Commentary: What’s Next in the Return to Venues

By Bill Anderson, president, AmpThink

The NBA suspended its season in March after a player tested positive for Covid-19.

On March 11, 2020, a full house of fans had filled Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, in anticipation of an NBA game between the Thunder and the visiting Utah Jazz. But just before tipoff, the referees convened at midcourt for a discussion. Soon after that, the teams were sent back to the locker rooms, and eventually an announcement was made that the game was cancelled. A player on the Jazz, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for the coronavirus, an incident that sent the fans home from the venue that night – and ultimately, signaled the end of attending spectator sports as we knew it, for the foreseeable future.

What followed in short order was the closing of worldwide economies and social structures as people everywhere entered stay-at-home quarantines designed to help stop the spread of the disease. All kinds of businesses, especially those like sports events, concerts and other activities involving large public groups, were effectively shut down, with no clear path to a future of when and how they might resume.

Now, as some of the positive effects of the quarantines are being realized, societies around the world are asking when and how more business and recreational activities can resume. And while social-distancing best practices that have emerged in places like grocery stores have provided a model that might allow more businesses to safely serve more customers, the idea of large groups of fans assembling packed together in stadiums during a pandemic still presents a much tougher challenge.

While the desire to return to the tribal gatherings of sports, concerts and other events is widespread, the timing of the “return to venues” is still unknown. The conversations around this topic are numerous and diverse, and involve many factors and factions, including politics, government, economics, biological science, venue operations, and personal safety. While AmpThink is not be in a position to solve the myriad problems that must be addressed, we do see that technology will have a significant role in the
final solution. And that role will be layered.

There is no ‘silver bullet’

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is our comprehensive study on how venues can cope with Covid-19, plus a profile of Globe Life Field! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Unfortunately, right now much of the discussion around technology for venue security is increasingly one-dimensional, searching for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist. Heat-sensing cameras, robotic cleaners, disinfectant chemicals, UV lights and mobile-device tracking applications may all have a role, but no single solution solves the problem of “when will fans return” because there isn’t one problem. Technology will just be one part of a larger solution set.

Starting in late March, AmpThink kicked off a partnership with Stadium Tech Report to look at the future of large public gatherings. The goal of the effort was to have meaningful discussions with industry thought leaders to understand the framework for our collective “return to venues.” We are attempting to develop that understanding through the lens of decision makers who will control the process. We’ve broken our analysis into “stages of return.” This phrase reminds us of the top level concerns that must be addressed before the “return to venues” can occur, including: government approval; legal liability mitigation; and the restoration of fan confidence.

What is it is going to take for the government to allow public venues to open?

While venues can propose their own paths to opening their doors to fans, their ability to execute is premised on the assumption that they will be allowed to open their doors. Though opinions on readiness will likely be different from national and local perspectives, the decision to open the doors of venues will rest heavily on the ability to convince public health authorities that the risks of spreading an infection can be managed to the point that they believe that the benefits of gathering a crowd are not outweighed by the risks of the gathering.

Achieving this approval will require that venues are able to explain how the venue will identify and then mitigate the risks of mass public gatherings. This can be achieved on an ad-hoc basis and progress will occur at different speeds in different jurisdictions. However, establishing a national mandate, a framework, and a plan to measure execution can move the conversation along faster – achieving an accelerated return to venues.

If the government says yes to opening a venue, what liability does the venue have and what does it need to do to mitigate the risk?

Any responsible venue operator or owner has to ask if the gains to be made by opening the venue will outweigh the risks. Mortgage payments and balance sheet pressures will influence the decision, but the legal risks will not be ignored.

After addressing official mandates, venue owners and operators must be confident that they can safely open their building. And then, if and when the worst-case scenario happens – infection of some group of attendees – they can answer the tough questions regarding the execution of their plan. Who implemented the plan, how was it implemented, how was its effectiveness measured, were the plan elements repeatable, was training sufficient? The answers could save or damn the venue both legally and in the court of public opinion.

