Mercedes-Benz Wi-Fi (and DAS) ready for Super Bowl LIII

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Wi-Fi network is ready for its moment in the Super Bowl sun. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With less than two weeks to go before Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosts Super Bowl LIII, there’s no longer any doubt that the venue’s Wi-Fi network should be ready for what is historically the biggest Wi-Fi traffic day of the year.

Oh, and that DAS network you were wondering about? It should be fine too, but more on that later. On a recent game-day visit to the still-new roost of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (and the latest MLS champions, Atlanta United), Mobile Sports Report found that the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, in a design by AmpThink for lead technology provider IBM, was strong on all levels of the venue, including some hard-to-reach spots in the building’s unique layout.

And in our game-day interview with Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, we also finally got some statistics about Wi-Fi performance that should put any Super Bowl capacity fears to rest. According to Branch, Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of Wi-Fi used during the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Jan. 8, 2018, the second-highest single-game Wi-Fi total we’ve seen, beaten only by the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“We’re confident, and we’re ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch about his stadium’s network preparedness, during an interview before the Dec. 2 Falcons home game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The night before our talk, Mercedes-Benz Stadium had hosted the SEC Championship Game, where a classic comeback by Alabama netted the Tide a 35-28 win over Georgia, while fans packing the stadium used another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi data, according to Branch.

Along with lawsuit, DAS gets 700 new antennas

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at the renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Wi-Fi totals revealed by Branch were the first such statistics reported by Mercedes-Benz Stadium since its opening in August of 2017. While initially the lack of reports of any kind last fall were thought to have been just some kind of Southern modesty, MSR had been hearing back-channel industry questions about the wireless coverage in the venue since its opening, particularly with the performance of the DAS network.

Those whispers finally became public when IBM filed a lawsuit on Oct. 31 in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleging that subcontractor Corning had failed to deliver a working DAS. In its lawsuit complaints IBM said that the DAS had not worked correctly throughout 2017, and that IBM had to spend large amounts of money to fix it. Corning has since countered with its own legal claims, asking IBM’s claims to be dismissed.

While that battle is now left to the lawyers, inside the stadium, Branch said in December that the DAS was getting its final tuning ahead of the Super Bowl. In addition to (or as part of) the IBM DAS improvements, Branch said that an additional 700 under-seat DAS antennas have been installed in the seating bowl. In our walk-around review during the Falcons’ game, MSR noticed multiple DAS antenna placements that seemed to be new since our last visit in August of 2017, during the stadium’s press day.

“IBM addressed the DAS issues, and we’re in a good place,” said Branch. The NFL’s CIO, Michelle McKenna, also gave her office’s approval of the readiness of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium networks in a separate phone interview. And MSR even got to witness a live opening of the stadium’s unique camera-shutter roof, another technology that ran into some bugs during football season last year but now appears to be solved.

Selfies and speedtests

So how do the networks perform at a live event? The short answer is, on the Wi-Fi side we saw steady speeds wherever we tested, typically in a range between 20 Mbps on the low side to 60+ Mbps on the high side, for both download and upload speeds. On the DAS side, our Verizon network phone saw a wide range of speed results, from some single-digit marks all the way up to 99 Mbps in one location; so perhaps the best answer is that on cellular, your speedtest may vary, but you will most likely always have a strong enough signal to do just about any task you might want to at a stadium, even on Super Sunday. All four major wireless carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, use the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS. And you can also expect all the major carriers to beef up local bandwidth with a combination of permanent and temporary upgrades, to ensure good connectivity throughout downtown Atlanta during Super Bowl week. Sprint and AT&T have already made announcements about their local upgrades, and we are sure Verizon and T-Mobile will follow suit with announcements soon.

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Though we didn’t get any tests during the brief on-field part of our tour, Branch did point out some Wi-Fi APs on the sidelines for media access. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a pair of MatSing ball antennas perched way up near the roof openings, to help with cellular coverage down to the sidelines.

MSR started our speedtest tour in the place where most Falcons fans probably pull out their phones, in front of the metal falcon structure outside the main entry gate. Even with digital ticketing activities taking place close by and groups of fans taking selfies in front of the bird, we still got a high Wi-Fi test of 35.8 Mbps on the download side and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. On cellular our top speeds in the same area were 3.94 Mbps / 17.2 Mbps.

Just inside the stadium doors from the Falcon is what the team calls the stadium’s “front porch,” an extended concourse with a clear view down to the field. On the Sunday we visited there was a stage with a DJ and rapping crew providing pregame entertainment, in front of two of the stadium’s more distinctive Daktronics digital displays, the 101-foot-tall “Mega Column” and the 26-foot-tall (at its highest point) triangular “Feather Wall” display, which frame part of the porch.

