MLBAM: Miami’s Marlins Park will have new Wi-Fi for All-Star Game

As part of its continuing effort to help major league baseball teams outfit their stadiums with fan-facing Wi-Fi, MLB’s advanced media department said that Miami’s Marlins Park will have a new Wi-Fi network fully operational by this year’s All-Star Game, to be held on July 11.

In a recent interview with MSR, Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and chief technology officer for BAMtech, said the new network at Marlins Park will be “fully operational by the All-Star game.” Inzerillo said that by mid-season this year, there will be 23 MLB stadiums with networks built by or upgraded through the ongoing MLBAM plan to bring wireless connectivity to all league parks, a $300 million effort started several years ago.

Previously, Marlins Park had a Wi-Fi network built on Meru gear. Right now specifics of the network aren’t known, but most of the MLBAM network deployments have used Cisco gear for Wi-Fi. The Marlins also previously had a neutral-host DAS run by ExteNet Systems.

Digital Bridge acquires ExteNet Systems in $1B recapitalization deal

Telecom investment group Digital Bridge Holdings has acquired DAS deployer ExteNet Systems in a recapitalization deal valued at around $1 billion, a move that buys out all previous investors and makes ExteNet a part of Digital Bridge’s pool of telecom-infrastructure companies.

A good writeup of the deal can be found over at RCR Wireless but from a stadium-infrastructure standpoint there doesn’t appear to be any change in ExteNet’s existing strategy path, since CEO Ross Manire will be staying to lead the company. ExteNet, which installs neutral host DAS deployments in stadiums and also provides DAS infrastructure deployments for cities, has installed networks at ballparks like the Miami Marlins’ Marlins Park.

We’re hoping to speak with ExteNet folks sometime soon to try to find out how much of the $1 billion went toward buying out previous investors, and how much will remain on hand to help run the business. Stay tuned on yet another big-bucks consolidation event in the stadium tech marketplace.

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. 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.

NL EAST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Atlanta Braves
Turner Field
Seating Capacity: 50,096
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

The Atlanta Braves recently announced plans to build a new stadium in Cobb County, but the defending NL East champions are still improving Turner Field. In its 17th season, the TED is now outfitted with iBeacons throughout the ballpark.

Braves fans are encouraged to download the MLB At the Ballpark app to use their smartphones to get into the game, upgrade tickets, and pay for concessions. Fans do not need to be worried about data connectivity with multiple Wi-Fi access points, DAS antennas, and mobile charging stations.

Washington Nationals
Nationals Park
Seating Capacity: 41,888
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: No

On the heels of several Wi-Fi upgrades from a year a go, Comcast continues to expand connec- tivity throughout Nationals Park in 2014. But there are no specifics about connectivity just yet.

The ballpark is still young (in its sixth season) and the club is exploring where to make improvements. A proposed plan for a retractable roof that would cost an estimated $300 million was denied in 2013.

Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park
Seating Capacity: 43,651
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Just up the road in Philadelphia, Comcast is taking care of its home park. The cable company installed hundreds of Xfinity hotspots inside Citizens Bank Park in 2013. This year the experience is even better with iBeacons throughout the ballpark.

Phillies fans can order a cheesesteak or upgrade tickets as they walk down Ashburn Alley with the MLB At the Ballpark app. And the Budweiser Rooftop, Harry The K’s, and Games of Baseball all include strong Wi-Fi for you to tweet while fans there watch the next Cliff Lee strikeout.

New York Mets
Citi Field
Seating Capacity: 45,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, ~ 500 access points
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Built in 2009, Citi Field was one of the first big league stadiums to be outfitted with Apple iBeacons. Installed last September, Mets fans can use beacons to download the MLB At the Ballpark app to use their smartphones as a ticket to get into the game and receive a coupon for a hot dog.

The experience is even more useful now that Citi Field has more than 500 Wi-Fi access points and multiple DAS antennas distributed throughout the stadium. Now when the home run apple lights up, fans can take photos and share instantly across social networks.

Miami Marlins
Marlins Park
Seating Capacity: 37,000
Wi-Fi: Yes, 254 access points
DAS: Yes, 246 antennas
Beaconing: Yes

Marlins Park is the newest stadium in all of Major League Baseball and welcomes fans with increased connectivity in 2014. There are 254 Wi-Fi access points courtesy of Meru Networks and 246 DAS antennas put in by neutral host provider ExteNet Sysyems than host the five major cellular carriers to accommodate Marlins fans.

This season the Marlins worked with Major League Baseball to install iBeacons at every gate and entrance to Marlins Park. The MLB At the Ballpark app allows fans to pay for parking and use their phone for tickets to get to and from the game with ease.

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.

Stadium Tech Report: Miami Marlins rely on ExteNet DAS to keep wireless traffic flowing

Marlins Park. Credit all photos: Miami Marlins.

Marlins Park. Credit all photos: Miami Marlins.