Having a government-endorsed strategy, a well-articulated plan, and a mechanism to document execution will provide venue owners and operators with the legal confidence that they require to open their buildings, and to provide a clear sense of responsibility toward the guests they will invite inside their doors.

Assuming there is an open venue, what has to happen to cause fans to become comfortable with attending a live event?

It is likely that if public health officials and venue owners have reached the decision to re-open public venues, the decision was not arrived at lightly. Buildings will be opening under plans that materially reduce the threat of mass infection at a public venue.

However, fans may remain wary and without an effective vaccine, fans may prefer the comfort (and safety) of their home to the live venue experience.

Communication of the efforts to identify and address the risk of exposure to an infected attendee, proactively identify exposed fans, and otherwise reduce the risks of attendance will need to be effectively communicated. While much of the communication will focus on reaching fans before they arrive at the building, their experience when they reach the venue will be an important part of developing momentum, using fans to build the case that the return to venues is safe.

How technology will help enable the ‘stages of return’

Emerging technologies that addresses critical problems for venues relating to coronavirus (for example threat identification, threat mitigation, sanitation, tracking and contact tracing, messaging, and communication) will take center stage in the coming months. But behind these point solutions there will be a need to build networking infrastructure to make their products work. Devices will need to be connected (for power, or by wire or over the air for networks), traffic will need to be transported, compute resources deployed, and systems built. The success of these systems will depend on architecting reliable, scalable, service provider class networks in these venues.

What is the new normal?

Is the current shutdown permanent? Will all future events be held without fans in attendance? Likely no! But returning fans to LPVs will take time and require a plan that addresses the needs of all stakeholders: Government officials, venue owners and operators, team owners, concert promoters, leagues, athletes and musicians, venue employees and contractors, and of course fans.

On behalf of our customers, we can listen, learn, and position them to execute on a strategy that gets us all to a common goal – the opening our stadiums, arenas, convention centers, malls, and other public
places to the public within a framework that manages the risk that we pose to each other when faced with a pandemic. Stay tuned as we present more findings of our ongoing research and interviews with thought leaders, subject matter experts, technology company leaders and venue, team and school IT professionals in the weeks and months to come.

Bill Anderson, AmpThink

Bill Anderson, AmpThink

Bill Anderson has been involved in the design and construction of wireless networks for over 20 years, pre-dating Wi-Fi. His first experience with wireless networking was as a software developer building software for mobile computers communicating over 400 MHz and 900 MHz base stations developed by Aironet (now part of Cisco Systems).

His work with mobile computing and wireless networks in distribution and manufacturing afforded him a front row seat to the emergence of Wi-Fi and the transformation of Wi-Fi from a niche technology to a business critical system. Since 2011 at AmpThink Bill has been actively involved in constructing some of the largest single venue wireless networks in the world.

Dodgers up the ante with new Wi-Fi 6 network

Dodger Stadium upgraded its wireless with a new Wi-Fi 6 network installed this past offseason. Credit all photos: Los Angeles Dodgers (click on any picture for a larger image)

Professional sports may have put games and exhibitions on hold, but a handful of IT executives from Major League Baseball teams have been using pandemic downtime to upgrade Wi-Fi and DAS systems in their stadiums.

Case in point: The Los Angeles Dodgers just completed the league’s first Wi-Fi 6 overhaul along with adding new 5G cellular antennas to ensure Blue Believers stay seamlessly connected to social media, email, text and good old-fashioned voice calls during home games. When baseball returns to venues, Dodger Stadium and the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will lead the way as the first stadiums with Wi-Fi 6 fan-facing networks.

“We’re up against the same challenges that every stadium has, which is how to deal with the density of individuals trying to connect simultaneously – a challenge that’s unique to our industry,” explained Ralph Esquibel, vice president of IT for the Dodgers. “Wi-Fi 6 was created for this kind of high-density environment.”

