World Series fans will have Wi-Fi + DAS at Cleveland’s Progressive Field; cellular only at Wrigley

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 11.00.32 AMIf you are lucky, loaded or devoted enough to have tickets to any of this year’s World Series games, you will have more connectivity choices at Cleveland’s Progressive Field than at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Thanks to a Verizon-built Wi-Fi and a separate DAS network that both came online in 2014, the home of the AL champion Indians should be ready for the bucket-list traffic pressures that come with hosting World Series games.

When the series moves to Chicago later this week, the Wrigley cell network will need to carry the full load, as renovations that are bringing new Wi-Fi and DAS systems to the Friendly Confines are not yet in place (and may not be finished until 2018, according to the Cubs).

However, the cellular networks at Wrigley Field seem to be working just fine — according to AT&T, during the three league championship series games in Chicago, fans who are AT&T customers used 2.6 terabytes of data on the AT&T networks at the ballpark. For the three games at Dodger Stadium, AT&T said it saw a total of 2.0 TB used on its networks. Fans at Progressive Field, meanwhile, used a total of 340 GB during games 1 and 2 of the ALCS on AT&T networks. Expect that number to grow this week.

For fans attending the games in Cleveland (Game 1 is Oct. 25 and Game 2 is Oct. 26; games 6 and 7, if necessary, will also be in Cleveland) there should be plenty of local cellular capacity thanks to the beefing-up brought by carriers ahead of this summer’s Republican convention; we are also guessing that all the big wireless providers are doing their usual big-event preparations, which usually means portable cellular equipment for placement around the stadiums and in other fan areas. Anyone attending the games, send us a speedtest… so we can keep score on the networks!

Minnesota Twins’ Target Field: Photo Essay and Wi-Fi tests

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

During Mobile Sports Report’s visit to Minneapolis earlier this summer, we had a free afternoon so we took the public tour of the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, home of the 2014 MLB All Star Game. Though it was a kind of drizzly day we still got a lot of looks (and tests) of the thing we came to see: The park’s new Wi-Fi and DAS networks, which were operational and since it was an empty house, probably running at full capacity for all our tests.

After a short (~30 min.) light rail trip from the airport to downtown, we dumped our bags at the hotel and hoofed it over to Target Field, staying dry by cleverly using the city’s skywalk pathways. Once at the stadium it was just a short wait for the 3 p.m. tour to start, so we cruised the Twins’ gift store where the full-body Twins jammies made us think of cold September nights.

Tech you can and can’t see

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

I’d never been on one of these public tours before, but our group of 7 dudes learned a lot of lore from our excellent guide Rick, who had his stats down cold. The big glove outside the stadium, he let us know, is 522 feet from home plate, the longest home run recorded by Twins legend Harmon Killebrew. That home run was hit in 1967 at the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.

Rick started out our tour by informing us that the $600 million Target Field, which opened in 2010, has a whole lot of technology under the field, pipes that heat the field and carry water away from it; there’s no dirt on the playing field, just sand underneath a very thin covering of grass. Baseball capacity now is 38,868, Rick said, though on opening day the park had 40,000+ there. That’s great stuff, man, but what about the Wi-Fi? Though I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal outside the gates, once inside the network was clearly humming: As Rick took us through the press box, where there were Ethernet cords in front of each seat, I wondered how necessary those were with a reading of 59.26 Mbps down and 62.67 up as I sat in a front-row seat.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

As one the MLBAM-led technology deployment deals (in part to get ready for the All Star Game demands) the Wi-Fi inside Target Field is mainly Cisco gear, at least those that you can see. The familiar white boxes (now with MLBAM ID stickers) are fairly ubiquitous. Since we weren’t able to get ahold of the Twins’ IT crew before our visit I’m not sure what the final AP or DAS antenna count is these days. But if you know where to look, and we do, you can see a lot of antennas around.

Dealing with outside-the-park interference

One of the interesting things we learned in our profile of the park prior to the All Star Game was that since the stadium is right downtown, the Twins and the major carriers had to figure out how to keep macro antennas on buildings outside the ballpark from bleeding into the stadium’s DAS. According to another source we spoke with in Minnesota, this year was the first year that Target Field’s DAS didn’t need any more alterations; as you can see by one of pictures here of the Ford Center, which is across the street from the back side of Target Field, there’s a lot of RF on rooftops in the near vicinity.

