Cubs adding Wi-Fi to Wrigley Field wireless mix

Wi-Fi APs can be seen on the overhang above Wrigley Field’s upper deck seating. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

After waiting 108 years for a championship, Cubs fans are getting much more from their team these days, especially when it comes to technology upgrades at Wrigley Field. Recent years have seen a complete renovation of the venerable bleachers, including big video screens in both left and right field, as well as a full-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) for enhanced celluar connectivity that went live at the start of this year.

And while the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs this week in a Wild Card loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs in the offseason will continue this summer’s process of adding Wi-Fi everywhere they can inside the Friendly Confines, after more planned offseason stadium construction will force the club to move some equipment installed earlier this year.

While some Wi-Fi APs were live in the upper deck seating section as well as mounted on overhangs covering the stadium’s terrace-level seats this season, a planned installation of under-seat Wi-Fi AP locations is currently on hold, as the Cubs continue to evaluate how best to proceed for some of the tougher-to-cover seating areas. Wi-Fi coverage is already operative, however, for back-of-house operations, as well as in fan-facing areas on the outdoor Gallagher Plaza and the Zachary Hotel next door.

Continuing challenges with construction

Editor’s note: This profile 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 Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new DAS at StubHub Center! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

First announced in 2015, the plan to bring both DAS and Wi-Fi to Wrigley has been challenged almost since its inception by the team’s ambitious plan to renovate many parts of a stadium that was originally constructed in 1914. The multi-phase physical construction project included the bleacher expansion, the creation of a hotel, office building and park on the stadium’s west side, new club spaces and (still to come) expanded suites and an upper-deck concourse. Of course the entire plan got immediately sidetracked by the team’s historic run to the 2016 World Series title.

Wi-Fi antennas pointed forward and back to cover upper seating areas

While having construction delayed by winning your first crown in over 100 years is not a bad problem to have, the team’s string of extended seasons (the Cubs have made it to the NLCS the past three years, meaning baseball deep into October) has played continual havoc with the renovation plans, since winter in Chicago isn’t often friendly to construction activities. Originally scheduled to appear in 2017, the DAS wasn’t built until this past offseason, and even though it is running well now (our most recent visit saw speedtests in many locations well into the 20+ Mbps range for both download and upload) a good portion of the DAS antennas will also have to be relocated this offseason because of more construction plans.

The Wi-Fi network, which the Cubs are building with gear from Extreme Networks, felt even more of the pain from this past year’s main construction project, which saw the entire lower bowl of Wrigley get removed so crews could dig about 60 feet deep to build under-stand club areas, one of which opened for this season. Those clubs, including more that are scheduled to open for the 2019 season, sit directly below the seating area that was scheduled to get under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, further complicating and delaying the installation.

For the lower main seating bowl and for the bleachers, the problem for Wi-Fi in those seating areas is the complete lack of overhead structures, or of any aisles with railings, to mount antennas. While DAS antennas are able to cover those regions from above and behind, a good Wi-Fi design would need an under-seat deployment, which is what the Cubs and Extreme had planned for.

Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, talked with MSR during a late-August visit and said that while he thinks the club will eventually have to do some amount of under-seat antenna locations — if not for Wi-Fi, then eventually for 5G cellular support — the plan from earlier this year to put Wi-Fi under-seat during this summer is shelved for the time being.

“We just have to make sure the structural integrity [of the lower seating slab] is not challenged,” said McIntyre. Since a good part of any under-seat Wi-Fi deployment in the lower bowl would require work above the club-space ceilings, it would take extra time that’s simply not available between baseball games and other events like concerts.

Having to move gear one more time

In the upper deck seating sections at Wrigley there are no such impediments to Wi-Fi AP location, with many easy mounting points up in the roof infrastructure. With a wide concourse in the middle of the upper and lower sections, many APs required only a scissor lift for installation, McIntyre said.

