Changes ahead for DAS industry business models, technology

JMA Wireless shows ‘smart’ trash bins at DAS and Small Cells Congress in Las Vegas. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LAS VEGAS — New technologies combined with the need for new business models are driving imminent changes to the distributed antenna system (DAS) marketplace, according to industry representatives speaking Tuesday at this year’s DAS and Small Cells Congress here.

And while the end product of the market transformation is still uncertain, executives from DAS gear manufacturers, cellular carriers and other industry experts all agreed on one thing: In the near future, the DAS industry won’t look at all like it does today.

For large public venue owners specificially, the days of carrier-funded DAS deployments may already be at an end, unless your stadium is in line to host a Super Bowl. Tightening budgets due to economic pressures on the nation’s biggest cellular carriers means that the recent years of free spending by AT&T and Verizon Wireless may have already gone by, putting more pressure on venue owners to find different financial models to bring cellular signals inside their buildings.

Cathedral Consulting’s Seth Buechley

“There was never a problem I couldn’t throw more money at,” said Philip French, executive director for the West and North Central areas for Verizon, during a Tuesday keynote session at the Planet Hollywood hotel. “Those days are gone.”

Also putting pressure on traditional DAS designs are the emergence of small cells, basically smaller versions of carrier macro towers that, like DAS, are used primarily to bring connectivity inside buildings or to urban areas with RF challenges, like crowded city streets. Experiments with newer “5G” cellular technologies and trials of networks at newer slices of spectrum, like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at 3.5 GHz, may also impact the traditional DAS architectures as carriers and building owners look for ways to get more connectivity bang for the buck.

Getting more worth out of the network

Seth Buechley, chairman and CEO of business-advisory firm Cathedral Consulting (and former co-founder of DAS equipment provider SOLiD USA), said that the biggest cellular carriers are under increasing pressure to improve their bottom lines, a situation that could affect the DAS industry by drying up the funds previously used to bring DAS deployments to places like stadiums and arenas. AT&T, for example, has already disbanded the internal group that led an industry charge to bring DAS to many sports venues at no charge to teams or facility owners.

“Internal [carrier] competition for resources is the biggest threat to DAS,” Buechley said.

In his remarks, Verizon’s French noted that the “unlimited” data plans that have resurfaced for major carriers like Verizon are putting “a tremendous amount of pressure” on budgets. Another current popular DAS business model, where a third-party operator builds a stadium network and then signs up carriers on a subscription model, may also be in danger as carriers hold off on participating. At Texas A&M, T-Mobile recently signed a $3.5 million deal to get its signals on the DAS network at 102,512-seat Kyle Field, where AT&T and Verizon both paid in the neighborhood of $5 million for their access to the network.

Todd Landry, JMA Wireless

Unless your facility is that big or it’s getting ready to host a big event like WrestleMania or the Super Bowl, where DAS traffic is likely to be off the charts, the carriers may not be as ready to pay.

“We still love the NFL, but neutral host [participation] can be very expensive for Verizon,” French said.

More network intelligence = more revenue opportunity

Todd Landry, corporate vice president for product and market strategy at DAS supplier JMA Wireless, said the DAS industry needs to look at its own offerings to see how it can help its customers get more out of their networks.

“We’ve got to re-imagine what we’re trying to do,” said Landry. “What do we do with the network to get more out of it?”

Specifically, Landry sees advancements in DAS network intelligence as a prime opportunity to provide more value rather than simply cutting costs. At the conference, JMA was showing a prototype of a “DAS trash can,” a hardened waste bin (with solar power) that could also host a DAS antenna inside. Another attached bin was shown with a connected sensor that could tell operators whether the can was full or not, eliminating the need for multiple truck rolls just to check on whether the bin needed to be emptied.

DAS gear inside the ‘smart’ trash can

For stadiums and other public spaces like shopping malls, Landry said parking spots might have sensors that could indicate whether or not a spot was available — and then relay that information to a self-driving car, which could drop off its passengers at the venue, then proceed on to park itself. Such a service could be offered for a fee to game or mall attendees.

“As we go forward, we need be more clever,” Landry said. “We need to take more knowledge [from] the plumbing, and extract value from it.”

And even while technologies like “5G” and CBRS, which uses LTE technology to provide what proponents see as a sort of “private cellular” environment, may be a few years off from practical deployments, Landry said their presence is already being felt and absorbed by firms building current-day DAS gear. Elements of small cells and DAS, he said, “will come together,” as the equipment vendors “re-imagine what we’re doing for the industry.”

