NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC EAST

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium
Seating Capacity: 105,121
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

AT&T Stadium continues to push the envelope when it comes to wireless connectivity, perhaps no surprise given the sponsor name on the building. For 2015 the venue will have up to 2,000 Wi-Fi APs at any given time (1,900 fixed and 100 flexible for deployment where needed), making it by far the stadium with the most access points.

New York Giants
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Like with the Jets, the Giants and their fans are still benefitting from the technology installed for the Super Bowl two years ago, with superb Wi-Fi and DAS coverage throughout the facility.

Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Seating Capacity: 69,176
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the early Extreme deployments, the “Linc” will continue to be well-connected with Wi-Fi available to all seating areas.

Washington Redskins
FedExField
Seating Capacity: 79,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

After briefly considering Chinese firm Huawei for Wi-Fi last season, the Redskins pulled a reverse and instead went for a deployment led by Cisco and Verizon, now apparently with United Airlines as a service sponsor.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — AFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AFC EAST

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Screen shot 2015-11-06 at 1.02.38 PMBuffalo Bills
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Seating Capacity: 71,757
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Add the Buffalo Bills to the list of teams that installed Wi-Fi into their stadiums this offseason, as the Bills tapped NFL favorite Extreme Networks for a deployment at Ralph Wilson Stadium that was live for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, a game the Bills won 27-14. The team picked Carousel Industries, Extreme Networks and Frey Electric for the deployment, which began in May this year. The Bills said the network went through beta-type testing this summer, at concerts for the Rolling Stones and One Direction, and during the Bills’ preseason schedule.

By our count, this is the ninth NFL stadium to use Extreme gear for its fan-facing Wi-Fi, a signal that Extreme’s preferred-supplier deal with the league is working well for all concerned. So far this season the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers have announced Wi-Fi deployments from Extreme.

Last year Ralph Wilson Stadium had a DAS upgrade that has no doubt been upgraded again recently, so for all types of wireless communications the Buffalo fans should be well served this season as they enjoy the Rex Ryan ride.

New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
Seating Capacity: 68,756
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

The defending Super Bowl champs the New England Patriots continue to make wireless connectivity a priority in Gillette Stadium, with Wi-Fi outfitted by Extreme Networks, and a team-centric Game Day Live mobile app. Unlike most stadiums, the Patriots also have RedZone channel access for mobile users, a real treat for fantasy football fans.

Miami Dolphins
Sun Life Stadium
Seating Capacity: 75,540
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

With more than 1,000 Wi-Fi access points, Sun Life Stadium has always been near or at the top of venues with the most Wi-Fi and DAS traffic generated. A $400+ million renovation this offseason added a host of new amenities, including field-level suites and more concessions. Sounds like it’s still great to be taking your talents to a game in Miami.

New York Jets
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

There are lots of benefits to hosting a Super Bowl – including the improved connectivity of your stadium. After AT&T and Verizon spent over a year outfitting MetLife Stadium with their own DAS deployments before Super Bowl XLVIII, the stadium saw a 60 percent increase in wireless data from the previous Super Bowl. With more than 850 Wi-Fi APs, MetLife is covered when it comes to wireless.

Stadium Tech Report — NFL stadium technology reports — AFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AFC EAST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Buffalo Bills
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Seating Capacity: 71,757
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes, 200 antennas
Beaconing – No

The Buffalo Bills have had a busy offseason. After the passing of longtime owner Ralph Wilson, the organization was bought by Buffalo husaband-and-wife team of Terry and Kim Pegula for $1.4 billion. Even while the future of the team was uncertain, the stadium named after its longtime owner became fan-friendlier. New gates to enter the stadium, HD video boards, and increased cell service are just a few of the improvements. No Wi-Fi, but Ralph Wilson Stadium does have over 200 DAS antennas.

New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
Seating Capacity: 68,756
Wi-Fi-Yes
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

The New England Patriots are doing everything to get fans off the couch and in Gillette Stadium, with Wi-Fi outfitted by Extreme Networks, a team-centric Game Day Live mobile app, and a squad that’s won the AFC East 5 years in a row. Is it time for another Patriots Super Bowl run?

Miami Dolphins
Sun Life Stadium
Seating Capacity: 75,540
Wi-Fi – Yes, 1,100 access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – Yes

Near the end of the 2013 season, Sun Life Stadium became one of the NFL’s first venues to feature beacon technology. The Qualcomm Gimbal contextual awareness platform delivers coupons for concessions as fans walk by and alerts them of shorter wait times on the concourse. Plus, AT&T upgraded the stadium with more than 1,100 Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas a year ago. All of this has the Dolphins delivering one of the better wireless game day experiences. The search to find a new Dan Marino, however, is still a work in progress.

New York Jets
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes, 850 access points
DAS – Yes, over 600 antennas
Beaconing – No

There are lots of benefits to hosting a Super Bowl – including the improved connectivity of your stadium. After AT&T and Verizon spent over a year outfitting MetLife Stadium with their own DAS deployments, the stadium saw a 60 percent increase in wireless data from the previous Super Bowl. Safe to say the stadium is well-equipped to easily connect fans with 850 Wi-Fi access points and more than 600 DAS antennas. MetLife Stadium enters its fourth season and continues to make the fan experience unforgettable. Now can the Jets make 2014 an unforgettable season and find their way back to the playoffs?