Wi-Fi 6, better known in IEEE circles as the 802.11ax standard, is a significant upgrade for Wi-Fi networks that started appearing last year. Among its benefits are that use of the new standard can increase the amount of available spectrum and number of channels available for users; it can also significantly accelerate users’ average data rates, while also decreasing the amount of battery power used by devices searching for a Wi-Fi connection.

As long as they have newer phones that support the new standard, Wi-Fi 6 networks provide everything a team could want for its connection-conscious fans.

Replacing the Wi-Fi 4 network

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is our comprehensive study on how venues can cope with Covid-19, plus a profile of Globe Life Field! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Like its predecessor, the Wi-Fi 6 network will use under-seat APs in the bowl

It’s been barely five years since the Dodgers installed Wi-Fi 4 in the stadium, making use of under-seat APs and what were the league’s first APs cleverly concealed inside hand railings for even denser coverage. There were about 900 APs powering the network then, which easily accommodated 8,000 simultaneous users on its maiden voyage.

“It was state of the art back at that point in time,” Esquibel recalled. But usage and uptake quickly soared among fans and it wasn’t long before 30,000 simultaneous users were contending for bandwidth at each game.

“That was when I’d get a call from previous ownership, usually sometime in the second inning with, ‘I can’t get on email or make a phone call…’,” Esquibel laughed. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how close your seat was to home plate; anybody watching the game became inadvertent victims of Wi-Fi’s highly successful rollout at Dodger Stadium.

Other baseball stadiums experienced similar capacity and uptake issues. That’s in part what prompted MLB to dispatch its technology committee to look at technology upgrades to make sure baseball fans could do all the wireless networking they wanted to while watching a game. Though MLB did not respond to a request for more information, STR was able to get some information from other sources about the pending upgrade plans.

Wi-Fi 6 coming to more ballparks

According to our sources, MLB technologists settled on Wi-Fi 6 upgrades as their next strategic push. So while the Dodgers will be the first baseball team to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, other teams were also reportedly in the first steps of adding Wi-Fi 6 before the coronavirus pandemic put a hold on many upgrade plans.

More APs were added in overhangs and roofed areas

It’s unclear if the MLB technology committee brought any financial help to the table along with their wireless expertise for these six upgrades. When MLB put together a consortium to bring wireless connectivity to parks starting back in 2014, it got financial buy-in from wireless carriers, equipment vendors and teams to help spread the costs around. Esquibel wouldn’t specify any dollar amounts for the Dodgers’ Wi-Fi 6 budget or whether the league contributed anything. He did note that the team negotiated an upgrade clause into its previous Wi-Fi networking contract.

Construction for the Dodgers’ new network began last fall, right after the Dodgers lost to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS playoffs. Back then, there were 880 APs that comprised the Wi-Fi 4 network; the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 bumped that total closer to 1,100 APs, Esquibel said. The Dodgers installed 9100 series APs from Cisco in most of the same locations, reusing the cabling and conduits in the process. The Dodgers also replaced network switches (Cisco again, and its 9300 switching line) to handle greater throughput and the increased processing capacity, Esquibel added.

On the cellular side, Esquibel said carriers are adding 5G gear to the stadium, with AT&T having the most extensive deployment right now. Customers of AT&T and Verizon will also be able to be switched over to the Wi-Fi network when entering the park.

The upgrades to its wireless infrastructure also set the stage for some new capabilities coming down the pike. The combo of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G services will help the Dodgers deliver 4k and 8k video formats; it will also help as professional sports move toward “probability gaming,” i.e., online sports betting. Esquibel credits partners Cisco, AmpThink, Horizon Communications and MLB with building a powerful solution to enable these emerging services and capabilities.

Bench seating also got under-seat APs

There were other elements to the Dodgers’ 2020 tech stack refresh as well. Inside the stadium, they reworked the outfield to create a centerfield plaza with left- and right-field pavilions, with cut-outs and walkways above the pavilions plus more APs than last year to accommodate more seated and standing spectators. Esquibel said the team has also replaced its point-of-sale system, and has added Appetize, a cloud-based POS concessions app, as well as ParkHub to keep closer tabs on the Dodgers’ parking lots.

