New Report: FC Cincinnati’s West End Stadium using technology to support safer, easier fan experience

Stadium Tech Report is pleased to announce our Spring 2021 issue, with a profile of the technology being deployed at FC Cincinnati’s new West End Stadium. With an eye toward making the fan experience better and safer, the Atomic Data-led deployment of Wi-Fi, entry and concessions technologies provides a robust technology infrastructure. Read our lead profile for all the details!

Our latest issue also has some forward-thinking analysis, including Bill Anderson’s essay on why Frequency Neutral Networks are the “magic” that will provide the kind of wireless connectivity users are seeking. Paul Kapustka weighs in on why concessions are going all-digital and cashless, and why that’s a good thing for everyone involved.

We are also featuring our second interview in our “Design Vision” series, this time with Kevin Devore of ME Engineers. We also have a recap of the wireless usage from Super Bowl LV in Tampa, where the reduced-size crowd still consumed data at a rate equal to past “big games.”

If you are reading on a desktop or tablet, you can view all the stories in our web magazine format.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, American Tower, CommScope, AmpThink, ExteNet Systems and Belden. 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.

Super Bowl LV Wi-Fi: Low total, but per-fan usage remains steady

Fans at Super Bowl LV in Tampa used 13.97 TB of Wi-Fi data during the game. Credit: Preston Mack/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Thanks to the reduced crowd size due to the Covid pandemic, the total Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl LV was well below previous years’ numbers — but the data used per device was nearly equal to last year’s number, showing that fans are still using their devices at the “big game” with gusto.

Because of needs to socially distance, this year’s Super Bowl LV at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium only saw 24,835 fans in attendance, much lower than the sellout crowds usually seen at the NFL’s championship game. According to numbers compiled by Extreme Networks, fans who connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network used a total of 13.97 terabytes of data, far below last year’s total of 26.42 TB used at Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, when 62,417 fans were at the game.

The fans watching Tampa Bay’s 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs live, however, used almost as much data per device as last year. According to Extreme 23,766 devices were seen on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network before and during the game. That works out to a per-user bandwidth usage rate of 587.8 MB per device, comparable to the 595.6 MB per user mark seen at last year’s big game.

Only 24,835 fans were in attendance at Super Bowl LV due to safety restrictions. Credit: Preston Mack/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

According to Extreme the 23,766 total-devices number includes 3,891 devices that connected to the network before the gates were open, utilizing an expanded Wi-Fi network in and around the stadium entry areas and the parking lots. Once the gates opened, Extreme said it saw 19,875 devices connect inside the venue, for an approximate “take rate” of 80 percent. At last year’s game Extreme saw a take rate of 71 percent, with 44,358 unique devices connected to the network.

Some more interesting nuggets from the Extreme numbers:
— Peak bandwidth usage was 7.9 Gbps, and peak concurrent users on the network was 12,288.
— The fans used 2.58 TB of Wi-Fi data before kickoff, and 11.39 TB afterwards.
— Top app used by fans was Facebook, accounting for 1.6 TB of all data used.

In part because of the pandemic safety measures, this was the first Super Bowl ever to go completely cashless for concessions and all-digital for ticketing. According to Extreme the company added some temporary Wi-Fi infrastructure to handle the increased needs for connectivity in areas like entry gates and other places outside the stadium.

Smaller crowd leads to smaller cellular numbers at Super Bowl LV

A MatSing antenna (white ball on right hand side of structure) hangs from the light tower at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., during Super Bowl LV. Credit: MatSing

With limited attendance due to the Covid pandemic, the best bet on Super Bowl LV was that the fans’ wireless traffic usage totals — which in past history have only gone up every year — would be diminished from previous events.

And even as the carriers continue to report numbers with parameters that make them hard to analyze, the bottom line from Sunday’s big game — which had 24,835 fans in attendance — was a total of 17.7 terabytes combined for AT&T and Verizon (with no numbers reported by T-Mobile), about half the usage when compared to last year’s game.

Once again, it is impossible to compare apples to apples as Verizon’s reported total of 4G and 5G data used, 7 TB, is from Raymond James Stadium only. AT&T, meanwhile, reported 10.7 TB of 4G and 5G data used, but from an area “in and around the stadium,” with no exact description of how far out “around the stadium” meant.

Still, taken at the highest totals the traffic pales compared to that seen at the most recent Super Bowls, where cellular traffic reported was above 35 TB for AT&T and Verizon last year and somewhere north of 50 TB two years ago, when Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) also reported numbers.

Verizon, which did say that 56 percent of the attendees were Verizon customers (which if you use the official attendance as a starting point gives you 13,907 Verizon customers at the game), gave us a chance to do some bandwidth-per-user math. Our unofficial calculations show Verizon customers using an average of 503 megabytes per user, a fairly solid metric when compared to last year’s Super Bowl Wi-Fi per-user usage total, 595.6 MB per user. (Wi-Fi total usage for Super Bowl LV has not yet been reported.) According to Verizon, its 5G customers saw an average download speed of 817 Mbps, with peak speeds reaching “over 2 Gbps.”

