Verizon: 5G, CBRS part of wireless network mix at Super Bowl LIV

Hard Rock Stadium, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, will have 5G and CBRS networks in addition to the regular 4G LTE and Wi-Fi. Credit: Hard Rock Stadium

In addition to stadium-wide Wi-Fi and 4G LTE cellular coverage, Super Bowl LIV in Miami will also include 5G millimeter-wave networks as well as a small trial of live CBRS deployments inside Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, according to Verizon.

The mix of wireless coverage is all designed to answer the annual ever-increasing demand for bandwidth at what has historically been the sporting world’s heaviest single day for wireless traffic, a trend Verizon expects to continue once again this year. In a phone interview from Miami, Andrea Caldini, Verizon vice president of network engineering, said the company’s two-year effort to bolster wireless coverage inside and outside the Super Bowl venue was all about increasing capacity in every way possible.

“It’s exciting that this will be the first 5G millimeter-wave Super Bowl,” said Caldini, who said Verizon used the stadium’s relatively new overhang roof to mount the 5G antennas. For the 4G LTE DAS, Verizon as neutral host followed the same playbook the company has used at other recent Super Bowl venues by installing under-seat DAS enclosures in most bowl-seating areas. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are all also on the DAS, according to Verizon. Out of the 1,500-plus cellular antennas in the bowl seating area, approximately 1,100 of those are in under-seat enclosures, according to Verizon.

Under-seat wireless enclosures at Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Verizon Wireless

Verizon also said that most of the bowl seating Wi-Fi coverage also comes from under seat enclosures, using gear from Extreme Networks. According to Extreme, the Wi-Fi network in Hard Rock Stadium has approximately 2,000 APs. Like in other NFL and college stadiums where it has a hand in both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks, Verizon customers at Hard Rock Stadium will have a separate Wi-Fi SSID that can autoconnect devices.

But to give you some idea of the breadth of the network, Caldini did say there are 258 sectors in the stadium DAS, and another 58 sectors in the DAS covering the extensive parking lot areas surrounding the venue. Verizon also has deployed a small cell network with 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for the parking lot and tailgate areas, Caldini said. And just to make sure the field areas are covered (for postgame ceremonies and for media use), Verizon also installed two MatSing ball antennas.

CBRS gets a test deployment

While its footprint will be much smaller, Verizon did say there will be some live networks at the game using the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, in nine stadium suites. Just recently approved by the FCC for full commercial use, the CBRS spectrum is of great interest to carriers and to venues due to its support of the LTE standard. According to Caldini, visitors in the suites where CBRS service is available will be able to directly connect to the network if their device supports the CBRS spectrum. Apple iPhone 11 devices, along with several other Android phones, currently have radio chips that support CBRS.

Caldini is excited about the possibilities the 150 MHz of CBRS spectrum could bring to venue deployments, and said Verizon will have an expanded CBRS deployment at Super Bowl LV in Tampa in 2021.

“You’ll see CBRS being a much bigger play next year,” Caldini said.

While the new-ish overhang roof that was installed during the latest renovation of Hard Rock Stadium did give Verizon a good place for equipment mounting, Caldini said there were some other construction-type hurdles that had to be overcome during the wireless network deployments.

The lack of any handrails, she said, led to the prominence of the under-seat antenna deployments; and because the light poles at Hard Rock Stadium are designed to be lowered when extreme weather (like hurricanes) hits the area, Verizon had to mount equipment lower down on the poles.

When it comes to potential emergency situations, Caldini noted that Verizon has installed its own power system for its networks, with batteries and generators back in the head end — recalling the situation at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans during Super Bowl 47, when a power outage delayed the game.

“If the power goes out [in Miami], the network will stay on,” Caldini said.

And while the limited number of consumer devices supporting 5G communications will probably keep 5G usage at Super Bowl LIV somewhat low, Caldini noted that by next year’s big game, it will likely be a different story.

Recalling earlier cellular generation changes, when initial devices were usually standalone “pucks” or laptop cards, Caldini was excited to see quick support for 5G emerging.