Wi-Fi AP covering an entry gate

The easily viewable APs have their accompanying antennas tilted either forward or backward to cover the two separate seating sections. Even though McIntyre and the Cubs are purposely throttling the unannounced Wi-Fi network’s speeds to a top mark of around 7.5 Mbps for both download and upload until the network is complete, MSR was able to get strong Wi-Fi responses everywhere we walked in the upper deck, as well as in the lower terrace seating areas, which are below the upper deck sections.

On the terrace level there are basically three rows of DAS and Wi-Fi gear, one in the back along the rear concourse, one in the middle of the roof to cover most of the seating and another out at the edge toward the field, to cover seats below there. Unfortunately, many of the devices in this area for both networks will need to be removed and replaced this upcoming offseason when the final phase of Wrigley’s renovation will see the premium suite areas extended further back, which will require construction work on their floors, where the antennas are currently mounted.

Tradeoffs part of playing in an icon

Like any networking pro, McIntyre would prefer to see his projects completed as thought out, but he is also a realist who knows that trying to do anything architecturally inside a beloved historical icon will eventually involve tradeoffs.

Take the center part of the right-field bleachers, which right now is somewhat less covered by the DAS simply because there’s no place on the back wall to mount antennas. Since anything placed there would be in view of passers-by on Sheffield Avenue, McIntyre said due to historic-building regulations the Cubs would need to ask for permission to build any new structures.

“It’s a never-ending challenge, and we fight as hard as we can [to get technology deployed],” McIntyre said. On the topic of incomplete Wi-Fi coverage, he noted that the DAS was designed to cover “100 percent” of fan connectivity needs, with the Wi-Fi being a complementary service.

At the very least, the new network means that more fans will have an easier time connecting in whatever way they need to, while enjoying baseball at one of the world’s most beloved venues.

“In the end, it’s all about delivering the best possible experience for fans,” said McIntyre.

Night game at the world’s best ballpark

Connect the DAS: Enhanced cellular finally arrives at Wrigley Field

Cubs VP of IT Andrew McIntyre looks up at some new DAS antenna placements in the main level concourse. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

When it comes to sports fans and their beloved stadiums, change is sometimes hard to take, especially at historic venues like the Chicago Cubs’ beloved Wrigley Field.

The last ballpark in the major leagues to get lights (in 1988), fans of the iconic Wrigley with its ivy-covered outfield walls put up some fierce resistance to some of the latest changes brought to the ballpark by the team’s latest owners, the Ricketts family, ove the past few years. An expansion of the bleacher seats, some new video boards behind the stands in the outfield and construction of a hotel and office building adjacent to the stadium all had their naysayers, some of whom would still prefer the old to anything new.

But this season, Wrigley is finally unveiling a part of its renovation that everyone can get behind — better cellular connectivity inside the park thanks to a new neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) built by DAS Group Professionals (DGP) for the Cubs. Delayed a couple years from its originally planned deployment due to the Cubs’ World Series title run in 2016, the new system has contracts with all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers, and should help fans share more memories from the Friendly Confines in the seasons to come.

Success on the field makes waiting OK

Editor’s note: This profile 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 a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

First announced in 2015, the plan to bring the new DAS as well as a new Wi-Fi network to Wrigley was pushed back until this season, mainly because of the Cubs’ new-found success on the field. In addition to the World Series title in 2016 — as everyone knows, the Cubs’ first in 108 years — the Cubs also went deep into the postseason in both 2015 and 2017, reaching the NLCS in both those years. As the extended seasons pushed back all kinds of renovation construction schedules, the arrival of the new connectivity options was pushed back a season longer than expected — a delay that was felt but perhaps not minded all too much by the celebrating Cubs fans.

DAS antennas visible near tops of stanchions in lower seating bowl

Since deployment of the DAS was (mostly) fairly straightforward — the DGP deployment uses entirely overhead and side-structure antenna placements, thanks to Wrigley’s multiple overhangs — it was finished in time for opening day. The Wi-Fi network, however, will be rolled out as the season progresses, mainly due to the need to place APs under seats in the lower seating sections.

