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

Stadium Tech Report: Carolina Panthers take ownership of DAS, Wi-Fi at Bank of America Stadium

James Hammond, director  of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

“The fan is the most valuable member of our team,” Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, is fond of saying.

And it’s become the virtual mission statement for the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Football League franchise. So even though its home field, the Bank of America Stadium, was built relatively recently (1996), technology has come a long way in two decades. And as the Panthers began a four-phase renovation in 2014, they did it with fans’ MVP status in mind, according to James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers. “It was time for some changes,” he said.

While Carolina was among the first NFL stadiums to install fan-facing Wi-Fi and enhanced cellular networks, the previous DAS and Wi-Fi systems weren’t keeping up with demand and that was starting to adversely impact the Panthers fan experience, Hammond said.

“We chose to perform a rip-and-replace on both DAS and Wi-Fi and take ownership in-house,” Hammond explained. Because the Panthers own and operate BofA Stadium, making those moves was a lot easier than if they were tenants.

Time for an upgrade

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which includes more stadium profiles as well as looks at Wi-Fi at the Mall of America, and analytics software being used by the Cleveland Browns. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

The first “fan-centric improvements,” as Hammond called them, came in 2014 in the form of escalators, video big boards and a distributed audio system. As part of the second phase of upgrades, the Panthers then used the 2015 offseason to renovate the club-level suites and tore out the old DAS system while they were at it. And after a careful evaluation of different DAS solutions, they shortlisted two vendors: CommScope and Corning.

CommScope ultimately got the nod; the Panthers then had to decide between the vendor’s ION-B and ION-U DAS systems. “We went with the ION-U, which was quite new and cutting edge at that point, since it had NEMA-rated remotes,” Hammond said. Other systems lacked that kind of weatherproofing and would require additional enclosures – and expense.

CommScope's ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

CommScope’s ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

“We started over with all new fiber and coax. We did the decommissioning and construction in 90 days, which was pretty quick for a ground-up project,” he said. Beam Wireless Inc. did the design, integration and optimization and is handling the ongoing maintenance of the DAS system; Optical Telecom installed the DAS gear. BofA Stadium now has 256 DAS remotes and more than 600 DAS indoor and outdoor antennas.

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are the participating DAS carriers; T-Mobile is weighing whether to join the mix during the 2017 off-season.

The Panthers have divided BofA Stadium into 48 DAS zones: 16 zones for the upper bowl, 16 in the lower bowl, and another 16 for concourses, suites, clubs, and offices. Not all zones are used exclusively; carriers choose simulcast patterns that place multiple zones into sectors, and can change them as capacity requirements dictate, Hammond told Mobile Sports Report.

“With some minor design changes to the interior areas, we can accommodate nearly 70 zones,” he explained. “At present the most sectors in use by a carrier is 32. This means the carrier simulcasts across a mix of our 48 zones in order to match them up to 32 carrier sectors.”

Once the new DAS was built and the first couple of events were analyzed, carriers began asking for more frequencies and additional DAS sectors to continue meeting ever-growing demand. In response to the new carrier requests, the first round of DAS upgrades were implemented in the spring of 2016, Hammond said. During the 2015 season, DAS bandwidth was running around 2 GB during games. Hammond said, “With these latest DAS upgrades, we expect the bandwidth numbers to be even higher.”

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

The impact of the new DAS system was felt immediately upon its debut in July 2015. “It was a much better experience for fans who noticed the improved cellular experience,” Hammond said. Another unexpected benefit: The upgraded DAS helped mitigate bottlenecks with the old Wi-Fi system, which Hammond characterized as “under-designed.”

Going under seat for Wi-Fi upgrade

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to address any Wi-Fi upgrades before the 2015 football season began, but the Panthers issued an RFP for new Wi-Fi in August 2015 in preparation for Phase 3 renovations that would also include security upgrades and renovations to the upper concourse.

Interested vendors needed to ensure high bandwidth rates as well as high take-rates that allowed three different ISPs (Time Warner Cable/Charter, Level 3 Communications and Windstream) to deliver in excess of 10 GB, though Hammond said they’re starting at a 7-GB threshold.

