Levi’s Stadium sees its second-highest Wi-Fi mark with nearly 6 TB at Niners-Vikings playoff game

The video board shows team captains assembling before kickoff at last week’s playoff game between the Vikings and Niners at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: Brian Nitenson, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

The first NFL playoff game at Levi’s Stadium last Sunday saw the second-highest Wi-Fi data usage mark for the venue, with 5.95 terabytes used, according to figures provided by the San Francisco 49ers.

While that mark may eventually be eclipsed at this weekend’s NFL Championship game against the visiting Green Bay Packers, the packed house of 71,649 fans who witnessed the Niners’ 27-10 victory over the visiting Minnesota Vikings spent a lot of time using the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, with 21,195 unique connections recorded by the Niners. The peak concurrent connection number was 15,075, according to the Niners.

Of all the big events at Levi’s Stadium since its opening in 2014, only Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016, saw more Wi-Fi used by fans, with 10.1 TB used that day. Last January, a crowd of 74,814 attending the college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson used 5.1 TB of Wi-Fi data, the previous No. 2 mark at Levi’s. Other big-event totals included 4.5 TB used during Wrestlemania 31 on March 29, 2015 (with 76,976 fans in attendance).

DAS also strong

Speedtest of the DAS network during Sunday’s game. Credit: Keith Newman, MSR

While Levi’s Stadium still has the original number of approximately 1,300 Aruba Wi-Fi APs as the opening-day design, the cellular distributed antenna network (DAS) has undergone additions and improvements almost since the venue opened, including a significant upgrade from Verizon ahead of Super Bowl 50. Though we don’t have an exact count yet of the total of DAS antennas in the stadium, from visits over the past few years MSR has seen more DAS antennas each time we’ve visited, no surprise since the bandwidth demands from fans continue to increase.

MSR contributing editor Keith Newman was at Sunday’s game and got strong DAS speed tests on the main concourse and on the stadium’s top levels, in the 30 Mbps range each time. On the press box level on Levi’s Stadium’s west side, he got a mark of 116 Mbps on the download and 33.2 Mbps on the upload.

Below, some more photos from our field team at Sunday’s game. If you are at the championship game this week, send us some pix and speedtests!

Wi-Fi and DAS antennas visible on the stadium structures. Credit: Keith Newman, MSR

Niners fans getting their tailgate on before the game. Credit: Brian Nitenson, MSR

Wireless outlook for 2020: Will the iPhone 11 drive faster Wi-Fi 6 adoption?

You may not immediately think of Apple as a huge driver in the Wi-Fi business, but some initial data points surfacing at early Wi-Fi 6 network deployments may be showing that Apple’s decision to include Wi-Fi 6 support in its new iPhone 11 line could end up driving faster adoption of the latest version of Wi-Fi technology.

As always with any such predictions we suggest you order a side grain of salt to go with our year-end crystal-ball outlook for what lies ahead in 2020. But from an active fall season where we traveled a bunch and talked to a lot of smart people, here are some other observations we have for what lies immediately ahead for the wireless technology marketplace for stadiums, arenas and other large public venues.

1. Wi-Fi 6 adoption may happen faster, thanks to Apple

Editor’s note: This column 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 new Wi-Fi deployments at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Florida, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and Fiserv Forum! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

If you were building a new stadium or doing a full Wi-Fi refresh over the past summer, the big budget decision most likely on your plate was whether to go with Wi-Fi 6 gear or to wait and use Wi-Fi 5 equipment for now. While those who went the Wi-Fi 6 route may have paid a higer up-front cost and gone through some of the normal struggles with first-generation products, some of the data we are seeing from stadiums with operational Wi-Fi 6 networks is that Wi-Fi 6 client devices are already showing up, in not-so-small numbers.

And you can largely thank Apple for that.

