NCAA Tournament Wi-Fi and DAS: Send us your stats!

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Given that the games are numerous and spread out far and wide, it’s our guess that wireless-data consumption totals from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament regional sites are not quite approaching the “big game” numbers of say, a Super Bowl or the recent College Football Playoff championship game. Still, there are probably some interesting peaks and totals so as an open request to all involved, please send us any and all Wi-Fi and DAS stats from the weekend’s games and we’ll compile a list of what we get next week.

AT&T, as usual, was in with some early numbers, namely the DAS stats for the AT&T network in place at the University of Dayton Arena, where the first-round play-in games were held earlier this week. According to AT&T it saw 144 gigabytes of data used on the DAS during the four games over two days, again not Super Bowl numbers but still a big chunk of data and something to think about if your facility is planning to host a similar “big event” in the near future.

So who’s got Wi-Fi and who doesn’t for the NCAA sites? Our unofficial list is as follows:

Wi-Fi for fans available:
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Moda Center, Portland
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Staples Center, Los Angeles
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

No Wi-Fi
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville
CenturyLink Center Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska
KeyArena, Seattle
NRG Stadium, Houston

If any MSR readers are out at the games, send us a speedtest…

Stadium Tech Report: Blazing a Trail to Connectivity at Portland’s Moda Center

Portland's Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland’s Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

When it comes time to build a stadium network there are two obvious choices of how to get it done: You let someone else build and run it, or do it yourself.

When neither of these options appealed to the Portland Trail Blazers and their planned networking upgrade at the Moda Center, they went with a third option: Using a neutral host provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi.

After turning to neutral host provider Crown Castle to build out the enhanced cellular DAS (distributed antenna system) network as well as a fan-facing Wi-Fi network, Portland’s home at the Moda Center now has a level of wireless connectivity that mirrors the team’s excellent on-court performance — challenging for the NBA lead and looking to keep improving.

With Wi-Fi gear from Aruba Networks and an app developed by YinzCam, fans at Trail Blazers games can use the stadium Wi-Fi to gain access to live-action video streams, player stats and even a radio broadcast of the game. The app also supports seat upgrades, a feature powered by Experience.

Now in its second year of existence, the network and all its attributes are a big hit with Portland fans, according to Vincent Ircandia, vice president for business analytics and ticket operations for the Trail Blazers, and Mike Janes, vice president of engineering and technology for the Trail Blazers.

“We do a lot of fan surveys, and the approval [for the network] continues to go up,” said Janes. “We want to figure out what we can do next.”

Third-party the third and correct choice

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our new Stadium Tech Report HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE, available for free download. In addition to this story it contains additional profiles and team-by-team tech capsules for all 30 NBA teams. Download your copy today!

Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

If you dial the clock hands back a few years you would find an arena in Portland with not much connectivity at all, and fans who made their displeasure over the situation known, loud and clearly.

“Trail Blazers fans are not shy about letting us know how they feel,” Ircandia said. “Two years ago we learned that fans didn’t have much connectivity here [at the Moda Center]. That was a real gap in the customer experience.”

Janes said the top two methods of bringing a network in — allowing a carrier to build and operate it, or to build and run it themselves — both had significant drawbacks.

“You could hand it over to a carrier [to be a neutral host] but I’ve seen that before, where one carrier has to ride on another carrier’s DAS,” Janes said. “That’s not a good solution.”

The DIY option, Janes said, would mean that the Trail Blazers team would have to build the networks themselves, and hire someone to manage it.

“That would mean we would have to deal with the [multiple] carriers directly, and we didn’t want to do that,” Janes said.

In the end, Portland went with the neutral host option, with Crown Castle building and running the DAS and installing a Wi-Fi network as well. With its wide experience in building and managing DAS deployments, Crown Castle already has AT&T and Verizon as tenants on the Moda Center DAS, with Sprint coming on soon and possibly T-Mobile joining in the near future.

And on the Wi-Fi side, the team itself “owns” the network and the associated data — “and that’s good, because we are starting to take deeper dives into that,” Janes said.

And how’s it all operating?

“No complaints [recently],” Janes said. “The fans are pretty quiet when it’s just working.”

User numbers flat, data use doubles

Maybe those users are quiet because they are busy posting pictures to Instagram or posts to Facebook, two of the leading applications being used at the Moda Center, according to the Trail Blazers. According to Ircandia, what’s interesting about the usage patterns from last year to this year is that while the number of fans using the network has remained fairly stable (at about 25 percent of attendees), the amount of wireless data consumed has just about doubled from last season to this season, meaning that people are doing more things on the network.

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Some of that may have to do with a redesigned app, which added four live streams of video action, as well as live radio broadcast coverage.

“We didn’t leave [interaction] to chance,” Janes said. “We spent a lot of effort improving the app and redesigning the web presence to make it more enticing and robust.”

While having more features is always a good step, a big part of the challenge for any team is just getting fans to use the network and the team app. At Moda Center, there is a unique method of network promotion, which also directly benefits the team: By selling the “sponsorship” of the network to local-area Toyota dealers, the stadium operators now have a partner who actively promotes the network to fans walking into the building.

According to Ircandia, the Toyota dealers also sponsor a pregame show, set on the arena concourse with the team’s dancers in attendance to help attract attention. “They [Toyota] want to sell cars, so they have a lot of signage [about the network],” in addition to the show, Incardia said.