“It’s amazing how many devices are going to support 5G,” said Caldini, who predicts there will be more than 20 5G-enabled handsets out later this year. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what we can do [with applications] next year on 5G.”

Dolphins offer SunPass electronic-payment parking option for NFL, college games

Artist rendering of the new Hard Rock branding on Miami's stadium. Credit: Miami Dolphins.

Artist rendering of the new Hard Rock branding on Miami’s stadium. Credit: Miami Dolphins.

The ease of automatic electronic tollroad payments is now coming to sports stadiums, with the Miami Dolphins’ announcement of SunPass electronic payment parking options for fans attending NFL and college football games at Hard Rock Stadium this fall.

Like other tollroad payment systems, the SunPass used in south Florida requires a transponder in users’ cars, and that transponder will be required to use SunPass to pay for parking. According to Todd Boyan, the Miami Dolphins’ senior vice president of stadium operations, parking cashiers will have handheld devices that scan the windshield transponder. The SunPass option will be available in the outer lots surrounding the stadium, and fans using the option will have dedicated lanes separated from those paying cash or with credit cards.

Fans using the SunPass system will also get a discount on parking fees, with amounts varying per game. According to Boyan, for Dolphins games the outside lots are priced at $40, but will only cost $25 to fans using the SunPass system, a $15 savings. For University of Miami games at the stadium (which was recently renamed in a reported $250 million sponsor deal with Hard Rock) Boyan said the discount for SunPass users will likely be either $5 or $10, depending upon the game.

Miami Dolphins go long on multiple social-media platforms for Gase intro

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

Intelligent marketers of professional sports know they have to get their messaging to where the fans are – the stadium, their living rooms, and in today’s world, their smartphones. Small wonder, then, that the NFL’s Miami Dolphins chose multiple social media outlets in early January to introduce their new head coach, Adam Gase, in a multi-platform, social-cast event.

The Dolphins engineered a live Q&A session and broadcast the press conference with Gase that spanned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat. This multi-platform event, the first of its kind in professional sports according to the Dolphins, included video and text chat and was intended to reach online fans and encourage engagement, said the event’s planners, Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Dolphins, and Surf Melendez, managing director of content and creative services for the team.

Joined by his wife, Jennifer, and their three young children, Gase told fans that outside of football, he was most looking forward to the Miami weather. “It was 15 degrees when we left” Chicago, he said, where he’d been working as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. By the end of the press conference, the Dolphins’ Facebook video page registered more than 100,000 views, with a peak of approximately 11,700 simultaneous viewers, according to the Dolphins’ press office.

“The whole point of [of the social-cast] was to make sure that we were using our brand and all our platforms in an innovative way,” Melendez said. “Whenever we communicate or get the brand out there, we try to be innovative, this time with a live, social broadcast.” The team also streamed Gase’s introduction on its website and the Miami Dolphins official smartphone app; Melendez said the intention wasn’t to bypass the general media but to complement them.

md2“We have the luxury of experimenting and innovating because our owner, Stephen Ross, and CEO [Tom Garfinkel] are there supporting us,” Jenkins added. “This is a new place to be.”

Technical challenges for new approaches

Editor’s note: This excerpt is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our long-form PDF publication that combines in-depth stadium tech reports with news and analysis of the hottest topics in the world of stadium and large public venue tech deployments. Enjoy this feature, and then DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and read all the rest of the great info in this report!

A new place, and a challenging one, at least technically. Melendez said the first requirement was making sure they had enough smartphones for all the different platforms. “We needed the right people and the right devices to make sure we got the right shot, that the audio was good, that someone was posting and someone else was monitoring the feed,” Melendez explained.

He and his department are constantly experimenting with these different technology to improve or fine-tune performance. “We had a dry run [for the Gase introduction]. But once it’s go-time, things happen, like Wi-Fi,” he laughed.

