Vegas Golden Knights get Wi-Fi boost at T-Mobile Arena

Vegas Golden Knights fans congregate during pregame in the outdoor “Park” next to T-Mobile Arena. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In hockey, it’s called being caught shorthanded. Outnumbered on a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rush, or down a player due to a penalty, it’s never fun to compete without an appropriate amount of resources.

In Las Vegas this winter the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, found themselves somewhat shorthanded on the wireless side of things when the Wi-Fi network in their castle — a building also known as T-Mobile Arena — couldn’t quite keep up with the demand generated by the Knights’ smashing debut.

But by deploying a classic Vegas strategy — going “all in” with a quick network upgrade that added nearly 200 access points — The Knights, T-Mobile Arena and connectivity partner Cox Business brought the Wi-Fi in line with the team’s first-place level of play, ensuring that fans will be able to share whatever happens in Vegas during the upcoming playoff run on a high-density network that reaches from the rink to the roof, as well as outside the arena.

Needing the feedback of regular fans

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Visiting team fans also have made T-Mobile Arena a popular NHL spot this season.

While the building itself has been open now for nearly 2 years, its original accelerated construction time frame and the uncertainty of the NHL bid meant that network deployments inside T-Mobile Arena were always going to have some wait and see attached.

“The original network design was kind of a best guess,” said Vikrant Bodalia, director of technology operations for MGM Resorts International (which co-owns T-Mobile Arena in a joint venture with the Anschutz Entertainment Group), during an interview and tour of the stadium the day after MSR attended a Knights game during the regular season.

When the arena opened there were approximately 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs throughout the building, but according to Bodalia there were only about 66 of those in the lower seating bowl. While there were some that were mounted under seats, those APs were few in number and mainly in the lowest rows, where Bodalia said performance was weakened by interference from fans’ bodies.

In between the time when T-Mobile Arena opened its doors in April of 2016 and the start of the current NHL season, every event was different from the next one, meaning that new fans filled the arena each time. The high percentage of “transient” crowds, Bodalia said, made it hard to get good feedback on how the Wi-Fi network was performing.

Cisco Wi-Fi APs in custom enclosures designed by Cox Business ring the overhangs above the main seating bowl.

Once the Golden Knights started playing, however, fan feedback was “very vocal and very good,” Bodalia said. Though it was always expected that there would be some rush in popularity for an expansion team, the surge in season ticket sales (team officials said attendance is more than 75 percent season ticket holders) is probably at the high end of expectations.

Add in to that the appeal for visiting teams’ fans to spend time in Vegas, along with the completely unexpected division-leading on-ice performance, and you have a sort of perfect storm that pushed bandwidth demands early on. For Bodalia and his IT team it was game on, with a quick research project into the best way to add more capacity, followed by an all-hours plan to get the job done.

Going under seat, without core drilling

One technique that has worked well in other stadiums — putting Wi-Fi APs into handrail enclosures — didn’t work at T-Mobile Arena mainly because the height of the railings was too low. A few test deployments didn’t produce the desired performance, Bodalia said, so that path was rejected.

Instead, the team of Cox Business, T-Mobile Arena and Bodalia’s MGM squad settled on a plan to deploy under-seat Wi-Fi APs, a deployment with a split degree of difficulty since about half the lower-bowl seats are on a retractable metal infrastructure to allow for customizable seating arrangements.

New under-seat Wi-Fi APs in the lower bowl

For the APs placed under concrete-mounted seats, Bodalia’s team devised a method of deployment that did not require them to drill through the concrete for each placement. Instead, the APs used low-profile conduit that stretched beneath the seats to the walkways, where connections could be consolidated. The T-Mobile Arena crew even tucked some of the wiring underneath rubber gaskets between concrete partitions, a method also used at Notre Dame Stadium to get cabling to APs without going through the concrete.

For the APs located on movable stands, Bodalia said the key was to find a method that didn’t disrupt the sometimes daily need to move the seats back and forth to comply with the venue’s busy schedule of concerts and events other than Knights games. What they ended up with was a design that included multiple switch-mounting sites on the walls underneath the backs of the stands, and then flexible “caterpillar” tracks to host cables, which would curl up or stretch out as needed, without having to detatch cables while physically moving the stands. At project’s end, there are now 200-plus APs in the main lower seating bowl, more than triple the initial deployment.

Wi-Fi as solid as the team on the ice

So with the three-month project now finally complete — after a lot of midnight shifts to get the work done between games and other events — how does the T-Mobile Arena Wi-Fi perform now? In a one-game visit by Mobile Sports Report during a Knights contest against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, we found Wi-Fi connectivity solid in every part of the venue, from the fan park outside to the rinkside seats to the upper reaches of the “castle.”

One of the many solid Wi-Fi speed tests we took in T-Mobile Arena.