If there is such a thing as a good problem, there is one involving the ticket upgrade feature: Since the Trail Blazers have such passionate fans and are doing so well, there aren’t many available seats to offer for upgrades. “It’s a bit of a constrained inventory,” Janes said. Still, the team is using the Experience feature to offer last-minute ticket deals to students in the area, alerting them that there are seats available that may have a chance to be upgraded.

“They [students] have the time to drop whatever they’re doing to come over to the game,” Janes said.

Retrofitting an old flower

Previously known as the Rose Garden, the arena, which was built in 1995, clearly wasn’t initially designed with wireless connectivity in mind.

“We were retrofitting for technology that didn’t exist [when the building was built],” Ircandia said. “That’s where creativity comes in.”

DAS headend gear

DAS headend gear

Some of the creativity in network design included separate Wi-Fi antennas for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz transmissions, so that older devices didn’t have to compete with newer devices for the best Wi-Fi connection. Ircandia also said that the Moda Center “created” some new DAS headend space up in the highest reaches of the building.

“We built catwalks above the catwalks,” Ircandia said.

Looking ahead to what’s next, Janes said the network team is looking to use wireless to connect to food and beverage carts, so that point of sale operations don’t need to be tied to a plug in the wall.

“If we go wireless we can move the carts around, even put them outside, which gives us a business case improvement with no impact to the fans,” Janes said.

And now that those fans know what is possible, they will want what they have now, and more.

“That’s their expectation now,” Janes said, “that it will work when they walk in the building.”

Stadium Tech Report: Aruba’s Wi-Fi smarts at the base of Trail Blazers’ new stadium experience

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

Though it’s not been generally known for stadium deployments, being named as the Wi-Fi supplier for the new network at the Portland Trail Blazers’ 20,000-seat Moda Center should give a boost to the arena business for Aruba Networks, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based network infrastructure supplier.

After learning of Aruba’s win in Portland we caught up via phone with Manav Khurana, vice president for product marketing at Aruba, to learn more about what Aruba is doing differently in the stadium market. Though the company might have had the inside track in Portland (since it had previously sold gear there for an internal Wi-Fi network) Khurana said the Blazers had treated this year’s stadium technology upgrade as a brand-new project. What helps set Aruba apart from other vendors, Khurana said, are some in-house hardware innovations combined with software management techniques that help overcome the obstacles faced by wireless LANs in crowded spaces.

Focused antennas, optimized connections

To help meet the Moda Center’s design criterium of supplying a wireless network “faster than your home,” Aruba brought in the custom antennas it has designed for use in high-density situations. The Aruba access point antennas, Khurana said, can be focused “like a floodlight,” allowing pinpoint coverage of specific seating areas — and also allowing multiple APs to be positioned closely together without fear of interfering with each other.

On the management side, Aruba has an interesting piece of AP firmware it calls ClientMatch, which Khurana said helps combat the problem of mobile devices “locking on” to a specific access point, even if it’s not the best AP the device might see. “ClientMatch actively monitors all APs [in a network] and if there is a better AP available [for a device] it will move the connection in a real-time basis,” Khurana said. Aruba also uses some internal firewall smarts to help prioritize traffic, a necessary evil especially when video streams are part of the equation, as they are with the new Trail Blazers’ team app.

Advertising and infrastructure partners team up in Portland

One aspect that is unique from a business angle in Portland is the branding of the public Wi-Fi network by the local Toyota dealers, a longtime Blazers advertising partner; in fact, the in-stadium SSID reveals the name “Toyota Free Wi-Fi.” Since Wi-Fi users everywhere are accustomed to seeing a splash screen when they sign in to a new network, Khurana said it should get easier to convince advertisers that Wi-Fi connectivity can provide a new kind of billboard, one with the opportunity for one-on-one engagement.

“Three or 4 years ago it used to be tough [to sell Wi-Fi ads],” Khurana said. “Now everyone sees that screen whenever they log in at the airport. It’s a lot easier now to talk about those kinds of [advertising] opportunities.”

The new network infrastructure in Portland — which will eventually include 400 Aruba APs — was deployed by Crown Castle, and a new team app for this NBA season was developed by YinzCam, which has numerous big-league team app deals in all the U.S. major leagues. Thanks to good local coverage by the Oregonian, we should be able to follow the network’s performance over the NBA season (and see if the locals ever get around to calling the stadium by the new sponsor name instead of the Rose Garden handle by which it has been previously known).

Aruba scores with new Wi-Fi deployment for Portland Trail Blazers; Toyota dealers sign on as Wi-Fi sponsor

Wireless networking vendor Aruba Networks scored a big-time NBA deal as the centerpiece technology behind an enhanced Wi-Fi deployment at the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers. With more than 400 Wi-Fi access points reportedly deployed, the 20,000-seat arena should have great connectivity for fans as the 2014 NBA season kicks off this week.

While we haven’t yet talked to Aruba folks about the deal (we are working off the numerous versions of the press release we found yesterday) there seems to be a really interesting financial twist, one that could prove a model for others if successful: According to the press releases the local Toyota dealerships in the greater Portland area have signed on as title sponsor for the new Wi-Fi service, which will appear to user devices as “Toyota Free Wi-Fi” in the SSID list. With teams and stadium owner/operators facing the question of how to pay for Wi-Fi infrastructure deployments, title sponsorships could be one way to help offset the millions in sunk costs.

We’ll try to circle back with all the companies involved in the deal, since there are many fingers in this pie: According to the release there is participation from Crown Castle on the deployment side, and popular team-app provider YinzCam scoring yet another team-app deal.