AT&T, meanwhile, claimed that its average 5G customer download speed was 1.261 Gbps with a peak download speed of 1.71 Gbps. However, since AT&T didn’t give us any way to calculate approximately how many customers it had at the game, it’s hard to measure its speeds directly with Verizon’s since there is no way of comparing how many devices AT&T had to support. T-Mobile, which claimed before the game that it had done as much as anyone else to support its customers at the game with 5G services, does not report traffic statistics from big events.

Interesting parking-lot poles and MatSings for the field

As part of the connectivity expansion ahead of the Super Bowl, poles like the one seen here may have 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for outside-the-venue coverage. Credit: ConcealFab

A couple of interesting notes: We want to tell you a bit more about the parking-lot pole enclosures that the carriers (and the Wi-Fi providers) used to cover the areas outside the venue. The supplier, a company called ConcealFab from Colorado Springs, Colo., said the pole enclosures (see picture) were designed and manufactured in-house, and can support a heady mix of wireless gear in what we consider an attractive ensemble.

Though not every pole had every bit of equipment, according to ConcealFab the enclosures “conceal low & mid-band 4G radio equipment and has a pole top shroud that contains omnidirectional 4G and public WiFi signals. 5G radios are mounted with shrouds that have clearWave™ technology that has been tested and approved for mmW frequency.” The company said that some of the poles had lights and security cameras mounted atop them as well.

Inside, the poles were a veritable United Nations of supplier gear. According to ConcealFab, here’s which suppliers brought what to the table:
— Ericsson radios (mmW) inside modular shrouds
— CommScope radios (AWS, PCS, CBRS) in the base and along the pole body
— JMA canister antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Extreme Networks access points and Wi-Fi antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Leotek LED luminaires
— Axis cameras

We’d also like to note that MatSing Lens antennas once again played a role in providing cellular coverage, with a couple of the distinctive ball-shaped devices used at Raymond James Stadium to provide cellular coverage to the field. MatSing antennas, which have recently been installed at Allegiant Stadium and AT&T Stadium, have been part of the past four Super Bowls by our account.

Fewer fans a challenge for Super Bowl LV Wi-Fi

As part of the connectivity expansion ahead of the Super Bowl, poles like the one seen here may have 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for outside-the-venue coverage. Credit: ConcealFab

The diminished crowd size that will watch Super Bowl LV live Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium presents a unique challenge for the venue’s Wi-Fi network operators, who had to fine-tune a wireless deployment that is designed to support a full house.

“It’s all about optimization of RF [radio frequency],” said John Brams, senior director, venues, retail and logistics at Extreme Networks, the supplier of the gear behind the fan-facing Wi-Fi network in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ home stadium. But instead of the expected sellout of approximately 70,000 spectators, Raymond James Stadium will only have somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000 people in attendance for Super Bowl LV, due to Covid-19 safety restrictions for social distancing.

When Extreme put a new Wi-Fi network into the venue a couple years ago, it installed approximately 1,400 Wi-Fi access points, including 950 in the seating bowl with most of those in under-seat enclosures. Like most under-seat deployments, the network at Raymond James Stadium was designed to use the bodies of fans — known in the RF industry as “waterbags” — to block wireless signals in a beneficial way, allowing network operators to place APs closer to each other without generating interference.

With fewer fans in the building, Extreme and the Raymond James Stadium IT team had to figure out just how to “tune” the network to balance connectivity with potential interference.

Limited attendance games provided a testing ground

While Brams said Extreme and the stadium had “five different scenarios” planned for various attendance levels, from empty to full, the last few home games during the Bucs’ regular season gave the network operators a good testing ground for the eventual Super Bowl plan. At the team’s last home game on Jan. 3, there were 16,009 fans in the stands, enough to give Extreme a way to test the eventual network operation plan for Super Bowl LV.

The limited crowd, Brams said, “gave us a broad sense of what we would have to work with” for Super Bowl LV. One benefit of the under-seat deployment is that by being under seats, the APs are less likely to cause interference with other APs, unlike top-down Wi-Fi deployments where signals are more out in the open.

But even as the game will assuredly fall short of the trend of previous Super Bowls — which set overall Wi-Fi usage records year after year — Brams said Extreme still added Wi-Fi capacity to other areas of the venue, especially areas just outside the stadium, to support connectivity for other Covid-related needs, like all-digital ticketing and cashless concession operations.

In total, the venue now has 1,522 APs ready for use at the Super Bowl, with 1,439 permanent placements and 83 temporary devices. Some of those APs were mounted on poles installed by Verizon to cover the parking lots, blending 4G LTE, 5G cellular and Wi-Fi to provide complete coverage for fans’ devices. According to Extreme, the Wi-Fi APs are all 802.11ac Wave 2 (Wi-Fi 5) devices.