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what's that cord for?

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what’s that cord for?

Down near field level, the Wi-Fi was still cranking in the mid-40s, an excellent score for a place that’s normally hard to cover. Looking around I didn’t initially see any APs, with none on the wall facing backwards as some stadiums do it. Then after some more inspection I saw the source of the bandwidth, some well-covered railing APs mounted on the railing behind the 10 or so rows of near-the-field seats. On our way out I saw some of the distinctive AmpThink-designed sideways railing enclosures, for the open-bowl seating not covered by overhangs.

Though ideally we’d love to come back on a game day, from the looks of the physical placements we were able to see and the tests we took, it seems like both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks at Target Field are high performers, good news for Twins fans who need connectivity. And if you need to drown your sorrows or celebrate, there is also an in-stadium beer network, which supplies suds from main keg rooms through conduits that are definitely more tasty than copper or fiber. Prosit!

Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

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Target Field in panoramic view.

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A silhouette of a Wi-Fi antenna. MSR geek art.

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A Wi-Fi AP and some kind of gun antenna. Anyone know what that is?

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You bought it, you put your name on it.

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Another panoramic view, showing how close downtown is.

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The Ford Center is across the street from the back of the park. We’re guessing those macro antennas on top had to be tuned to keep their signals from interfering.

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Not Wi-Fi, but a network worth building for thirsty fans.

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Anyone want to test download speeds of these pipes?

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Great quote overheard in Minnesota: “It takes a lot of wire to make a park wireless.”

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Tour guide Rick getting set to take his “team” out on the field. BUT NOT ON THE GRASS!

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The railing APs that cover the field-level seats.

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An AmpThink railing enclosure. Rick didn’t know what those were, but he does now.

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Nice hardware in the Twins’ high-rollers club area.

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Our tour didn’t get to see inside, but we can guess what’s behind that door.

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If you can hit one here, the Twins want to talk to you.

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That’s about as close as MSR will ever get to being in “The Show.” Until next time!

St. Louis Cardinals team with MLBAM for Busch Stadium Wi-Fi

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, home of a new MLBAM Wi-FI network. Credit all photos: St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, home of a new MLBAM Wi-FI network. Credit all photos: St. Louis Cardinals

Working closely with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media initiative, the St. Louis Cardinals activated what’s being billed as the league’s largest wireless deployment, at least if you measure by overall square footage. The system went live in a phased introduction the week before Memorial Day, according to Cardinals’ director of IT Perry Yee.

More than 740 Wi-Fi access points were installed to accommodate fans at Busch Stadium, including the AT&T Rooftop, as well the Busch II Infield and the Budweiser Brewhouse rooftop deck across Clark Ave. from the stadium at Ballpark Village, where the Cardinals played til 2005. The Cards’ wireless deployment was part of a $300 million initiative headed by MLBAM to build out Wi-Fi and DAS in all the league’s ballparks, with MLB, wireless carriers and teams all sharing in the costs. (While Busch may be the largest MLBAM deployment, AT&T Park in San Francisco has baseball’s most-dense Wi-Fi and DAS network by antenna numbers; the networks at AT&T Park are run by the Giants and AT&T.)

Yee said the Cardinals experienced relatively few engineering issues, in part because of the relative newness of the stadium. He also credited MLBAM, which took the Cardinals’ design and selected a systems integrator and an equipment vendor (Cisco).

“It’s a real turnkey solution where you submit the blueprint [to MLBAM] and they start locating the APs,” Yee said. “Where we come in is we have the background experience to tell the design team where people congregate and how often different spaces get used.”

Putting Wi-Fi in the railings

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Wi-Fi railing enclosure.

Wi-Fi railing enclosure.

Busch Stadium, with a capacity of 46,861, is also blessed with good lines of sight to the field; the only real obstructions are near the foul poles. That’s great for fans, but creates challenges in that there are consequently fewer structures on which to mount antennas. That meant getting inventive in some areas, like installing Wi-Fi antennas in the handrails, and drilling the conduits from underneath seats to keep trip hazards and visual distractions to a minimum.

