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

Average per-fan Wi-Fi use total jumps again at Super Bowl 52

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

After a year where the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan at the Super Bowl dropped, the trend of more data used per fan reversed itself again to a new peak at Super Bowl 52, with an average total of 407.4 megabytes per user.

Even though the number of unique connections to the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 also increased to a record 40,033 users (according to the official statistics compiled by Extreme Networks), the jump from 11.8 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl 51 to 16.31 TB used at Super Bowl 52 pushed the average per-user number to the top, surpassing the 333 MB per user number from Super Bowl 51, as well as the 370 MB per user mark seen at Super Bowl 50.

While this statistic has not ever been called out by the Extreme Networks Super Bowl compilations, we here at MSR think it is a vital mark since it shows that even with more users on the network those connected users are still using more data. That means that IT departments at venues everywhere should probably still plan for no letup in the overall continued growth in demand for bandwidth at large-venue events, especially at “bucket list” events like the Super Bowl.

Last year we guessed the drop in per-user totals from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51 might have been due to a larger number of autoconnected users, but we never got an answer from the Extreme Networks team when we asked that question. At U.S. Bank Stadium there was also an autoconnect feature to the Wi-Fi for Verizon Wireless customers, but it didn’t seem to affect the per-user total mark.

Eagles see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi data for NFC Championship game on new Panasonic network

Panasonic Everest Wi-Fi APs (lower left, middle right) mounted underneath an overhang at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Credit: Panasonic (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Philadelphia Eagles saw 8.76 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 21 during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, a new high in one-day Wi-Fi usage for reported marks in games not called the Super Bowl.

Though the game’s position as No. 3 on our unofficial “top Wi-Fi” list (see below) may change as we get reports from other recent NFL playoff games, the mark is nevertheless impressive, and perhaps a big confirmation metric for Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business. According to Panasonic, its 654-Access Point network inside “The Linc” also saw 35,760 unique connections during the game, out of 69,596 in attendance; the network also saw a peak of 29,201 concurrent devices connected (which happened during the post-game trophy presentation), and saw peak throughput of 5.5 Gbps.

What’s most interesting about the new Panasonic network in Philadelphia is that it is a completely top-down deployment, meaning that most of the APs (especially the 200 used in the seating bowl) shoot signals down toward seats from above. While most new networks at football-sized stadiums (and some smaller arenas) have turned to under-seat or railing-mounted APs to increase network density in seating areas, Panasonic claims its new “Everest” Wi-Fi gear has antennas that can provide signals up to 165 feet away, with “electronically reconfigurable directional beam profiles” that allow for specific tuning of where the Wi-Fi signal can point to.

By also putting four separate Wi-Fi radios into each access point, Panasonic also claims it can save teams and venues money and time on Wi-Fi deployments, since fewer actual devices are needed. By comparison, other big, new network deployments like Notre Dame’s often have a thousand or more APs; Notre Dame, which uses railing-mounted APs in the seating bowl, has 685 in the seating bowl out of a total 1,096 APs. Many of the Notre Dame APs are Cisco 3800 devices, which have two Wi-Fi radios in each AP.

‘The Linc’ before last week’s NFC Championship game. Credit: Kiel Leggere, Eagles

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which uses Aruba Wi-Fi gear mainly deployed under seats in the bowl, has nearly 1,800 APs, with 1,000 of those in the seating bowl.

Antennas close to fans vs. farther away

From a design and performance standpoint, the under-seat or railing-mounted “proximate” networks are built with many APs close together, with the idea that fans’ bodies will intentionally soak up some of the Wi-Fi signal, a fact that network designers use to their advantage to help eliminate interference between radios. The under-seat AP design, believed to be first widely used by AT&T Park in San Francisco and then at a larger scale at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., was developed to help bring better signals to seats where overhang-mounted APs couldn’t deliver strong connectivity. Older concrete-bowl stadiums like Notre Dame’s also went with a proximate railing design for a similar lack of overhangs.

Though the Eagles’ IT team has repeatedly turned down interview requests from MSR since this summer, Danny Abelson, vice president connectivity for Panasonic Enterprise Solution Company, met with MSR last week to provide details of the deployment. Citing new, patented antenna technology developed specifically by Panasonic to solve the limitations of prior overhead gear, Abelson claims Panasonic can deliver a similar stadium experience for “two-thirds the cost” of an under-seat or railing-mount network design, with savings realized both in construction costs (since it is usually cheaper to install overhead-mounted equipment than under-seat or railing mounts due to drilling needed) and in the need for fewer actual APs, since Panasonic has four radios in its main Wi-Fi APs.