The Wi-Fi award went to Aruba, now HP Enterprise, in December 2015, and construction began in January 2016 after the last postseason game, when the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC championship and a trip to Super Bowl 50.

Similar to Levi’s Stadium and the Dodgers Stadium, the Panthers chose underseat AP enclosures; BofA Stadium sports 770 AP enclosures in the upper and lower bowls out of a total of 1,225 APs, all to ensure maximum coverage and minimal dead spots. The Panthers selected AmpThink to do the Wi-Fi integration and construction; the turnkey contractor also designed and fabricated a custom enclosure for the APs.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

One other innovation in the Panthers’ Wi-Fi installation is that the underseat enclosure is mounted to the riser — the vertical part of the step — but looks like it’s on the tread, the horizontal part, which is intended as a waterproofing measure. “The riser is easier to seal and isn’t affected by pressure washers, which you’re doing constantly with an outdoor stadium,” Hammond said. “And by running pipe through the riser, you don’t have gravity working against you,” which helps keep out water, he explained.

Panthers fans access the stadium Wi-Fi through a portal page after accepting the team’s terms and conditions. From there, they are whitelisted and can automatically join the Wi-Fi network for the rest of the season. Hammond said a fan’s email is requested but not required by the portal page, and there’s a small incentive offered to encourage fans’ email subscriptions.

The new Wi-Fi system got a workout with a soccer game at BofA Stadium at the end of July 2016, then with a Panthers’ Fan Fest the following week. “All the indicators were good, and fan feedback about the system was excellent,” Hammond said. But he cautioned that the two events were not “full bowl” events with smaller attendance numbers (~50,000) than a regular season football game (75,000+). “We will continue to optimize and tune settings as we learn more during events with higher attendance,” Hammond said.

Total budget so far for the technology upgrades totals about $16 million; the DAS build-out was just under $10 million; Wi-Fi was a little more than $6 million, which included additional wired infrastructure, according to the team.

Beacons coming next

And the Panthers aren’t done making technology improvements to their stadium. Phase 4 looks to add Bluetooth beacons and do some refinement of the Panthers app. “My goal during the upcoming season is to look at options for location-aware services,” Hammond said. Some APs have beacons built in; other may need to be added to get the granularity the Panthers want for location awareness.

Hammond also wants to give fans more things to do with the Panthers app and also optimize it for push notifications, even with something as basic and useful as restroom and concessions location information. “As we learn more about fans individually, we can direct them to things of particular interest to them,” he added.

“So far, we are very pleased with the performance of the Wi-Fi and DAS systems,” Hammond said, noting the Panthers will continue to tune frequencies, add zones and increase bandwidth where needed. It’s the sort of attention that smart sporting franchises pay to their most valued team members.

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New Report: Carolina Panthers build new Wi-Fi and DAS; Mercedes-Benz Stadium update, and more!

Q3thumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the Q3 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our Q3 issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at Wi-Fi analytics at the Mall of America, and a story about how the Cleveland Browns found $1 million in ROI using new analytics software from YinzCam. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:

— Bank of America Stadium profile: An in-depth look at the Carolina Panthers’ decision to bring new Wi-Fi and DAS networks in-house;
— Mercedes-Benz Stadium profile: An early look at the technology being built into the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, with an emphasis on fiber;
— T-Mobile Arena photo essay: A first look at the newest venue on the famed Las Vegas Strip;
— Avaya Stadium profile: How the stadium’s Wi-Fi network became the star of the MLS All-Star game.

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, DAS Group Professionals and Boingo Wireless. 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.

Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center will use really fast fiber technology from CommScope

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Since the Sacramento Kings are already talking about bandwidth-hogging applications like virtual reality replays for fans who visit the new Golden 1 Center, it’s perhaps no surprise that the venue will also have some of the fastest, highest capacity fiber network technology at its core.