Much of the engineering to get both systems inside the stadium faced more than the regular share of stadium conflicts, as this past offseason saw the Cubs pull out almost all the lower-bowl seats and dig 60 feet down into the dirt to clear room for some under-seat club areas, one of which is already open. Even though the DAS network wasn’t powered up until about a week before the season’s first pitch, deadlines were met and the new celluar system was ready for opening day.

“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. “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.

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto.

New club spaces get new flat antennas

Mobile Sports Report traveled to Chicago for a mid-April visit, hoping to get some sense of the new network’s performance on a full-stadium game day. Instead, we got a lonely and chilly tour when sub-freezing temperatures caused that day’s game to be canceled. One positive was that with empty stands, it was easier to get around and see all the DAS antenna placements.

New flat-panel DAS antenna blends nicely in club space.

The first part of our tour was a trip underground to the new 1914 Club (for the year Wrigley opened) that sits directly under the seats right behind home plate. With the feel of sports bar-meets-speakeasy, the classy premium-seat space has great connectivity even while underground, thanks in part to a new flat-panel disc-shaped omnidirectional DAS antenna from Laird Technologies that DGP used in both indoor and outdoor placements.

With nobody in the club, we got an off-the-scale speedtest of 139 Mbps down and 46.7 Mbps up, proof on one level that the system is ready to go. Since it was freezing outside (did we mention it was cold?) MSR didn’t stop to take our gloves off to get many more tests, but we did get marks in the high 30 to high 40 Mbps range pretty much anywhere we did stop, including the upper decks and the bleachers. Even out in the middle of the adjacent plaza (where the Cubs’ networks are designed to cover) we got a DAS speed mark of 38.2 Mbps / 44.0 Mbps.

“The new DAS is much more higher performance grade than in the past,” McIntyre said.

The premium-seating club spaces, which were previously nonexistent at Wrigley, will expand next year when the Cubs finish out two more underground spaces, along each base line. According to McIntyre fans in those clubs will be able to watch players using the underground batting tunnels to tune their swings mid-game.

The last phase of the current Wrigley renovations will also see the addition of some more open gathering and club areas on the upper deck level, including party porches on the outside of the stadium walls overlooking the plaza (now called Gallagher Way under a sponsor-naming deal with the Illinois-based insurance brokerage). Gallagher Way, which hosted an outdoor ice rink in the winter, is set to hold concerts and other gatherings like movie nights this summer.

Old overhangs perfect for new technology

Sometimes in stadium wireless retrofits, you get lucky and the old stuff blends pretty well with the new. Take Wrigley Field’s classic metal-and-wood overhangs, which provide shade and rain cover for fans on the lower back and upper decks. According to DGP vice president of engineering Derek Cotton, getting DAS antennas in the right spots for a good signal there was half easy, half hard.

On the top levels, DGP was able to install the JMA gear out where it could offer the best connection — at the edge of the roofs, pointing backward toward the stands. With aesthetics a top concern at Wrigley, the roofs were a perfect place to “hide” some of the 420 total antennas in the deployment.

Green-painted DAS antennas point toward stands from back of bleachers club area

But on the lower-level roof, DGP and the Cubs had a concession to make that will be fixed during the upcoming offseason. Because of the deep pits dug into the box seat and field level, Cotton said DGP couldn’t get a scaffolding set to reach the outer parts of the lower roof — so instead DGP put those antennas in toward the backs of the roofs, and will move them out to the edges this winter. Some other antennas installed this year will have to be taken out and replaced while the rooftop party decks get built; and by next year the Cubs hope to have all the marooned gear from an AT&T Wi-Fi deployment from 2012 removed — but if you have sharp eyes this summer you can spot some of the old “Pringles can” Wi-Fi radios still nestled up in the rafters.

‘Creativity’ needed for bleachers

If DAS deployment in the main seats at Wrigley was fairly straightforward, for the venue’s unique and famous bleacher seating DGP’s Cotton said “some creativity was needed” to find places to mount antennas.