What was surprising upon arriving at the venue was the relative “maturity” of the fan base — while some had predicted that visiting fans would overwhelm the locals this season, instead the opposite is true, with families, couples and packs of Knights fans flooding the zone outside T-Mobile. In a well-thought arrangement, the surrounding area between the New York, New York, the Monte Carlo and T-Mobile Arena is an already successful “fan zone” with open spaces for games and portable concession stands, and several watering holes filled to the brim an hour before game time.

After clicking a single box on a splash screen to accept terms for the Wi-Fi service, we got speed results of 42.4 Mbps on the download and 33.7 Mbps on the upload standing in the middle of the plaza outside the main gates as fans flowed by. Switching to cellular, we got a reading of 16.2 Mbps/9.25 Mbps at the same spot on the Verizon network. According to T-Mobile Arena, there is a neutral host DAS in and around the venue that supports all four of the top carriers.

Inside the arena, we went right down to the lower bowl to find and test some of the new under seat APs, and got a mark of 56.5 Mbps/54.7 Mbps in Row J of Section 17, in line with a face-off circle near one of the goal lines. Moving up we got a test of 61.5 Mbps/52.3 Mbps in a packed-house Bud Light Club on the main concourse and a 56.2 Mbps/50.3 Mbps mark in the Goose Island club, which serves the suite level on the third floor.

The world’s lonliest seat.

We couldn’t get inside either of the two “sky lounges” or the Hyde Park club on the arena’s top levels since they had private parties that night, but we did find the lonliest seat in the arena — a single-seat row in section 209, at the highest regular-seating apex. Even with the challenging RF and tight spaces we still got a Wi-Fi reading of 21.8 Mbps/22.4 Mbps, showing that Bodalia’s team didn’t ignore the hard places.

It was fun to watch the Golden Knights’ Vegas-style pregame ceremony, which includes a fun “pulling the sword from the stone” routine to help fire up the fans. But the very vocal Vegas contingent — watch out for their clever coordinated shout during a certain part of the national anthem — doesn’t appear to need much help, as there is an infectious enthusiasm pervading the building, one that you might not expect from such a non-traditional “hockey town” as Las Vegas.

On one level, the team is a perfect antidote for the local pain caused by the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay last fall; many fans sported Knights jerseys with “Vegas Strong” written across the top of the back, and there is a very classy segment during the evening where a “Vegas Strong Hero” gets honored. The night we attended the “hero” was a nurse who stayed on duty that dark night helping to save many lives; she was honored with a standing ovation.

But now, following the Knights’ first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, you can add Stanley Cup excitement to the mix, adding to the network pressure as fans will want to connect and share more. The good news is, thanks to the recent upgrades there is now a Wi-Fi network to match the team’s performance, no matter how far they advance.


Fans pack a nearby beer garden before a Knights game

A view of the Park from one of the arena’s outside lounge areas

Some premium loge seats have interactive TVs at T-Mobile Arena

One of the two sky lounges that extend over the main seating area

Knights games offer a savvy blend of hockey and Vegas showbiz expertise

Wi-Fi gear for new APs mounted on walls underneath the moveable stands

APs for under-seat deployments in moveable stands were mounted underneath the seating floor

A unique ‘caterpillar’ track keeps APs connected as stands are moved back and forth

Wi-Fi, DAS ready for CES crowds at Las Vegas Convention Center

The crowded show floor at last year’s CES. Credit: CES

Like the Rat Pack and the Riveria, bad wireless connectivity at CES is something that should be part of ancient Las Vegas history, thanks to the relatively new DAS and Wi-Fi networks that now cover the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In December 2016, Cox Business/Hospitality Network and InSite Wireless Group finished the deployment of an $18 million neutral-host distrubuted antenna system (DAS) covering the LVCC, one that is used (and was mainly paid for) by the four top U.S. wireless carriers. Combined with a free-to-the-public Wi-Fi network in the LVCC deployed by Cox Business 3 years ago, attendees at big conventions like the yearly CES gathering should have no problem connecting their mobile devices, either via cellular or Wi-Fi, while in the sprawling LVCC.

Though it’s not a stadium, for big events like the 175,000-strong CES the LVCC can see Super Bowl-type wireless traffic numbers, not a great surprise since convention attendees may even use their devices more than sports fans on event days. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, at last year’s CES the LVCC’s Wi-Fi network saw more than 200,000 unique device connections, and carried more than 6.4 terabytes of data, numbers that the LVCVA expect to be exceeded at this year’s CES in early January 2018.

And while DAS traffic numbers have not been reported, it’s a good guess that the new network saw heavy use as well last year, finally completing the LVCVA’s goal to bring up-to-date connectivity to its main convention halls.

Big halls mean a big design challenge

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A DAS antenna outside the main entrance. Credit: LVCVA

Several years ago, the Wi-Fi connectivity inside the LVCC halls was a crapshoot, with an existing network of approximately 166 APs having to compete for spectrum space with thousands of phone-based Wi-Fi hotspots. According to John Fountain Jr., director of network technology for Cox Business, the network deployed by Cox ahead of the 2015 CES show has approximately 2,000 Cisco access points in and around the LVCC, with more portable APs added for temporary structures like the big tents that are set up in the parking lots.