One unofficial but largely true statement we feel comfortable in making is that at most stadiums, iPhones are still the vast majority of devices in use. We haven’t asked for any formal numbers but everywhere we go we keep hearing that stadium network users are typically a majority of Apple devices, sometimes as high as 70 percent of the active devices. (If this sounds like a good topic for future in-depth research, you think the same way we do.)

Oklahoma is already seeing Wi-Fi 6 traffic on its new stadium network. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

When the iPhone 11 line came out in September with support for the emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard, it caught many in the industry a little by surprise, since historically Apple has been conservative when it comes to putting new technology into iPhones. Those of us who have been around a bit remember that happening during the shift to 4G, when iPhones were pretty much a year behind the leading Android platforms in supporting LTE.

If you also believe (as I do) that sports fans represent both ends of the device-adoption curve — meaning that a certain percentage of fans will have the latest phones, while others may still have flip phones — it is those forward-leaning fans who most likely got iPhone 11 devices as soon as they were available. According to the Golden State Warriors, they are already seeing iPhone 11 traffic on the Wi-Fi 6 network they have in the bowl seating at Chase Center. And at the University of Oklahoma, the all-Wi-Fi 6 network put in at the football stadium this year saw a growing number of Wi-Fi 6 connections as the season went on, hitting 2,000+ at one game later in the year.

So it’s just a drip of data, but enough to be noticed. Certainly something for you (and us) to watch as the year progresses and more Wi-Fi 6 networks come on line.

2. CBRS deployments will take time to arrive

And even though Apple also included support for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the iPhone 11 line, we don’t expect to see CBRS deployments in venues accelerate anytime soon. Though there was a lot of CBRS talk ahead of the FCC approval for initial commercial deployments (and a lot of whispers about numerous trials at venues), so far there have been only two public announcements of live CBRS networks inside sports stadiums, and both those involve trial networks with no real deployment goal, and most significantly, no signed contracts.

While we remain big believers in the utility that the new bandwidth and LTE support may eventually bring, it’s easy to see why CBRS faces a slow adoption rate in sports venues. The main reason may just be historical inertia, the same conservative approach that has (still!) kept many venues from deploying even basic connectivity on the Wi-Fi or cellular fronts. Second may be the combination of a lack of budget and expertise; because there is no have-to problem that CBRS solves, teams and venues don’t need to rush into deployments.

And while we do believe that CBRS will eventually do great things for applications that need more mobility and security, the lack of turnkey-type approaches (like, “here is your CBRS package for parking-lot connectivity”) makes it a naturally longer sales cycle.

Throw in the fact that many venues may also be currently facing a Wi-Fi overhaul decision or what to do next on the cellular front as 5G arrives, and you have even more reasons for putting CBRS-type discussions on a back burner. The good news is, by the time CBRS starts getting more real, devices will probably have the dual-SIM issue solved in a more user-friendly fashion. When that happens the ability to use CBRS networks as a sort of Super-DAS should accelerate adoption — but that’s not a 2020 thing, at least as far as we can tell.

3. 5G is coming, whether anyone wants it or not

You can’t escape the press releases, headlines and other paid-for proclamations that 5G cellular services are now live in many sports stadiums. But given the fact that devices that support 5G are still at a minimum, only a lucky few fans will likely take advantage of the fast, low-latency bandwidth, at least for the time being.

Fuzzy shot of a Verizon 5G antenna at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver this fall. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Going back to Apple — which did NOT include support for 5G spectrum in the iPhone 11 — you can guess why stadiums that have 5G services are reluctant to talk about exactly how many users are on the 5G networks. Here’s a hint: It’s not a lot. The good news for venues is, however, that since the 5G wars are basically a huge marketing battle between the largest cellular carriers, that means that those carriers will basically pay to put those networks into venues, so all you really need to do is provide some space in the rafters and a fiber connection.

At Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles, we did hear from Ericsson and Verizon that early 5G deployments in stadiums are showing some welcome surprises, like “better than expected” ability for signals to roam — meaning that you can actually (maybe) leave your seat or twist your phone and not lose the signal.