Eagles fans cheering their team to the Super Bowl. Credit: Hunter Martin, Eagles

Abelson, however, declined to provide the exact cost of the Panasonic network at Lincoln Financial Field, citing non-disclosure agreements. There are also more questions to be answered about a Panasonic deployment’s cost, including charges for management software and/or administration services. Currently, Abelson said, Panasonic includes the costs for management software and management personnel in its bids.

When it comes to how the Eagles found Panasonic, the team and the company already had an existing relationship, as Panasonic’s video-board division had previously supplied displays for the Linc. According to Abelson, Panasonic went through a performance test at several Eagles games last season, bringing in Wi-Fi gear to see if the new technology could provide coverage to areas where the Eagles said they had seen lower-quality coverage before. One of the forerunners in the NFL in bringing Wi-Fi to fans, the Eagles had previously used Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear to build a fan-facing network in 2013. Though the Eagles would not comment about the selection process, after issuing an RFP this past offseason the team chose Panasonic for a new network, which Abelson said was deployed in three months during the football offseason.

Re-opening the debate for antenna placement?

Though Mobile Sports Report has not yet been able to get to Philadelphia to test the new network in a live game-day situation, if Panasonic’s new gear works as promises the company may find many potential interested customers, especially those who had shied away from deploying under-seat networks due to the construction issues or costs.

The Panasonic system may be of particular interest to indoor arenas, like hockey and basketball stadiums, where the gear could be potentially mounted in catwalk areas to cover seating. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic deployment going in at the arena whose networks he oversees:

But even as the impressive 8.76 TB mark seen at the NFC Championship game now sits as the third-highest reported Wi-Fi data use event we’ve heard of (behind only the 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi seen at Super Bowl 50 and the 11.8 TB seen at Super Bowl 51), that number may fall a bit down the list if we ever get verified numbers for some network totals we’ve heard rumors about lately. (Or even any older ones! C’mon network teams: Check out the list below and let us know if we’ve missed any.)

So far this season, we haven’t gotten any reports of Wi-Fi usage out of the network team at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which recently hosted the college football playoff championship game), and we’ve only heard general talk about oversized playoff-game traffic at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. Like Notre Dame Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium uses a mostly railing-mounted AP deployment in its seating bowl; both networks were designed by AmpThink. We are also still waiting for reports from last week’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, where the previous non-Super Bowl top mark of 8.08 TB was set in September; and from any games this fall at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the NFL’s biggest stadium has 2,567 Wi-Fi APs.

Will overhead still be able to keep up as demand for more bandwidth keeps growing? Will Panasonic’s claims of lower costs for equal performance hold up? At the very least, the performance in Philadelphia could re-open debate about whether or not you need to deploy APs closer to fans to provide a good Wi-Fi experience. If all goes well, the winners in renewed competition will be venues, teams, and ultimately, fans.

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
6. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
7. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
8. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
9. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
10. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB

NFS wins $8 M judgement against SignalShare, and $5.7 M judgement against former SignalShare exec

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

UPDATE: Information added to original draft, since MSR now has copies of the actual court documents.

The drama surrounding the fraud charges leveled early last year against former Wi-Fi provider firm SignalShare seems to be reaching a conclusion, with court documents showing that NFS Leasing has been awarded $8 million in damages from SignalShare, and $5.7 million in damages from an ex-SignalShare exec.

To quickly recall the case, SignalShare, a company involved in bringing Wi-Fi networks and associated fan-experience apps to stadiums, was sued by NFS, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare, and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. Originally NFS sought $7.8 million in damages.

According court documents that are also quoted in a Law 360 report, a judge in Massachussetts federal court granted summary judgement in NFS’ favor Wednesday, with an $8 million judgement against Signal Point Holdings Corp., a SignalShare subsidiary, and a $5.7 million judgement against former SignalShare exec Christopher Barnes. According to court documents, the judge also voided an attempt by SignalShare to move assets between other companies owned by the same owners as SignalShare.

To recap the original story — SignalShare had originally partnered with Wi-Fi gear vendor Extreme Networks on deployments for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, all apparently legitimate deals. SignalShare later touted its Live-Fi nGage suite, a system that was meant to combine content, analytics and advertising links to give venue owners and operators a turnkey method to improve fan engagement and perhaps increase revenue opportunities for large-venue Wi-Fi networks.