If you know anything about Marlins Park, maybe it’s the stadium’s unique retractable roof or the spectacular art that catches your eye. But there’s also something you can’t see that is equally exciting, at least when it comes to the in-stadium connectivity experience: A neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) that has more than kept pace with the rapid, continual increase in fan cellular activity.

“When it came to DAS, we were ahead of the game,” said David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins, in a recent phone interview. Well before the 37,000-seat stadium opened in 2012, Enriquez said the Marlins’ IT team was researching and planning for enhanced cellular connectivity – even before “DAS” became a hot industry acronym.

“We planned for a DAS even before they were in vogue,” said Enriquez. “We saw it as a necessary evil.”

With the iPhone and all its cataclysmic changes already in motion, Enriquez said the Marlins wanted to avoid what had happened recently at another arena that opened in the Sunshine state without good connectivity.

“What we didn’t want to see was something like what happened in Orlando, when they opened the arena [in 2010], it had bad coverage, and they were crucified in the press for bad [cellular] service,” Enriquez said. “We said, what we’d love to have is the complete opposite of that.”

David Enriquez

David Enriquez

At the opening of Marlins Park, the connectivity inside the walls was better than most, with a full-park Wi-Fi network using gear from Meru Networks and a neutral-host DAS deployed by integrator ExteNet Systems. And though Wi-Fi often gets the headlines when there is talk about stadium networks, in many facilities like Marlins Park, the DAS is an equal workhorse, since many fans still either don’t know how or don’t take the time to switch their devices over to Wi-Fi.

DAS is the workhorse

According to Enriquez, on an average night at the ballpark the Wi-Fi network will handle 40 percent of the wireless traffic, with the DAS taking care of the other 60 percent. That may be because of lack of knowledge, or perhaps satisfaction with the signal the DAS is giving them, Enriquez said.

“Early on, most people, honestly, did not know how to change [their phone] to Wi-Fi,” Enriquez said. Most fans, he added, weren’t typically streaming lots of video — they may, he said, have used the MLB At Bat app to look at a replay or two, but that could all be handled by DAS. “That trend is changing though and we are seeing much more video traffic, especially with the younger generation of guests,” Enriquez said.

Marlins Park outside

Marlins Park outside

“The truth is, many users may not take the time to switch [to Wi-Fi],” Enriquez said. “If they’re getting 4 to 5 bars on their cellular signal, they’re happy.”

Though the Marlins and ExteNet now have five major carriers on their DAS – AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and MetroPCS (now part of T-Mobile), Enriquez said there was a bit of the chicken and egg problem at the start.

“Early on, nobody wanted to be the first on (the neutral DAS),” Enriquez said. “ We [the stadium] were just another node. Now, 3 years later, we are a central node in the Miami area and all the carriers are here. We’re a very central location.”

Staying in neutral

Enriquez, who has considerable experience in the large-venue IT world, said that having a neutral host for the DAS eliminates any potential concerns about favoritism between service providers. Even though costs to the team or stadium may be lower if they allow a carrier to take over DAS deployment, Enriquez said that for the Marlins a neutral host was worth the extra price.

“We didn’t want an advantage to be held by one carrier,” Enriquez said. Even if a carrier says it will act as a neutral host, when one carrier owns the deployment, others can “find it hard to believe there will be an equal time slice” when it comes to antenna access.

“We just wanted to avoid that, and make it irrelevant [as a concern],” Enriquez said.

The choice of bringing in an integrator like ExteNet, he said, provides an additional streamlining of operations, as there is now a single point for vendors to interact with to work out technology and deployment issues.

“We wanted to deal with one vendor – I didn’t want to be the middleman between the carriers and the Marlins,” Enriquez said. In that regard, he said, ExteNet has been “wonderful” as a neutral host. “They deal with all the carrier issues that I have no desire to deal with,” Enriquez said.

Less space needed for DAS upgrades

And even as fan cellular bandwidth use continues to grow – requiring carriers to constantly upgrade their systems – Enriquez said that DAS infrastructure is benefiting from improved technology to the point where even as carriers upgrade, their head end footprint is shrinking.

AT&T, for instance, has upgraded its DAS presence in Marlins Park four times over the past 2 years, Enriquez said, to the point where the carrier now has coverage for all four frequency bands. “They [AT&T] have done quite a bit to expand their coverage,” Enriquez said.

Still, the Marlins Park DAS head end hasn’t had to find new space beyond its original 1,500-square foot enclosure.

“Every time someone comes in to replace gear, we have a smaller [DAS] footprint,” Enriquez said. “It’s not going to eat you out of house and home anymore.”

Like other stadium IT directors, Enriquez is still surprised by the amount of wireless traffic generated by the fans who come to the games. “It’s incredible to see the need [for bandwidth” grow,” he said. “But people continue to give our network a thumbs up, we see that in our guest comments all the time. I just don’t know what we would do without the DAS.”