So while the great hyped-about promises of 5G applications in venues — virtual reality! fan-provided video! — remain just an idea, more good news is that with little user pressure, network engineers, equipment vendors and service providers all have some time to learn what works and what doesn’t in a live environment. But for 2020, 5G in stadiums is more about carrier TV commercials than real commercial uses.

4. 4G LTE and DAS are still needed

One of the more-pertinent questions (and the subject of an upcoming MSR Research report) is what happens to the 4G LTE and DAS world inside venues, as carriers want to focus on 5G? The answer here is not as clear, but what’s undeniable is that 4G LTE services are still going to be the balance of cellular traffic for at least the next 2 years, if not more. That means that venues of all sizes still need to have a DAS or small-cell strategy, which gets tougher as carriers squeeze the margins traditionally charged by neutral third-party hosts.

If you’re a big or high-profile venue, you may not have as much to worry about, as for places like that (think Super Bowl, NBA/concerts, or any MLB stadium) it will likely be business as usual with carriers participating in DAS deployments. The biggest wild card on the DAS business side going into 2020 is the still-unresolved question of whether or not T-Mobile and Sprint will actually become one company. In places like Chase Center, that means negotiations over how T-Mobile and/or Sprint will come on to the DAS are on hold. Unfortunately, it’s the customers who will suffer the most as DAS participation from T-Mobile and Sprint gets delayed.

Another thing we’ll be looking at in the upcoming DAS and 4G report is what deployment methods will take the lead going forward — will the traditional top-down DAS antenna deployment method still work, or will under-seat deployments (like the one at Chase Center, see report in the latest issue) proliferate? Another trend to keep watching is the use of MatSing ball antennas, which are gaining more acceptance every time we talk to stadium IT teams. Amalie Arena went big with an all-MatSing DAS (using 52 of the big ball antennas) and Fiserv Forum recently put in 10 MatSings. We are also hearing of MatSing deployments happening in football stadiums, so watch for more MSR info on that front this year.

New Report: Oklahoma leads the way with Wi-Fi 6

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Winter 2019-20 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 Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and another in-person visit to see and test the new Wi-Fi network at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp.” This issue also has an in-person look at the wireless networks at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum and at Chase Center, the new San Francisco home of the Golden State Warriors.

You can READ THE REPORT LIVE right now in our new flip-page format, with no registration required! (Great for tablets and big phone reads!) You can also DOWNLOAD THE REPORT in PDF format as well!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Oberon, and ExteNet Systems. 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.

Stadium Tech Report: New Wi-Fi network soars at Ohio State

Ohio Stadium set records this season for single-day Wi-Fi use inside a venue. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With its long tradition of excellence in all things pertaining to college football, is it any surprise that when the Ohio State University finally got Wi-Fi installed at Ohio Stadium the network would instantly be one of the best around?

Over this past offseason, the school oversaw the first comprehensive installation of a fan-facing Wi- Fi network inside the venerable “Horseshoe,” with almost 2,000 access points, some 600 of which were installed in handrail enclosures that all sport the Ohio State logo engraved on each side. Live and operational for the Buckeyes’ home opener on Aug. 31, the network saw just more than 47,000 unique users its first day and carried more than 13 terabytes of data, instantly lifting Ohio State to the front of the class in single-day collegiate football Wi-Fi records. In subsequent home dates this fall, Ohio State went on to record more big-data days, including the highest-ever single-day use of Wi-Fi in a stadium, 25.6 TB on Oct. 5 for a game against Michigan State.

Impressive as its first season might be, the network will only get significantly better in the near future as device technology catches up with it. A decision to use the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax, in as many of the APs as possible, will let Ohio State take advantage of the technology’s promise of higher throughput and the ability to handle more clients per AP when more fans get their hands on devices that support Wi-Fi 6 and bring them to games.

