AT&T launching 5G-powered ‘fan experiences’ at AT&T Stadium for Cowboys opener

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium (not using 5G). Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

AT&T is launching what it calls ‘5G experiences’ for fans at AT&T Stadium on Sunday during the Dallas Cowboys’ NFL home opener, including some augmented-reality experiences that will let fans take selfies with huge-sized virtual NFL players or dodge virtual tacklers in an AR-type game.

While the 5G network powering the experiences inside the stadium won’t be open or available for general use, AT&T said it will have Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones on hand in several places around the venue for fans to test out the applications that AT&T claims “couldn’t be done wirelessly at this level before 5G.” And even though 5G networks are still a long ways away from being a mainstream reality for most wireless customers, you can expect the largest U.S. carriers to fight a 5G marketing battle all fall around football stadiums, especially at NFL venues where NFL partner Verizon is already at work installing 5G test networks for use this season. In fact, Verizon also has a press announcement out today about having installed 5G services in 13 NFL stadiums. So get ready, wireless types, it’s 5G season.

Here at MSR we will try to keep our heads above any claims of stadiums being the “first” 5G-enabled or 5G-ready until such networks are prevalent and available for any and all visitors. That being said, the activations planned by AT&T for Sunday’s Cowboys home opener against the New York Giants sound kind of cool, so if any MSR readers are on hand for the game please do try them out and send us a field report or at least a selfie or two.

According to an AT&T press release, the 5G-powered experiences available at the game Sunday will include a thing called “Hype Up Chants,” where fans will be able to see a 36-foot tall version of Cowboys players Dak Prescott and Ezekial Elliott among others by viewing them through the camera of a provided Samsung phone. Fans will also be able to record their own end zone dance next to virtual teammates, over a provided 3-D video again powered by the 5G network and a Samsung phone.

On the stadium’s east side fans will be able to “pose with the pros,” again recording a virtual video with players like Elliott in what AT&T is calling an “immersive column,” a setup connected to the 5G network via a Netgear Nighthawk 5G mobile hotspot. And at the stadium’s club level, another set of Samsung phones will be available to show off live player and team stats in a broadcast-like AR format, while other fans will get to play a virtual football game where they will dodge “virtual defensive robots,” who may or may not be more effective than the real humans on the football field.

We have an email in to AT&T to find out more details if possible, including any other vendors involved in AT&T’s millimeter-wave 5G setup inside its namesake arena. Stay tuned for updates as they become available. Below are some renderings of how the experiences are supposed to look.

The ‘Pose with the Pros’ column

The ‘Hype Up Chants’ look

Eagles see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi data for NFC Championship game on new Panasonic network

Panasonic Everest Wi-Fi APs (lower left, middle right) mounted underneath an overhang at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Credit: Panasonic (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Philadelphia Eagles saw 8.76 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 21 during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, a new high in one-day Wi-Fi usage for reported marks in games not called the Super Bowl.

Though the game’s position as No. 3 on our unofficial “top Wi-Fi” list (see below) may change as we get reports from other recent NFL playoff games, the mark is nevertheless impressive, and perhaps a big confirmation metric for Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business. According to Panasonic, its 654-Access Point network inside “The Linc” also saw 35,760 unique connections during the game, out of 69,596 in attendance; the network also saw a peak of 29,201 concurrent devices connected (which happened during the post-game trophy presentation), and saw peak throughput of 5.5 Gbps.

What’s most interesting about the new Panasonic network in Philadelphia is that it is a completely top-down deployment, meaning that most of the APs (especially the 200 used in the seating bowl) shoot signals down toward seats from above. While most new networks at football-sized stadiums (and some smaller arenas) have turned to under-seat or railing-mounted APs to increase network density in seating areas, Panasonic claims its new “Everest” Wi-Fi gear has antennas that can provide signals up to 165 feet away, with “electronically reconfigurable directional beam profiles” that allow for specific tuning of where the Wi-Fi signal can point to.

By also putting four separate Wi-Fi radios into each access point, Panasonic also claims it can save teams and venues money and time on Wi-Fi deployments, since fewer actual devices are needed. By comparison, other big, new network deployments like Notre Dame’s often have a thousand or more APs; Notre Dame, which uses railing-mounted APs in the seating bowl, has 685 in the seating bowl out of a total 1,096 APs. Many of the Notre Dame APs are Cisco 3800 devices, which have two Wi-Fi radios in each AP.

‘The Linc’ before last week’s NFC Championship game. Credit: Kiel Leggere, Eagles

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which uses Aruba Wi-Fi gear mainly deployed under seats in the bowl, has nearly 1,800 APs, with 1,000 of those in the seating bowl.

