Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi saw 12 TB of data used at January’s college championship

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

The Wi-Fi network at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of data used at the 2018 College Football Playoff championship on Jan. 8, 2018, according to officals from the Atlanta Falcons, owners and operators of this city’s new distinctive venue.

We’d long suspected that Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in August of 2017, had seen big data days inside the 71,000-seat arena with its innovative technology, but until Sunday the Falcons had never made any network-performance data publicly available. But a day after the venue saw another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used during the SEC Championship game, Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, revealed the statistics during a live MSR visit at an Atlanta Falcons home game. The 12 TB mark (which was an estimate — we’ll check back with the Falcons for exact numbers) is the second-highest we’ve ever seen in our unofficial research of single-day Wi-Fi totals, trailing only the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII in February at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re confident and ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch during a pregame stadium tour, details of which we’ll dig into deeper in a full profile for our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report. Multiple network speed tests taken by MSR during Sunday’s 26-16 Falcons loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens showed robust Wi-Fi performance on the network that uses gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in a design from AmpThink.

DAS renovation complete

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

According to Branch, the cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) network inside Mercedes-Benz — a deployment that is at the center of a current lawsuit filed by contractor IBM against gear supplier and designer Corning — is also now at full deployment, with the completion of 700 new under-seat DAS antenna deployments, mostly in the upper seating deck.

MSR speed tests taken during Sunday’s game showed a wide range of DAS results, from single-digit tests in some tough-deployment areas to results near 100 Mbps directly in front of what looked like some new antenna deployments. Again, look for more details in our upcoming profile in the Winter Stadium Tech Report (due out in mid-December).

“We’re in a good place [with the DAS],” said Branch, though he did say there was going to be more DAS work done on the outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to when Super Bowl LIII comes to the venue on Feb. 3, 2019, mainly to help ensure that the move toward more digital Super Bowl tickets goes smoothly. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a couple of MatSing ball antennas in its rafters, there to bring DAS coverage to the sidelines of the playing field.

Sunday the Mercedes-Benz Stadium staffers were hosting a rare big-game back-to-back event, following Saturday’s packed-house tilt between SEC powers Alabama and Georgia, a championship-game rematch won by Alabama 35-28 after a dramatic comeback.

“That was a massive flip,” said Branch of the two-day stretch, which saw another huge data day Saturday with 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used. The network, sponsored by backbone provider AT&T, averages about a 50 percent take rate from event attendees, according to Branch, who gave praise to Aruba and AmpThink for their combined deployment efforts.

“The expectation for fans now is that there will be Wi-Fi [in a sports venue],” said Branch. “But I love it when friends come to me after a game and tell me ‘the Wi-Fi is so fast!’ ”

THE MSR TOP 17 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB*
3. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
4. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
5. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
6. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
7. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
8. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
9. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
10. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
11. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB*
12. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
13. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
14. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
15. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
16. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
17. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

* = pending official exact data

NFL CIO: Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s wireless is ‘ready for the Super Bowl’

The entry concourse at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The wireless networks at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium are “ready for the Super Bowl,” according to Michelle McKenna-Doyle, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NFL, who spoke to Mobile Sports Report via phone last week.

Though McKenna-Doyle would not comment on any of the particulars of the recent lawsuit filed by IBM against Corning that revolves around issues with the stadium’s distributed antenna system (DAS) cellular network, she did assert that any past problems have since been fixed, and that the league is confident the venue’s wireless systems will stand up to the stress test that will likely arrive when Super Bowl LIII takes place on Feb. 3, 2019.

“The [Atlanta] Falcons have been super-cooperative in remedying one of the challenges they had,” said McKenna-Doyle. “The networks will be ready for the Super Bowl.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium also has an Aruba-based Wi-Fi network, which has not been the subject of any lawsuit; however, stadium officials have also not ever released any performance statistics for the network since the stadium’s opening. According to IBM’s lawsuit documents, the company said it had to pay extra to fix the DAS network, a task it said was completed before the end of the 2017 NFL season.

