility’s walls, so there isn’t any bleed-over use by the residential and commercial buildings that are just across the street from three sides of the stadium.

Making sure the tech fits the park

As one of the first MLBAM deployments, the Coors Field network might have been excused for being more functional than aesthetic, but as our visit showed the opposite is true. Unless you are explicitly looking for Wi-Fi and other networking gear, it’s hard to see with the naked eye. In our unofficial wanderings we’d put Coors Field among the best in terms of hiding things in plain sight, with exact paint color matches as well as finding locations for mounting where gear doesn’t stick out. Helping out with this task is Coors Field’s overall embrace of brick and exposed steel beams, a sort of benign camoflauge that the network deployment team made good use of.

“A huge part of the fight” was making the antennas and other gear disappear, Bush said, pointing out several deployment spots we otherwise might have missed (including a huge bank of DAS gear right above a concession stand, perfectly painted to blend in with the green structural steel right above).

“The owners wanted to make it look like it [the network] was always there from the start,” said Bush.

Editor’s note: 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 Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, new Wi-Fi for Westfield’s Century City Mall in Los Angeles, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

DAS gear hidden in plain sight above a concession stand

Cubs fans invaded the Rooftop, among other areas

A good look at the Rooftop area, with its open gathering spaces

A Wi-Fi AP pointing back up toward the seats from the field level wall

The view from center field

Coors Field’s beer stands were playing to the Cubs visitors with this offering

Let’s play two!

The pro pick for your after-Coors Field jazz consumption

Strong showing for Wi-Fi network at SunTrust Park

The Atlanta Braves’ new home, SunTrust Park. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After speaking with the Atlanta Braves via phone about their new home, SunTrust Park, we couldn’t wait for our recent visit to Atlanta for the SEAT 2017 Conference. Thanks to a personal tour hosted by Greg Gatti, senior director of information technology for the Braves, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at not just the new park’s excellent wireless networks but also its impressive innovations in seating spaces and other amenities that should keep Braves fans and visitors (like the numerous Cubs fans in attendance this week) happy for the foreseeable future.

Any doubts about whether the network reports were too optimistic were quickly laid to rest the first moment we took a Wi-Fi speedtest. While waiting outside the main right-field gate of SunTrust we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 96 Mbps on the download and 136 Mbps for the upload, a level of connectivity we would see often during our visit. In addition to the ballpark the Braves also built the surrounding mixed-use neighborhood, called The Battery Atlanta, a mix of office space, mall-like retail and residences, a sort of instant neighborhood with superb connectivity at its core.

Both before and after our stadium tour MSR walked around the Battery, getting speed tests anywhere between 40 Mbps and 140 Mbps, depending usually how close you were to any of the numerous Wi-Fi APs mounted on buildings along the streets, walkways and public areas like the Braves fountain or on balconies of the close-by sports bars.

Yes it is, in great force

Having such good connectivity made tasks like getting an Uber ride a snap, since the Wi-Fi coverage extended out from the ballpark exits through the Battery streets to the designated Uber pickup zone.

Inside the park, Gatti first showed us (through a glass door) the Braves’ new data center room, which reminded us of the similar facility at the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. If there’s any commonality for new stadium builds, it’s that the geeks usually get a nice, clean, efficient looking room for their gear instead of some dusty concrete dungeon in the venue basement. And though we’re not network engineers here at MSR on our walk around the visible AP mounts and other equipment installs looked sharp, well constructed and smartly hidden, placed when possible out of the normal fan’s line of sight.

Instead of listing all the speed tests we took I will simply say that in almost all places the speeds we saw were between a low of 62.29 Mbps / 65.84 Mbps (taken in the Home Depot balcony club area above the left-field bleachers) and a high of 88.17 / 101.54, in the upper deck seats along the right field line. A quick test of the Verizon Wireless DAS saw a reading of 106.36 / 25.18 in the upper deck concourse behind home plate; we didn’t have an AT&T phone with us so more thorough DAS testing will have to wait for another day.

A good look through the glass doors of the data center

Beer coolers a ‘cool’ idea

On beyond connectivity, the Braves clearly kept technology in the forefront when they made other innovations throughout the park. One that resonated with us were the electronic beer coolers we saw in several premium seating areas. Basically, these are cup-holder holes cut into a countertop with coolers inside, which keep your beer ice-cold when you’re not holding the cup.

The IPTV operations at the park were also impressive, from the tablet-based TV controls in suites (software provided by YinzCam) to the touchscreen directory kiosks in The Battery. For some of the premium seats right behind home plate, there are interactive televisions mounted between seats; another new premium area just above the first bowl of seats behind home plate has tables with four high-top chairs, which are sold as sort of very-small suites. The tables have a small TV in the middle which can be used to watch programming as well as to order food and drink to be delivered in club-seating fashion.

Several other club-type areas like the Home Depot suite, a Comcast-sponsored bar area in the upper deck near the right field foul pole and a club at field level in right field with a chain-link fence cutout view of the field give the Braves multiple options to give premium seating to groups of many sizes, along with the traditional suite areas.

