Fans use 16.31 TB of Wi-Fi data during Super Bowl 52 at U.S. Bank Stadium

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

It is now official — we have a new record for most Wi-Fi data used at a single-day event, as fans at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52 used 16.31 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network.

According to statistics compiled by Extreme Networks during the Philadelphia Eagles’ thrilling 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday night, the AmpThink-designed network which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear also saw 40,033 unique users — 59 percent of the 67,612 in attendance — a new top percentage total for any single-game network experience we’ve been told about. (The Dallas Cowboys saw approximately 46,700 unique Wi-Fi users during a playoff game last season, about 50 percent of attendance at AT&T Stadium.)

The network also saw a peak concurrent connection of 25,670 users, and a peak data transfer rate of 7.867 Gbps, according to the numbers released by Extreme. Though Extreme gear was not used in the operation of the network, Extreme has a partnership deal with the NFL under which it provides the “official” network analytics reports from the Super Bowl.

The final total of 16.31 TB easily puts Super Bowl 52 ahead of the last two Super Bowls when it comes to Wi-Fi data use. Last year at NRG Stadium in Houston, there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi use recorded, and at Super Bowl 50 in 2016 there was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi data used at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. So in reverse chronological order, the last three Super Bowls are the top three Wi-Fi events, indicating that data demand growth at the NFL’s biggest game shows no sign of slowing down. Combined with the 50.2 TB of cellular data used in and around the stadium on game day, Super Bowl 52 saw a total of 66.51 TB of wireless traffic Sunday in Minneapolis.

Confetti fills the air inside U.S. Bank Stadium after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Credit: U.S. Bank Stadium

Super Bowl 52 represented perhaps a leap of faith, in that the handrail-enclosure Wi-Fi design had not yet seen a stress test like that found at the NFL’s biggest event. Now looking ahead to hosting the 2019 Men’s NCAA Basketball Final Four, David Kingsbury, director of IT for U.S. Bank Stadium, can be forgiven for wanting to take a bit of a victory lap before we set our Wi-Fi sights on Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Super Bowl 53.

“AmpThink, CenturyLink and Cisco designed and built a world-class wireless system for U.S. Bank Stadium that handled record-setting traffic for Super Bowl LII,’ Kingsbury said. “AmpThink president Bill Anderson and his team of amazing engineers were a pleasure to work with and the experts at Cisco Sports and Entertainment supported us throughout the multi-year planning process required for an event of this magnitude. High-density wireless networking is such a challenging issue to manage, but I am very happy with our results and wish the team in Atlanta the best next year. The bar has been raised.”

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

U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis before the start of Super Bowl LII

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

Smart stadium renovations bring wireless to the forefront

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz

By Doug Lodder, Boingo Wireless

Over the last few years, the sports industry has marveled at the unveilings of new smart stadiums that enhance the fan experience and increase profitability through innovative technologies. In 2014, Levi’s Stadium was launched in the heart of Silicon Valley with endless tech features; in 2016, Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center opened its doors as an entirely solar-powered facility; and most recently, Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium debuted the world’s largest video board, providing 63,000 square feet of screen in a continuous, roof-mounted oval which, when stretched out, is longer than the Eiffel Tower.

Technology has exerted massive influence on today’s sports venues, but the impact goes far beyond new stadiums. Outpacing new construction buildouts are stadium renovations that have a concentrated focus on more bite- sized refurbishments, such as upgrading technology features, revamping hospitality and entertainment offerings, and adding more expansive seating and exclusive suites.

Bank of America Stadium, Ford Field, Hard Rock Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, Philips Arena, Raymond James Stadium, Vivint Smart Home Arena and Everbank Field are all among the major league sports facilities that have recently finished or kicked off renovation projects. The list continues if you add college to the mix, where Sun Devil Stadium, Neyland Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium and Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium are only a few examples of NCAA venues looking at or having undergone a facelift.

Mobile technology is the gold standard feature at stadiums and aging complexes are turning to high-tech renovations to stay relevant and attractive – all while fighting off a key competitor, the couch. At the heart of smart stadium upgrades are new wireless networks that can power the connected fan experience of the future, where new innovations like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will open a vast world of possibilities. This is where the triple threat – DAS, small cells and Wi-Fi – take center stage; and where network features like density, speed and coverage become paramount. Knowing which of these wireless technologies to adopt and how to integrate them within a stadium remodel is no easy task, but here’s a few pointers venue executives should follow to unlock their potential.