Outside connectivity a challenge as well

While the Super Bowl is almost always the biggest single-day sports events for wireless connectivity, McKenna-Doyle added that this year’s version will be even a little more challenging than others since the league is in the process of moving fans to digital ticketing for its championship event.

“This year one of the new challenges is the move to paperless ticketing,” said McKenna-Doyle in a wide-ranging interview about NFL technology issues (look for a full breakdown of the interview in our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report). Though this year’s game will still have some paper-based ticket options, McKenna-Doyle said the lessons learned in ensuring good connectivity outside the stadium gates will help prepare for future Super Bowls, which will likely be all-digital ticketing.

One Super Bowl technology not yet decided is the game-day app, which for the past two years has been built by the NFL. In previous years, the league used versions of local game-day apps with Super Bowl additions, a direction McKenna-Doyle said the league might still take this year. Designed mainly as a way to help visitors find their way around an unfamiliar stadium and city, the Super Bowl app this year might need to lean on the local app to help integrate the digital ticket functionality, McKenna-Doyle said. The Falcons’ app for Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built by IBM.

First Look: Inside the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Big Bird greets all visitors to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

We’ll have much more to report on what we saw at the press day at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but we thought it was important to share these views as soon as we could — so here is an extended photo essay from the newest NFL venue (which will also be used for soccer). Unfortunately the Wi-Fi and DAS networks were live but not yet optimized, so we weren’t able to do any comprehensive speed testing (but hey, that’s what a regular season game is for!).

Overalll first impressions, technology wise — this is another well thought out venue specifically from a technology standpoint but also mainly just from a visual feel. The halo board is as impressive as advertised, though we would want to see it in action during a game (while sitting in a seat) to fully judge whether or not it fits in with the flow of an event. For advertisers it’s a wonder, as watching all the video screens in the house go to a synchronized ad video was a big wow factor.

Since much of the stadium interior is unfinished concrete, there wasn’t much of an effort to hide networking components — but given all the other piping and cabling, the equipment does kind of fade out of sight in plain view.

MSR welcomes you to the big house

It’s our educated guess that the AT&T Porch — a wide open gathering area in the end zone opposite the windows toward downtown — is going to be a popular hangout, since you can see the field and have multiple big screen TV options behind you. We also liked the “technology loge suites,” smaller four-person private areas just off the main concourse with their own small TV screens and wireless device charging.

On the app side of things, it’s fair to say that features will iterate over time — both the wayfinding and the food-ordering options are not wirelessly connected yet, but according to IBM beacons are a possible future addition to the mix. And while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to all-digital ticketing, season ticket holders will most likely use RFID cards on lanyards instead of mobile phone tickets simply because the RFID is a quicker option. The ticket scanners are by SkiData, fiber backbone by Corning, Wi-Fi APs by Aruba, and DAS by Corning and a mix of antenna providers.

Like we said, more soon! But enjoy these photos today, ahead of the first event on Aug. 26.

The view inside the main entry, with halo board visible above

The view from the other side of the field, from the AT&T Porch

Just hard to fit all this in, but you can see here from field to roof

I spy Wi-Fi, APs point down from seat bottoms to main entry concourse

One of the many under-seat APs

A good look at the roof: Eight “petals” that all pull straight out when open, which is supposed to take 7 minutes according to design

Good place for maximum coverage

View from the field

One of “hundreds” of mini-IDFs, termination points that bring fiber almost right to edge devices

The mega-vertical TV screen, just inside the main entry. 101 feet tall!

Something Falcons fans may like the most: Look at the prices!

MORE SOON!

AT&T to provide backbone bandwidth for Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi

In a somewhat surprising announcement, AT&T said it will provide backbone bandwidth for the Wi-Fi network at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, as part of a partnership deal that makes the carrier the “Official Communications Provider” for the Atlanta Falcons’ new home.

Announced today, the deal calls for AT&T to provide twin redundant 40 Gbps pipes to power the 1,800 Wi-Fi APs that are inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As reported earlier by MSR, the Mercedes-Benz Wi-Fi network will primarily use under-seat AP deployments in the seating bowl.