“Over in Ballpark Village, we had brick on the outside of building so we had to be careful — that was an issue for the electricians to figure out,” Yee said, quickly adding that the electricians on projects like these rarely get the recognition they deserve. “The designer can say where the antennas go, but the electricians have to figure out how to get power to that spot and do it in a manner that fits the building,” he said.

Cardinal fans trying to access the network hit a gated page that asks which cell carrier they use and also to accept terms and conditions; the Cardinals can then track usage and capacity by carrier and take that information back to the three carriers with DAS service in Busch Stadium: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. “If Sprint, for example, notices they have lot more customers than anticipated, it might be time for them to review their capacity,” Yee said.

Cards director of IT Perry Yee

Cards director of IT Perry Yee

There’s also an option on the gating page for users to share their email if they want to subscribe to the Cardinal newsletter, Yee added.

MLB app the center of activity focus

The Busch Stadium Wi-Fi network is new enough that MLBAM still is in the process of handing over management and oversight to the Cardinals’ organization; that makes it hard to track certain numbers — like what the budget was the for the project and how much money each entity contributed, numbers which MLBAM has not revealed for any of the many deployments it led throughout the league.

The Cardinals also aren’t releasing any official throughput or usage thresholds yet. Yee said he has seen speeds of 100 Mbps up and down and up on his Samsung S5 phone during more exciting parts of a recent game when fewer users were online. That number dipped to 20-30 Mbps during quieter parts of game. “It was a really good game — for half an hour no one was on the Wi-Fi, then when the score went in one direction I began to see speeds going down as people got online,” Yee said.

Lower level seats are covered with APs that shoot backwards into the stands.

Lower level seats are covered with APs that shoot backwards into the stands.

The Cardinals are looking to use the league’s Ballpark mobile app as the focal point for digital ticketing and inseat ordering plans. One hurdle to inseat ordering isn’t technical; it’s making sure the concessionaire can receive the data. “There’s lots of backend components to establish and flesh out before it becomes a real thing — lots of logistics to make these things happen,” Yee said.

The Cardinals have been using Bluetooth-based beacon technology for a couple years now. “We use it at our gates to greet people and it works via the Ballpark app,” Yee said. For now, the beaconing only works with iPhones; they’ll add support for Android devices at some point. But Yee foresees using beacon technology all around Busch Stadium at points of interest like the Stan Musial statue, providing information about who he was, what he did, to fans in proximity of the monument.

The Cardinals are still considering whether to deploy ambassadors in the stands during games to help people with connectivity issues and other questions. Longer term, they’re looking at geofencing with the concession areas or team store for specials and sale items — “Hot dogs on sale for this inning,” Yee mused. That’s way off in the future, the Cardinals’ IT director added.

In the meantime, the focus will be on “infrastructure that allows fans to see more and do more that makes the games more enjoyable,” Yee said.

Twins to test VR for fans at Target Field

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are partnering with SuperSphere VR to offer 5,000 fans the chance to “virtually” walk with a Twins player onto Target Field. On the July 29 test run, the Twins plan to distribute Google cardboard style virtual reality (VR) viewers to the first 5,000 attendees of the night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. The VR viewer offers users a low-cost means of experiencing VR by placing their phones inside a foldable cardboard headset shaped like a pair of binoculars.

Chris Iles, Senior Director of Content for the Twins, sees this promotion as an excellent way to engage with fans. “It’s giving fans the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before, and we think it will enhance their ball park visit.” Iles went on to explain that enhancing fan engagement is a major, organization-wide goal for the Twins.

Demo spurs another demo

According to Iles, the Twins began exploring VR after seeing a demonstration of the technology at a spring training showcase with Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Iles and the Twins “saw some potential for using virtual reality to bring fans closer to the game.” After seeing the demo and experimenting with the tech themselves, the Twins got in touch with SuperSphere VR to develop the upcoming VR experiment for Twins fans. SuperSphere VR specializes in VR content production for many applications, including sporting events.

The Twins’ VR content will be distributed to fans at the game only, using a geofencing feature within the MLB Ballpark app. Once fans check in through the Ballpark app they will be able to access the VR content on their phones. Iles expects the content will be made available to all fans, inside or outside the park, through the app later on.