Antennas close to fans vs. farther away

From a design and performance standpoint, the under-seat or railing-mounted “proximate” networks are built with many APs close together, with the idea that fans’ bodies will intentionally soak up some of the Wi-Fi signal, a fact that network designers use to their advantage to help eliminate interference between radios. The under-seat AP design, believed to be first widely used by AT&T Park in San Francisco and then at a larger scale at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., was developed to help bring better signals to seats where overhang-mounted APs couldn’t deliver strong connectivity. Older concrete-bowl stadiums like Notre Dame’s also went with a proximate railing design for a similar lack of overhangs.

Though the Eagles’ IT team has repeatedly turned down interview requests from MSR since this summer, Danny Abelson, vice president connectivity for Panasonic Enterprise Solution Company, met with MSR last week to provide details of the deployment. Citing new, patented antenna technology developed specifically by Panasonic to solve the limitations of prior overhead gear, Abelson claims Panasonic can deliver a similar stadium experience for “two-thirds the cost” of an under-seat or railing-mount network design, with savings realized both in construction costs (since it is usually cheaper to install overhead-mounted equipment than under-seat or railing mounts due to drilling needed) and in the need for fewer actual APs, since Panasonic has four radios in its main Wi-Fi APs.

Eagles fans cheering their team to the Super Bowl. Credit: Hunter Martin, Eagles

Abelson, however, declined to provide the exact cost of the Panasonic network at Lincoln Financial Field, citing non-disclosure agreements. There are also more questions to be answered about a Panasonic deployment’s cost, including charges for management software and/or administration services. Currently, Abelson said, Panasonic includes the costs for management software and management personnel in its bids.

When it comes to how the Eagles found Panasonic, the team and the company already had an existing relationship, as Panasonic’s video-board division had previously supplied displays for the Linc. According to Abelson, Panasonic went through a performance test at several Eagles games last season, bringing in Wi-Fi gear to see if the new technology could provide coverage to areas where the Eagles said they had seen lower-quality coverage before. One of the forerunners in the NFL in bringing Wi-Fi to fans, the Eagles had previously used Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear to build a fan-facing network in 2013. Though the Eagles would not comment about the selection process, after issuing an RFP this past offseason the team chose Panasonic for a new network, which Abelson said was deployed in three months during the football offseason.

Re-opening the debate for antenna placement?

Though Mobile Sports Report has not yet been able to get to Philadelphia to test the new network in a live game-day situation, if Panasonic’s new gear works as promises the company may find many potential interested customers, especially those who had shied away from deploying under-seat networks due to the construction issues or costs.

The Panasonic system may be of particular interest to indoor arenas, like hockey and basketball stadiums, where the gear could be potentially mounted in catwalk areas to cover seating. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic deployment going in at the arena whose networks he oversees:

But even as the impressive 8.76 TB mark seen at the NFC Championship game now sits as the third-highest reported Wi-Fi data use event we’ve heard of (behind only the 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi seen at Super Bowl 50 and the 11.8 TB seen at Super Bowl 51), that number may fall a bit down the list if we ever get verified numbers for some network totals we’ve heard rumors about lately. (Or even any older ones! C’mon network teams: Check out the list below and let us know if we’ve missed any.)

So far this season, we haven’t gotten any reports of Wi-Fi usage out of the network team at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which recently hosted the college football playoff championship game), and we’ve only heard general talk about oversized playoff-game traffic at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. Like Notre Dame Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium uses a mostly railing-mounted AP deployment in its seating bowl; both networks were designed by AmpThink. We are also still waiting for reports from last week’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, where the previous non-Super Bowl top mark of 8.08 TB was set in September; and from any games this fall at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the NFL’s biggest stadium has 2,567 Wi-Fi APs.

Will overhead still be able to keep up as demand for more bandwidth keeps growing? Will Panasonic’s claims of lower costs for equal performance hold up? At the very least, the performance in Philadelphia could re-open debate about whether or not you need to deploy APs closer to fans to provide a good Wi-Fi experience. If all goes well, the winners in renewed competition will be venues, teams, and ultimately, fans.

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
6. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
7. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
8. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
9. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
10. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB

AT&T Stadium sees 7.25 TB of Wi-Fi for Packers vs. Cowboys playoff game

The Dallas Cowboys before taking the field against the Green Bay Packers in a Jan. 15 playoff game. Credit: James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys before taking the field against the Green Bay Packers in a Jan. 15 playoff game. Credit: James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

Pro football’s biggest stadium had the biggest non-Super Bowl Wi-Fi traffic day we’ve heard of this season, as the Dallas Cowboys reported seeing 7.25 terabytes of Wi-Fi data on the AT&T Stadium network during the Packers’ thrilling 34-31 victory on Jan. 15.

