Verizon: U.S. Bank Stadium DAS already seeing more traffic than Super Bowl 51

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi). Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The trend of fans continuing to use more and more wireless data at big sporting events shows no sign of slowing down, especially after Verizon Wireless said that it’s already seeing more cellular traffic at Vikings home games this year than it saw at Super Bowl 51.

Verizon, which built the neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular carriers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, also said it increased the DAS antenna count by 48 percent at the venue this past offseason, in order to better support the expected surge coming at Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. At a press event at the stadium today, Verizon said it now has approximately 1,200 DAS antennas of its own at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re very confident” that both the DAS and Verizon’s networks will be more than ready to handle the Super Bowl when it comes to Minneapolis at the end of this current NFL season, said Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, in a phone interview earlier this week. Though the stadium opened in 2016 with a fully functional DAS, Scudder said Verizon spent the past offseason adding more capacity for its customers with additional DAS antennas in a variety of deployment methods, including antennas in enclosures both under-seat and in handrails, as well as in pole-mounted deployments along standing-room drink railings in both end zone concourses.

It’s selfie time on the drink-rail concourse area, where a DAS antenna looms on a pole behind

Though Scudder declined to say exactly how many DAS antennas there are in the building, with the new “48 percent” additional antennas Verizon said it now has 100 DAS zones throughout the venue, including the seating bowl, concourses, suites, and outdoor DAS coverage surrounding the stadium. But perhaps the most surprising reveal was that in-stadium DAS traffic at Vikings home games this season have already produced single-game numbers that Scudder said were greater than those seen inside the stadium at Super Bowl 51, held Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Pay attention here, because the italicized distinction is important.

Under-seat, handrail and drink-railing DAS

Given Verizon’s historic coyness on numbers, it’s no surprise that Scudder did not provide an exact number for the Vikings in-stadium DAS traffic that she said surpassed Super Bowl 51’s mark. She also didn’t disclose what the in-stadium only DAS number was for Verizon at NRG Stadium. The only reported Verizon number for DAS traffic at Super Bowl 51, 11 terabytes of traffic, includes data not just from the stadium, but also from macro network connections within a 2-mile radius of the stadium on game day, Scudder said. So far, Verizon hasn’t provided a Vikings regular-season game-day measurement for traffic outside the stadium as well. So if it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison yet, if the in-stadium marks are already higher, the bet is that whatever total number Verizon sees at Super Bowl LII, it will be greater than the 11 TB seen at Super Bowl LI.

It’s also not surprising that the DAS installation at U.S. Bank Stadium is already looking like it will surpass NRG Stadium’s marks, simply because with the advantage of greenfield construction, all networks at U.S. Bank Stadium were designed with some of the latest deployment knowledge available. At NRG Stadium, where networks were added well after construction, Verizon deployed DAS antennas under the concrete floors, an easier deployment method but one that typically produces lower throughput than other methods. And for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Verizon added under-seat DAS antennas in what was believed to be the first such deployment for cellular DAS.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

AmpThink, which built the Wi-Fi network in U.S. Bank Stadium relying on handrail-mounted AP enclosures, seems to have played a hand in part of Verizon’s DAS upgrade, as some of the new DAS enclosures seem to mimic the Wi-Fi ones. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. The new under-seat DAS deployments and the handrail DAS deployments are Verizon-specific, meaning they are not part of the neutral host DAS that provides service for other cellular carriers.

In addition to overhead DAS antennas mounted pretty much everywhere it would make sense — below overhangs, and even in twin-antenna mounts on poles hanging down over concourse walkways — there are now a series of DAS antennas mounted on poles just above the main-concourse end-zone standing areas, where fans can lean against drink rails while watching the game. In a pregame test on Nov. 19 for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, MSR tests saw DAS speeds of 77.35 Mpbs download and 32.40 Mbps upload on one of the end-zone concourse areas.

Even up in the most nosebleed of seats — in U.S. Bank Stadium’s case, section 345, which has seats almost touching the roof in the southwest corner, we got a DAS speedtest on the Verizon network of 60.87 Mbps / 44.22 Mbps, most likely from some antennas we could see mounted just above the seats on ventilation pipes a bit toward the field. And hanging from the middle of U.S. Bank Stadium’s roof are a pair of Matsing Ball antennas, which point down to provide cellular service for media and photographers on the sidelines, as well as for floor seating for concerts and other events.