Live video was another of the Dolphins' social-media tactics

Live video was another of the Dolphins’ social-media tactics

Still, the approach seemed to be a hit with Dolphins’ fans. “As we were broadcasting live, the responses were, ‘Wow, this is tremendous, they’re getting me in there’ [the Dolphins’ offices],” Melendez said. “This is a new and fresh place to be.”

In addition to reach, impressions and views, the Dolphins are closely monitoring how social media grows the brand and creates new revenue. Like most businesses, the Dolphins conduct regular lead-generation campaigns; most have been telephone-based, according to Melendez, but that is quickly changing.

“We’ve done a couple dry runs on social media, where you can put out a call to action and target a specific audience for leads,” he said. “The response was 4-5 times as fruitful for good, qualified leads.”

As a new medium, social media requires continuous education with the Dolphins’ partners on how to use the platforms. “We then educate our sponsors that social does X, Y and Z and how that benefits them,” Melendez said.

But the door for social education swings both ways, according to Vince Pannozzo, social media manager for the Dolphins. “We work with the team and with Facebook and Twitter directly to talk about personal brands as well as best practices,” he said.

“Cheerleaders, too,” Jenkins hastened to add.

The next big test of the Dolphins social strategy will come when the NFL’s free agency begins in mid-March. “That’s going to be a fun time to tune into what we’re doing,” Melendez said. “Generally we’re taking a step back at the content we’re creating overall and how we’re broadcasting, quote unquote, because we’re looking at how to serve up things that we used to do on more traditional avenues. It will look different next season.”

AT&T: NFL fans used 55% more DAS data this year

dx1AT&T customers who visited NFL stadiums this season used 55 percent more cellular traffic this year than last, according to some year-end figures from AT&T.

In the 31 different NFL venues where there is an AT&T DAS AT&T customers used 132.8 terabytes of cellular data this NFL season, with the Dec. 14 Monday night game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins topping the single-game charts with 1.6 TB of DAS data used, according to AT&T. It’s appropriate that Sun Life Stadium had the biggest data game, since Miami’s home also led the NFL for highest average DAS data used, with 1.4 TB per game. Close behind in second place for average DAS use was AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the average hit 1.257 TB this season. Third was San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium with 1.085 TB, and fourth was Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., with an average of 1.054 TB each game on the AT&T DAS.

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.

AT&T: Miami Dolphins, Oklahoma State are tops for season-long DAS traffic for pro, college stadiums

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 2.21.51 PMThe Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium and the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ Boone Pickens Stadium were the top professional and collegiate venues, respectively, when it came to cellular data traffic used by fans on AT&T networks during this past football season, according to AT&T.

As a caveat we need to say that the numbers used here do not reflect all wireless data users — they only represent totals from AT&T customers at stadiums where AT&T has a DAS, or distributed antenna system, installed. Still, since AT&T is the runaway leader when it comes to DAS installations — and so far, the ONLY wireless provider willing to share stadium statistics — for now its numbers are the only ones we have, so we’ll use them to award the honorary crystal iPhone trophy, or whatever top-traffic winners get.

Among NFL stadiums, Miami’s Sun Life took the top average honors by a wide margin, with an average of 1 terabyte of DAS data per game. Next highest was Dallas and AT&T Stadium, with an average of 830 GB per game; the next three were San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium (735 GB per game), the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium (601 GB per game) and the New Orleans Superdome (596 GB per game). What’s interesting about the top 5 is that all except San Diego also have fan-facing Wi-Fi, so even with Wi-Fi around there are still high cellular data totals.

On the collegiate side, OSU’s Boone Pickens Stadium racked up an average of 769 GB per home game, pretty impressive when you consider the capacity is only around 60,000 fans. In second place was the University of Miami and Sun Life Stadium, whose network must just stay warm all the time; the U fans used an average 745 GB per game, according to AT&T. The next three highest averages were all close, led by Texas A&M’s Kyle Field (668 GB per game), then Baylor’s McLane Stadium (661 GB) and the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Field (660 GB). For more numbers see the AT&T blog post on the collegiate data season.