While the Wi-Fi 6 construction is complete, advance testing and fine-tuning are on indefinite hold. As of early June, Esquibel and his Dodger colleagues were sheltering in place and had been since mid-March.

“The pandemic has slowed down testing,” he said, nothing that the stadium needs capacity crowds to gauge how well the new networks are engineered and where antennas need adjusting. And it’s clear that contemplating the first post-pandemic home game brings out Esquibel’s fan boy, broadband wireless notwithstanding.

“I want to smell the grass and be with the crowd,” Esquibel said. “Like everyone else, I just want to see some baseball.”

New Report: What’s Next for venues in the face of Covid-19; plus profiles of Globe Life Field and Dodger Stadium

STADIUM TECH REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2020 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our stories for this issue include our first comprehensive look at how venue owners and operators, and teams and schools, might find a way back to live action and fans in stadiums following the current pandemic shutdowns. This feature is just the start of an ongoing series of research papers, interviews and other offerings of timely information we will be grouping under the “Return to Venues” title, a series of content done in part through an editorial partnership with AmpThink. We also have two profiles in this issue, one on the extensive network deployments at the ready-to-open Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and another on a new Wi-Fi 6 network deployment at Dodgers Stadium. Plus an explanation of our overall name change from Mobile Sports Report to Stadium Tech Report — read on!

You can also download a PDF version of the report.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, Samsung, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

MSR Behind the profiles: 2019 Final Four, part 2

On the press bus to the stadium for the semifinals. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Over the course of the last year, I’ve had several requests from readers to shed more light on what goes on “behind the scenes” on my various stadium visits. Here’s the first in a planned series I’m calling “Behind the profiles,” giving you some flavor of the fun and interesting things and people I experience on my trips to check out stadium technology deployments. In honor of the basketball tournaments we are all now missing, here is my “trip diary” from my visit last year to Minneapolis to see how U.S. Bank Stadium’s Wi-Fi networks held up under the big-game stress — along with some other interesting side trips! Please let me know if you find these interesting or fun to read and I will write some more… 2019 was a true banner year for MSR visits!

(If you need to catch up, here is part 1 of this missive)

Sunday, April 7: Geeking out on Wi-Fi 6

If Saturday had been all about walking around, my Final Four Sunday was all about staying in. But the day of relative inaction on the basketball court played right into my strategy for the weekend, which was: Find a way to maximize my four days in Minneapolis to get the most work done possible.

Sunday, that meant I was all in with the AmpThink team, basically on two levels. One, I wanted to get a real in-depth look at the temporary Wi-Fi network the company had installed at U.S. Bank Stadium to cover the seats that weren’t part of the stadium’s usual football configuration. For the Final Four, that mean extra seats along the courtside “sidelines” that actually were erected over the lower-bowl football seats and then extended out to the edge of the hardwood floor, as well as all the temporary seats in each end zone that stretched the same way out to the basketball court.

An AmpThink under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at the Final Four.

After a “team breakfast” at a great breakfast-diner kind of place the AmpThink team and I got inside the arena in a break between practices (you are not allowed near the court when practices are going on) and I got an up-close look at how AmpThink stretched the network from the football configuration out to the temporary Final Four floor. Though AmpThink covered most of the bowl seating at U.S. Bank Stadium with innovative railing-mounted antenna enclosures (which Verizon copied when it added DAS capacity ahead of Super Bowl 52, which was held in the stadium the year before), for the temporary seating AmpThink went with an under-seat design, with AP boxes located under the folding chairs and switches located underneath the risers.

The temporary network, as it turned out, worked very well, but the funniest story to come out of the deployment was one of theft — after Saturday’s games the network analysis showed one of the APs offline. Further exploration by the AmpThink team found that the AP itself was no longer around — some net-head fan had apparently discovered that the under-seat enclosures were not secured, and for some reason thought that a Cisco Wi-Fi AP would make for a fine Final Four gift to take home. My guess is that future temporary networks might see some zip-ties used to lock things down.