Demand for bandwidth is ‘insatiable’

According to Scudder, any and all antennas are all needed, both for Vikings home games at the 66,200-seat venue, but also for the Super Bowl, where additional seating will host more fans, media and other attendees for the NFL’s championship game.

“The consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” Scudder said, noting that these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game. Verizon’s deployments don’t end at U.S. Bank Stadium’s walls, either. According to Scudder over the past 2 years Verizon engineers have been busy adding capacity all over Minneapolis, including in downtown areas, at the Minneapolis airport, and at the nearby Mall of America.

“We’ve been partnering with the Twin Cities for 2 years now and they are very receptive and want to have the latest technology here,” Scudder said. Scudder also said that all the improvements, in DAS, small cell deployments and macro towers, will remain as permanent solutions, helping keep Minneapolis a Super-connected city even after the big game is over.

DAS antennas hang down from the overhang above a suite area

Even at the highest elevation seats in the venue, DAS coverage is excellent, provided in this case by antennas mounted on the ventilation pipes above (see next photo for close-up)

DAS antennas seen mounted below ventilation pipes

Two ‘Matsing Ball’ antennas hanging from center roof beams (this photo courtesy Verizon)

Under-seat DAS antenna (this photo courtesy Verizon)

NRG Stadium Wi-Fi ‘soft launches’ at Texans preseason game

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.35.17 AMThe Houston Texans gave their fans more to cheer about with a 16-9 preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints last Saturday, but what might have made a lot of people happy at NRG Stadium was the unofficial debut of the stadium’s new Wi-Fi network, which was available in a sort of “soft launch” mode.

We say “sort of,” because according to people who were at the game there was pretty heavy promotion of the new network’s availability, with bandwidth sponsor Comcast distributing flyers in seat cup-holders as well as making in-stadium announcements about the wireless connectivity. NRG Stadium had been one of the few NFL venues without Wi-Fi, but with the Super Bowl headed to Houston at the end of this season installing Wi-Fi became a priority.

Starting after the Final Four concluded this past spring, integrator 5 Bars and Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks got busy, eventually installing approximately 1,250 Wi-Fi APs inside NRG Stadium. According to 5 Bars representatives, many of the APs in the seating bowl were installed under the seats, a deployment method that is becoming a trend in larger stadiums.

Though we don’t have any stats yet (since the network isn’t really “officially” launched) we did hear from network sources that there was a good uptake on the system, and we are looking forward to watching the Wi-Fi’s performance this season leading up to Super Bowl 51 in February. If any fans out there hit another Texans game anytime soon, send us a speedtest of the Wi-Fi!

AT&T: Fans used 2.28 TB of cellular data during Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.45.34 AMAs the march toward the Final Four continued, fans at the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 venues for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament used a combined 2.28 terabytes of data on the AT&T networks in those venues, according to AT&T. The highest weekend total came from games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where 680 GB were used, according to AT&T.

Combined with the 3.6 TB of data AT&T said was used on its networks at first- and second-round sites, that makes a total of 5.88 TB used so far on AT&T cellular and DAS networks at the various hoops arenas. We’d like to hear from other carriers as well, but none have contacted us so far.

Data totals at this weekend’s Final Four in Houston should be interesting, since the host venue, NRG Stadium, doesn’t yet have a Wi-Fi network. Both AT&T and Verizon have beefed up cellular coverage in and around the arena, but without Wi-Fi it may be hard for fans to top last year’s total of 11 TB used at the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Remember — all Final Four games this weekend are on TBS, not CBS! Of course you can also stream the games if that’s easier.

NCAA hoops sites get wireless upgrades to handle tourney traffic

The two "sliced" balls in the center are AT&T's new "Ten-Ten-Antenna," so called because it delivers 10x the cellular coverage of any previous such device. Photo: AT&T

The two “sliced” balls in the center are AT&T’s new “Ten-Ten-Antenna,” so called because it delivers 10x the cellular coverage of any previous such device. Photo: AT&T

In addition to ticket sales and hotel revenues, you can count on an NCAA basketball tournament crowd to bring wireless demands to host stadiums these days. To prepare for the expected crush, wireless carriers, third-party integrators and venues themselves have bolstered both DAS and Wi-Fi networks, especially at NRG Stadium in Houston, site of the men’s Final Four April 2 and 4.