Holy Terabyte! First football crowd at Levi’s Stadium uses 2.13 TB of Wi-Fi traffic, with nearly 25K fans on Wi-Fi at once

Levi's Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

Levi’s Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

All those predictions about Silicon Valley people using a stadium network more than other fans? It looks like they’re true.

The network numbers are in for the first football game at Levi’s Stadium, and they are pretty amazing: According to Dan Williams, the vice president of technology for the San Francisco 49ers, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network carried 2.13 terabytes of data during last Sunday’s preseason game, with a peak of 24,775 fans on the Wi-Fi network at the same time. Those numbers are comparable to the latest Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where according to AT&T and Verizon there was approximately 2.5 TB of data used on wireless networks.

The kicker to the Niners’ stats — they do NOT include any traffic figures from the Levi’s Stadium DAS, the distributed antenna system that is meant to provide enhanced cellular coverage in the stadium. What follows is an email Q-and-A with Williams, who kindly answered our extensive list of questions. The real question is, if Niners fans are hitting terabyte levels during preseason games, what’s going to happen when the season starts for real? And the instant replay function in the team app is live? Read on for some great insight from Williams. Additional editor’s note: The companies talked about include Aruba Networks, the provider of Wi-Fi gear; Brocade, provider of back-end networking gear and integration; DAS Group Professionals, the integrator and deployment team behind the DAS (the network of small antennas that improve in-building cellular coverage).

Mobile Sports Report: what was the peak number for simultaneous Wi-Fi connections? The average?
Dan Williams: We peaked at 24,775 (roughly 38% of attendance) concurrent connections with an average of 16,862 (roughly 25% of attendance).

MSR: When did connections spike? When did they start and then tail off?
Williams: We had two spikes, 1:02 p.m. [editor’s note: kickoff was 1 p.m.] with a system wide peak of 2.3Gbps and then again at 1:53 p.m. with 1.7Gbps. We averaged more than 1Gbps for more than two hours.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

MSR: What was the total data tonnage on the Wi-Fi network?
Williams: We offloaded 2.13 Terabytes during the event.

MSR: What were the usage patterns with the app — which feature did people use most?
Williams: We had a great deal of usage throughout Sunday. The food ordering app usage was top of the list with ticketing being a close second while video would take third from a feature standpoint.

MSR: What are the plans with the instant replay feature… when will it be live (and can you explain why it was held back)?
Williams: We felt a lot of folks were happy with the livestream, so we wanted to focus more on a couple of core features with food ordering and ticketing a bit more at this point. Replays will be available to all by the first regular season home game.

MSR: Can you explain exactly how the location feature works… does it require Bluetooth to be on?
Williams: The location service is mainly built around low-energy Bluetooth, BLE. We have a number of beacons placed throughout the open areas and points-of-interest which allow the app to identify your location through proximity. Aruba helped us build this as well. GPS is also used but the primary resource is Bluetooth. The app prompts users to enable Bluetooth to provide improved location awareness.

One of the big screens in Levi's Stadium.

One of the big screens in Levi’s Stadium.

MSR: Can you provide any stats on the DAS performance?
Williams: The DAS held up really well. Like WiFi, we found some areas that need tuning. Unlike WiFi, the carriers protect a lot of their specific data but they have told us they are very happy with the system DGP helped us with. It is important to note our DAS and WiFi have been built to compliment each other and I think between Aruba and DGP, we did that very well. Most come here looking to connect to WiFi but our story internally has been we are going to have an awesome connectivity play regardless of medium.

MSR: Could you guys see any [more] of the 2.4 GHz issues like the one I had?
Williams: As you know, 2.4GHz is limited with non-overlapping channels so we suspect a number of legacy devices may have some problems. That said, we had a ratio of 2:1 with respects to 5GHz to 2.4GHz [usage] which shows a good deal of 2.4GHz usage. We know we still have some optimizations to do in the upper bowl and upper concourse while we continue to fine-tune the main bowl and concourse as we noticed our cell edge was weaker than expected when the stands were full. Our Aruba team did a great job capturing real-time data during the event as there is really no other way to test this stuff without a full venue. We will make some tweaks and continue to learn more from every event we host. Between Aruba, Brocade, and the 49er tech staff, we are not resting on our laurels. We know there is more to do.

AT&T Super Bowl Sunday stadium wireless traffic jumps 60 percent to 624 GB; Verizon claims 1.9 TB

Inside the AT&T head-end building at MetLife. Cables! Credit: AT&T

Inside the AT&T head-end building at MetLife. Cables! Credit: AT&T

Well, our prediction that this year’s Super Bowl might not set new wireless data records was about as solid as the Denver Broncos’ performance in the big game. According to AT&T, its wireless network in and around MetLife Stadium on Super Sunday saw 624 GB of traffic, a 60.8 percent increase from last year’s 388 GB total at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Part of the gain no doubt came from the fact that MetLife Stadium holds approximately 10,000 more fans during a football game than the Superdome, 82,566 to 72,003. But AT&T’s numerical evidence — including a new peak-time high of 119 GB during the hour before kickoff — shows that the desire to access mobile devices inside stadiums is still growing, especially at big games like the Super Bowl.