An AmpThink-designed enclosure for railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs

In many of the premium seating areas the Braves have also installed USB charging ports, another nod to the ubiquity of mobile devices being brought to games. There are also numerous Big Ass Fans installed on concourse walkways, a nice amenity that takes into account the sometimes stifling humid heat in Atlanta.

If there was one snag to the game-day experience at SunTrust Park we’d say that the traffic situation of getting to and from the venue needs some more thought. Even though the park sits right by a major freeway, the exits and entrances don’t seem to offer a quick flow in our out for anyone who is arriving from, say, downtown Atlanta, which is about 10 miles away. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s good MARTA subway service doesn’t go anywhere near the park, making all transportation a wheels-based necessity.

The designated Uber dropoff area is a good example of an idea that needs some experience-based tweaking, with pickup and dropoff zones on the opposite side of a street that seemed congested from well before the game to afterward. While having a clearly signed place for ride-share activity is smart, the attempt to do dropoffs on one side and pickups on another led to several confusing U-turn attempts even in our small number of interactions. There’s also no oversight or on-site assistance or staffers to help either customers or drivers, which for a first-time venue seems an error in judgement.

But overall, SunTrust Park seems like a huge success that will only get better over time — according to Braves president of development Mike Plant, only about 30 percent of the space in the Battery is currently open, meaning there will be more businesses and residents surrounding the park in the near future. Already it’s clear that fans have found the space an agreeable one to hang out before games — while speaking at the SEAT Conference Plant said that most of the bars and restaurants are full well before game times, so he warned SEAT visitors to get there early if they wanted to grab a bite to eat or a drink before a ballgame.

More pictures from our visit below. Thanks to the Braves for our tour and to MLB for media access during our stay.

Panoramic view of SunTrust Park

A club space with a view out the right field wall

Wi-Fi AP mounted on outfield concourse

A look at railing AP mounts in the outfield bleacher seating

The IPTV control screen for suites

IPTVs located between premium seats right behind home plate

Tabletop seating with TV just above home plate

The big ball with its 360-degree LED screen

Fans walking through The Battery on their way to the game

Another Battery view with the Comcast office building behind right field visible

Main scoreboard promoting the MLB app

Sightlines and decks at SunTrust seem built for selfies

Nice view from the upper deck

Closeup of a Wi-Fi AP install

Above fans’ eyes is a DAS gear placement (and a Big Ass fan)

DAS gear mounted on the roof of the centerfield concourse wall

Thunderstorms, the beautiful but unwelcome visitors

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!

Westfield brings high-density Wi-Fi to LA’s Century City mall

We’re gonna shop in Century City… Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

It might not look like a stadium, but if you take a close examination of the technology being put into the renovation of the Westfield Century City mall, you’ll see a familiar use of wireless and networking technology aimed at improving the visitor experience while also benefiting the mall’s bottom line.

Some of that has to do with the fact that the mall’s new IT team includes veterans of the sports-arena networking market; the other has to do with the fact that shopping malls, like stadiums, struggle with some of the same issues around bringing connectivity to crowded public areas and trying to connect digitally with the people there, in this case shoppers and visitors rather than ticket holders.

So as part of a $1 billion redevelopment of the historic mall space, bringing high density wireless connectivity to the venue via a Wi-Fi network was a necessity for mall owner Westfield, as it seeks to enable the digitally connected future of the next-generation of bricks and mortar shopping malls. Now nearing the completion of its makeover, which is being rolled out in the fall of 2017, the “new” Westfield Century City will eventually be host to more than 1.3 million square feet of commercial space, with more than 200 shops and restaurants, and other amenities including a mid-mall concert and entertainment space with professional staging and lighting infrastructure.

A Wi-Fi AP nestles in with other components in a mall walkway. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The historic shopping spot on Santa Monica Boulevard is also now getting a dose of newly designed outdoor gathering spaces, from hanging couch-beds to small grassy hills where visitors can just hang out and connect as part of their Century City experience. Having reliable, high-performing Wi-Fi to cover those spaces was a necessary shopping-list item, according to Denise Taylor, chief information officer for Westfield and point person for the new network and all its connected features at not just Westfield Century City but for other similar ongoing projects at some of the company’s 35 mall properties in the U.S. and the U.K.

Technology enables the new mall experience

Editor’s note: 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 Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, and a profile of a new Wi-Fi network at Red Bull Arena. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

In an age when shopping malls may seem less relevant due to online shopping, many of the larger malls worldwide are rapidly shifting their business models to become more of a destination location for entertainment events, eating or “showroom” shopping, instead of just a place to go and buy things. And in a world where staying connected is as accepted and expected as breathing, a mall without wireless connectivity sounds like a place nobody would want to visit.

“I knew I had to integrate a physical and digital environment,” said Taylor, who left stadium-ownership concern AEG (where she oversaw tasks like bringing wireless networks to stadiums like LA’s Staples Center) to head up Westfield’s digital departments a couple years ago. “A big part of the mall transition was [installing] enabling technology.”