On Tuesday, the Kings and network infrastructure provider CommScope announced that Golden 1 Center will be the first place to employ something called wideband multimode fiber, or WBMMF in the world of tech acronyms. Without getting too deep into fiber optics details it might be enough for most to know that WBMMF, a new developing standard in the cabling infrastructure world, lets you send more stuff over fewer fibers, an advancement developed mainly for the data center world but one that will also benefit places that expect to move a lot of data around, like Golden 1 Center.

Back in the old days, it was news when stadium networks upgraded to 1-gigabit per second pipes coming in to provide bandwidth. These days, many stadiums are talking multiple 10-gig pipes and even looking at 100-gig pipes (like Golden 1 Center will use from Comcast), meaning that the internal networks also need to get faster and wider to handle the never-ending increases in data use.

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Before its scheduled October opening we are sure we’ll hear more about the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS network deployments, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the underlying core network at Golden 1 Center should be able to handle data expansion for the foreseeable future thanks to the choice of the latest in fiber technology.

John Schmidt, vice president for CommScope’s Data Center solutions team, said the WBMMF products are primarily targeted at the data center market; but he also noted that with its own 6,000-square-foot data center, Golden 1 Center qualifies as the kind of place that will need the kind of future-proofing WBMMF can provide.

When the plans for Golden 1 Center were first talked about publicly, Schmidt said CommScope reached out to the Kings with a pitch about using the latest fiber technology in the core.

“It was clear they wanted something state of the art, with a great fan [network] experience,” Schmidt said. “We told them we could help with the physical layer, to support the bandwidth they would need.”

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Wi-Fi for concourses, suites makes its debut at Daytona 500

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Then connect to Wi-Fi!

Fans at Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR season opener will be able to connect to free Wi-Fi services in the new, wide concourses, suites, and midway area of the newly refurbished Daytona International Speedway, thanks to a new deployment led by Arris International, using Wi-Fi gear from Ruckus Wireless, management software from Aptilo and a new wiring infrastructure from CommScope.

According to Pete Wagener, senior vice president of sales operations at Arris, the already operational “phase 1” of the Wi-Fi network serves the new concourses, the VIP suites and the front-stretch “midway” area behind the seating structure. As part of the $400 million refurbishing of the historical racetrack, the first permanent deployment of Wi-Fi at Daytona was targeted at areas where the 101,500 fans who fill Daytona can congregate, Wagener said. A “phase 2” deployment will bring Wi-Fi to campgrounds and parking areas next year, but a “phase 3” plan to bring Wi-Fi directly to seating areas is still not yet a confirmed deal, Wagener said.

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

Under the “Daytona Rising” refurbishing of the speedway, the addition of wide concourse areas behind the main seating area and a newly designed “midway” area on the ground level gives fans more areas to congregate, and with video monitors and Wi-Fi, they can stay connected to the action on the track. A new mobile app is also ready for its Daytona 500 debut, with features like live wayfinding inside the stadium and a parking locator, no small thing in the huge lots that are filled on race days.

Wagener said the Wi-Fi network has already been tested a couple times, at the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, and at the Daytona qualifying events earlier in the month. He added that the network management system has already allowed the IT team to make adjustments, adding more Wi-Fi access points (there are now 250 in the current phase) to get ready for the expected traffic on race day.

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris

Planning for future needs now

Putting fan-facing networks into huge race tracks like Daytona has always been something owners were reluctant to do, since it was hard to justify the costs of covering hundreds of thousands of seats that only might be filled with fans a few days a year. Daytona itself had seen some mobile Wi-Fi deployments, mainly to cover areas like campgrounds or parking, but had never brought Wi-Fi into the actual stadium itself.

But now with more events scheduled for the Daytona facility — and a plan to use the Daytona network operations center as the central control unit for Wi-Fi deployments at other International Speedway Corporation tracks — Wagener said that with the highly granular analytics its system will produce, NASCAR will be able to more easily justify the cost of the network through targeted marketing and maybe even charging for higher tiers of service in the future, especially at the campgrounds and parking areas, where fans may want to consume more bandwidth during their overnight stays.

