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.

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