John Winborn, chief information officer for the Dallas Cowboys, sent us the info on the stadium’s biggest Wi-Fi day ever, surpassing the previous record of 6.77 TB seen on the AT&T Stadium Wi-Fi network for WrestleMania 32 back on April 5, 2016. The new total for Wi-Fi was even set by fewer fans, with attendance for the Jan. 15 playoff game at 93,396, compared to the 101,763 at WrestleMania.

Though he didn’t provide an exact number, Winborn also said that the take rate of unique clients on the Wi-Fi network for the Packers game was 50 percent of attendees, roughly 46,700, easily one of the biggest numbers we’ve seen anywhere. During the Cowboys’ excellent regular season, Winborn said the average of Wi-Fi data used per game was 5.28 TB, an increase of 33 percent over the 2015 season.

UPDATE: The AT&T folks have provided the DAS stats for the same game, with an additional 3 TB of data used on the AT&T cellular networks inside the stadium. So we’re up to 10.25 TB for a non-Super Bowl game… doubt we will get any other carriers to add their totals but sounds to me like this is the biggest non-Super Bowl event out there in terms of total data.

Any other NFL teams (or college teams) out there with peak games and/or season averages, send them in! Let’s keep updating this list!

THE NEW TOP 7 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
4. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
5. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
6. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
7. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB

Cowboys hit 2+ TB, Texas A&M sees 1.8+ TB in first AT&T DAS stats for 2016 football season

dx1With the first few football games of the season now under our belts, stats from stadium wireless networks are filtering in with a refrain we’ve heard before: Fan use of wireless data is still growing, with no top reached yet.

Thanks to our friends at AT&T we have the first set of cellular network stats in hand, which show a report of 2.273 terabytes of data used on the AT&T network at AT&T Stadium for the Cowboys’ home opener, a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 11. That same weekend the AT&T network at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, saw 1.855 TB of data during Texas A&M’s home opener against UCLA, a 31-24 overtime win over the Bruins.

Remember these stats are for AT&T traffic only, and only for the AT&T network on the DAS installations in and around the stadiums. Any other wireless carriers out there who want to send us statistics, please do so… as well as team Wi-Fi network totals. Look for more reports soon! AT&T graphics below on the first week results. We figure you can figure out which stadiums they’re talking about by the town locations.

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Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.21.58 AM

Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium see lots of Wi-Fi for Seahawks visits

Seahawks vs. Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, Nov. 1. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

Seahawks vs. Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, Nov. 1. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

So far this NFL season we’ve seen something that we call the Patriots effect, where games featuring the defending Super Bowl champs as visitors produce big numbers on the stadium Wi-Fi networks. There appears to be a similar trend following the Seattle Seahawks around, especially when they’re playing NFC rivals like the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, as both those teams’ stadiums saw big Wi-Fi days during recent Seahawks visits.

The Niners were first to get a Seahawks effect, carding 2.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi network usage during Seattle’s 20-3 victory over San Francisco at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 22. According to figures provided by Roger Hacker, senior manager of corporate communications for the Niners, out of the 70,799 in attendance for the Thursday-night game there 16,299 unique users on the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium, with a maximum concurrent user number of 10,306.

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Last Sunday at AT&T Stadium, the Seahawks escaped with a narrow 13-12 win in front of 91,486 fans. According to figures provided by Dallas Cowboys chief information officer John Winborn, there were 36,388 unique users on the Wi-Fi network, with a peak of 24,667 concurrent users. The total tonnage used Sunday at AT&T Stadium was 4.12 TB, perhaps proving once again that 4+ TB is becoming the “new normal” for high-fidelity networks in the largest stadiums.

Keeping the Wi-Fi hidden: AT&T Stadium perfects the art of Wi-Fi AP concealment

Wi-Fi antennas visible under the 'shroud' covering the outside of the overhang at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Dallas Cowboys (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi antennas visible under the ‘shroud’ covering the outside of the overhang at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Dallas Cowboys (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Since they like to do everything big in Texas, it’s no surprise that the IT team at AT&T Stadium has taken the art of Wi-Fi access point concealment to new heights.

To just above the first and second seating levels of the stadium, that is.

Even though the venue has more Wi-Fi APs than any sports stadium we’ve ever heard of, trying to find any of the 1,900 permanently installed APs is a tough task, thanks to measures like the fiberglass shrouds that circle the stadium just above the first and second seating levels. Underneath those custom-built coverings are numerous Wi-Fi APs, DAS antennas and even cameras, all contributing to the high level of connectivity inside AT&T Stadium while remaining invisible to the visiting fan’s eyes.