In the middle of a slowly moving crowd that was taking selfies in multiple directions, MSR still got good connectivity, with Wi-Fi speeds of 22.4 Mbps / 12.3 Mbps, and a cellular mark of 5.38 Mbps / 12.0 Mbps. As far as we could see, the wide-open space was being served by antennas mounted on walls on two sides of the opening.

Bridges, nosebleeds and concourses

Looking for some tough-to-cover spots, we next headed to one of the two “sky bridges,” narrow walkways that connect over the main entry on both the 200 and 300 seating levels. Out in the exact middle of the 200-level sky bridge we still got a Wi-Fi test of 14.6 Mbps / 8.19 Mbps; celluar checked in at 4.07 Mbps / 4.59 Mbps.

For some more fan-friendly speeds we wandered in front of the nearby concourse watering hole, the Cutwater Spirits bar, where our Wi-Fi signal tested at 35.8 Mbps / 42.4 Mbps, and the DAS signal (directly in front of an antenna mounted above the concourse) reached 99.2 Mbps / 25.4 Mbps even with heavy foot traffic coming by.

The roof opens at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Right before kickoff, we wandered into the top sections of the Falcons’ new roost, where about halfway up in section 310 (near the 50-yard line) we got Wi-Fi speeds of 11.6 Mbps / 1.86 Mbps, and cellular speeds of 13.1 Mbps / 2.50 Mbps, during the height of the on-field pregame festivities. In that section and in others we walked around to, many fans were busy with phones during pregame, with many watching live video.

One interesting technology note: The stadium’s unique Daktronics halo video board, a 58-foot-high screen that circles around underneath the roof, is partially obscured in the uppermost sideline seats. But that’s pretty much the only place you aren’t wowed by the screen’s spectacle, which from most of the rest of the stadium offers multiple-screen views no matter where you are looking up from.

One final speedtest on the 300-level concourse saw the Wi-Fi speeds at 35.8 Mbps / 38.2 Mbps, while another one of those new-looking DAS antennas gave us a speed test of 77.0 Mbps / 21.4 Mbps. During the third quarter we visited the AT&T Perch, a section above the end zone area opposite of the entry porch where there are large displays with multiple TV screens and even some recliner-type chairs where fans can get their other-game viewing on while inside the arena. Wi-Fi in the Perch tested at 42.1 Mbps / 61.0 Mbps.

Fans are finding the Wi-Fi

Though we haven’t yet seen any more detailed network use statistics, like unique game-day connections or peak concurrent connections for any events, Branch said fans are definitely finding the network. Sponsored by AT&T with an “ATTWifi” SSID, there is no landing page or portal for the network asking for any information — once fans find the network and connect, they’re on.

This type of personal assistance might be even more needed at the Super Bowl.

“In the first year we didn’t promote it [the Wi-Fi] heavily, because we were making sure everything worked well,” Branch said. But this year, he said the team has been promoting the network in emails to season ticket holders, and with video board messages on game days. At a high school football weekend this past fall, Branch said the Falcons saw 75 percent of attendees connect to the Wi-Fi network.

“AmpThink and Aruba did a really good job” on the Wi-Fi network, Branch said. “I love it when my friends tell me how fast the Wi-Fi is.”

By adding solid wireless connectivity to the host of other amenities found inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — including fan-friendly food and drink prices that are simply the lowest you’ll see anywhere — Branch said he felt like the Falcons’ ownership had succeeded in creating a venue that was “an experience,” where fans would want to come inside instead of tailgating until the last minute.

With the Super Bowl looming on the horizon, Branch knows there’s still no rest until the game is over, with new challenges ahead. The Sunday we visited, the Falcons debuted a new footbridge over the road outside the back-door Gate 1 entry, and Branch knows there will be networking challenges to make sure fans can still connect when the NFL erects its Super Bowl security perimeter far out from the actual stadium doors.

“Our motto is be prepared for anything,” said Branch, noting that there is really no template or historical model for a building unique as Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re changing tires on a car going 100 miles per hour,” Branch said, only partially in jest. “But we’re confident we’ll be ready for the Super Bowl.”