According to a previous Law360 story, the lawsuit from NFS Leasing claimed that SignalShare “began requesting financing from NFS for purchasing equipment for fictitious contracts,” using forged, altered and falsified documents for deals that didn’t exist. From that Law360 report, which quotes from the legal complaint:

“[SignalShare] would represent to NFS that it had entered into an agreement with a sports arena or team and would induce NFS to provide funding for the acquisition of the allegedly-needed equipment,” the complaint said.

SignalShare would provide fake or forged invoices for the equipment it allegedly ordered, or provide fictitious serial numbers for items allegedly purchased and installed in the fraudulent contracts, the complaint said.

Between May 20, 2014 and May 21, 2015, SignalShare conned NFS into advancing funds on 10 fraudulent lease transactions to the tune of $4.9 million, the complaint said.

Costanzo charged, then cleared

The case had several twists and turns along the way, including the charging and then exoneration of former SignalShare chief technical officer Joe Costanzo, who was one of the SignalShare execs personally named in the first lawsuit. Costanzo, who ran the technical operations of SignalShare, claimed he was misled by his own company and had filed counter-claims against NFS.

This past August court documents said that NFS Leasing had dismissed all of its claims against Costanzo “without costs to either party.” Costanzo, who had filed a counter-claim against NFS, also dismissed his action.

In the summer of 2016, NFS had announced an auction of SignalShare assets, including such entities as the network lease for providing Wi-Fi to the Golden State Warriors. However, that planned auction was cancelled when SignalShare filed for bankruptcy. Along the way, executives from Extreme Networks have continually refused to comment on any details of their partnership with SignalShare.

Patriots, Extreme claim 8 TB of Wi-Fi used during NFL opener

Credit: Patriots.com

It looks like those NFL stadium Wi-Fi upgrades over the past couple years are paying off, with big numbers starting to roll in as the 2017 season gets underway. Tops on the numbers list so far is a report from Extreme Networks claiming a total of 8.08 terabytes of traffic was seen on the Wi-Fi network at Gillette Stadium for the NFL season opener, a 42-27 win by the visiting Kansas City Chiefs over the New England Patriots on Sept. 7.

The Patriots, one of several teams to significantly upgrade their Wi-Fi system before last season, saw a 5.11 TB mark during last year’s AFC Championship game, which (briefly) made the unofficial top 5 single-day Wi-Fi events list we’ve been keeping at MSR. Since then we’ve heard about a 7.25 TB game at AT&T Stadium for the Packers-Cowboys playoff tilt, and more recently a 6.2 TB mark seen at Notre Dame, for its Sept. 9 game against Georgia.

The Patriots’ 8-plus number came from an impressive number of fans using the network — according to Extreme, there were 41,377 unique users (out of 65,878 in attendance) on the network that day, with a peak concurrent user number of 33,909. Extreme also said the network saw peak throughput of 11.1 Gbps. These numbers are closing in on Super Bowl territory, with Super Bowl LI’s 11.8 TB mark now clearly in jeopardy when the big game rolls back around in Feburary. We are also waiting to see what the numbers are like from Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosts the Falcons’ regular-season home opener this weekend against Green Bay. Though there are no official reports yet, we have heard rumors that the MBS network did very well in preseason, so we’re guessing the list below will get a number of resets this season.

Got any numbers we need to know about? Send ’em in!

THE LATEST TOP 9 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
4. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
5. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
6. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
7. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
8. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
9. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB

Costanzo cleared in SignalShare lawsuit

Joe Costanzo, the former chief technology officer for SignalShare, has been cleared of any legal entanglements in that company’s ongoing lawsuit issues according to a new filing in the case.

Last year, NFS Leasing sued SignalShare for $7.8 million over alleged fradulent leases, a case now tied up in SignalShare’s subsequent bankruptcy proceedings. Costanzo, who primarily ran the technical operations of the stadium Wi-Fi leasing operator, was personally named by NFS in the lawsuit along with other SignalShare executives; Costanzo, however, claimed he was misled by his own company and had filed counter-claims against NFS.

A new document from the United States District Court in the District of Massachusetts said that NFS Leasing has dismissed all of its claims against Costanzo “without costs to either party.” Costanzo, who had filed a counter-claim against NFS, also dismissed his action.

Costanzo also apparently reached an agreement with the former SignalShare, according to a legal document filed by a company called M2 nGage, which was formed out of the remnants of SignalShare. According to the document, “Any disputes between Costanzo, the SPHC Parties and SignalShare were settled pursuant to a settlement agreement executed between the parties. Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the parties mutually released each other from any claims and SPHC agreed to pay Joseph Costanzo $92,000 over a period of a year associated with amounts due.”

NFS Leasing did not respond to an email inquiry for more information.