Per-device usage still expected to be high

One number Brams still expects to grow is the metric Stadium Tech Report has highlighted the past few years — average bandwidth used per device. While the “big number” of total tonnage at large events is usually tied to overall capacity — making it hard to compare big-event Wi-Fi totals fairly — the average bandwidth per device metric seems to be the best way to measure a large venue’s network performance, since it hones in on what is most important — how well users can use the network.

“In some of the limited-crowd venue events [at Extreme venues] we’ve seen the per-device numbers continue to grow,” said Brams. Last year at Super Bowl LIV at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, an Extreme-powered Wi-Fi network saw a record per-device number of 595.6 megabytes per user, a jump of more than 100 mbps from Super Bowl LIII.

Verizon updates DAS, brings more 5G to Raymond James Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LV

Raymond James Stadium, the place where Super Bowl LV will take place on Feb. 7, 2021. Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers website

The limited number of fans being allowed to view Super Bowl LV live at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium should have no problem finding wireless connectivity inside the venue, thanks in part to new deployments that include a renovated 4G LTE distributed antenna system (DAS) and 5G cellular infrastructure from Verizon.

Ordinarily, the Super Bowl would be the place where once again new records would be set for wireless data consumption, as fans at the “big game” would spend most of their time there posting updates on social media to let their less-fortunate friends know just how good a time they were having either cheering on their favorite team or just being a part of the nation’s yearly biggest single-day sporting event.

But in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Super Bowl LV will be a big game unlike any other, with only about 22,000 fans allowed in the stadium because of health concerns. But Verizon, as it usually does ahead of the Super Bowl, said it has spent somewhere north of $80 million to upgrade its systems in and around Raymond James Stadium and the greater downtown Tampa area, not necessarily for this year but also for the big events expected in the near future at a venue known for hosting big events like the college football playoff championships and Wrestlemania.

“This is all being built for the next Super Bowl, or when the WWE [Wrestlemania] comes to town,” said Brian Mecum, vice president for device technology and sports partnerships for Verizon, in a phone interview. For the reduced crowd fortunate enough to be at Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, and for all the big crowds that will soon (we hope) be able to attend future events, Verizon has put in place a renovated DAS as well as a “robust” 5G millimeter wave deployment that will bring the next level of wireless connectivity to cellular customers across the board.

Verizon said it has also installed 281 small cell antennas to provide permanent extended cellular coverage around town, both in and around Raymond James Stadium as well as in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Riverwalk, and in nearby Ybor City.

All carriers are on the new DAS

While he would not reveal an exact count of the number of antennas or remotes in the new stadium DAS infrastructure, Mecum was able to confirm that all three major U.S. cellular carriers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — will be participating in using and paying for the DAS, meaning that customers of any of the aforementioned providers will be able to take advantage of new deployments, including some new under-seat antenna enclosures.

“It’s not good for the public if people are boxed out,” said Mecum, praising the “good relationship” between the carriers around the stadium DAS.

Verizon customers, however, will have the added advantage of being able to connect to 5G services at Raymond James Stadium, if they have an advanced handset that supports the company’s 5G signals. While there aren’t really any applications that can only be used on 5G, Mecum did say that 5G connections are “about 25 times faster than 4G,” so overall a user experience on 5G should be better.

Like in many other NFL stadiums, at Raymond James Stadium Verizon also does have an autoconnect feature that will switch Verizon customers over to the venue’s Wi-Fi network if their devices have their Wi-Fi radios active. But Mecum did suggest that Verizon customers at the game who have 5G-capable phones may want to turn Wi-Fi off at the event, to take advantage of the 5G connectivity.

“We do have Wi-Fi authentication [at Raymond James Stadium] but I would say stay on 5G if you can,” Mecum said.

MatSing antennas and upgraded Wi-Fi

We are still waiting to hear back from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about improvements made to the venue’s Wi-Fi network, and will provide details when we receive them. We also have seen several recent photos of the stadium showing deployments of a few MatSing lens antennas, something we’ve seen at several recent Super Bowls where MatSings are used to provide direct connectivity to sidelines, typically for media and photography bandwidth.

New Report: AT&T Stadium rewrites the DAS playbook

Stadium Tech Report is pleased to announce our Winter 2021 issue, with an in-depth profile of the new, groundbreaking distributed antenna system (DAS) recently installed at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. With its super-dense deployment of approximately 670 network zones and use of cutting-edge MatSing Lens antennas, the new cellular network is designed to handle the biggest demands from the largest crowds at what is probably the busiest football-sized arena anywhere.

We are also debuting some of our new, expanded areas of content coverage, with an in-depth look at how a converged compute infrastructure can help venues recover leaseable space and reduce operating expenses. Also look for our inaugural “Design Vision” interview, where we talk to Chris Williams, president of WJHW, to get his insights on stadium design and on two of his company’s recent projects, SoFi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium.

Also, please make sure you read my “letter from the editor” at the start of this issue, as it describes the business and strategic changes taking place here at Stadium Tech Report.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, American Tower, CommScope, AmpThink, ExteNet Systems and Ventev. 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.

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