VenueNext, developer of Levi’s Stadium app, formally launches

Instant replay feature on Levi's Stadium app. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Instant replay feature on Levi’s Stadium app. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

VenueNext, the startup firm that developed the Levi’s Stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers, is formally hanging out its own banner Thursday, with announcements of not just application design but a full stadium-specific suite of analytic tools designed to give stadium owners and operators more control and better visibility into what’s happening when fans use the app. The firm will be seeking to license its software and develop apps for other stadiums and large public venues, like outdoor concert arenas.

We’ll have a longer profile with VenueNext soon — since there are no other customers yet other than the Niners, we have a little time to catch up. What’s most interesting is that the team actually helped create VenueNext, funding its start through Aurum Partners LLC, the investment firm of the team’s ownership. VenueNext is led by COO and founder John Paul, a name we remember well since we interviewed him way back in his days at networking pioneer Banyan (when yours truly worked for a publication called Unix Today!). Mr. Paul’s decorated tech career includes stops at Netscape and Slingbox, among others.

In a phone interview with Paul, he said VenueNext hopes to sign up as many as 30 customers for its app development efforts over the next year. The VenueNext team, which has offices in Palo Alto, Calif. and New York, has 25 engineers and is also seeking additional venture funding, Paul said.

John Paul, COO and founder, VenueNext

John Paul, COO and founder, VenueNext

“Jed [York, the Niners’ CEO] is very open to us using Levi’s as a Petri dish,” Paul said. “Now the goal is to go license this to the world.”

Paul also corrected our reporting that the instant replay feature on the Levi’s app (which was live for the first time at Sunday’s home opener) didn’t have multiple camera angles available; the multiple angles were there, Paul said, in the upper left corner of the video window, visible when the player was stopped and a user tapped on the screen.

We did counter with an opinion that the feature was hard to find, and after a brief debate about application UI preferences Paul did say that the app was being constantly updated and that fans would “see enhancements” as the season continues.

As we said, look for a longer profile of VenueNext and its Levi’s app efforts soon.

Niners’ home opener tops Super Bowl for Wi-Fi data traffic with 3.3 Terabytes

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse. Credit, all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse. Credit, all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The first regular-season home game for the San Francisco 49ers in their new home, Levi’s Stadium, produced more Wi-Fi traffic and far more actual fan-to-network connections than the most-recent Super Bowl, according to statistics from the Niners’ tech team.

Dan Williams, vice president of technology for the 49ers, said the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 3.3 Terabytes of data during Sunday night’s game between the Niners and the Chicago Bears, topping the 3.2 TB mark reported from Super Bowl XLVIII in February. According to Williams, out of the 70,799 that filled Levi’s Stadium Sunday, more than 30,000 fans connected to the Wi-Fi network at some point, with peak usage of 19,000 fans all connecting at one time occurring just before the 5:30 p.m. local time kickoff. According to the Super Bowl stats, the peak number of fans on Wi-Fi at that game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was 13,500.

“We’re pretty excited by Sunday,” said Williams, who said that the Wi-Fi network stood up well even under peak data transfer rates of 3.1 Gbps right before kickoff, and another 2.6 Gbps peak around 7:30 p.m. Around the peaks, network traffic stayed “well over 1 gig per second for three and a half hours,” Williams said.

North scoreboard screen at Levi's Stadium.

North scoreboard screen at Levi’s Stadium.

During the Niners’ first preseason game against the Denver Broncos, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 2.13 TB of data, and during the Aug. 24 preseason game against San Diego there was another 1.96 TB of Wi-Fi data. The figures do not include any reporting from the stadium’s DAS network, which carries cellular traffic from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile customer. If preseason games are any indication, Williams expects to see numbers in the terabyte range for DAS traffic as well.

The Wi-Fi numbers from Sunday showed that fans quickly figured out a name change in the network name (or SSID). During preseason games, the Wi-Fi network was identified as “Levi’s Stadium” in a device list of available networks; on Sunday the free stadium network used the name “xfinitywifi,” reflecting the brand of Wi-Fi sponsor Comcast. Some fans might have been confused since the “xfinitywifi” SSID is the same one used by Comcast for its public Wi-Fi networks.

“Some folks may have been scratching their heads,” said Williams. “We changed the name last Monday before the opener.”

Replay app gets 7,800 views

As previously reported by MSR, the instant replay feature of the Levi’s Stadium app had its debut Sunday, and according to Williams fans watched 7,800 replays via the app. The top replay view was of the early touchdown pass from Niners QB Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree, which Williams said was viewed more than 1,000 times.

Fans on southwest concourse take photos of live action.

Fans on southwest concourse take photos of live action.

As MSR reported, the replay feature was somewhat limited in functionality, not working at all until late in the first half and then only offering the last two plays plus some scoring highlights for viewing. Previously, team executives had said the replay feature would offer multiple camera angles and multiple replay reviews all at the same time. According to Williams, more features will be added to the replay function in the near future.

“It’s not the finished product, by any means,” Williams said. “You’ll see some more polish on it.”