During a visit by Mobile Sports Report for the Aug. 31 game, close-up inspection of many of the APs in a pre-game walkaround saw no evidence of the frenetic summer of hard work getting the equipment installed. Using Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and installed with with a design by AmpThink (which also manufactured the AP enclosures), the deployment does an excellent job of looking like it’s been part of the almost 100-year-old stadium for a long time, with discreet wall and overhead antenna placements complementing the standout handrail enclosures. And with connectivity finally in their house, the Ohio State fans wasted no time jumping on the network, with many fans expressing great joy at being able to use their wireless devices at the game.

A bumpy road to Wi-Fi

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new converged fiber network at Dickies Arena, and an in-person research report on the new Wi-Fi network at Las Vegas Ballpark. You can either VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed) or DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Handrail enclosures brought Wi-Fi gear close to the fans.

Built in 1922 as one of the then-largest poured- concrete structures, the building known officially as Ohio Stadium (and also as “the Horseshoe,” or just “the Shoe”) is among the biggest of the big, with capacity reaching 104,944 after renovations in 2014. That number actually decreased a bit with a recent round of renovations that removed some seats in favor of some new suite areas, but even with capacity of around 102,000, Ohio Stadium is still among the top echelon of Saturday afternoon shrines for its scarlet- and grey-clad followers.

While the venue is long held in reverence by not just Ohio State fans but by football fans in general, the things that make it a great place to watch a game – the big, open seating bowl and the historic concrete structure – also make it a challenge to equip with modern wireless technology. Back in 2012, it looked like the school had solved the problem by signing a deal with Verizon to bring Wi-Fi to the football stadium and basketball arena. But according to several reports, the installation never occurred and now the school and Verizon are still involved in a lawsuit concerning the non-deployment.

Fast forward to 2018, and the school finally approved a measure that will bring connectivity not just to the stadiums, but in many other places across campus as well. Jim Null, senior associate athletic director and chief information officer for Ohio State, noted that as a digital program partner with Apple, the school gives all students iPads as freshmen, leading to demands for coverage not just in classrooms but anywhere students may wander.

“There were a lot of coverage gaps on campus,” Null said. The new deal, reached in the spring of 2018, approved $18.6 million in spending for wireless coverage in the stadiums and across campus. According to Null, the sports stadiums’ portion of that deal was approximately $10 million. Null also said the stadium has a 30 Gbps backbone pipe, courtesy of the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), the 100 Gbps network that connects the state’s major cities and research institutions.

Handrails and Wi-Fi 6

With a bill of material in hand for the deployment, Null said that Aruba asked if the school wanted to use Wi-Fi 6 gear, which was available this spring when construction was to begin.

The big video board at Ohio Stadium helped fans find the Wi-Fi.

“It was good timing in a sense – Aruba came back to us and said, why not go with Wi-Fi 6, and everyone here [at the school] decided that was a good idea,” Null said. While the new version of the standard will improve Wi-Fi performance in any kind of network, at large sports venues the improvements will likely be significant. AmpThink president Bill Anderson, who is urging most new-construction Wi-Fi clients to install Wi-Fi 6 if possible, calls the new standard “a significant game-changer” for in-venue networks.

AmpThink’s Anderson, whose company has designed and helps run networks in the biggest stadiums that see the biggest events – including last year’s Super Bowl and last year’s men’s NCAA Final Four – says that over the past year or so, networks based on older Wi-Fi standards are reaching some theoretical limits, mostly with spectrum re-use. “We are getting to the cutting edge of what we can support,” with the older Wi-Fi 5 technology (also known as 802.11ac), Anderson said.

Wi-Fi 6, however, promises to deliver more capacity per access point, along with better techniques for communication between devices and access points, which most industry followers agree should produce significant benefits, especially in venues where spectrum re-use is necessary given the large numbers of APs needed to provide coverage. While it’s true that it may take some time before Wi-Fi 6 technology is on both the access point and the balance of user devices in stadiums (both sides of the equation need to support Wi-Fi 6 for the full range of benefits to be realized), the fact that many new devices – including the recently announced Apple iPhone 11 line – contain support for Wi-Fi 6 means that the full improvements will likely be seen sooner rather than later.