With no overhead structure and only the historic, manually operated scoreboard in the back, Wrigley’s bleacher seating now has DAS coverage from a wide array of antenna placements that took use of just about every kind of mounting area available. Some gear hangs from the back of a sponsor’s sign in left field; other antennas are tucked underneath the bottom of the scoreboard, pointing out from a small club area there; and still others are concealed in the tall grass of the planters that go up the sides of the centerfield seating section, just next to the poles that carry the Cubs’ World Championship flags from 1907, 1908, and most recently, 2016.

Other more normal antenna placements are found around the back side of the bleachers, where recent renovations added a concessions area and more stairways.

DGP’s Derek Cotton inside the Wrigley head end room

Moving outside the park to the plaza, artistic concealment continues with antennas hidden on light poles that surround the triangular plot of lawn. According to McIntyre, the club’s wireless coverage extends across Clark Street to the new Hotel Zachary, named for Wrigley Field’s original architect, Zachary Taylor Davis.

The hotel, which has retail shops on the street level — including a McDonald’s franchise that replaces a standalone McDonald’s that used to sit in the parking lot where the plaza now stands — has DAS coverage on all floors, with Wi-Fi planned for public spaces on the first floor and second floor, where the main lobby and lobby bar reside. In the lobby bar comfortable couches provide a great place to look over the plaza and at Wrigley; and in fact the Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear visible on the ceilings is already operative there, though purposely limited in throughput to 7.5 Mbps up and down for now.

Most of all the wiring for the new networks comes together in a small brick headend building about a block north on Clark, behind the Wrigleyville hot dog stand. Unless you knew what was inside, you’d be hard pressed to guess why there are huge strands of red, white and blue cabling coming through one wall. Just before the start of the season, the Cubs announced a deal with Comcast Business 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.

When the Wi-Fi network comes online later this season, there will be even less of a reason to believe there will be any more grumbling about connectivity at the Friendly Confines. The new era starts with the DAS deployed by DGP, which was picked by McIntyre and the Cubs several years ago, after hearing of DGP’s deployments at Levi’s Stadium and over face-to-face meetings at the SEAT Conference.

And while Cubs fans didn’t have to wait for new wireless as long as they did for a world championship, they can now start enjoying the ability to connect to the world outside the ivy.

“When it’s fully done our fans will have a real ability to share, in a modern way, from one of the most iconic and historic venues,” McIntyre said. “It’s a whole new world.”

This look at the main seating shows the multiple overhangs where DAS antennas were mounted

This look at the Wrigley Field bleachers shows the lack of any structures to hang antennas from

If you get hungry while at the Wrigley Field head end, this fine dining establishment is just outside the door

“How often does the train come by?” “So often you don’t notice.”

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

DGP upgrades Levi’s Stadium DAS in preparation for Super Bowl 50

New 'chiclet' DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi's Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

New ‘chiclet’ DAS antennas visible on the concourse overhangs at Levi’s Stadium. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After deploying one of the biggest and most robust stadium DAS networks at Levi’s Stadium last year, what did DAS Group Professionals do for an encore?

How about completely re-deploying a new DAS at Levi’s Stadium during the football offseason, just about doubling the capacity in a construction project that took place at a “live” venue instead of one under construction?

The ambitious renovation of the not-quite-1-year-old Levi’s Stadium DAS was all done in the name of Super Bowl 50, the NFL’s big game that is coming to Levi’s Stadium in February 2016. According to DGP president Steve Dutto, the huge jump in wireless traffic statistics at Super Bowl XLIX last February got the major wireless carriers working early to assure that the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl would have enough cellular capacity.

In addition to new antennas from DAS gear supplier JMA Wireless that can be more finely tuned, and more antennas and remote units to beef up coverage and support more cell sectors inside Levi’s Stadium, DGP and stadium owner the San Francisco 49ers also increased the DAS footprint outside the stadium in the adjacent parking lots, addressing what Niners COO Al Guido told MSR was a “primary concern” heard from fans during the inaugural Levi’s Stadium season.

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Though work on the DAS will likely continue throughout the season, most of the construction and deployments were expected to be in place for the Niners’ regular season opener tonight versus the Minnesota Vikings.

Ready for another ‘Super’ cellular day

Though the unofficial totals for DAS traffic at the last Super Bowl that were in excess of 6 terabytes were the highest we’ve ever seen reported, DGP’s Dutto said that the top wireless carriers are expecting as much as 2.5 times that amount of traffic at Super Bowl 50, a load that might have swamped even the previously robust Levi’s Stadium DAS.

“The [cellular] traffic at the Super Bowl this past year was greater than anything anybody had seen,” Dutto said in a recent interview at Levi’s Stadium. All the carriers, he said, were “amazed” at the traffic jump from the year before, when AT&T and Verizon Wireless reported a combined total of about 2.5 TB of cellular data at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. (For what it’s worth the Wi-Fi traffic also just about doubled, from 3.3 TB to 6.23 TB.)

The DGP team at Levi's for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

The DGP team at Levi’s for our interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO.

So even though the Levi’s Stadium DAS performed exceedingly well — according to Dutto “we turned it on and from day one it exceeded expectations” — and that there wasn’t any capacity problems during the Niners’ 2014 season, the expected impending crush coming in February spurred what Dutto called “carrier-driven upgrades” that included the need to take over some previous storage-room space to house the increased amount of head-end gear.

Under seat DAS antennas part of the upgrade

Inside the stadium itself, Dutto said that Verizon will expand its coverage from 60 to 80 sectors, while AT&T will increase from 45 to 54 or more sectors. DGP will increase its “zones” of coverage in the main seating bowl from 23 to 40, and will go from 250 antennas to 400, and from 330 remote units to 450. There will also be plenty of new antennas from JMA that Dutto said have “greater gain and sharper patterns” to enhance coverage.

“It’s almost like deploying twice the network in the same amount of time,” Dutto said. The other big difference from last year, however, was that Levi’s Stadium was open for events this past football offseason, from WrestleMania 31 to a NHL Stadium Series game to concerts with the Grateful Dead and Taylor Swift.

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Another view of the antennas on the concourse overhangs

Though there was more than enough cabling areas and pathways to make the retrofit easier, Dutto said working around the live events increased the deployment degree of difficulty. But even with new head end rooms and extras like under-seat DAS antennas (a new deployment method at Levi’s Stadium for DAS), 20-plus new antenna placements in the parking lot and the accomodation of new 2.5-GHz spectrum for Sprint, Dutto said that the new network was expected to be at least “90 percent complete” before the season’s start.

As is regular with lead-ups to Super Bowls, there will likely be even more network tweaking and adjustment up until the last minute before kickoff on Feb. 7, 2016.

A ‘heart-attack” moment and hot dog machines

With any luck, the new network will work as well as the old one, and will hopefully light up without the “heart attack moment” that happened just before opening day last fall. Dutto and his team of Derek Cotton, director of engineering, and Vince Gamick, DGP’s vice president and COO, told of coming to Levi’s Stadium for the regular season opener last September and almost keeling over when they couldn’t detect the DAS network anywhere inside the building.

As it turns out, Dutto said that the major wireless carriers had forgot to turn down the power on their macro towers at the cell sites that surround Levi’s Stadium, which basically overwhelmed the internal network since Dutto said the outdoor cell sites operate at 80 watts, compared to the 2-watt in-stadium DAS network.

“There are six cell sites within hundreds of feet [of Levi’s Stadium] and since they hadn’t turned them down, we couldn’t see the network in the stadium,” said Dutto, whose pulse was revived when the situation was quickly rectified.

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

Close-up of the back of one of the new antennas

At least the Levi’s Stadium DAS couldn’t be turned off by stadium workers or blacked out by hot dog machines, problems that DGP encountered at the Niners’ old home, Candlestick Park, where DGP deployed a test DAS in the 49ers’ final season there in 2013. According to Dutto, for some reason the DGP network was connected by utility PG&E to the same electrical routes as the cookers for stadium hot dogs — and when those were turned on one Sunday the system was overloaded, bringing the DAS down with sausages.

The Candlestick DAS also suffered an outage when the park rangers who lived at the stadium thought the equipment air conditioners were too loud, so they turned them off — setting off multiple alarms for Dutto and his network administration team.

Safe to say, similar problems aren’t expected to arise as DGP and the Niners prepare Levi’s Stadium’s cellular network for Super Bowl 50, a tough task but one with rewards on both a personal and business level.

“This has been fun, and the Niners have been great to work with,” said Dutto.

Extreme, DGP part of Wi-Fi and DAS upgrade coming to Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium

Screen shot 2015-09-03 at 10.47.36 PMExtreme Networks and DAS Group Professionals have been selected by IMG to build a new Wi-Fi and DAS network respectively at Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium, the 82,300-seat home of the Seminoles football team, according to the school’s website.

Extreme, which has mainly made its stadium name in pro football venues, has one other college deployment that we know of but nothing on the scale of regular national-championship caliber FSU. DGP, which was relatively unknown until its Levi’s Stadium deployment last year, is now racking up big deals in a hurry, following its selection (also alongside Extreme) by the Chicago Cubs for new communications infrastructure at Wrigley Field.

Since the press release said the deals are only so far at the “evaluation” stage that means that Wi-Fi and DAS aren’t available yet. More details on this deal as we hear them, in what is shaping up to be a very busy season of new stadium deployments. This also appears to be the first fruit of the Extreme/IMG relationship announced last winter.

Chicago Cubs tap NFL deployment expertise of Extreme, DGP for new Wi-Fi, DAS at Wrigley Field

Artist rendering of the proposed fan plaza outside Wrigley Field. Renderings courtesy of the 1060 Project.

Artist rendering of the proposed fan plaza outside Wrigley Field. Renderings courtesy of the 1060 Project.

The video boards above the historic ivy-covered outfield walls are only the first clue that this isn’t your grandpa’s Wrigley Field anymore.

And though you won’t be able to see it, new Wi-Fi and DAS networks are coming soon to the Friendly Confines, as part of the Ricketts Family’s ambitious remake of Wrigley Field and its surrounding area. And according to Cubs IT executives, the team is tapping firms with NFL stadium expertise to bring not just fast and thorough wireless coverage to fans, but also back-end ownership and analytics so that the team can more effectively track online activity to improve the fan experience as well as improve the team’s return on infrastructure investment.

Though Wrigley Field has had full fan-facing Wi-Fi for longer than most Major League Baseball stadiums — the AT&T-built network arrived in 2012 — with the major overhaul of not just the park itself but the surrounding areas outside beginning this offseason, it was time to rethink the team’s overall approach to wireless connectivity, said Andrew McIntyre, senior director of information technology for the Chicago Cubs.

As part of the team’s ongoing 1060 Project the Ricketts family (which owns the Cubs) is not only adding more concessions and other fan amenities to Wrigley, they are also building a fan plaza outside the main gate as well as building a retail/office building and eventually a boutique hotel on the edge of the famed ballpark property at Chicago’s somewhat slanted corner of Clark and Addison. (If you don’t get the “1060” label, we suggest you ask Elwood Blues what the address of Wrigley Field is.)

“As it all starts looking more like a campus, it changes the dynamics” of how you provide wireless coverage to all areas, said McIntyre. As a regular attendee, speaker and steering council member of the SEAT Conference — the premier gathering of stadium technology professionals — McIntyre was well aware of all the new trends for large-venue Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, some of which were taking place in football stadiums across the country.