AT&T said it will also provide “monitoring and maintenance” for the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, and will also bring its DirecTV service to the venue’s IPTV system, making that content available to the more than 2,000 digital displays in the stadium. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled to formally open later this summer, for one of the Falcons’ preseason games.

What makes this announcement interesting to the stadium networking industry is the fact that there is no mention of any participation by AT&T on the venue’s DAS network, which will be running on Corning equipment. For most of the recent past, AT&T has been pulling away from stadium Wi-Fi deployments and concentrating on DAS funding in large public venues. Its main competitor Verizon Wireless has been much more active recently on the stadium Wi-Fi front, helping fund Wi-Fi deployments in a number of NFL stadiums, including those in Green Bay, Denver, Seattle, Houston and others. AT&T does continue to participate in network deployments at AT&T Park in San Francisco and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, among others.

The press release out today does not say whether or not AT&T customers will have their own SSID or network space reserved, a feature Verizon usually secures for its customers when it helps fund a stadium’s Wi-Fi network. The release did say that as part of the deal AT&T will also sponsor the “AT&T Perch,” which is described as “a permanent interactive gathering spot” located on the concourse above the stadium’s west end zone. According to the release the Perch will have multiple screens where fans can watch NFL content including DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket programming and the NFL Network’s RedZone channel.

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

Optical fiber, under-seat Wi-Fi will power wireless connectivity at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Aerial photo of Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction. Credit all photos and artist renderings: Merecedes-Benz Stadium (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Aerial photo of Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction. Credit all photos and artist renderings: Merecedes-Benz Stadium (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Once just a series of drawings on a blueprint, Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is getting more real by the day, with walls being added to steel beams, and wires for the internal networks being pulled into place.

Though the June 2017 opening day still is many months away, thanks to thoughtful planning many elements of the stadium’s network have already been tested, thanks to a facility created by stadium network officials to test components under situations as close to “live” as they could possibly get. That lab environment helped the network team make its final decisions on vendors and deployment methods, like going under-seat for deployment of most of the 1,000 Wi-Fi APs that will be in the stadium’s bowl area, part of a planned total of 1,800 APs in the entire venue.

In a recent interview with Jared Miller, chief technology officer at AMB Sports and Entertainment (the entity named for Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons), Mobile Sports Report got an exclusive update on the construction progress so far for the new $1.5 billion facility, along with new details about the internal network deployment, which will be using more optical fiber than any previous stadium network we know of.

Like the network built at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the network inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have a single optical core for Wi-Fi, cellular and video, using the Corning ONE platform and deployed by lead network integrator IBM along with Corning.

Wall panels being added to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Wall panels being added to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Miller also confirmed our earlier report that YinzCam software would be used to host the stadium’s IPTV deployment, but vendor choices for Wi-Fi gear and a stadium app have yet to be named.

As construction teams continue to hustle toward completion of the building, here are more details from our conversation with Miller about how the Falcons’ tech team went through the process of determining the products and methods that would allow them to construct a network able to “push the limits” on fan connectivity.

Under-seat for Wi-Fi, with handrail heat sinks

In our early August conversation with Miller, he was happy to report that the planned 4,000 miles of optical fiber were finally starting to be threaded into the new building. “We’re making great progress with a ton of yellow cable,” Miller said.

While the overall architecture at the network core in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be similar to the one IBM and Corning deployed at Kyle Field, Miller said that in Atlanta his team is pushing fiber even farther to the edge, “with only the last couple feet at most being copper.”

Interior suite construction with fiber cable visible

Interior suite construction with fiber cable visible

Miller said optical fiber, which can carry more data traffic at faster speeds than copper cable, is a necessary infrastructure underpinning for facilities like Mercedes-Benz Stadium that expect to host the biggest events like the Super Bowl and college football championship games. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is already slated to host Super Bowl LIII, the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, and the 2020 Final Four.