Verizon Wireless, which like AT&T spent more than a year getting MetLife’s network ready for Sunday’s game, also said it had experienced record traffic on its networks, claiming a total of 1.9 TB of cellular traffic inside MetLife Stadium. During the game Verizon Twitter accounts said new traffic records were set before halftime; however we still have no figures from Verizon for previous years’ data for comparison.

Verizon also claimed its peak hour usage was “800 percent” greater than last year’s, but again, we don’t have exact numbers so can’t confirm the accuracy of such claims. Still unkown is how much traffic was carried by the stadium Wi-Fi network which Verizon manages (and was free to all MetLife fans), since Verizon did not provide Wi-Fi traffic numbers. Our guess is it saw similar traffic leaps as AT&T’s and Verizon’s cellular nets.

Another interesting note from the AT&T data is a trend toward more mobile data use, and fewer voice calls. Fans at the game Sunday made 55,000 voice calls on AT&T networks, down from 73,000 calls in 2012. Some of that might have to do with the fact that last year’s game had a lengthy power outage, which no doubt prompted many “I’m OK” calls to loved ones. But still — a 20,000 call dropoff in the face of more than doubling data traffic seems to show that people are using their phones more, even if they are talking less.

Why the NFL is blocking streaming at the Super Bowl: Blame the network, not the fans

In case you are wondering why you won’t be able to watch the Super Bowl live on your phone while you’re at the game, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica has a good story about why the NFL is blocking streaming video inside MetLife Stadium. To quickly recap, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle told Brodkin that streaming video takes up too much bandwidth, and that it could hamper overall wireless communications on game day, so the league is proactively blocking live feeds at the game.

While I agree with her assessment of the situation and the solution (blocking live video), I don’t agree with her claim that the “vast majority of our fans want to watch the game on the field, watch the replays on the jumbo board, and participate in the event more than they want to be checking their phone,” and I’m surprised that Brodkin didn’t put up more of a challenge to this claim. Her follow-on claim that the league is doing the “vast majority” a favor by blocking the few video viewers rings hollow and reminds me of the old “data hogs” arguments the carriers used to use against people who were exercising their rights to their unlimited data contracts. My point: don’t blame fans who want to watch live video as being the people ruining the network for everyone else. Put the blame where it deserves to be, namely on the in-stadium networks that can’t yet handle the demands of a large crowd that wants video at the game.

We’ve talked before about why people want to stay connected while at the game. It’s not for everyone, but the desire to be online in your stadium seat is way more widespread than just a few people. Trolls will comment and say “watch the damn game and shut up” but plenty of real sports fans want the replays and closeups they are now accustomed to on TV. And not every seat has a good view of the big screens inside the stadium, and many times those things are showing ads, not replays. Then there is the time standing in line for a beer or bathroom. Why shouldn’t you be able to watch the game you are paying big bucks to be at, instead of being penalized because the stadium doesn’t have enough beer vendors or urinals? How about watching a replay while the game is in one of its lengthy TV timeouts? Or catching up on a play that you missed during halftime? Isn’t just having to listen to Bruno Mars punishment enough?

It will be interesting to see what the user statistics are like when the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium opens this year, if its much-touted network delivers as hoped. The cynic in me is also guessing that when the NFL finally gets its digital video strategy figured out — meaning they clear the rights contracts and find a way to start charging fans more to watch more video online — the stadium network problems will suddenly be solved, and you’ll be able to watch all the live video you can afford.

We’ll be the first to acknowledge that putting networks in stadiums isn’t easy. Our recent Stadium Tech Reports series is designed to profile those in the industry who are trying to bring a quality wireless experience to their fans, so that others may follow. Already, we see places like Barclays Center and Gillette Stadium pushing the envelope when it comes to features like streaming video. In many ways, getting there is a long road that we’re just at the start of. If there is one bit of analysis I can provide after covering this field for the past 3 years, it’s that I don’t think anyone has gotten the stadium-network thing completely figured out just yet — and that any network put in over the past couple years is probably already in need of an upgrade, due to user demands already exceeding capacity. And that’s before most places are even thinking of providing live video feeds.

So sure, go ahead and block live video if it’s going to crash the network. But stop saying it’s something that just a few fans want, because there’s no proof behind that idea. Until the league and carriers like Verizon offer up real data on stadium network usage, there’s no way of telling exactly how many people at a game want to watch video, and whether it’s just for a replay or two or if they want a constant stream going at their seat. I’d be willing to bet more than a pint with McKenna-Doyle that if she polled an average NFL crowd and asked them if they’d like replays at their seats, a “vast majority” would vote for replays on their phones, and not in favor of settling for jumbotrons and PA announcers as she claims. So again, if you need to block the video, fine, but put the blame for the action on the network’s lack of capacity, and not on the fans who are just trying to enhance their own experience.