Align Network Needs with Smart Stadium Strategy

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

Nearly every aspect of a stadium renovation is designed with technology in mind, which means the demands on your wireless network will skyrocket. Map out a converged network blueprint that leverages both cellular and Wi-Fi to align with all corners of a remodel. The design should account for new tech rollouts, which may include everything from wayfinding and digital ticketing to line queuing, mobile concessions, cashless payment and new innovations powered via Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

On the cellular side, opt for a DAS or small cell network for high capacity and widespread mobile coverage. Bringing strong cell signals closer to the fan via these networks is critical for combating the growing data surge at large venues and readying a stadium for 5G and IoT. Be sure to focus on the design of the cellular network during the planning phase to ensure antennas and other gear do not interfere with a remodel’s structural obstacles – for example, cement columns – and can transport mobile signals at full strength. It’s also critical that participation is brought in from all four Tier One carriers so fans have full bar coverage, regardless of their mobile service provider.

Remodels present the opportune time to adopt a public safety DAS, which transmit robust communication among first responders. Wireless solutions built for emergency preparedness have become a priority because many stadiums were built with older generation infrastructures, such as concrete walls, load-bearing columns and elevator shafts, which create “dead zones” that do not properly support cellular signals. This in turn makes it extremely difficult for first responders to communicate with each other, potentially delaying the course of action that is taken to handle an urgent situation. For first responders, a dropped signal has a profound impact on how they do their job – and if it can be done at all – underscoring the need for resilient public safety communications infrastructure. When looking at public safety DAS, ensure it supports 700 MHz and 800 MHz public safety services.

Advanced Wi-Fi networks must also be accounted for, with upgrades that supply more bandwidth and faster speeds. Smart venues should adopt premium Wi-Fi networks that increase the number of Access Points (APs) and support a combination of speed, density, security encryption and device flexibility.

To create a truly ubiquitous Wi-Fi experience – one that removes the headaches of log-ins, passwords, ads and other frustrations – smart stadiums can turn to Passpoint. Fans with a Passpoint profile installed on their device can enjoy a seamless and automatic Wi-Fi connection from the moment they enter the stadium or parking lot.

Passpoint networks provide a WPA2 encrypted connection automatically, ensuring enterprise-level security. With several IEEE 802.11 security features, Passpoint transforms the security position of devices connected to hotspots with guaranteed mutual authentication and over-the-air encryption, as well as restricted peer-to-peer traffic, helping to protect sensitive information. In short, fans get connected faster to a safer network, while alleviating concerns with cellular data plan overages – a game changer for today’s connectivity experience.

Adopt the Right Network Features

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) will soon find a home at stadiums. NFV is receiving heightened attention for its ability to eliminate the need for expensive hardware and physical infrastructure, while reducing capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx). Using cloud-based technology, NFV can upgrade a stadium’s network equipment – servers, switches and routers – to handle new standards like 5G, all while eliminating complete system overhauls. NFV improves scalability, increases data visibility, distributes data centers and keeps information integrity.

Complementary to NFV, SDN separates the network control logic from network equipment to make the network programmable; essentially, it centralizes command and control of the network without having to physically reconfigure or program individual devices. SDN can be used without NFV, and vice versa; however, when used together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Leave it to the Experts

Increasingly, in-house IT staff are opting for managed service providers to design and deploy wireless connectivity that is flexible and scalable – all within a tight remodel timeframe. By outsourcing to experts, the daunting task of building and launching the right architecture is removed, allowing IT to focus on other business matters tied to the remodel and day-to-day operations. The key is to pick a partner who has a proven track record designing, building and operating wireless networks in high-traffic venues. Relationships with all Tier One carriers are also essential; and be sure the partner can monitor the network 365/24/7.

It’s a Wireless World

Stadium renovations will remain a hot market for years to come. From consumers demanding a higher quality and more authentic experience, to the desire for sports venues to be more multipurpose, renovations have emerged as a major storyline. Add to this record crowds that continue to climb – all who want a high-tech experience. Over one million spectators packed the city of Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl alone.