One of the new ‘hanging couch’ gathering areas. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Since its opening in 1964, Century City has been known for being part of the wave of “outdoor” shopping malls, becoming part of the cultural landscape of LA and the Southern California lifestyle. (It was even the subject of a song by rockers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.) But like many sports venues that have been around awhile, these days Century City was lacking in a modern digital infrastructure to connect with its digital-device carrying customers.

According to Taylor, before the makeover project started the mall had no communication equipment rooms, no network backbone and maybe a couple hundred digital “endpoints,” including security cameras and intercoms. When the renovation is complete, Westfield Century City will have more than 2,000 end devices, including approximately 515 Wi-Fi APs, numerous digital displays, directories and LED sign boards.

One of the centerpieces of the renovation is a dedicated event space called The Terrace, which will be booked in part by Westfield’s own event production team.

The event space is just part of the new business plan for the mall and its visitors, a model for the future that includes on-location digital advertising not just for mall-based retailers but also for other brands who want to connect with the people at the mall, either through digital displays or app-based communications. While some of the plans are still concepts, without a baseline of a high-performing wireless network, none of the future ideas would be possible.

Ward Ross (L) and Denise Taylor

“If there is a fashion show at the mall event space, it’s important for visitors to be able to share what’s happening right at that moment,” said Taylor. “That called for a big shift as to what a good Wi-Fi experience was.”

Building for stadium-type foot traffic every day

If there was one thing that “floored” Taylor coming into the job, it was the steady, unending flow of people into the venue — a pace and total much different from stadiums, where people arrive sporadically for games and concerts.

“What really surprised me was the footfall,” said Taylor during an on-site visit by Mobile Sports Report in May, after the mall’s Phase 1 opening in April.

With its cellular system still tied up in the terms of a previous contract, Westfield Century City turned to Wi-Fi to bring a higher level of wireless connectivity to its public spaces, teaming up with Cisco and CDW for Wi-Fi gear and implementation efforts. Taylor also brought in veteran stadium technology expert Ward Ross as a consultant to help lead a somewhat different deployment at a venue that was never really closed for business, even as major construction efforts took place.

The need to ensure the deployment fit into the mall’s visible aesthetics, Taylor said, was particularly challenging, in an environment that “was never [originally] designed for central cabling or a communication infrastructure.” There was also the need to run construction efforts through leased retail spaces, a process that took “lots of effort and lots of conversations,” according to Taylor.

“The finished product is an amazing job of architecture,” said Taylor, who showed off the results of the work in a walk-around tour of the completed areas. “We had a big learning lesson on how to hide APs in a modern outdoor center.”

Though the initial public-facing service was gated to limit speeds, the plan is to eventually increase the bandwidth available to visitors as more of the mall’s construction and renovation is finished. With access to the “hidden” SSID that was running without restrictions, our tests over multiple places in the Phase 1 area saw Wi-Fi speeds in the 50 to 60 Mbps range for both download and upload.

Touchscreen kiosks, LED boards and better parking services

While video boards, Wi-Fi and a stadium app may be the primary technologies for stadiums these days, for shopping malls Taylor said there is a much different first priority: Where to park your car.

“I thought parking was important at arenas, but at malls the number one issue is parking locations,” Taylor said. At the time of our visit not all of Century City’s parking initiatives were live, but future shoppers there are in for pleasant surprises when it comes to the mall’s use of technology to eliminate as many parking pain points as possible. Ross and Taylor showed the under-development VIP reserved parking area, where customers can reserve and pay for a larger, centrally located spot that is held for them in a special garage area. When it’s working, customers will be able to pull into the spot by finding their name on an overhead screen — and then just leave when they are ready, without having to worry about parking tickets or paying attendants.

A ‘grassy knoll’ relaxing area. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

In other areas of the mall’s planned 5,000 parking spots, development is underway to bring a system of red and green lights that hover above each spot, letting drivers know if a space is open or not from far down the row.

“Both here and at Westfield Valley Fair [a mall in Silicon Valley] we’ve taken down lots and rebuilt and reconfigured them,” Taylor said. Future visitors can expect more wayfinding and tailored validation schemes for parking as Taylor seeks to use technology to bring “a VIP concept” to perhaps the most painful part of a visitor’s experience.

Once inside, more technology is visible in the form of touchscreen kiosks for mall directions, and big stadium-like LED screens for information and advertising. As the mall refurbishing is completed and the Wi-Fi network services more customers, Taylor is also looking ahead to when she can use network analytics to offer a more customized list of services to visitors via a forthcoming Century City app.

“We want to build a view of our customers, to let them know what’s relevant to them — if they want to see a show, or hear about a sale at Bloomingdale’s,” Taylor said.

The Wi-Fi network and its connected technologies also will let Westfield and Century City offer more information and opportunities to the retailers leasing space there, as well as other brands and companies who might want to advertise in one form or another to reach the demographic that physically shows up at the mall.

“Our primary customer used to be the retailers,” said Taylor of the role of mall-based IT. “Now we reach consumers, retailers here as well as other brands who are looking to connect. It’s a huge shift in thinking.”

Artist rendering of the event space being built at Century City.

Another artist rendering of what the completed renovation will look like.

Red and green lights will alert drivers to taken or open parking spots. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

A digital-display kiosk next to a concierge stand at the mall. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR