Paying for beer with a fingerprint gets thumbs-up at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field

A fan at a Seattle Seahawks game pays for concessions using his fingerprint, via the Clear system. Credit all photos: David Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Seattle football and soccer fans are giving a big thumbs-up to a new concessions system at CenturyLink Field that lets them buy a beer or other items simply by tapping their fingerprint at payment time.

Clear, the same firm that gives travelers a way to pay for access to faster security lines at airports, is now moving into sports venues with a free version of its plan to let fans enter stadiums via special “Clear” lines. In Seattle, Clear and the Seahawks and Sounders are also testing a point-of-sale system where registered Clear users can pay for concessions and be age-verified by simply tapping their finger on a special concession-stand device. Currently, the system is only in use at four concession stands at CenturyLink but Seattle network executives said there are plans to expand the offering as the seasons progress. The system was also used earlier this season at the Seattle Mariners’ home, Safeco Field.

With more than 1,500 football and soccer fans having signed up for Clear at the stadium through the first week of October, Clear and CenturyLink are now seeing an average of around 1,000 fans using Clear to enter the stadium per football game and 200-plus similar verifications at Seattle Sounders games, according to statistics provided to MSR by Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. The stadium started offering the service this preseason for both the NFL and MLS events. Fans who had previously signed up for Clear either at airports or online can use that same membership to enter the stadium.

The workings of the concession system are pretty simple: Once a user signs up for Clear — which requires personal data including age and a valid credit card — the user orders food and drink at the concession stand window, then completes the transaction with a fingertip tap in a special counter device. The biometrics confirm both that a user is old enough to purchase alcohol, and has a valid credit card to bill, eliminating the need for personal eyewitness verification of I.D. and the time needed to transact via credit card or cash.

At the Seahawks’ Oct. 7 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, another 199 fans enrolled for the Clear system on-site, and 911 fans used Clear to get into the venue, according to Suttles. The Clear system was used for 239 concession transactions at the game.

Speeding up the concessions lines

Fans could sign up for Clear inside and outside CenturyLink Field.


While the numbers may seem small right now, the promise of using technology to produce much faster concessions transactions are a welcome beginning to an area of stadium operations that in many places seems stuck in the far past, with cash transactions and counter staffers who take orders, fulfill them and then take payments.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to enhance the fan experience,” said Suttles, who said feedback so far from Seahawks and Sounders fans has been overwhelmingly positive. David Kapustka, Seattle Bureau Chief for Mobile Sports Report, attended the Seahawks’ Sept. 23 home game against the Dallas Cowboys and did an on-site test of the Clear system, and not just for the free beer Clear was offering as a sign-up promotion.

Once signed up for the system, Kapustka reported that the concession-stand finger-scan interaction “took less than a minute,” though there was some waiting beforehand to order since the Clear payment lanes share space with regular ordering and payment lanes at the two stands where the Clear service was offered that day.

The only drawbacks Kapustka saw for the Clear operation had mainly to do with its popularity, as a long line of fans queued up before the game to sign up at a Clear kiosk, ironically causing some delay for fans getting into the stadium. Once inside, one request Kapustka heard from fans was to have more Clear-enabled lines, feedback that Clear and the network folks are probably glad to hear. (More photos from our visit below)

Like many venues, CenturyLink Field has long lines for entry security measures

The Clear sign-up kiosk outside the stadium

A long line before the game started to sign up for Clear

One of the Clear-enabled concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Note the non-existent line at the Clear lane

Another fan taps a fingertip to pay

Good promotion

There’s good Wi-Fi at CenturyLink too

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

Gillette Stadium Wi-Fi sees 8.53 TB for AFC championship game, 9.76 TB for Taylor Swift

As we suspected earlier this year, the bar for single-day Wi-Fi data use keeps being pushed up at big events. At Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., this year has seen two new entries for our unofficial all-time Wi-Fi use list, at the AFC Championship Game held back in January, and a summer concert of the Taylor Swift Reputation tour, which has been racking up big Wi-Fi numbers across the country.

According to a blog post from Gillette Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks, the New England Patriots saw 8.53 terabytes of Wi-Fi used by fans at the Jan. 21 AFC Championship game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, which New England won 24-20. According to Extreme there were 43,020 unique device connections to Wi-Fi during the game, with a peak concurrent connection mark of 37,115 devices, both top marks for the longtime well-connected venue.

Interestingly, the Taylor Swift stop at Gillette on July 27 produced more total data — 9.76 TB, according to Extreme — with fewer connected clients than the AFC Championship game. For the Swift show, Extreme saw 35,760 unique devices connect with the Wi-Fi network, with a top concurrent mark of 27,376 devices. Peak system throughput was also higher for the concert, at 10.7 Gbps compared to 6.3 Gbps for the AFC Championship game. That makes sense, since there are more times during a concert to share social media and other communications compared to a tense football game, where most fans still watch the action while it is happening.

Stay tuned for more big Wi-Fi events! If you have a past event to add to the list, let us know!

THE MSR TOP 15 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
12. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
13. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
14. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
15. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

Eagles fans use 10.86 TB of Wi-Fi at season opener

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Credit: Philadelphia Eagles

In their first regular season home game as defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles saw their fans use 10.86 terabytes of Wi-Fi data at Lincoln Financial Field, the third-largest single-day total of Wi-Fi usage, trailing only the last two Super Bowls.

According to figures provided to Mobile Sports Report by the Eagles, an eye-opening 47,274 unique devices connected to the network at some point during the Eagles’ 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6, out of 69,696 in announced attendance. John Pawling, the Eagles’ vice president for information technology, also said the Eagles saw a peak concurrent connection of 36,829 devices on the Wi-Fi network, traffic that at one point “briefly maxed out” the Comcast-provided 10 Gbps backbone pipe that supports the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.

Since the night game was the NFL season opener and included the Eagles’ Super Bowl celebration ceremonies, Pawling expected a high amount of network traffic — they did, after all, see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi used at the NFC Championship game back in January — but admitted the end result left him and his team “somewhat surprised.” One element that might have contributed to additional traffic was a pregame weather delay, time most likely spent online as fans waited for action to commence.

Everest network up to the test

An Everest Wi-Fi antenna points down at the stands. Credit: Everest Networks

The Sept. 6 game marked the start of the second full year for Lincoln Financial Field’s new Wi-Fi network, which uses gear from Everest Networks, a Silicon Valley startup company that was seed-funded by Panasonic, which acted as the exclusive distribution partner until earlier this year when Panasonic relinquished sole distribution rights to the Everest gear.

While Pawling said that the business of Everest leaving Panasonic caused “a little concern” last year, he said that from a technical perspective the Eagles “are dealing with the same people” at Everest as they did at Panasonic, and that there have been no issues that affected the network’s performance.

“It’s business as usual,” Pawling said. “It [the network] is rock solid. We’re very happy with it.”

Pawling said that the Eagles chose Everest a couple years ago during what he called a standard refresh review. Previously, the Eagles had used Extreme Networks gear for a Wi-Fi network put in place in 2013.

“We tend to look at 5 years as a technology’s horizon, and it was time to evaluate what was in the marketplace,” said Pawling. With its new design that puts four radios into a single AP and new antenna technology that theoretically has a farther reach than older equipment, the Panasonic/Everest gear won the Eagles’ bid.

“We did some tests with it [the Everest gear] and it seemed to handle things without a problem,” Pawling said. “We felt it fit our needs the best.”

Only 5 GHz in the bowl

Another Everest AP deployment. Credit: Everest Networks

According to Pawling, Lincoln Financial Field now has 683 Everest APs covering the entire building, a lower AP number than most venues that size because of the multiple radios in most units. Pawling said the entire deployment is top-down, and that the Eagles aren’t even using the 2.4 GHz radio in most of the Everest APs since the team only uses 5 GHz channels for the bowl. (The multiple-radio Everest APs have three 5 GHz radios and one 2.4 GHz radio.)

“It’s a plus, absolutely,” to have three radios in each AP, Pawling said, citing the reduced time needed to deploy fewer APs.

While the NFL opener now joins the top three in our unofficial list of top Wi-Fi events, we expect this list to change rapidly this year as it seems like the surge in mobile bandwidth demands at big events is still increasing rapidly. We can only imagine what might happen if Taylor Swift plays a halftime show at a big football game, but we can guess it would be a workout for any network currently in place.

THE MSR TOP 14 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
12. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
13. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
14. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

New Report: Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium profile, Wrigley Wi-Fi and more!

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Fall 2018 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 string of historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments continues with reports from large collegiate football stadiums, a new basketball arena, an old baseball stadium and a soccer stadium hosting NFL games! Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:
— A full in-depth profile of the Wi-Fi network at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, where network crews overcame challenges posed by historic architecture to bring connectivity to 90,000 fans;
— A ‘sneak peek’ inside Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks (and Marquette University);
Wrigley Field Wi-Fi: An in-person tour of the new Wi-Fi network being rolled out by Extreme Networks and the Cubs;
— StubHub Center DAS: An in-depth profile with in-person testing of the DAS at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, temporary home of the NFL’s LA Chargers.

Download your free copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Cox Business, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, and Neutral Connect Networks. 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.

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.”