The VR experience will be prerecorded on this first go-around in order to reduce the technical complexity of content delivery. “For this first foray,” Iies said, “we wanted something a little more controlled. That way we can confidently deliver that great experience.”

The Twins VR deployment may be the beginning of broader VR use for the organization. However, it’s still tough to say how VR is going to fit into a broader fan engagement strategy. For now, the Twins are among the first MLB franchises to explore the possibilities presented by VR for fan engagement on the day of the game.

Christopher Meier is an intern for Mobile Sports Report.

Yankee Stadium offers food ordering and delivery via VenueNext app

Home screen for VenueNext app for Yankee Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Home screen for VenueNext app for Yankee Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Fans in some areas of Yankee Stadium this year can now order food and beverages for in-seat delivery, thanks to a new stadium app developed with technology from VenueNext, the app developer behind the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app.

Though the app isn’t part of the Major League Baseball official and approved game-day and stadium apps, it does offer most of the bells and whistles VenueNext developed for the Levi’s Stadium app, including digital ticketing, live wayfinding maps and public transit information. According to John Paul, the CEO of VenueNext, the food ordering option is now available to approximately 10,000 seats in the 54,251-seat Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees and also the home to Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club, which also uses the new app.

The VenueNext app comes courtesy of a deal struck last year between Legends Hospitality and VenueNext, to use VenueNext app technology at Yankee Stadium and at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The Yankee Stadium app from Legends is the third major-league sport to use VenueNext technology to support in-seat food and beverage delivery, following the Niners’ app at Levi’s Stadium and an app for the Orlando Magic at Amway Center that debuted during the present NBA season.

App page showing in-seat food ordering and delivery option

App page showing in-seat food ordering and delivery option

In a phone interview with VenueNext’s Paul, he said that in Orlando the Magic started out with limited in-seat delivery, ramping up to offering it in the full lower bowl of Amway Center by the end of the regular season. According to Paul, the Yankees are using Aruba beacons to facilitate the wayfinding feature of the VenueNext app maps, and are using VenueNext’s Kezar ticket scanners to support digital ticketing. The Yankee Stadium app, however, does not yet support the ability to order food for express pickup at concession stands, Paul said.

No official word on Wi-Fi or MLBAM apps

The emergence of a VenueNext app that delivers capabilities not found in the so-called Official Yankee Stadium App raises some questions about whether or not the Yankees are playing ball with Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s strategy of having one single app for every MLB ballpark. MLB’s Ballpark app, for example, at Yankee Stadium offers “mobile check-in, social media, offers, rewards and exclusive content,” according to MLB. That’s a little bit different than the version of At Bat offered for the San Francisco Giants, which offers mobile ticketing support, seat upgrade options, and mobile food ordering. Other versions of Ballpark, for example for the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals, offer fewer options. But as far as we know, there are no other MLB teams with a companion app like the VenueNext app for Yankee Stadium.

For both the Yankees and the Giants and all other teams, the MLB’s At Bat app offers live MLB content for a fee.

Yankee Stadium stadium map in the app

Yankee Stadium stadium map in the app

There is also no link to the new VenueNext app from the Yankees’ team website, and the VenueNext app does not contain any live content or replay options, features found on both the Niners’ and Magic’s apps from VenueNext. The Yankees have not yet replied to requests for information about the app and whether or not there is any public-facing Wi-Fi yet in Yankee Stadium.

Though MLBAM spent some $300 million last year to bring Wi-Fi and cellular DAS deployments to all MLB stadiums, Yankee Stadium was never confirmed to have had public Wi-Fi installed. Repeated requests to MLBAM asking about the Wi-Fi situation at Yankee Stadium have also not been returned.

Betting the Under: Putting Wi-Fi antennas under seats is the hot new trend in stadium wireless networks

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

White box at bottom is one of the under-the-seat Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

What do you typically find under stadium seats on game days? The traditional list might include bags and purses, and get-out-of-the-way items like empty popcorn tubs, used hot dog wrappers and drink cups no longer filled with fluids.

And now you can add Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas to the list.

