First Look: Milwaukee has a gem in Fiserv Forum

The front of Fiserv Forum, with the new Milwaukee Bucks logo ready for fan selfies. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

With its first event scheduled for next week, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee’s shiny new basketball and concert arena, is definitely ready for the spotlight as a sneak-peek tour by Mobile Sports Report this past week revealed a state-of-the-art stadium with great technology and pleasing aesthetic touches that should wow fans of pro and college basketball, concerts and other events for years to come.

While MSR plans to circle back soon for some more in-depth reporting and live testing of the stadium’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks, and closer looks at the digital displays in action, our short tour of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new home made it clear that the designers and builders of Fiserv Forum definitely learned from what others had done before them, and then advanced things in many areas.

Smart touches on the networking side like small Wi-Fi antennas in the railings and clever use of overhead Wi-Fi enclosures as seating signage show a dual commitment to getting the tech right while also paying attention to aesthetics, sometimes a challenge that falls short on one side or the other. Other interesting twists include an array of TV screens and other displays underneath the main large video board, so that fans in courtside seats have their own comfortable way to view replays and other information.

Railing Wi-Fi antenna enclosure in the lower bowl

The visual fan experience at Fiserv Forum starts, of course, with the stadium’s unique outside design, which either looks like a breaking wave or part of a beer barrel, depending on your view and sense of artistic license. The venue also uses architectural twists to provide an assortment of exciting views, with the top-level Panorama Club giving any ticket holder an eagle’s-eye view of the court as well as a spectacular view to downtown Milwaukee, courtesy of an outside deck.

Stay tuned for more MSR reporting on Fiserv Forum’s technology later this fall, including the Cisco Wi-Fi network with its 577 APs (most of which are the two-radio version) and Cisco Vision digital display deployment; cellular infrastructure from ExteNet and JMA; the LED banners and the huge Daktronics display; and live testing of the across-the-street beer garden scheduled to be open in time for Oktoberfest. Prosit and congrats to the Bucks and Fiserv. Some selected photos from our visit below (watch for more photos and more info in our upcoming Fall issue of the STADIUM TECH REPORT).

Artsy panoramic view of the front of Fiserv Forum

Inside the front door, the atrium soars up on both sides of the building

A full-court view from the Panorama Club (Marquette University will also use the stadium)

Looking up at the Panorama Club

The north side of the stadium, as seen from the attached parking structure

The section number sign doubles as a Wi-Fi AP enclosure

Construction continues on the next-door beer garden and entertainment area

View of the beer garden and entertainment area from the Panorama Club outside deck. The front two structures will house a brewpub and a Punch Bowl Social outlet

A look at the display (and wireless) technology mounted underneath the main video board

Concession displays

The Bradley Center, left, will soon be demolished, ceding the stage to Fiserv Forum

Fear the deer, but enjoy the beer

JMA touts virtualized RAN for DAS with new XRAN platform

The marketplace for in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments got an interesting jolt Monday with JMA Wireless’s announcement of its new XRAN software platform, which promises to bring the flexibility and cost savings of hardware virtualization to the world of Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment.

In a quick nutshell, the idea behind JMA’s XRAN is to use software and off-the-shelf Intel-based servers to replace the dedicated racks of equipment that are traditionally used to carry signals from celluar carrier lines to antenna infrastructure in a DAS. In addition to potential large savings in amounts of equipment needed, cooling and power costs, and sheer space, the XRAN also promises to allow cloud-based sharing and administration of systems, which could allow multiple buildings or a campus to share an integrated system for flexible capacity control.

A stadium with XRAN, in an example provided by JMA, could theoretically share its DAS deployment infrastructure with nearby office buildings, allowing for better use of resources. Though not yet deployed anywhere commercially, JMA also announced Monday that XRAN software is being used by Telecom Italia Mobile in a “live dense urban network application.” The announcements were officially made at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

Looking to cut costs for enterprise wireless deployments

The XRAN announcement may be of most immediate interest in the stadium wireless marketplace to third-party network operators, who typically build a DAS network for a stadium and rent space on it back to carriers. That model, employed by companies including Boingo, Mobilitie, ExteNet and 5 Bars, has come under pressure lately as carriers have voiced displeasure over having to pay what they sometimes consider exorbitant prices for access. If costs for DAS deployments and operations could be cut, third party operators might be able to offer more attractive rates to ensure carrier participation.

To be sure, virtualized RAN operations (also sometimes known as “C-RAN” for Cloud-based RAN) have been the focus of many companies inside the telecom services space, for the same cost-saving and feature flexibility promises made possible by switching from dedicated hardware to commodity platforms. In the press literature accompanying its announcement, JMA notes that while some “partially virtualized” RAN architecture equipment exists, JMA claims the XRAN platform is the first fully virtual RAN, software “that can process the full protocol stack” from Layer 1 through Layer 3.

If the cost savings and functional flexibility of RAN virtualization follow the curves seen by virtualization in the application world, XRAN or any similar platforms that may follow could also potentially hold interest for commercial real estate owners and operators. With most industry estimates showing that many large commercial buildings like office towers currently lack a comprehensive indoor wireless coverage solution, by eliminating a big chunk of the cost of a DAS — or by allowing campuses or multiple buildings to share the costs — a DAS could become a more attractive option.

“Cost, simplicity, footprint, power, and cooling changes dramatically with XRAN,” said Todd Landry, corporate vice president of product and market strategy at JMA Wireless, in a prepared statement. “XRAN is designed from its inception to close the gap between rapidly growing in-building mobile connectivity demands and today‚Äôs complex, proprietary hardware solutions unable to evolve and adapt for multi-operator services.”

More as we hear more from what is sure to be a talked-about subject in the big-building wireless world!