NRG Stadium, also home to the NFL’s Houston Texans, is slated to host Super Bowl LI next Feburary, and as such will be getting a new Wi-Fi network built by 5 Bars with gear from Extreme Networks ahead of the biggest big game. Unfortunately for data-hungry hoops fans, construction on that network won’t start until after the Final Four, meaning it will be cellular-only for the fans and followers at the championship weekend games.

But connections for customers of major carriers should be fine, since AT&T has already spent $25 million on Houston-area DAS upgrades, including at the stadium itself as well as at the convention center and other areas hosting Final Four activities. There will also be a portable Cell on Wheels, or COW, outside the convention center, where AT&T’s ball-shaped directional antennas will be bringing extra capacity to the scene.

Verizon said that it has already spent $40 million on improving its cellular infrastructure in and around NRG Stadium; inside the venue Verizon said its updated DAS deployment has 783 antennas, able to handle four times the capacity of the previous infrastructure. Outside the stadium Verizon said it has implemented an outdoor DAS to cover parking lots and tailgating areas. Verizon said it is also targeting downtown areas and the Houston airport for improvements ahead of Super Bowl LI.

At some of the regional tourney sites, third-party neutral host ExteNet Systems has been busy as well, adding capacity to some of its stadium DAS deployments as well as to one Wi-Fi network it runs at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. At the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, ExteNet recently added U.S. Cellular to its DAS deployment, the first venue in which U.S. Cellular has been an ExteNet customer. Other ExteNet deployments that will see men’s or women’s NCAA games this year include the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis; and the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

In Denver at the Pepsi Center, a new (but not yet publicly announced) Wi-Fi network using Avaya gear should get a good test if it is live for the regional games there this weekend. With all these and more, if any fans or venues want to send speedtests in or post-games stats, we’ll happily print them.

Watching Golf This Week: Houston and the Last Chance for Masters

Welcome to a new feature here at MSR, something we are calling “Watching Golf this week,” at least until we come up with a better title. Anyway, what we’re doing is compiling all the ways you can watch the PGA Tour this weekend — online, on TV, on Twitter, and anywhere else we can find. Please give us a shout in the comments if you know of other outlets or have favorite columnists or reporters who follow pro golf. It’s all about sharing here so don’t be shy.

With one week to go before the Masters, this week’s Shell Houston Open is the last chance for players who don’t already have an invite to get one by either winning the event, or by doing well enough to move into the top 50 in the overall rankings, either of which will stamp your ticket to Augusta. Who’s on the bubble and needs to do well? Ernie Els, seeking a Masters title for his Hall of Fame resume, stands at No. 58 and just missed winning a couple weeks ago. Fred Couples (winner last week on the Champions Tour — ready for Augusta?) and defending Houston champ Phil Mickelson will also be on hand, so even with no Tiger the Houston stop should have its own drama worthy of watching.

Here’s where to follow the action:


(all times Eastern)
Thursday, March 29 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Friday, March 30 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Saturday, March 31 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 1 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

SIRIUS XM (Satellite)
12 p.m. — 6 p.m., Thursday-Sunday

No PGA Live@ coverage for Houston. But get ready for plenty of online at the Masters next week.

This thing is addictive. Live updates of every shot, with length, where it landed, how far the player has to go to the hole. Like eating potato chips.

Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend

The Houston Chronicle and writer Steve Campbell has you covered for local flavor this week.

Check out the PGA’s Inside the Course feature for a look at Redstone Golf Club.

Lefty — aka Phil Mickelson. He’ll be paired with a couple other Masters champs, Boom Boom Freddie and Charl “no nickname yet” Schwartzel.

1. Johnson Wagner, 1,017 points
2. Rory McIlroy, 1,015
3. Kyle Stanley, 954
4. Mark Wilson, 887
5. Phil Mickelson, 880
See the full standings for the FedEx Cup points list.

1. Luke Donald; 2. Rory McIlroy; 3. Lee Westwood; 4. Martin Kaymer; 5. Steve Stricker.
See the official World Golf Ranking list.