Though the network operators still have to work around the challenge of folks who are trying to run their convention business operations off a device-based hotspot — or as Fountain calls them, “a ‘non-provided AP,’ ” with its new network capacity Cox can offer reasonably priced Wi-Fi services to booths, with separate and secure SSIDs. The good news is, since most device hotspots still operate on 2.4 GHz spectrum, it leaves the wider 5 GHz spectrum open for direct device connections.

“The vast majority of devices [for attendees] are now on 5 GHz,” said Fountain.

Like many stadiums, the physical construction of the LVCC’s halls presented a challege for Wi-Fi deployment, especially the high ceilings and the long spans between walls in the seemingly never-ending main rooms. “The halls mainly have ceiling heights between 35 and 50 feet, and for Wi-Fi anything above 35 feet is problematic,” Fountain said. Cox solved some of the issues by using Gillaroo antennas, the flat-panel devices that can help direct the Wi-Fi signals in a particular direction.

Overhead Wi-Fi antenna hanging from the ceiling. Credit: LVCVA

Fountain also said that Cox ended up having to put 80 local nodes in the LVCC ceiling areas, just to get switches close enough to APs since there sometimes weren’t enough wall spaces in rooms that are up to a quarter mile in length. The Wi-Fi network is fed by a redundant 10 Gbps fiber connection and used 40 miles of new fiber. With the costs for new wiring included, Fountain said the Wi-Fi network cost Cox $12 million to deploy.

Getting the carriers to pay for DAS

And even though the current trend of the industry is seeing the big wireless carriers seeking to spend less on DAS deployments at large venues, the LVCVA didn’t have much of a problem convincing the wireless providers to pony up. Lawrence Roney, executive director of information technology for the LVCVA, said that the carriers’ desire to maintain good coverage for their customers at big events — especially CES, where carriers often announce new services and devices — made paying for the LVCC DAS an easy sell.

With the big conventions, the LVCC “brings customers to the carriers, so I have better luck getting funding,” said Roney, who said the LVCVA didn’t pay any of the system’s $18 million cost. The new DAS, he said, has 295 antenna locations that provide the equivalent of 14 cell sites of coverage, with 44 total zones, 38 indoor and six outdoor. Cox and InSite used the CorningONE system for the DAS, and the new network also has its own new 5,500-square foot head end room with backup power and cooling systems. Launched just before last year’s CES, Roney said he “didn’t hear a peep” about bad cellular connections, the no-news-is-good-news sign that your network is performing up to expectations.

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.

T-Mobile Arena lights up on Vegas Strip

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Though we haven’t yet been to a live event at T-Mobile Arena, a summertime visit to the new venue revealed a sparkling 20,000-seat arena with a well-planned Wi-Fi network that seems ready to handle the expected crowds that will soon repeatedly fill the venue.

Thanks to a personal technology tour hosted by Cox Business, the entity behind the Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, we saw many of the 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs, including many that were housed in custom enclosures that the Cox team designed specifically for T-Mobile Arena. Both aesthetics and functionality came into play for the innovative enclosure designs, some of which can be tilted for more exact event-by-event tuning. The arena, a $375 million joint project between AEG and MGM Resorts, opened on April 6, 2016.

Getting ready for the Golden Knights

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!

With two 10-gbps pipes providing backhaul, the arena’s network should be able to easily handle the traffic generated by its upcoming list of events, which will be heavy on concerts until the NHL expansion franchise (recently announced as the Vegas Golden Knights) arrives. There is also a cellular DAS inside the venue, built with equipment from JMA Wireless.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Construction details that we saw that you may not have heard about include the fact that a large percentage of the bowl seats are on moveable tracks, allowing for maximum flexibility in configuration. To compensate for the lack of fixed infrastructure the Cox team used the hanging scoreboard as a prime placement area for Wi-Fi APs, helping solve the traditional bottom-of-the-bowl coverage issues.

Another place where T-Mobile Arena has turned stadium design on its head is with its two “sky lounges” and another exclusive-seating club area at the very top of the building, changing the old “nosebleed seats” section into ultra-lounge type areas that should prove popular for both sporting and entertainment events. The sky lounges in particular are striking, twin triangular decks that jut out over the lower-bowl seats.

From a technology perspective there is also a section of premium seats with tabletop-mounted small TV screens, as well as extra wireless coverage for the press box section. MSR is looking forward to attending a live event at T-Mobile Arena soon, to fully test the impressive looking network installed there. Enjoy the following photo essay: Credit all photos, Paul Kapustka, MSR.

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Panoramic view of the arena seating bowl.

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One of the distinctive “sky lounges” that juts out over the lower seats.

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Close-up of an AP enclosure with the “skyline” art in the background.

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A Wi-Fi antenna points down from the rafters.

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Wi-Fi APs (and speakers) visible on the bottom of the main center scoreboard.

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A Wi-Fi AP enclosure for outdoor lounge area.

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Inside that same AP enclosure.

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One of the under-seat AP enclosures.

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See you soon!

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.