After a cool tour underneath the temporary stands to see how AmpThink wired things, we spent the better part of the afternoon hanging out and talking about Wi-Fi 6, a topic the AmpThink brain trust was well wired on. Eventually that day of brainstorming, interviewing and collaboration led to the joint AmpThink/MSR Wi-Fi 6 Research Report, which of course you may download for free.

It was the best use possible I could think of for the “day off” Sunday, where if you are involved with the Final Four you are basically waiting around until Monday night. And since the AmpThink team is rarely ever in one place together for a full day — later that year, for example, AmpThink would be busy deploying new networks at Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Dickies Arena — it was an extremely cool opportunity to be able to spend time tapping the knowledge of AmpThink president Bill Anderson and his top lieutenants.

Still feeling the physical effects of my Saturday — and knowing Monday would be even more taxing — I headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon, catching the end of the women’s Final Four at the second of the two local brewpubs next to the Marriott. Though the championship game wouldn’t take place until Monday evening, I had an early start ahead to a long day of again, maximizing those stories.

Monday, April 8: Allianz Field, the Mall of America, and the championship game

Every quarter, Mobile Sports Report tries to find a good mix of profiles to educate its readership. Typically we try to keep the profiles in season, for relevance and timing. But other times, you just go get a good story because it’s interesting. Or, if you can, you do multiple stories on one plane ticket, something that speaks to the bottom line of being an entrepreneurial startup that has to keep an eye on the budget.

So while other “media” at the Final Four may have been taking late breakfasts or hitting the gym Monday morning, I was in an Uber out to Allianz Field, the new home of the MLS Minnesota United. Though it wasn’t scheduled to open until later in April, the folks behind the networking technology — a local company called Atomic Data — had agreed to give MSR a look-around at the Wi-Fi deployment, a great opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Allianz Field.

Yagya Mahadevan, enterprise project manager for Atomic Data and sort of the live-in maestro for the network at Allianz Field, met us at the entry gate and gave us the full stadium walk-around, which was great to have, bad hip issues be damned. I really liked the tour and being able to write the story about how Atomic Data got its feet in the door at a major professional venue, and hope the company can do the same for other venues in the future. I’m also hoping to get back to Allianz Field for a live game when such things start happening again, because the place just looks sharp and I am kind of all in on the way MLS teams are tapping into the fan experience without charging hundreds of dollars a seat like some other pro leagues in the U.S.

After an hour or so of touring Allianz Field it was back in another Uber to the Mall of America, where I had scheduled an interview with Janette Smrcka, then the information technology director for the Mall. (Janette is now part of the technology team at SoFi Stadium, and we hope to have more talks with her soon!) Janette, who I had gotten to know while reporting on the Wi-Fi deployment at the Mall of America, had told me about a cool new project involving wayfinding directories at the Mall, a story which fit perfectly with the new Venue Display Report series we were launching last year.

After sitting down with Janette to get the specifics on the display gear I went into the Mall itself and wandered around for a while (OK, I also did stop to get a chocolate shake at the Shake Shack) watching people use the directories. My unscientific survey showed that people used them quite a bit, with all the design elements Janette and her team coming into play, like deducing that people would be more willing to use smaller-sized displays since they could shield them with their bodies, making the interaction more private. Little things do matter in technology, and it’s not always the technology that matters.

In the mall you couldn’t forget what was going on that weekend — as if the fans wandering around in their school gear would let you. I jumped back on the light rail to get back to the hotel and had my media-celebrity moment heading up to my room, when John Feinstein himself held the door to the elevator so I could get there in time.

