Cranes, dust dominate Los Angeles venue sites

Three Los Angeles-areas venues are under construction for soccer, football and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Workers install turf at the Banc of California Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

Between the cranes, earthmovers and swarms of fluorescent vests, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Los Angeles basin for a construction zone. Sporting-wise, there are three construction zones, including a new stadium for a Major League Soccer latest expansion franchise, the venerable Coliseum gets a much needed renovation, and a bling-y NFL stadium starts to emerge from the silt of the Angeles alluvial plain.

Construction or renovation plans for all the venues were underway before the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles last fall; all three venues are expected to host Olympic events in a decade.

Banc of California Stadium opening this April

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of the Vegas Golden Knights’ T-Mobile Arena and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Let’s take them in the order they’re expected to open. In its inaugural season, Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, Los Angeles Football Club, is moving with speed and efficiency to make sure the Banc of California Stadium is ready for LAFC’s first home game April 29.

The 22,000-seat venue features steep stands (35-degree angles), with no seat more than 135 feet from the playing field. IBM was tapped to handle the stadium’s technology requirements in October 2016; Ruckus supplied the access points for the new stadium, according to Christian Lau, LAFC’s VP of information technology. About 500 APs will blanket the stadium with Wi-Fi; Lau told Mobile Sports Report that number could “possibly trend higher.”

Construction at the LA Coliseum

Right next door (literally) is the Los Angeles Coliseum, where demolition began in January after the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams playoff loss to Atlanta. Located on the campus of the University of Southern California, the Coliseum is home field for both the Rams (at least til 2020… more on that in a second), and the USC Trojan football team. The Coliseum has already hosted opening ceremonies for two Olympiads and is poised to do the honors again.

Coliseum upgrade means fewer seats, more Wi-Fi

In the meantime, construction crews are working 16 hours a day, six days a week, according to Derek Thatcher, IT manager at the Coliseum and an employee of USC, which oversees and administers the venue for Los Angeles County. This is the eighth renovation of the 97-year old venue; in addition to making the bowl ADA-compliant, this latest upgrade will add more aisles and larger seats, reducing capacity from 93,607 to 77,500.

New Wi-Fi is also part of the renovation plan; no word yet on which vendor will supply gear, though Mobilitie donated Aruba APs last year for use in the student section and elsewhere in the bowl.

About half the Coliseum’s $270 million renovation will be done during this year’s football offseason; a new field and refurbished seats will be ready for the Rams and Trojans by late summer. Remaining construction and upgrades will be completed in the 2019 offseason, according to Coliseum officials.

Meanwhile, 9 miles southwest of USC in the LA suburb of Inglewood, the arcs of a bowl for the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park
are taking shape. Construction crews broke ground in late 2016 to transform a 300-acre site into a gleaming new sporting destination. The $2.6 billion complex will be shared by the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers starting in 2020; LA Stadium is scheduled host the Super Bowl in February 2022.

With a capacity of 70,000 (expandable to 100,000), the stadium’s indoor/outdoor design and a two-sided, 120-yard oculus video display are already generating buzz. Site managers haven’t mentioned any network technology or which vendors they’re considering for wireless and other IT requirements. LA’s Olympic planning committee also reserved the option to use the stadium and the Coliseum for dual-venue opening and closing ceremonies in 2028. Using the Coliseum satisfies the Olympic purists; mixing in LA Stadium would provide the glitzy spectacle global audiences have come to expect from Olympics hosts.

Wrigley Field gets new DAS in time for Cubs’ home opener

The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field will have a new DAS working for opening day. Credit for these 2017 season pictures: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After some construction delays that no Chicago Cubs fans minded, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will have a new high-performance distributed antenna system (DAS) operational for Monday’s scheduled Cubs home opener for the 2018 season.

Designed and deployed by DAS Group Professionals, the new in-stadium cellular network was originally scheduled to be ready by last year; but when the Cubs took their historic march to the World Series title in 2016, many of the in-progress construction plans for Wrigley Field got delayed or rearranged, to the objection of nobody at all who cheers for the north siders.

And even though some of the most ambitious parts of the Wrigley renovation took place this winter — including removing most of the seats and concrete in the lower seating bowl to clear the way for some lower-level club spaces — the DGP crew along with the Cubs’ IT organization delivered the new cell network in time for the first pitches scheduled Monday afternoon.