The metal falcon is selfie central for visitors new and old

Wi-Fi and DAS antennas cover the ‘front porch’ landing area inside the main entry

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure

A shadowy look at one of the MatSing ball antennas in the rafters

The gear behind the under-seat DAS deployments

The view toward downtown

Corning seeks dismissal of IBM claims in Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS lawsuit

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Corning asked a Georgia court last week to dismiss the negligence and other claims filed against it last year by IBM in a lawsuit regarding the distributed antenna system (DAS) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, claiming in part that IBM was responsible for any performance issues since it “failed to follow Corning’s design,” among other issues.

Since neither side is speaking publicly yet about the issue, we are pretty much left with the court document filings as the only way to figure out what exactly went wrong with the DAS installation at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017. While IBM has claimed that the issues were Corning’s fault, Friday’s filing (which we have not yet seen) has Corning putting the blame back on IBM and its outside DAS deployment contractors.

According to a story posted on Law360 (subscription required), Corning’s motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia also had a brief which said “IBM attempts to ignore the terms specified in its contract with Corning — and the work it actually contracted Corning to do — by bringing its own fraud and negligence claims along with purportedly assigned tort claims.” The Law360 story said Corning further “argued that the claims either are barred by the economic loss rule or a so-called merger clause in the contracts, or cannot be assigned to the hardware giant by the NFL team or the prime contractor on the project.”

A Corning spokesperson provided the following official comment from the company:

“Corning has provided successful DAS network solutions for dozens of major sports venues around the world. At Mercedes Benz Stadium, Corning performed under its contract with IBM, while IBM failed to follow Corning’s design, failed to provide the DAS for commissioning on time due to hundreds of IBM installation errors, and then failed to optimize the DAS; an area that was IBM’s responsibility. Regarding IBM’s lawsuit, Corning denies the allegations asserted by IBM, and Corning will vigorously defend its work at Mercedes Benz Stadium and its world-class reputation in Court. “

The Law360 story had the following comment from an IBM spokesperson:

“Corning delivered a flawed cellular system to the Falcons and IBM, and then failed to fix it. IBM stepped in and spent a year to deliver state-of-the-art cellular performance for fans, and
Corning is now accountable for failing to live up to its obligations.”

New Report: Texas A&M scores with new digital fan-engagement strategy

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

That question gets an interesting answer with the lead profile in our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Winter 2018-19 issue! These quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators, and digital sports business executives a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, as well as news and analysis of topics important to this growing market.

Leading off for this issue is an in-depth report on a new browser-based digital game day program effort launched this football season at Texas A&M, where some longtime assumptions about mobile apps and fan engagement were blown apart by the performance of the Aggies’ new project. A must read for all venue operations professionals! We also have in-person visits to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovated State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena. A Q&A with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle and a report on a CBRS network test by the PGA round out this informative issue! DOWNLOAD YOUR REPORT today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, Neutral Connect Networks, Everest Networks, and ExteNet Systems. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi saw 12 TB of data used at January’s college championship

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

The Wi-Fi network at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of data used at the 2018 College Football Playoff championship on Jan. 8, 2018, according to officals from the Atlanta Falcons, owners and operators of this city’s new distinctive venue.

We’d long suspected that Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in August of 2017, had seen big data days inside the 71,000-seat arena with its innovative technology, but until Sunday the Falcons had never made any network-performance data publicly available. But a day after the venue saw another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used during the SEC Championship game, Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, revealed the statistics during a live MSR visit at an Atlanta Falcons home game. The 12 TB mark (which was an estimate — we’ll check back with the Falcons for exact numbers) is the second-highest we’ve ever seen in our unofficial research of single-day Wi-Fi totals, trailing only the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII in February at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re confident and ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch during a pregame stadium tour, details of which we’ll dig into deeper in a full profile for our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report. Multiple network speed tests taken by MSR during Sunday’s 26-16 Falcons loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens showed robust Wi-Fi performance on the network that uses gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in a design from AmpThink.

DAS renovation complete

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

According to Branch, the cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) network inside Mercedes-Benz — a deployment that is at the center of a current lawsuit filed by contractor IBM against gear supplier and designer Corning — is also now at full deployment, with the completion of 700 new under-seat DAS antenna deployments, mostly in the upper seating deck.

MSR speed tests taken during Sunday’s game showed a wide range of DAS results, from single-digit tests in some tough-deployment areas to results near 100 Mbps directly in front of what looked like some new antenna deployments. Again, look for more details in our upcoming profile in the Winter Stadium Tech Report (due out in mid-December).

“We’re in a good place [with the DAS],” said Branch, though he did say there was going to be more DAS work done on the outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to when Super Bowl LIII comes to the venue on Feb. 3, 2019, mainly to help ensure that the move toward more digital Super Bowl tickets goes smoothly. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a couple of MatSing ball antennas in its rafters, there to bring DAS coverage to the sidelines of the playing field.