Wi-Fi, hoops and a brat and a beer

As soon as I got to the stadium on the press bus I skipped the whole press working-room thing and headed up to the football press box to secure a spot. Turns out I didn’t need to worry as most of the media still either wanted to be closer to the court or closer to the workroom to get their stories done on deadline. Fine for all us. By now I had completely learned all the elevator and escalator pathways I needed to know to get around the stadium in record time. I took Wi-Fi speedtests, I took DAS speedtests, I watched the crowd get into the excitement of being at the “big game.”

Some Final Four fans using directories at the Mall of America.

For sure, part of the fun of attending bucket-list events these days is tied to the mobile device. A big part of the fun. I watched many, many people take pictures of themselves and their companions, take pictures or videos of the action on the court, or just (in some cases) walk around with their phones on video broadcast, relaying the live scene to an audience of who knows who. To me that’s one of the main points of these networks our industry sets up and runs — enabling those who are lucky enough to be there live to be able to share that experience, somewhat instantly, with those closest to them (or their imagined wider audiences).

Though these stadium visits can sometimes be lonely and somewhat strange — I mean, who’s there to cheer for the Wi-Fi? — at the Final Four I considered myself part of the general audience, a witness to the fun and excitement of “being there.” And by halftime I had already done all the “work” I needed to do — the Wi-Fi was strong, as was the DAS — so I camped out in the press box and waited for the second half to begin, so I could go out and get the bratwurst and beer I felt I’d earned.

It took a little bit of walking around to find the stands I wanted to hit — I wanted a beverage that was local, not national, and a brat done right — and I found both somewhat fortunately close to the press box. I took my bounty to a stand-up counter space located just off the main upper concourse and for the time of my meal I was just another hoops fan, enjoying the close contest between Virginia and Texas Tech. Then it was back to the press box and more just-fan watching, an exciting finish and then trying to capture the perfect “confetti burst” photo for the cover of our upcoming issue.

After goodbyes to David and his crew and the AmpThink team, since I didn’t have any stories to write I was on the first press bus back to the hotel, where I quickly crashed ahead of my flight back home Tuesday morning. It was a long weekend in Minneapolis and my hip hurt, but I had done what I needed to do, notebook full of stories that I could write while I recovered from the upcoming surgery.


It’s hard to take a photo showing how a Final Four feels in a football stadium, but this isn’t bad

Showtime for the championship game


Any questions that Minneapolis knows how to do brats right?

The big football displays couldn’t be used while game action was in play, but during timeouts they were on, sometimes showing cool social media posts

The well-deserved Final Four MSR approved dinner

New Report: Dickies Arena sets a new standard for arena excellence

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2020 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our latest issue contains an in-person report on the new Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, which may have just set the new standard for excellence in an arena experience. We also recap another record Wi-Fi day at Super Bowl LIV, as well as a DIY Wi-Fi network at Rutgers University.

You can READ THE REPORT right now in our new flip-page format, with no registration required!

For those who prefer the PDF, you can also download a copy of the report for free as well!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, Samsung, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

‘Best of Breed’ wireless drives Chase Center experience

An under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Chase Center, foreground, with a DAS enclosure visible to the left. Credit all photos (except where otherwise noted): Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As stunning as Chase Center is visually, what you can’t see is equally powerful in adding to the fan experience. Namely, the wireless networks, and the gear that supports the connectivity.

Inside the shiny new home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, which sits on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, is a cellular DAS deployment from Verizon using Corning gear that may be the new forward-thinking model for cellular infrastructure for large public venues like stadiums and arenas. The 18,000-seat arena also has a Wi-Fi network using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, which supports the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard for communications inside the main seating bowl.

But if you’re attending a Warriors game, or one of the many concerts scheduled at Chase Center, you may not ever see the equipment that brings the world-class connectivity to the fans. Both the DAS and the Wi-Fi networks utilize an under-seat antenna deployment method, just part of an aesthetic plan that does its best to minimize the visual impact of antennas and other wireless gear. Even deeper into the building is all the optical fiber supporting the networks, with capacity for future needs already in place.