Wi-Fi coming in as season goes on

“We definitely put scheduling and timing to the test, but we got it done,” said Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, in a phone interview. First announced back in 2015, the networking plan for the Wrigley renovations — which includes coverage for the plaza outside the stadium, the new team office building as well as the across-the-street Hotel Zachary that also just opened for business — also includes a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Extreme Networks. Since the Wi-Fi network is more construction-conflicted than the DAS deployment, it will be introduced gradually over the next few months, McIntyre said.

“By the All-Star break, we should have both systems online,” McIntyre said.

The DAS system deployed by DGP uses JMA equipment, just like DGP’s other big-stadium DAS deployments at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Steve Dutto, president of DGP, acknowledged the challenge of the Wrigley buildout, including one instance where DGP technicians needed to set up scaffolding to mount antennas but couldn’t because instead of a concrete floor there was a 60-foot hole in the ground.

Hey hey!

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto. According to Dutto DGP has signed up all four major U.S. wireless carriers for the DAS, with all except Sprint operational for opening day. The head-end building for the DAS, he said, is located in what he thinks is a former hot-dog stand a half a block from the park. (If you’re looking for a snack in the head end room, just remember, in Chicago there’s no ketchup on hot dogs.)

Dutto said the DAS antennas are all overhead mounts, not a problem in Wrigley since the overhangs offer plenty of mounting spaces. However, given the historic look and feel of the park, Dutto did say that “we definitely had to tuck things away better and make sure we had good paint matches.” Not a Chicago native, Dutto said that the charm of the stadium hit him on first view.

“When we pulled up for the first time,” he said, “it was… wow. There’s nothing like it.”

Under seat for Wi-Fi will take time to deploy

The Cubs’ McIntyre, who admits to guzzling coffee by the quart these days, said the field-level renovations — which included removing all lower seats and the foundational concrete to clear out room for field-level club spaces — made finishing the Wi-Fi deployment something that couldn’t be pushed. With no overhangs covering the premium box seat areas, Wi-Fi APs there will need to be mounted under seats, something that just couldn’t get finished by Monday.

“It’s less of a technical challenge and more of a structural engineering challenge,” said McIntyre of the under-seat deployment method, which usually involves a lot of work with drilling through concrete and mounting APs in weather-sealed enclosures. McIntyre said the Cubs and Extreme also plan to use under-seat deployments in Wrigley’s famous outfield bleachers, which also lack any overhead infrastructure. In what he termed a “slow roll,” McIntyre said parts of the Wi-Fi network will come online gradually as the season progresses, starting first with the spaces outside the stadium.

Bringing backbone power to the new network is partner Comcast Business, which just announced a sponsorship deal with the Cubs that will see a “XfinityWiFi@Wrigley” label on the Wrigley Wi-Fi SSID. According to McIntyre Comcast will bring in twin 10-Gbps pipes to power the Wrigley Wi-Fi network.

This panoramic view shows why the lower level seats will need under-seat APs for Wi-fi

SEAT founder launches venue business-strategy firm

Christine Stoffel

Christine Stoffel, founder of the popular SEAT conference, has banded together with some top sports & entertainment industry executives to form The Executive Advocates (TEA), a venue business-strategy consulting firm with a wide menu of potential services.

Joining Stoffel in the founding of TEA are partners Katee Panter and Douglas Moss; Denise Taylor, CIO for Westfield Inc., will serve as an advisory board member to TEA.

The 20-year technology veteran Panter, who was most recently senior vice president of enterprise technology for New York icon venue Madison Square Garden, said in a prepared statement that “TEA’s mission will enable businesses to derive value from their people and technology investments.” According to the press release announcing the firm, TEA’s service offerings include: executive recruitment and placement, strategic technology roadmap consulting, tech solution and design, real estate-technology project management and financial oversight, all based on “insights & research from years of technical and executive leadership.”

“TEA are the voices of industry leaders brought together to support organizations with transparency, integrity and candor,” said Stoffel, in a prepared statement. “We are championing the drive for excellence from the top down, in every organization starting with executive recruitment through providing consultancy expertise on experiential technology solutions and design. It’s exciting to bring these offerings to our industry peers, colleagues and friends across the globe with this talented group.”