The most-used feature in the stadium app, Williams said, continues to be the food and beverage features, which allow fans to either purchase concessions for express line pickup, or to have their orders delivered to their seats. Williams said the Niners delivered 2,100 food orders to fans Sunday, the most for the Niners so far.

Perhaps the best news for Williams was the lack of complaints about the wireless network, which the team had asked fans to tweet about if they were experiencing problems. Though some fans with older devices that only work on the 2.4 GHz wireless bands might not see the same speeds as those with newer devices (which use the more roomy 5 GHz bands), Williams said his team only got a couple complaints about network issues, and one of those was solved before they could respond.

“Overall it just was a really good [wireless] experience,” said Williams, who always ends by noting that networks are never completely finished products. But with its Super Bowl-beating performance Sunday, the Levi’s Stadium network appears in midseason form.

“I think we’re close,” Williams said.

View from the north porch

View from the north porch

Instant replay feature debuts as network rocks at Niners’ home opener at Levi’s Stadium

Instant replay feature on Levi's Stadium app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Instant replay feature on Levi’s Stadium app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Niners fans may not have liked the final outcome on the scoreboard, but there was no complaining about the wireless network performance for the regular season home opener at Levi’s Stadium.

The somewhat limited debut of the highly anticipated instant replay feature for the Levi’s Stadium app was perhaps the technology highlight, with plays available for viewing seconds after they happened — when the feature finally got going later in the game. Our unofficial speedtests from various points around the stadium showed the Wi-Fi network and DAS network in top form, with solid results in the 20-plus Mbps range at most places for both networks.

We’re still waiting for the official postmortem results stats from the 49ers’ tech crew, but we did get some in-game messages from Niners VP of technology Dan Williams, who said that right before the 5:30 p.m. local time kickoff the usage peak was hit, with more than 19,000 simultaneous users on the Wi-Fi network, using throughput of 3.1 GB per second. Our unofficial guess is that the Niners’ opener may have set new single-game records for data traffic, but we’ll wait until we hear the final totals before we make any such proclamation.

The good news for Niners fans is that everywhere we went in the stadium, including on the top-level cheap-seat decks, the network was strong.

Replay feature sees limited action

If there was any tech downside, it was the limited availability of the instant replay feature. When talking about this feature earlier this year, team officials were adamant that it would be an unbelievable thing, with multiple camera angles and multiple choices of replays to watch. In reality, the feature wasn’t even available for most of the first half, and then when it did start working in the second half it only offered replays of the last two live plays, and two scoring highlights, one of which did not function at first.

Picture of app late in the first half.

Picture of app late in the first half.

Another beef we had with the replay feature was that it wasn’t clearly located on the “Game Center” part of the app; you had to know to click on the down arrow of the screen for the last play replay to appear. We found it only by accident, and would guess that not many fans found it or used it during the Niners’ loss to the Chicago Bears.

When we did watch the replays, however, we were simply amazed by the system’s performance — instant replays were available just seconds after a play had taken place, with a text play by play description as well. But again, there were no options for multiple camera angles, and there were only two “scoring play” highlights available when we last checked, and one (of an early field goal) didn’t have working video.

Other impressions from our stadium visit (which was made possible thanks to a press pass given to MSR by the Niners PR team):

— Concourses are fun places to watch: We watched the national anthem and opening kickoff and drive from the southwest concourse, one of the many places in Levi’s Stadium where you can stand and still see live game action. It was a packed house for the kickoff and first series, with many fans snapping phone pictures of the nearby field. East concourses were also good (though in one section an usher shooed us away from standing two-deep) as long as you kept the setting sun out of your eyes.

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse.

Fans take pictures of opening kickoff from southwest concourse.

— Food runners were tired on the top deck: We stopped by for a quick chat with some of the food runners on the Pepsi deck on the north end of the stadium, and they looked pretty tired. Again, no official stats here but one runner said he’d been kept busy all game bringing food and drinks to fans who placed their orders via the app. “It’s pretty steep up here,” he said, pointing to the 400-level seating sections. “You get tired going up and down those steps.”

View from the Pepsi seating porch at the north end of Levi's Stadium

View from the Pepsi seating porch at the north end of Levi’s Stadium

— Clubs are the place to be: Several stories about the game noted that club-level seating was often empty, with fans perhaps spending time inside the comfortable beverage/food/gathering areas. Here’s a pregame look inside the United Club, located on the third level of the main building on the stadium’s west side.

United Club during pregame

United Club during pregame

— Signal strength: We also made several phone calls and did speedtests during halftime, when Snoop Dogg surprised us all with a mini-concert on the field. Not once during the game did we see any slowdowns in the network performance; the slowest Wi-Fi speed we found was 11 Mbps on the north concourse, where the team has admitted it didn’t put a lot of antennas (and is working to correct that).

Snoop on da big screen

Snoop on da big screen

— Light rail works fine: Then it was time to go home, and our choice to use the VTA light rail from Mountain View (instead of our press parking pass) was validated, as it took us less than an hour from the start of the line to the end of the line in Mountain View. All in all, an extremely solid home opener for one of the most ambitious stadium technology deployments out there.