“Ohio State made the right choice to go with Wi-Fi 6,” Anderson said.

Putting the APs into handrail enclosures was another decision point, but one Null said the school was unified on. Though Aruba has traditionally preferred to deploy Wi-Fi in under-seat placements, like in deployments at Levi’s Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Null said the combination of aesthetics, performance and cost made railing enclosures the preferred choice at Ohio State.

“The combination of all three led us to the handrails,” Null said, noting that with the ability to place two APs into a single handrail enclosure, Ohio State was able to approximately cut in half the number of holes it would have to drill into the concrete to string cable to the devices, a huge savings in cost and construction time. With bleachers in most of its seating areas, Ohio Stadium would have cut into under-seat spaces significantly with under-seat APs, Null said.

Wi-Fi enclosures in the handrails at Ohio Stadium’s upper deck.

Though some lower-bowl areas without handrails did get under-seat AP placements, the 600 handrail enclosures – all manufactured by AmpThink and custom-stamped with an Ohio State logo – now wrap around the entire seating bowl, from near the field to way up at the top of Deck C. Null said performance from some other recent AmpThink deployments that primarily used handrail enclosures – including Notre Dame Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium – led Ohio State to believe that handrail installation techniques would be “very comparable in performance” to under-seat.

According to stats compiled this season, the Ohio Stadium handrail enclosures are working just fine. According to the school the network saw 47,137 unique connections out of 103,228 in attendance for the home opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, with a peak concurrent connection number of 28,900. Total bandwidth tonnage for the first game was 13.3 terabytes, a mark which put Ohio State in fifth place in the unofficial all-time Wi-Fi single-day record list kept by MSR. But Ohio Stadium’s network was just getting started.

Ohio State’s second home game of the season, a week later versus Cincinnati, was nearly equal in performance statistics. According to figures provided by Ohio State, on Sept. 7 the network saw 47,579 unique connections out of 104,089 in attendance, with a peak concurrent connection mark of 28,900. Total tonnage for the second game was 12.7 TB, good enough for then sixth place on the MSR list. Peak bandwidth rates were just over 10 Gbps for the home opener, and just above 6 Gbps during the second game.

Later in the year, the network heated up even more as OSU hosted its biggest games. On Oct. 5, Ohio State shattered the all-time Wi-Fi record with a mark of 26.5 TB, with an astonishing 74,940 unique connections and a peak concurrent connectivity number of 45,200 users. Hosting Wisconsin on Oct. 25, Ohio State saw 17.0 TB of data used on the network (during a full-day rainstorm) and then saw another 16.10 TB used on Nov. 9 against Maryland. Then on Nov. 23 against Penn State the network saw 20.70 TB of data, giving Ohio Stadium seven of the top-10 Wi-Fi days we’ve ever heard of.

Solid tests throughout the venue

An unofficial walk-around testing process by MSR before and during the home opener showed solid performance in just about every part of the venue, from outside the entry gates to all the seating areas low and high, and on concourses and other busy walkways. Inside of Gate 14, we got one of the highest Wi-Fi speedtest marks in the stadium, at 62.7 Mbps on the download side and 72.1 Mbps for upload. According to Null the entryways are well covered, with four access points hidden behind a directional sign that simply blends into the structure.

A good look at the spread of handrail enclosures in the lower bowl.

Inside the stadium, we got a mark of 49.2 Mbps / 42.9 Mbps in the seats in the lower bowl around the 45-yard line, an area covered primarily by handrail enclosures. Closer to the field in seats along the goal line on the press box side of the stadium we got a mark of 51.2 Mbps / 32.0 Mbps; in the same spot we tested the DAS coverage for cellular and got a Verizon network speedtest of 20.1 Mbps / 1.34 Mbps. According to Null Verizon runs a neutral-host DAS inside the stadium, with AT&T as a client.