Sunday the Mercedes-Benz Stadium staffers were hosting a rare big-game back-to-back event, following Saturday’s packed-house tilt between SEC powers Alabama and Georgia, a championship-game rematch won by Alabama 35-28 after a dramatic comeback.

“That was a massive flip,” said Branch of the two-day stretch, which saw another huge data day Saturday with 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi used. The network, sponsored by backbone provider AT&T, averages about a 50 percent take rate from event attendees, according to Branch, who gave praise to Aruba and AmpThink for their combined deployment efforts.

“The expectation for fans now is that there will be Wi-Fi [in a sports venue],” said Branch. “But I love it when friends come to me after a game and tell me ‘the Wi-Fi is so fast!’ ”

THE MSR TOP 17 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB*
3. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
4. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
5. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
6. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
7. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
8. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
9. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
10. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
11. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB*
12. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
13. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
14. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
15. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
16. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
17. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

* = pending official exact data

NFL CIO: Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s wireless is ‘ready for the Super Bowl’

The entry concourse at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The wireless networks at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium are “ready for the Super Bowl,” according to Michelle McKenna, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NFL, who spoke to Mobile Sports Report via phone last week.

Though McKenna would not comment on any of the particulars of the recent lawsuit filed by IBM against Corning that revolves around issues with the stadium’s distributed antenna system (DAS) cellular network, she did assert that any past problems have since been fixed, and that the league is confident the venue’s wireless systems will stand up to the stress test that will likely arrive when Super Bowl LIII takes place on Feb. 3, 2019.

“The [Atlanta] Falcons have been super-cooperative in remedying one of the challenges they had,” said McKenna. “The networks will be ready for the Super Bowl.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium also has an Aruba-based Wi-Fi network, which has not been the subject of any lawsuit; however, stadium officials have also not ever released any performance statistics for the network since the stadium’s opening. According to IBM’s lawsuit documents, the company said it had to pay extra to fix the DAS network, a task it said was completed before the end of the 2017 NFL season.

Outside connectivity a challenge as well

While the Super Bowl is almost always the biggest single-day sports events for wireless connectivity, McKenna added that this year’s version will be even a little more challenging than others since the league is in the process of moving fans to digital ticketing for its championship event.

“This year one of the new challenges is the move to paperless ticketing,” said McKenna in a wide-ranging interview about NFL technology issues (look for a full breakdown of the interview in our upcoming Winter Stadium Tech Report). Though this year’s game will still have some paper-based ticket options, McKenna said the lessons learned in ensuring good connectivity outside the stadium gates will help prepare for future Super Bowls, which will likely be all-digital ticketing.

One Super Bowl technology not yet decided is the game-day app, which for the past two years has been built by the NFL. In previous years, the league used versions of local game-day apps with Super Bowl additions, a direction McKenna said the league might still take this year. Designed mainly as a way to help visitors find their way around an unfamiliar stadium and city, the Super Bowl app this year might need to lean on the local app to help integrate the digital ticket functionality, McKenna said. The Falcons’ app for Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built by IBM.

Jared Miller leaves Falcons for Madison Square Garden

Jared Miller, former chief digital officer for the Atlanta Falcons, has moved to a new job with Madison Square Garden. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR


In a personnel move that may have some technological impact on the upcoming year’s Super Bowl, former Atlanta Falcons chief digital officer Jared Miller is now executive vice president and chief operating officer at Madison Square Garden Ventures, according to Miller’s LinkedIn page.

We haven’t yet spoken to any of the principals involved, so more details will have to come at a later time (maybe at next week’s SEAT conference in Dallas, where the greater world of the sports technology marketplace regularly gathers). Miller, as those who read MSR know, was the point person for all technology deployments at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new roost for the Falcons that opened last summer and is scheduled to host Super Bowl 53 in February, 2019.

If history is any guide, the networking teams at MBS are likely already busy preparing for the NFL’s big game — in the recent past, carriers have used the offseason before a Super Bowl date to update the DAS inside Super Bowl venues, a task likely already underway in Atlanta. What’s not known is how Miller’s departure may or may not affect technology strategy decisions, either on the DAS side or on the Wi-Fi side of things. After touring MBS during a press day last summer, MSR did not receive any network-performance updates during the 2017 football season, despite repeated requests to stadium representatives, including Miller.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium also hosted the College Football Playoff championship game this past season, but for the first time in years the stadium hosting the game did not provide Wi-Fi usage statistics.