To keep pace, both new stadiums and older existing arenas need to make sure they have both the best networks for now and the ability to scale for the future. No two renovations are alike, but wireless will have a huge influence across the board.

Doug Lodder is senior vice president of business development for Boingo’s DAS, small cell, offload and wholesale businesses, where he oversees the strategy and development of wireless networks for new and existing venue partnerships, as well as the monetization of those networks. He has nearly a decade of experience in managing telecommunications infrastructure in large-scale, high growth environments.

San Jose Sharks add more features to SAP Center stadium app

The San Jose Sharks announced today a raft of upgrades to their stadium app, including a feature that will allow fans to toggle through four separate modes of functionality, for Sharks games, SAP Center events, minor-league hockey info and information about the Sharks-associated public skating rinks in the area.

Now called the San Jose Sharks + SAP Center app, the mobile-device program developed by VenueNext and Adept Mobile will bring to life some previously mentioned services for Sharks fans, including the ability to order Sharks merchandise and in-stadium “experiences” — like purchasing a message on the big video board — directly from the app.

Screen shot of new ‘marketplace’ options in Sharks app

Other new features include live audio broadcasts of Sharks games and games for the AHL’s Barracuda; augmented reality experiences; and a message preference and inbox feature that will allow fans to self-regulate the frequency of in-app communications with the team.

The ability to toggle between different versions of the app — say, for Sharks hockey games or for a concert at SAP Center — is a feature finding its way into most stadium apps these days, including VenueNext’s app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. The Sacramento Kings have a similar two-apps-in-one strategy for the team and for Golden 1 Center, in an app developed by Built.io.

For fans, it’s a way to have all the arena-going information in one place, while for the teams and venues it’s a way to keep current customers informed of all the associated businesses. (On its face the feature sounds like a smart idea, but so far we haven’t seen any metrics from any teams showing proof that it is really working for either fans or teams/venues.)

Putting the ability to order experiences like big-screen messages (just $75!) or visits from the Shark’s toothy mascot into the app seems like a good idea, since those actions can now be acted on in the moment instead of having to plan far ahead. And for fans who like to hear play by play either at the rink or at home, having team audio is a great feature and alternative to radio.

NFL exec: U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi network ‘in a strong place’ ahead of Super Bowl LII

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Like many football fans, I was jaw-dropping excited while watching the Minnesota Vikings’ dramatic walk-off touchdown win in last Sunday’s playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Unlike many football fans but probably more like our readership, my next thought while watching the celebrations was: I hope the Wi-Fi holds up!

According to a top NFL IT executive who was at the game, the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium was more than up to the load applied to it by the Vikings’ exciting win and victory celebration, a good stress test ahead of the stadium’s hosting of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. “There were an amazing amount of [Wi-Fi] connections” after the game’s end, said Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT in the NFL’s office of the CIO, in a phone interview Thursday.

The “massive spike” in connectivity after the game’s exciting conclusion produced numerous social media posts from fans present, mainly on Facebook and Snapchat, Amendolia said. Though he didn’t have full networking statistics from the game, Amendolia did share one interesting number, the fact that there were approximately 37,000 unique connections to the Wi-Fi network during the game — a total greater than that at last year’s Super Bowl LI in Houston, where 35,430 fans out of 71,795 in attendance at NRG Stadium used the Wi-Fi at some point. Attendance at Sunday’s playoff game in Minneapolis was 66,612.

“I feel we’re in a strong place now” with the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium, Amendolia said. “We’re hoping to set some new records.”

Still no sign of bandwidth demand decline

Amendolia, part of the NFL’s networking team that ensures good connectivity at the league’s championship event, said testing work on the AmpThink-designed network (which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear) started last year, and then ramped up through the current season.

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

“Starting with the presason [games] we had staff sitting in seats, doing Facebook, visiting websites,” said Amendolia. “The unique architecture in each stadium makes Wi-Fi [performance] unique. We had people sitting in odd corners, and next to big concrete structures.”

Ever since Wi-Fi has been a part of Super Bowls, the total data used and numbers of fans connecting have steadily increased each year, always setting current records for single-day use of a large venue network. At Super Bowl 49 in 2015, fans used 6.23 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; the next year, it was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; and last year at NRG Stadium in Houston there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi data used. (Cellular data use on stadium DAS networks has also increased apace, from almost 16 TB at Super Bowl 50 to more than 25.8 TB last year.)