Wagener also said that Arris, which deployed Wi-Fi networks at the Charlotte Arena and at World Cup soccer sites in Brazil, is looking toward more stadium deployments in the future, calling it “the next frontier for our industry.” Best known perhaps for its work providing gear and infrastructure for Comcast’s consumer network, Wagener said Arris brings “carrier class expertise” that is necessary for deployments on the scale of a Daytona Speedway.

In a separate announcement, CommScope said that it was also a partner in the communications infrastructure for “Daytona Rising,” deploying miles of copper cabling and fiber optic lines to support the new Wi-Fi system as well as TV displays and other stadium infrastructure needs.

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

Ruckus, DAS Group Professionals, CommScope and Brocade all part of Sacramento Kings’ new tech-forward stadium

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Thursday morning at CES here in Las Vegas Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is scheduled to speak and will no doubt tell the CES attendees about the Kings’ new stadium, the Golden 1 Center, and about how tech-loaded it is by design. But Wednesday night details emerged about the vendors helping the Kings with their extensive wireless deployment, and the list includes Ruckus Wireless, DAS Group Professionals, Brocade and CommScope, among others.

As previously reported by Mobile Sports Report, Ruckus gear will be used in the Wi-Fi deployment not just at the 17,500-seat Golden 1 Center, but also in the surrounding area, which is supposed to include a new public plaza and other developments, including hotel, office, housing and retail space. In the press announcement of all the tech underpinnings the Kings do not state exactly how many Wi-Fi APs will be in the stadium proper but instead say that there will be “more than 1,000” APs in both the stadium and surrounding plaza and developments. UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded to clarify, saying there isn’t yet an exact AP count but density is expected to be in the area of one AP per 15 seats, which would put the final total well over 1,000 APs and easily be the most APs for a Wi-Fi deployment in any basketball/hockey arena we know of, and perhaps the most dense of any sporting venue (for now).

Since we’re nit-picking we’ll also question the Kings’ claim that Golden 1 Center will be “the first arena in the world to implement wide-band, multimode fiber technology” on the backbone, a curious claim since the fiber-based network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is already operational (and working quite well). UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded and say that their implementation differs from Texas A&M’s passive optical network; we will provide further details and comparisons in the near future.

The DGP team at Levi's Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

The DGP team at Levi’s Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

Frothy claims aside, we are very interested in hearing more about the venue’s tech underpinnings, especially the combined DAS/small cell deployment being installed by DAS Group Professionals, the builders of the DAS network at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. According to the Kings’ release wireless powerhouse CommScope will be part of the infrastructure as well (along with bandwidth provider Comcast, a deal that was announced last month), and network backbone gear provider Brocade will also be involved, making Golden 1 Center a mini-me kind of version of Levi’s Stadium, where Comcast, Brocade and DGP are all also involved. (This is also not so surprising since we have heard rumors that the Kings hired some IT folks who previously worked on the Levi’s Stadium deployment.)

If there is an outlier to the deal it’s the Wi-Fi presence of Ruckus, which has had a tough year when it comes to potential stadium deployments. First Ruckus had a deal for Wi-Fi at the new San Jose Earthquakes soccer stadium but lost that when Avaya booted Ruckus off the pitch by purchasing naming rights to now-Avaya Stadium for $20 million. More recently, Ruckus was part of an initial winning bid with integrator 5 Bars for the Wi-Fi deployment at Houston’s NRG Stadium, but was replaced at the last minute by Extreme Networks to unspecified and unconfirmed pressure, most likely by the NFL. On the plus side, Ruckus gear was used for the Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, as well as at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of the big spring pro tennis tourney.

We will try to fill in more blanks and details during Ranadive’s appearance Thursday (like who will be designing the team app, which we are guessing might be VenueNext), but the real proof of the Golden 1 pudding won’t come until October, since you never can tell how a stadium network will work until it’s turned on for a full house of device-holding fans. That’s why we don’t put much stock in theoretical claims, like the Kings’ ridiculous promise that the network can handle “over 500,000 Snapchat posts per second” — that’s some fast fingers for a full house of 17,500, no? When it comes to feeds and speeds we are firmly in the show-me house, so we hope the Kings and Golden 1 Center will be as open with their real-world statistics come next fall as they are with press-release superlatives now.