Back on Wi-Fi with the stadium still closed to fans we went up into the metal bleachers in the non-curved end zone and got a speed test of 38.6 Mbps / 18.7 Mbps. In the concourse below these same stands we got a test mark of 47.2 Mbps / 48.5 Mbps.

An elevator ride to Deck C and a hike up the steep steps found us at the top row of the stadium, where the Wi-Fi was still strong, with a mark of 42.0 Mbps / 35.6 Mbps in row 41. We then went down to Deck B on the non-press box side of the stadium, where some concrete overhangs make for interesting placements. There, we saw Wi-Fi APs mounted above the seating areas pointing down. With fans starting to come into the stadium we got a mark there of 24.3 Mbps / 45.2 Mbps; in the same area the DAS provided a test of 21.8 Mbps / 12.6 Mbps, again on the Verizon network.

The one place we found with poor Wi-Fi coverage – down near the field in section 28AA – was one of the few areas where Null said that the network deployment was not yet complete early in the season. (The Speedtest.net app we use for testing dropped during the test here; the same area did have DAS coverage, with a mark of 16.9 Mbps / 4.66 Mbps on the Verizon network.)

That the network was near complete for the opening game was a testament to extra work from all suppliers. AmpThink, which outfitted three major college fields this summer, had overtime shifts to manufacture enough enclosures, while Aruba had to produce enough Wi-Fi 6 APs not just to fill Ohio State, but also Oklahoma, whose stadium is of similar size.

“It was quite a ballet dance the last nine months,” said Jeff Weaver, director of high density consulting at Aruba. “Hats off to the construction team.”

Perhaps the most impressive tests we got were taken during live game action, one just after an Ohio State touchdown. In section 13 up on the C deck we wandered out into the middle of celebrating fans and got a speedtest of 59.9 Mbps / 57.9 Mbps. Walking down to section 27AA on the press box side after yet another OSU touchdown we sat in the aisle and got a speed test of 54.7 Mbps / 70.2 Mbps, from an area covered by handrail enclosures.

Fans happy now, likely to be even happier in the future

If Ohio State is known widely for its football excellence (Ohio State has eight national championship titles to its name, and is in the playoffs for this year’s title), its fans have known mostly wireless frustration over the recent years, a situation that has now changed 180 degrees. In several conversations with fans MSR heard how happy OSU fans were now “that we can actually use our phones!” And as good as the network speed tests and overall performance is now, it’s worth noting that the Wi-Fi 6 advancements are not yet even being used – meaning that when more fans have Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices the network should perform even better, leading to faster connections and more capacity for all.

Null said that Ohio State will also be deploying the Passpoint software in the future, which allows for automatic sign-on to the Wi-Fi network and better support for device roaming. Ohio State does not ask fans to log in with any sort of email information or personal identification – all they need to do is select the OSUfanWiFi SSID and connect. And if the first season is any indication, many Ohio State fans will continue to do so with great appreciation for the foreseeable future.

Editor’s note: You can now read our Stadium Tech Report profile of the new Ohio State network (with all our great photos) instantly online, with no registration or email address needed! JUST CLICK RIGHT HERE and start reading our latest report today!

Carolina Panthers and Beam Wireless testing CBRS at Bank of America Stadium

Beam Wireless engineers testing CBRS signals in the Bank of America Stadium press box. Credit all photos: Beam Wireless/Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers and Beam Wireless are currently testing a live CBRS network at Bank of America Stadium, as a sort of experience-gathering exercise that the team hopes will help them roll out services and applications on the new bandwidth sometime soon.

“It’s a trial right now but we see this definitely becoming something permanent,” said James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers, in a phone interview this week. According to Hammond and Beam, the team and the integrator have set up several live Ruckus APs in the stadium, running a small network on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) airwaves, a swath of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range. This test follows some other public trials of the CBRS service that have launched following the September approval by regulators for initial commercial deployments.