During a mid-October 2019 visit before all the networks were fully tuned, Mobile Sports Report still got strong test results from both Wi-Fi and DAS networks in most areas in and around the arena, clear confirmation that the Warriors’ goal of having excellent wireless connectivity at their new home was right on track. And with the Corning ONE system in behind a DAS design built from the ground up with future needs in mind, as well as the expected capacity gains coming from Wi-Fi 6, the Warriors and their partners are confident they’ve built a wireless system worthy of their world-class venue goals.

“We feel extremely proud” of the venue’s wireless systems, said Brian Fulmer, director of information technology for the Golden State Warriors. Though the inevitable construction delays led to some late nights heading up to the arena’s Sept. 6, 2019 public debut, according to Fulmer all wireless systems were fully online for the opening Metallica concert, where the arena saw 2.58 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network with another 2.69 TB used at another Metallica show a couple days later.

“It was a race to the finish line but we did it, and the performance speaks for itself,” said Fulmer.

Searching for ‘Best in Breed’

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Fiserv Forum and the University of Florida! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

If there was ever a chance to build the best-ever new arena, Chase Center was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you combine the championship run of the team on the court with a devoted fan base centered in one of the hottest economic markets ever, you have the liberty to search for quality instead of bargains on every level.

A Wi-Fi AP hovers over a concourse gathering area.

(Case in point: The Warriors were able to sell out of their new court-level luxury suites, which have rooms just under the stands that include private wine lockers and can cost up to $2 million per year. Clearly, this is a model that may not work in places that aren’t Silicon Valley.)

For the privately financed $1.4 billion building, the Warriors turned to consulting firm Accenture to help determine the “best in breed” technology partners, especially on the wireless front. Several Warriors executives interviewed for this story did all agree on one main point: The team was not trying to install any technology to win imaginary awards for being the best or fastest building out there. Instead, it was all about how technology, especially wireless, could help bring about a world-class experience during every visit.

“Nobody shows up [at an arena] just looking for fast wireless speeds,” said Mike Kitts, the Warriors’ senior vice president for partnerships. “They want to interact. We wanted to create unforgettable experiences in an engaging environment. With the end in mind of a world-class experience, we knew great technology would absolutely play a role.”

Like a team drafting top players, the Warriors ended up choosing Verizon to lead the distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular wireless, and Aruba for Wi-Fi. To build its neutral-host system, Verizon chose Corning and the Corning ONE platform, with an installation led by Communication Technology Services (CTS).

“We certainly leveraged the expertise of Verizon, as well as AT&T (which is also on the DAS as a client),” said Fulmer. “They’ve done this countless times, and they have the lessons learned of painful experiences.”

Building a DAS that can handle growth

Anyone in the stadium business in Northern California doesn’t have to look too far or remember too long ago to recall one such example of the pain that the nonstop growth in cellular demand can cause. After the San Francisco 49ers’ brand-new home, Levi’s Stadium, opened in 2014, the also brand-new DAS had to be upgraded the very next season to ensure it had enough capacity for the upcoming Super Bowl 50. Verizon, which basically invented under-seat DAS antennas for that deployment, said it had a goal at Chase Center to build a DAS that didn’t need upgrading for at least a few years.

A Wi-Fi AP painted to blend into the outside facade.

Terry Vance, senior manager for Verizon’s Pacific market network performance group, said “the plan from day 1 was to build a DAS with capacity for today and tomorrow. We needed to build this DAS so that for the next 3 to 4 years, we won’t have to touch it.”

Verizon also had to build the DAS in a way that complied with the Warriors’ stringent requirements for clear sight lines, especially in the main bowl seating area. According to the Warriors’ Fulmer, the team “looked at handrail [enclosure] designs,” but rejected them in favor of an under-seat approach. Though more costly in both equipment and construction, the under-seat approach was Verizon’s favored method as well to get more density in the arena.

What Verizon ended up with was a design that currently uses 71 active sectors, with 42 of those in the seating bowl. According to Vance, all the sectors in the bowl area can basically be split into two parts if needed, for a total of 84 potential bowl sectors. Currently, Vance said there are 598 under-seat DAS antennas in use.