Venue consulting firms on the rise

Moss, a 30-year veteran of the sports and entertainment industry, has a resume that includes serving as president of the Buffalo Sabres, Phoenix Coyotes and International Hockey League, senior vice president of business operations for the Anaheim Ducks and president of Madison Square Garden Network.

“I look forward to be working with [the TEAM team] and our colleagues around the globe as we continue of journey of connecting technology, business and people,” Moss said.

The launch of TEA follows another recent high-profile gathering of minds in the venue consulting arena. A firm called 27/17 Innovations was formed by former Corning and IBM executive Todd Christner, calling itself in part “a firm focused on the end-user experience as the sustainable source of competitive differentiation, regardless of industry.” May the battles for RFPs begin!

Gold-medal wireless discovered at PyeongChang Winter Olympics

When I saw Chloe Kim’s now-famous “hangry” tweet hit the Internet, I wasn’t so much amazed that an Olympic athlete would tweet in the middle of competition — I was more stunned that on a ski hill she could tweet, obviously without any connectivity issues.

In winning the snowboard halfpipe competition Kim became one of the new popular stars of the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, backing up her shredding skills with an adept mastery of Twitter. But her simple ability to connect while at a somewhat remote mountainside location may have been another victory for one of the Olympics’ undersung heroes, the apparent gold-medal connectivity that was in place at just about every venue involved in the PyeongChang fortnight, according to an on-the-scene witness.

Wi-Fi antenna spotted on the PyeongChang Olympics ski slopes. Credit all photos: MSR Field Scout (click on any photo for a larger image)

According to an anonymous “field scout” for Mobile Sports Report, there was solid cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity in place all around the PyeongChang Olympics, including slopeside at skiing events. Our scout, who spent a lot of time in the alpine competition area, said he had great connectivity wherever he went around the courses, even at places that weren’t special spectator areas.

“There was never a point when I was on the mountain that I couldn’t make a FaceTime call,” said our scout, who is someone who knows well the issues of bringing connectivity to large sports venues. Our scout also said there was solid Wi-Fi connectivity on all PyeongChang buses for the Olympics, and that all other venues he visited (including the sliding venue) there was “rock-solid Wi-Fi” and/or speedy cellular to keep mobile devices connected.

In telecom circles, it’s well known that South Korea has world-leading Internet connectivity in general, and a speedtest from one of our scout’s hotel rooms shows that without need for much further explanation.

But the wireless connectivity at the Olympics seems to have been a priority, one that our scout found without a flaw except for one event — the closing ceremony.

Wired line speedtest from Korea. Credit: MSR field scout

“In the stands [at the closing ceremony] I couldn’t get any connection at all,” our scout said.

Perhaps the stadium’s black hole had something to do with the reported Internet attack at the opening ceremonies, which reportedly caused issues with the public Wi-Fi services.

Korean telecom provider KT was the official telecommunications partner for the PyeongChang games, and according to various press releases we found online, it was partnering with Intel and the South Korean government to test some so-called “5G” deployments at the games. But so far we haven’t seen or heard of any other real-world experiences with the wireless connectivity there, so if there are any other “field scouts” who have stories to add, let us know!

Cell tower gear on ski slopes at PyeongChang games.

More Wi-Fi gear spotted atop ski course infrastructure.

JMA touts virtualized RAN for DAS with new XRAN platform

The marketplace for in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments got an interesting jolt Monday with JMA Wireless’s announcement of its new XRAN software platform, which promises to bring the flexibility and cost savings of hardware virtualization to the world of Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment.

In a quick nutshell, the idea behind JMA’s XRAN is to use software and off-the-shelf Intel-based servers to replace the dedicated racks of equipment that are traditionally used to carry signals from celluar carrier lines to antenna infrastructure in a DAS. In addition to potential large savings in amounts of equipment needed, cooling and power costs, and sheer space, the XRAN also promises to allow cloud-based sharing and administration of systems, which could allow multiple buildings or a campus to share an integrated system for flexible capacity control.

A stadium with XRAN, in an example provided by JMA, could theoretically share its DAS deployment infrastructure with nearby office buildings, allowing for better use of resources. Though not yet deployed anywhere commercially, JMA also announced Monday that XRAN software is being used by Telecom Italia Mobile in a “live dense urban network application.” The announcements were officially made at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

Looking to cut costs for enterprise wireless deployments

The XRAN announcement may be of most immediate interest in the stadium wireless marketplace to third-party network operators, who typically build a DAS network for a stadium and rent space on it back to carriers. That model, employed by companies including Boingo, Mobilitie, ExteNet and 5 Bars, has come under pressure lately as carriers have voiced displeasure over having to pay what they sometimes consider exorbitant prices for access. If costs for DAS deployments and operations could be cut, third party operators might be able to offer more attractive rates to ensure carrier participation.