What’s interesting is that networking usage totals for games the following NFL season usually increase as well, not to Super Bowl levels but surpassing marks from years before. For this season’s opening game at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, the Wi-Fi network there saw 8.08 TB of data used, a mark that trails only the last two Super Bowls.

“Super Bowls set the benchmark for the next season,” said Amendolia, who agrees that there may never be an end to the growth.

“Even if [current] usage levels off, there’s new technology like augmented reality and wearable glasses,” Amendolia said. “How does that change the future?”

‘Super’ Wi-Fi and DAS at U.S. Bank Stadium ready for Super Bowl 52

A look at downtown Minneapolis from inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After Sunday’s stunning last-second victory, the Minnesota Vikings are one step closer to becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own home stadium. Should the Vikings beat the Eagles in Philadelphia this weekend, Super Bowl 52 visitors should prepare for a true Norse experience inside U.S. Bank Stadium, with repeated blasts from the oversize “Gjallarhorn” and a fire-breathing dragon ship that will launch the home team onto the field. Skol!

But even if the hometown team falls short of making the big game this season, on Feb. 4, 2018 the stadium itself should do Minneapolis proud, especially when it comes to wireless connectivity. With two full regular seasons of football and numerous other events to test the networks’ capacity, both the Wi-Fi and DAS networks inside the 66,655-seat U.S. Bank Stadium appear more than ready to handle what is usually the highest single-day bandwidth stress test, namely the NFL’s yearly championship game. (Though the selfies and uploads following Sunday’s walk-off touchdown toss may have provided an early indicator of massive network use!)

In a mid-November visit to U.S. Bank Stadium for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, Mobile Sports Report found robust coverage on both the Wi-Fi and cellular networks all around the inside of the stadium, with solid performance even amidst thick crowds of fans and even in the highest reaches of the seating bowl. Speedtests on the Wi-Fi network, built by AmpThink using Cisco gear, regularly hit marks of 40 to 50-plus Mbps in most areas, with one reading reaching 85 Mbps for download speeds.

And on the DAS side of things, Verizon Wireless, which built the neutral-host network inside U.S. Bank Stadium, said in December that it has already seen more cellular traffic on its network for a Vikings home game this season than it saw at NRG Stadium for Super Bowl LI last February. With 1,200 total antennas — approximately 300 of which were installed this past offseason — Verizon said it is ready to handle even double the traffic it saw at last year’s game, when it reported carrying 11 terabytes of data on stadium and surrounding macro networks.

Good connectivity right inside the doors

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi).

James Farstad, chief technology advisor for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the entity that owns U.S. Bank Stadium, said he and his group are “very pleased” with the state of the wireless networks inside the venue heading toward its Super Bowl date.

“You’re never really satisfied, because you want it to be the best it can be,” said Farstad in an interview during our November visit to Minneapolis. “But generally speaking, we’re very pleased with the state of the networks.”

Those networks are tested the very moment the Vikings open the doors for home games, especially in warmer weather when the signature big glass doors — five of them, all 55 feet wide and ranging in height from 75 to 95 feet — swing out to welcome fans. As the entry that points toward downtown, the west gate can account for as much as 70 percent of the fans arriving, according to the Vikings, putting a big crush on the wireless networks in the doorway area.

To help keep people connected in crowded situations, Verizon deployed extra DAS antennas on short poles in front of both the west and east end zone concourse areas, part of a 48 percent increase in overall DAS antenna numbers added during the football offseason. Even with thick crowds streaming into the stadium, we still got a DAS speedtest of 77.35 Mbps download and 32.40 Mbps upload on the concourse just inside the west doors, and just below the Gjallarhorn.

Walking around the main level concourse, connectivity hardware is easy to see if you know what you’re looking for; part of the extensive DAS coverage includes dual antennas hanging off a single pole above wide walkway segments. And in one instance, we saw a good example of aesthetic integration, with a Wi-Fi AP attached just behind two IPTV screens, with a beacon attached to the side and a DAS antenna mounted just above everything else.

First big test of railing-mounted Wi-Fi?