“I really believe [fiber] gives us the foundation to grow and react in the future, to handle technologies we don’t even know about yet,” Miller said.

On the Wi-Fi side of things, Miller said that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also mimic Kyle Field’s extensive use of under-seat APs in the bowl seating areas. Miller said the stadium will have 1,000 APs serving the seating areas and another 800 for the rest of the venue, for a total Wi-Fi AP count of 1,800.

Since the Mercedes-Benz Stadium network will be using more optical equipment closer to the edge, Miller said that his team used 3D printing experiments to craft custom enclosures for the under-seat APs, both to ensure they didn’t act as debris “traps” and also to add elements like an internal heat sink to diffuse the warmth from the extra electrical components. The heat sink solution involved attaching the AP elements to metal chair railings to dissipate heat, Miller said.

Testing the network before the building is built

After announcing its partnership with IBM in early 2015 as lead technology integrator, the stadium network team spent 6 months reworking the network design, Miller said, a process that confirmed the choice of optical networking at the core. Then to help the network team select gear and components, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium organization built a “full-scale lab facility” that Miller said allowed his team to build multiple live networks to test gear for performance and interaction with other network elements.

Artist rendering of outside of building

Artist rendering of outside of building

“The lab enabled us to see firsthand how gear behaved, not just alone but together [with other products],” said Miller, who added that at one time the network team had three simultaneous running stadium networks inside the lab.

“We were able to bring in different endpoint devices, like POS systems, and know how it’s going to behave [in a network],” Miller said. Plus, the network gave eventual business users of the planned gear time to get hands-on experience and training well before the stadium opens its doors.

On the DAS side of the network buildout, Miller said the stadium has an on-site, raised-floor room for DAS gear with “ample room” for future growth.

“One of those things we learned was that DAS [needs] always double,” Miller said.

YinzCam software for IPTV

Though the stadium hasn’t yet announced a provider for a game-day stadium application, Miller did confirm that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will use YinzCam software to control its IPTV system, which will cover the 2,500 or so TV screens inside the building.

Artist rendering of Falcons game configuration with roof open and 'halo' video board visible

Artist rendering of Falcons game configuration with roof open and ‘halo’ video board visible

“YinzCam is just the most intuitive and capable content management system,” Miller said.

Video is going to be a big part of the stadium from all angles, beginning with the one-of-a-kind “halo board,” a circular screen that will sit inside the retractable roof lines. For standard TV placements, Miller said Mercedes-Benz Stadium will use mainly 50-inch screens and will work with YinzCam to ensure the screens can be seen.

In the stadium’s suites, TV screens will be controlled by a tablet application; Miller said that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also “contemplating adding the ability to control TV screens with a mobile app,” like the system YinzCam deployed at Texas A&M.

Friendly food pricing and more to come

Though Miller’s concerns are mostly technological in nature, he said there are still a lot of improvements coming to the stadium “that are not always reliant on brute technology,” like the new lower-priced food menus the Falcons announced earlier this year that seem to harken another era with $2 Cokes and $2 hot dogs. Miller said the stadium team continues to get feedback from a fans’ council, which has tagged the arrival and departure experience as one of the main pain points that needs fixing.

Artist rendering of window wall with view to city

Artist rendering of window wall with view to city

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will try to alleviate ingress and egress issues by doing things like creating “ticketed spaces” perhaps on the big outdoor plazas where many fans can congregate even before entering the stadium doors. By creating such spaces, Miller said fans might be able to enter the stadium more rapidly without the logjams that sometimes occur.

“We’re going to study arrival patterns and see what it looks like,” Miller said. “We have one more season to test those kind of things.”

Another amenity that may emerge is the use of wireless charging stations at a number of locations, to combat a scenario that Miller said often happens at marquee events, mainly fans’ phones draining their batteries as they compete with other devices to connect to a wireless network.

“We are focusing on providing amazing connectivity and pushing the limits,” Miller said. “We are looking at all kinds of options to allow fans to stay connected and not be separated from their device.”