To be sure, virtualized RAN operations (also sometimes known as “C-RAN” for Cloud-based RAN) have been the focus of many companies inside the telecom services space, for the same cost-saving and feature flexibility promises made possible by switching from dedicated hardware to commodity platforms. In the press literature accompanying its announcement, JMA notes that while some “partially virtualized” RAN architecture equipment exists, JMA claims the XRAN platform is the first fully virtual RAN, software “that can process the full protocol stack” from Layer 1 through Layer 3.

If the cost savings and functional flexibility of RAN virtualization follow the curves seen by virtualization in the application world, XRAN or any similar platforms that may follow could also potentially hold interest for commercial real estate owners and operators. With most industry estimates showing that many large commercial buildings like office towers currently lack a comprehensive indoor wireless coverage solution, by eliminating a big chunk of the cost of a DAS — or by allowing campuses or multiple buildings to share the costs — a DAS could become a more attractive option.

“Cost, simplicity, footprint, power, and cooling changes dramatically with XRAN,” said Todd Landry, corporate vice president of product and market strategy at JMA Wireless, in a prepared statement. “XRAN is designed from its inception to close the gap between rapidly growing in-building mobile connectivity demands and today’s complex, proprietary hardware solutions unable to evolve and adapt for multi-operator services.”

More as we hear more from what is sure to be a talked-about subject in the big-building wireless world!

Minneapolis airport sees 6 TB of Wi-Fi traffic day after Super Bowl

Super Bowl signs hang in the concourse at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Credit: MAC (click on any photo for a larger image)

A day after Super Bowl 52 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis set new records for wireless data consumption, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport had a big wireless day of its own, with 6 terabytes of traffic used on the airport’s Wi-Fi network and another 6.5 TB on the Verizon cellular network.

Eduardo Valencia, vice president and chief information officer for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the Wi-Fi data used on Feb. 5 was “close to double typical data consumption” on the free-access network provided by Boingo Wireless, even though the airport saw a fairly normal range of users connecting.

“There was no spike in [the number] of users, but the users who did connect consumed twice as much data, with downloads about 3 times normal,” Valencia said. The Monday-departure crowd, he said, saw about 31,000 unique users connect to the Wi-Fi network, which Valencia said “is at the top of the normal user range” the airport network usually sees. Valencia said that during the week leading up to the big game on Feb. 4, the airport Wi-Fi saw between 23,000 and 31,000 daily connections.

Boingo, which has been powering the Wi-Fi at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (aka MSP) since 2012, updated and expanded coverage a year ago, according to Valencia. Though Boingo would not provide details on how many new APs were added or how many the network has now, Valencia said coverage was increased in many areas, like the tunnels between terminals, to make sure visitors didn’t lose connectivity.

New neutral host DAS from Verizon

Super Bowl LII signage along a moving walkway at MSP. Credit: MAC

The cellular infrastructure at the airport also got an upgrade before the Super Bowl, with a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed by Verizon Wireless. The DAS, which uses Corning ONE fiber equipment on the back end, provided coverage for all the top wireless carriers, Valencia said. Though it was cut close — the final pieces went live on Jan. 19, according to Valencia — the expanded DAS, which added antennas all over the terminals as well as outside covering runways, also performed well, according to Valencia.

Though only Verizon stats were available, Valencia said Verizon saw an average of 2.8 TB of data per day in an 11-day span around the Super Bowl, with 6.5 TB of traffic seen on Monday, Feb. 5. Like the Wi-Fi traffic, Valencia said Verizon’s day-after total was about double the average daily consumption.

While there is extra pressure to perform ahead of the NFL’s big game — “The NFL told us the Super Bowl experience begins and ends at the airport,” Valencia said — the payoff will stay for years, as all the new network gear added in advance is permanent.

“We swallowed hard for 9 days, but the success was the culmination of a lot of planning,” Valencia said. “Now the good thing is, everything [in the network] is here to stay.”