“We understood what was happening with other leagues in regards to Wi-Fi and DAS from what we saw at SEAT,” said McIntyre, in an interview at this summer’s SEAT Conference in San Francisco. “We started to evaluate those deployments and ideas as we were getting ready for our restoration.”

The Winners: Wi-Fi with a heavy side of analytics, and team-owned DAS

Cubs fans know how to enjoy a day at the park. Photo: Lisa Farrell, MSR

Cubs fans know how to enjoy a day at the park. Photo: Lisa Farrell, MSR

As major construction took place this past offseason, the Cubs de-activated the AT&T Wi-Fi network that had previously served fans inside the ballpark. Even though it doesn’t sound very old, McIntyre notes that many other stadiums around the country have had to completely overhaul Wi-Fi networks built just several years ago, due to the ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth and the rapid introduction of new phones and devices that fans are bringing to games.

“AT&T had previously controlled both the DAS and the Wi-Fi, and [to them] the Wi-Fi was kind of a ‘check the box thing,’ ” McIntyre said. “The scope [of the network] was just for Wrigley Field only. When we took down the Wi-Fi while we replaced the bleachers, we looked more toward the future.”

What McIntyre and the Cubs IT team saw was a future where Wi-Fi was used not only to provide connectivity, but to also provide a deep link between venue owners and operators and the digital activities of their visitors, through advanced analytics of Wi-Fi traffic. In the end the Cubs selected Wi-Fi provider Extreme Networks for the Wrigley project, in no small part due to Extreme’s experience in deploying Wi-Fi networks and Wi-Fi analytics inside numerous NFL stadiums.

“We saw patterns emerging in other leagues, and especially in the NFL, where the league and teams called out analytics,” said McIntyre. Extreme, which has a partnership deal with the NFL as its preferred provider of Wi-Fi analytics for its Purview software, has provided analytics help at recent Super Bowls in addition to being part of stadium Wi-Fi deployments for the New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks, among others.

“A lot of times talk about Wi-Fi is simply about coverage and capacity, and more, more, more,” McIntyre said. “The question of ‘what are you doing with the service’ becomes an afterthought.” McIntyre noted that in some cases, the NFL has deployed Extreme analytics on top of Wi-Fi infrastructure with gear from another manufacturer. “What they [Extreme] are able to provide [with analytics] is night and day compared to the competition,” McIntyre said.

Back of the iconic Wrigley bleachers, circa 2014. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Back of the iconic Wrigley bleachers, circa 2014. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

John Brams, director of Sports and Entertainment at Extreme Networks, called the coming Wrigley Field network “a signature deployment.” Wrigley Field itself is expected to have Wi-Fi service in time for the 2016 season, McIntyre said.

DAS: Neutral host instead of carrier-led

On the DAS side of the wireless equation, McIntyre and the Cubs team were impressed with the cellular network deployment at the San Francisco 49ers’ new venue, Levi’s Stadium, a deployment done by the lesser-known firm DAS Group Professionals, or DGP. While many may have first heard of DGP for its Levi’s Stadium deployment, DGP does have other large-venue experience, having built previous cellular networks for airports and the San Francisco Bay area’s BART light-rail service.

At Levi’s Stadium, DGP worked with the Niners to build a neutral-host DAS deployment that is owned and controlled by the team, an emerging trend for stadium owners and operators who don’t want to simply concede control to wireless carriers. Under a neutral-host deployment the owner or operator of the DAS typically builds a non-carrier-specific antenna infrastructure, and then charges wireless carriers to connect their systems to the back end of that network.

At a prior SEAT event McIntyre said the Cubs team talked to the Niners about why they went with DGP, and liked what they heard.

“The venue-owned DAS solution was a business model we liked,” McIntyre said, “It perfectly aligns with our strategy of being closer to the fan base and not one step removed.”

Steve Dutto, president of DGP, said the Cubs contract “validates our work at Levi’s Stadium.” The new DAS, McIntyre said, should be fully functional by 2017.

Artist rendering of the home plate view after all construction done.

Artist rendering of the home plate view after all construction done.