A growing trend is emerging to use under-seat antenna placements to bring wireless signals closer to fans, for both Wi-Fi networks as well as cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments. First used to compensate for a lack of overhang or railing placement spaces, under-seat deployments are now winning favor in all sorts of arenas for their ability to use human bodies to help build a more dense network, one that proponents say can carry far more capacity than an infrastructure that relies mainly on overhead antenna placements.

With proof points emerging quickly at venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, as well as at pioneers AT&T Park and AT&T Stadium, under-seat Wi-Fi deployments may soon become more common, as more integrators and equipment suppliers embrace the under-seat method.

New stadiums under construction including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center as well as new Wi-Fi deployments at existing stadiums like Houston’s NRG Stadium and the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte are also planning to primarily use under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, both for the performance and aesthetic benefits. With such high-profile deployments embracing the method, under-seat APs may become the default placement position going forward, especially as stadium mobile-device usage by fans keeps growing.

History: a need required by architecture

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Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

Giants senior VP and CIO Bill Schlough, at the office

When Wi-Fi first arrived in stadiums, the obvious solution to questions about antenna and access point placement seemed evident — just mount them on ceilings, overhangs and walls, like they had always been placed historically. Mostly that decision kept the antennas out of sight, and provided good-enough reception for most network deployments.

But as fan Wi-Fi usage started growing, poor reception areas cropped up, most often in the most expensive seats near the courts or playing fields, where there was often little architectural infrastructure other than the seats themselves. At the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park, the stadium where fan-facing Wi-Fi was first installed in 2004, the need for more bandwidth was a big problem that needed to be solved during the 2012-13 offseason, after the team’s second World Series title run in two years had produced record wireless usage.

Even with a Wi-Fi AP placed just about everywhere they could be, the San Francisco Giants’ IT team couldn’t keep up with demand. And the trick that has been tried at some stadiums — putting AP enclosures on handrails — wasn’t an option at AT&T Park, since its lower-bowl seating areas have no railings.

With options limited, that’s when an internal battle commenced around the new idea of placing APs under seats, a plan that met fierce resistance on many fronts.

“We got beaten up pretty bad over the idea [of under-seat APs],” said Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, who described the 2012-13 offseason as “a very stressful time,” with lots of internal strife and discord. With multiple stakeholders checking in on the plan, including the Giants’ facilities group, the marketing group and the ticketing group, concerns about the loss of under-seat space and the potential health concerns fueled opposition to putting APs under chairs.

But without any railings or overhangs for most of the park’s lower-bowl seats, Schlough and his team had “no other alternative” than to try placing Wi-Fi APs under seats. On the possible health issue, Schlough said the Giants were assured by technology partner (and ballpark title sponsor) AT&T that the deployment would be safe and comply with all FCC regulations; “We were assured that having [an antenna] 18 inches from your butt was the [radio] equivalent of having a cell phone in your pocket,” Schlough said.

On the storage-space concern side, Schlough said the Giants’ IT team made models of the antennas out of cardboard and duct tape, and placed them under seats to see how they worked.

“The [walking] flow through the aisles was good, with the AP models tucked under we never kicked them” during testing, Schlough said. With AT&T assuring the Giants that under-seat was “the way of the future,” the team took a leap of faith and added a large number of under-seat Wi-Fi APs in preparation for the 2013 season, more than doubling the number of APs in the park (to 760 total) in the process.

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Terry Sweeney, MSR

Though Schlough and his team “spent a lot of time” communicating with season-ticket holders about the new technology, there was still consternation about what might happen when opening day arrived, and “fans find this box under their seat, and not have a place to put their garlic fries,” Schlough said.

As it turns out, there was almost no resistance to the method; according to Schlough the Giants only had two complaints about the under-seat APs that first day of deployment, which Schlough called “the biggest relief day of my life.”

The success of the under-seat idea was particularly noted at that time by another IT team in the Bay area, the one putting together the wireless plan for the San Francisco 49ers’ new home, Levi’s Stadium, which was being built just to the south in Santa Clara. Testing some under-seat placements of their own at Candlestick Park during that venue’s final season as the Niners’ home, the team building the Levi’s Stadium network became convinced that going under seat was the best way to build the high-density deployment they wanted to have.

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