Kevin Schmonsees, chief technology officer for Beam Wireless, said the Bank of America setup was testing CBRS connectivity between the Ruckus APs and some client-side devices, including USB sticks and Cradlepoint modems. The team and Beam representatives were running the CBRS network live during last Saturday’s ACC Championship Game at the stadium, mainly to see if there were any conflicts between the CBRS setup and the stadium’s existing DAS and Wi-Fi networks.

“Part of the test was to see how all three networks play together,” Schmonsees said.

According to the team and Beam, there was no interference between the different networks, with everything on CBRS performing as expected. Though Hammond admitted the Panthers still don’t have any concrete plans for what applications they might run on a CBRS network, the promise of more spectrum that doesn’t have to be shared is attractive just on its own right.

“It’s extremely useful to have [a network] the fans can’t impact,” Schmonsees noted.

Michelle Rhodes, CEO and president of the Greenville, S.C.-based Beam, said the pilot network also gives the Panthers a place to test new devices that are entering the CBRS ecosystem, like the iPhone 11 line recently introduced by Apple.

“Having the live network gives the stadium a good understanding of anything they might want to deploy,” Rhodes said.

A Ruckus CBRS-enabled AP in a concourse at Bank of America Stadium

Another Ruckus CBRS AP in the stadium

Converged fiber network the hidden gem at Dickies Arena

Dickies Arena, now open in Fort Worth, Texas, has a single converged fiber backbone to bring order and efficiency to its networking needs. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With its soaring roof and its high-end cosmetic finishes, Fort Worth’s new Dickies Arena will be a wonder to look at for fans of all events that will take place there.

But what may be even more impressive, certainly from an IT perspective, is something you can’t see: The single, converged fiber network that supports all network operations, including the cellular DAS, the arena Wi-Fi and the IPTV operations, in an orderly, future-proofed way.

Built by AmpThink for the arena, the network is a departure from what has long been the norm in venue IT deployments, where multiple service providers typically build their own networks, with multiple cabling systems competing for conduit space. At Dickies Arena, AmpThink was able to control the fiber systems to follow a single, specific path, allowing the company to save costs and space for the client while building out a system with enough extra capacity to handle future needs for bandwidth, according to AmpThink.

“This is really our master class [on stadium network design],” said AmpThink president Bill Anderson, during a September MSR visit and tour of the almost-ready arena. If you’re not familiar with the Dickies Arena story, the 14,000-seat arena is part of a public-private venture between the city of Fort Worth and a consortium of investors and donors led by local Fort Worth philanthropist Ed Bass. Though it doesn’t have a professional basketball or hockey tenant, the NBA-sized venue will fill an arena-sized need for events in the growing Fort Worth area, while also serving as the new home for the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Following the lead of AT&T Stadium, where high-end finishes were a hallmark of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ influence, Dickies Arena appears to take cosmetic matters a full step further, with intricate tile flooring and art-quality finishes on areas like stairway handrails and bar facades. In an early September walkaround while workers were still completing finishing touches like polishing concrete floors to make the surfaces shine, MSR also got to see the results of owners’ requests of “not having a single cellular or Wi-Fi antenna visible,” according to AmpThink’s Anderson.

No fiber allowed outside of the single path

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi 6 network at Ohio Stadium, and an in-person research report on the new Wi-Fi network at Las Vegas Ballpark. You can either VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed) or DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

In the suite and concourse areas, for example, Wi-Fi APs and DAS antennas are hidden behind ceiling panels, with no electronics in sight. But what’s even more impressive from an engineering and construction standpoint is what’s happening further down the network path from the endpoints, where all cable and fiber follows a structured pathway, first to an IDF and then back to the head end rooms in the arena’s basement.

Fiber cables head to the head end room in orderly fashion.

“No fiber is allowed to follow a path that doesn’t tie to an IDF, or directly to the head end,” said Anderson. “And we didn’t allow DAS vendors to be outside the closet. It’s the venue’s fiber network. Nobody else could come in and build their own.”