According to Vance the Corning ONE system’s extensive use of optical fiber makes it easier to add capacity to the system as needed.

“The fiber to the edge [in the Corning system] is especially useful as you go to 5G,” Vance said. Though it’s not part of the shared DAS system, Verizon also has full 5G bowl coverage at Chase Center, one of the first arena deployments in California. Verizon also is using a couple of MatSing ball antennas, mounted in the rafters to provide cellular coverage to the floor area for concerts and other non-basketball events.

Right now AT&T is the only other carrier on the DAS, with participation from T-Mobile and/or Sprint pending depending upon the outcome of those two companies’ potential merger.

A Verizon 5G speedtest. Credit: Verizon

Jessica Koch, sports and entertainment director of business development for Corning optical communications, gave praise to integrator CTS for its deployment know-how, which she said was “critical to the success of this project.” Corning, Koch said, knows that for fans in large venues like Chase Center, “reliable connectivity without restriction – all the time, at full speed, on any device, from anywhere – has become the expectation in our connected world.”

For Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, the best wireless system is one fans don’t see or worry about, but just use without concern.

“The best thing is if the phone just works, and I don’t have to think about it,” said Welts, who led a stadium tour during MSR’s October visit.

Though Verizon said the system went through some necessary optimization during the hectic early events schedule at Chase Center, Verizon engineers in December were getting DAS speed tests in excess of 100 Mbps for both download links in most locations, according to Philip French, vice president of network engineering for Verizon. Download speeds for 5G connections, he said, are breaking the 1 Gbps mark.

“This DAS is unique since it was the first one we’ve built with 5G in mind from the ground up,” French said. “It’s a very robust design, and for us this is the design of the future.”

Leading the way with Wi-Fi 6

Like several other stadiums that were being finished this past summer, Chase Center was able to take advantage of the release of Wi-Fi equipment that supports the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard. Though all the new capabilities won’t be fully realized until most end-user devices also support the new version of Wi-Fi, having support for the technology inside the arena was key for the Warriors’ plans.

“You can never really be ‘future proofed’ but we were extremely fortunate with the timing [of Wi-Fi 6 gear arriving],” said the Warriors’ Fulmer. “We were right in the sweet spot for an initial deployment.”

Wi-Fi and DAS gear on the catwalk.

According to Aruba, Chase Center has approximately 250 Aruba 500 Series APs (which support Wi-Fi 6) deployed in the main seating bowl, mostly in under-seat enclosures. Overall, there are approximately 852 total APs used in the full Chase Center network, which includes coverage inside the building as well as in the connected outdoor plaza areas.

During our October visit, MSR got Wi-Fi speedtests of 27.3 Mbps on the download side and 18.2 Mbps on the upload side while standing outside the east entry doors near the big mirror balls that are selfie central for fans visiting the new arena. Inside the doors, our speedtest in the lobby got a mark of 55.8 Mbps / 68.6 Mbps.

On one upper concourse area, near several concession stands outside portal 57, we got a speedtest of 10.5 Mbps / 11.2 Mbps. In the seats in upper section 220 just before tipoff we got a mark of 46.0 Mbps / 28.0 Mbps, and in a lower-bowl concourse area outside portal 9 we got a test mark of 53.7 Mbps / 71.5 Mbps.

According to Aruba, several events other than the Metallica concerts have passed the 2 TB Wi-Fi data mark so far, with several events seeing more than 8,000 unique clients connected and marks of 6,000+ concurrent connected devices and 2.6 Gbps of throughput.

The Warriors’ Fulmer praised not just the Wi-Fi gear but the full “end to end network solutions” available from Aruba as well as from parent Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which is a founding partner at Chase Center.

“We’re still only three months in, and there’s a lot more that we want to do,” Fulmer said. “It was not a small undertaking. But I think we can let the technology speak for itself.”