Moving into the seating bowl, visitors may not know that many of the Wi-Fi network’s 1,300 APs are hiding there in plain sight — inside silver handrail enclosures, many of which now sport bright, bold section numbers to help fans find their seats. Believed to be the first big football-sized stadium that relied mainly on railing-mounted APs, the proximate network design from AmpThink is proving to be a winner in performance, producing regular-season game data totals of around 3 terabytes per event and maybe more importantly, keeping an optimal number of fans attached to the AP closest to them for the speediest connection.

Top-down antennas provide coverage for suite seating

Sitting next to AmpThink president Bill Anderson in the stadium’s press box you get a great view of the field, but it’s doubtful Anderson watches much football action given that he spends most of a game day glued to a screen that shows live detailed performance for every Wi-Fi AP in the building. While the analytics program produces a wealth of interesting data, the one metric that keeps Anderson’s attention is the one showing how many fans are connected to each AP, a number that will be no more than 50 and ideally somewhere around 25 connections if the network is performing as it should be.

On the day we visited, on Anderson’s screen there was one AP showing more than 200 devices trying to connect to it, an issue Anderson noted for immediate problem-solving. But with only a handful of others showing more than 50 connections, Anderson was confident that AmpThink has been able to figure out how to solve for the main dilemma for Wi-Fi in large enclosed structures, namely keeping APs from interfering with each
other. The large clear-plastic roof and wall areas at U.S. Bank Stadium don’t help, since they reflect RF signals to add to the network design degree of difficulty.

But the multiple railing-mount network design – which AmpThink duplicated at Notre Dame University, whose new network is seeing the highest-ever data totals seen at collegiate events – seems to be fulfilling AmpThink’s goal to produce networks with steady AP loads and consistent, high-density throughput in extremely challenging environments. The railing-mounted APs provide connectivity that couldn’t be delivered by overhead antennas, like in Notre Dame’s open concrete bowl and in U.S. Bank Stadium’s similar wide-open seating area, where no overhead structure is within 300 feet of a seat.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

“I think we have a network strategy that produces good uniform performance” in venues like U.S. Bank Stadium, Anderson said. “It’s pretty darn exciting to have a formula that works.”

More antennas get DAS ready for big game

And even though Verizon knew the Super Bowl was coming to U.S. Bank Stadium when it built the neutral host DAS for the 2016 opening, it came right back this past offseason and added approximately another 300 new antennas (mainly for its own use and not for the shared DAS), all in the name of unstoppable demand for mobile bandwidth from fans attending events.

Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, said in a phone interview that “the consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” especially at the NFL’s biggest game, where DAS use has grown at a fast clip the past few years. Scudder said these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game, and adds network capacity accordingly. Verizon’s numbers from the past three Super Bowls are a good guide, with the carrier reporting 4.1 TB used at Super Bowl 49, 7 TB at Super Bowl 50, and 11 TB at Super Bowl 51.

AmpThink’s handrail-mounted AP enclosures seem 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 with their smaller silver enclosures. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. Verizon also deployed some under-seat antenna enclosures for its upgrade, a tactic the company also used for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

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.

Ready to add more bandwidth on the fly

Even less unseen and probably not appreciated until it’s needed is the stadium’s backbone bandwidth, provided by sponsoring partner CenturyLink.

A Wi-Fi enclosure in section 345, near the stadium’s roof

Though some stadiums are touting 100 Gbps pipes coming in, the U.S. Bank Stadium setup makes the venue its own ISP, according to Farstad.

With six 10-Gbps pipes that are always active — and on two separate network infrastructures for redundancy — the stadium can turn up its bandwidth on the fly, a test the venue got on its first public event.

According to Farstad, when U.S. Bank Stadium opened for the first time with a soccer game on Aug. 3, 2016, the stadium operators expected about 25,000 fans might show up for a clash between Chelsea and AC Milan. But a favorable newspaper article about the stadium led to more than 64,000 fans in the house, a surge that backed up the light-rail trains and saw the concession stands run out of food.

“We were watching the Wi-Fi system during the first break [in the soccer game] and it was coming down fast,” Farstad said. But the ability to increase capacity quickly — Farstad said that within 45 seconds, the stadium was able to provision new bandwidth, a task that in other situations could take weeks — the Wi-Fi survived the unexpected demands, proof that it should be able to handle whatever happens on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I think we can handle the Super Bowl traffic,” Farstad said.