Looking from the end of the project back, it’s clear why you might want to pursue such a path: With a single, converged network, design and planning and eventually operations are streamlined, since there aren’t multiple infrastructures to deploy and maintain. The conditions also allowed AmpThink to fully pre-design and perform many construction techniques like splicing and cable measurement and cutting beforehand – according to Anderson, there was not a single fiber termination done in the field.

“For venues it used to be, use the ‘brute force’ method and just go figure it out in the field,” Anderson said.

At Dickies Arena, that method simply wasn’t the case. In addition to fiber cabling and splicing work, AmpThink also built many custom enclosures (the company has a large machine shop at its Dallas-area headquarters where it can design and manufacture parts like metal wiring boxes and the plastic enclosures it uses for stadium Wi-Fi and DAS deployments) to simplify installation while complying with the strict aesthetic requirements.

“AmpThink helped us think proactively so we are prepared to build on this solid foundation for the future,” said Matt Homan, president and general manager of Trail Drive Management Corp (TDMC), the not-for-profit operating entity for Dickies Arena. “This has allowed us to have a much more cost-effective approach, which is important for us as a 501c3 organization operating Dickies Arena. The AmpThink team has done a phenomenal job of assisting with the architectural integrity of the building to ensure that no Wi-Fi or DAS antennas were seen.”

High-end finishes are everywhere in Dickies Arena, even in the stairwells.

Jeff Alexander, senior vice president at ExteNet Systems, said Dickies Arena was the first time ExteNet ever participated in a converged network design for a large public venue. But Alexander also said ExteNet, which is responsible for the DAS design and 5G cellular installations at Dickies Arena, had years of experience in situations where service providers had to work together.

“Most [other] DAS deployments give no consideration for Wi-Fi, or anything else,” said Alexander in a phone interview. “Given ExteNet’s experience and our track record, these are things we were forced to think about 10 years ago.”

According to Alexander, the directive to work with a single converged fiber network wasn’t “harder” than a regular installation.

“It was unique,” Alexander said of the Dickies Arena installation experience. “It made us think of things we hadn’t thought about, and challenged us to consider other things than the typical DAS installation, which isn’t a bad thing. I consider it a success.”

At Dickies Arena, the DAS uses the Corning ONE DAS hardware system with approximately 500 active antennas in 12 zones for the DAS.

As future-proofed as possible

As part of the overall fiber network design, AmpThink’s Anderson said the company maximized capacity throughout the building, with hundreds of extra fiber strands available to support future capacity needs. By using optical fiber with hundreds of strands wound together – including some stretches with 864 different fiber strands inside a single cable – AmpThink actually saved time, money and space by preventing the need for additional infrastructure or future cable pulls.

The center-hung video board in testing mode

“The bulk of the cost [of fiber deployments] is the labor to pull the fiber,” Anderson said. By using large-bundle fiber, Anderson said AmpThink was able to drive the cost per strand to “a very low number,” while also clearing conduit space since a large-bundle fiber strand saves a huge amount of space when compared to multiple smaller-bundle strands which must each have their own insulation.

While ExteNet’s Alexander contends that no network design can ever be truly “future-proofed” – if you ask him he will tell you a story about a large sports venue where ExteNet is currently replacing 864-strand fiber put in 5 years ago with 1,728-strand fiber – he does agree that putting in as much fiber as the design and cost allows buys a venue time to support the always-growing demand for bandwidth.

“The industry is full of venues that didn’t do that, and 12 months later they’re expanding their fiber plant,” Alexander said. AmpThink’s Anderson noted that even during the arena’s construction, there were demands for additional fiber – such as for a densification in the LED ribbon boards – that were easily addressed.

“People came back to us, and said they needed more fiber, and we had it to give to them, no problem,” Anderson said. “It didn’t cost us a lot to do it [add in more fiber strands]. It’s a model everyone should look at.”

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