“The philosophy throughout the stadium is for a clean, stark look,” said John Winborn, chief information officer for the Dallas Cowboys Football Club, which is the primary tenant of the venue. “That’s a high standard, and that is a real challenge for us when it comes to Wi-Fi and DAS.”

In just about every stadium network deployment we write about, concealment and aesthetics are always one of the top concerns, especially when it comes to Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas. For some reason, the physical appearance of an obvious piece of technology evokes strong reactions, even as other necessary structural items are ignored.

(Editor’s note: This story is an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, the PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD right now from our site. In the report our editorial coverage includes a profile of the new Wi-Fi network at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and team-by-team profiles of Wi-Fi and DAS deployments at all 31 NFL stadiums. Get your copy today!)

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

A clean, sleek look at the house that Jerry built

As one anonymous commentator at this summer’s SEAT conference noted, “stadium supervisors don’t ever care about seeing a 4-inch pipe, but leave one antenna out and they go crazy.” And whoever that stadium person is, he or she probably has a kindred soul in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

An unseen antenna is Jerry Jones’ favorite kind. Winborn said that AT&T Stadium embraces design in all things visible, noting that the “clean look” idea extends to advertising inside the seating bowl, where the only permanent signs are located in the end zone areas.

“We’re very conscious of the aesthetics here,” Winborn said. “Everyone here sees the benefit of what a great looking building can be. And it all starts with [Jerry] Jones.” Jones’ ideas, Winborn said, “are a major influence on everything we do.”

What that means when it comes to Wi-Fi is that while the stadium always aims to be the best-connected venue around – for this football season, AT&T Stadium will have 1,900+ permanent Wi-Fi APs and another 100 or so available for temporary placements – it also aims to hide the physical gear as much as possible. In suites and hallways there is the natural solution of putting antennas behind ceiling panels, but in the seating bowl, Winborn said, “we don’t have a lot of areas to hide them. We’ve had to become pretty clever about ways to hide APs.”

Two years ago, when the stadium’s AP count was going up from 750 to 1,250, the idea came about to design a custom fiberglass “shroud” that would circle the arena on the front of the overhangs above the first and second seating levels.

A row shot of the under-seat APs. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

A row shot of the under-seat APs. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

“We’re very conscious of the aesthetics here,” Winborn said. “Everyone here sees the benefit of what a great looking building can be.

Winborn said one of the IT staff members had contacts in the manufacturing world, which helped the Cowboys build a slighly convex design that wouldn’t be readily apparent to the untrained eye, yet be big enough to house Wi-Fi and DAS gear all the way around the bowl.

Winborn said the shroud and its underlying gear were installed during one of the recent off-seasons, taking about a couple months – and the final result was so good that Winborn says he needs to use a laser pointer to show interested parties exactly where the equipment shroud sits. Since it’s fiberglass the shroud is somewhat easy to move to allow administration and maintenance of the equipment, but the seamless flow of the structure around the bowl may just be the most elegant AP hiding strategy in the short history of stadium Wi-Fi.

But even with the shrouds there was still a need for more new placements, especially in the middle of the open seating areas. So last year the AT&T Stadium team started deploying under-seat AP enclosures, working with design teams at the AT&T Foundry program to build a custom unit that is much smaller and unobtrusive than other under-seat AP enclosures currently in use.

“We worked with the AT&T Foundry and went through [testing] about a half-dozen models,” Winborn said, before finally arriving at a design that worked well and stayed small. “It’s about the size of a small cigar box,” said Winborn of the under-seat APs, 300 of which were installed in the 100-level seating last year. Another 250 are being installed for this year up in the 300-level seating, he said.

Winborn credited the early use of under-seat APs by the IT team at AT&T Park in San Francisco as a welcome guide.

Here's the big bowl that needs to be filled with Wi-Fi. Photo: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Here’s the big bowl that needs to be filled with Wi-Fi. Photo: Paul Kapustka / MSR

“I talked to the Giants and Bill [Schlough, the Giants’ CIO] and had my concerns” about under-seat APs, Winborn said. “But after they did it and had only one complaint in 2 years, that raised my comfort level.”

Like the Giants’ under-seat APs, the ones in AT&T Stadium are designed to be as maintenance-free as possible, so that they can be steam washed and not harmed by spills or any other physical interactions. Winborn said the Cowboys have even started putting sealant and paint over the top of the under-seat APs, “so they look just like a bump.”

With 1,900 to 2,000 APs available, it might seem like the AT&T Stadium IT crew has enough APs for now, so they can relax a bit when it comes to finding new ways to hide Wi-Fi gear. But Winborn knows the next surge is probably right around the corner (including early results from this season showing 4+ terabytes of Wi-Fi use).

“Everything we are giving the fans [in Wi-Fi bandwidth] they are gobbling it up, pretty quickly,” Winborn said.