While there may be multiple paths forward for the DAS market, all in attendance seemed to agree with Landry’s final statement: “Things will be very different from what you know today.”

‘Right opportunity’ led Rushton from IBM to LA Chargers job

Jim Rushton

Jim Rushton, who held one of the most high-profile jobs in the sports network business market as leader of the stadium-technology group at IBM, said it was a “once in a lifetime chance” at the “right opportunity” that led him to leave Big Blue to become the new chief revenue officer for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Rushton, who started his new job this week, spoke with Mobile Sports Report last week on the phone after what he described was a “whirlwind” of activity, which ended up with him at one of the top-level business spots for the former San Diego Chargers, who are in the midst of a move up the coast.

“The chance to help rebuild and evolve an NFL franchise in a market like Los Angeles doesn’t come up very often,” said Rushton. “It really was a once in a lifetime career opportunity.”

Part of that opportunity will be to help figure out how to remake the Chargers franchise as part of a joint tenant agreement at the yet-to-be-built new Los Angeles NFL stadium, a venue being built by LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Rushton said that fan data and anayltics will me a “massive part” of his new purview, and that as a partner in the stadium operations the Chargers will be part of “joint decisions” on technology matters inside the new venue.

Rushton, who held a similar position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins before moving to IBM, said his post with the Chargers will have more responsibilities.

On his short but productive IBM tenure — during which IBM came from pretty much nowhere to becoming one of the leaders in the stadium-networking integration space — Rushton said he felt he was leaving the operation improved from its initial inception.

With IBM-led deployments at Texas A&M, Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the forthcoming LA Football Club venue leading the way, Rushton said IBM’s tech-integration business now has a “signficiant [deal] pipeline across the world.”

One of the more interesting features of Rushton’s new job is the fact that the Chargers will play home games the next two seasons at the StubHub Center, a 27,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson, Calif., that will become the NFL’s smallest venue starting this fall. Though it’s not clear whether or not the stadium will improve its technology offerings before the Chargers play, Rushton was excited by the prospect of a scaled-down experience.

“It’s going to be terrific — it’s like having only premium seats, because everything will be lower bowl,” Rushton said.

LA Chargers name IBM’s Jim Rushton as chief revenue officer

Jim Rushton

Jim Rushton, the former Miami Dolphins exec who became the leader of IBM’s stadium technology-integration program, has now joined the Los Angeles Chargers as the team’s chief revenue officer, according to a post on the team’s website.

We’re still trying to reach out to Rushton for more info, but it’s unclear yet as to what effect his departure will have on IBM’s stadium networking business, which directed projects at Texas A&M as well as at the Atlanta Falcon’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, due to open later this year. IBM was also tapped to lead technology deployments at the forthcoming Los Angeles Football Club soccer facility.

New Report: New Wi-Fi, app and digital displays for San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our profiles for this issue include a first-look visit to the San Jose Sharks’ newly wired SAP Center, where a Cisco Wi-Fi and StadiumVision network (deployed by AmpThink) has brought high-definition connectivity to the old familiar “Shark Tank.” We also have a profile of new DAS and Wi-Fi deployments at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, as well as a recap of the wireless record-setting day at Super Bowl LI at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Plus, our first “Industry Voices” contribution, a great look at the history and progression of Wi-Fi stadium networks from AmpThink’s Bill Anderson. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY today!

We’d also like to invite you to join in our first-ever “live interview” webinar, which will take place next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, 2 p.m. Eastern time. All the details are here, so register now and listen in next week for more in-depth views from Vivint Smart Home Arena, and their technology partners, Boingo and SOLiD.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this Stadium Tech Report issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank our growing list of repeat readers for your continued interest and support.

College Football Playoff championship sees 2.4 TB of Wi-Fi — big decline from 2016

We finally have numbers for the Wi-Fi usage at the most recent College Football Playoff championship game, and in somewhat of a first the total data used during the event was much lower than the previous year’s game, with just 2.4 terabytes of data used on Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. — compared to 4.9 TB of Wi-Fi used at the championship game in 2016, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

The reason for the decline is probably not due to any sudden dropoff in user demand, since usage of in-stadium cellular or DAS networks increased from 2016 to 2017, with AT&T’s observed network usage doubling from 1.9 TB to 3.8 TB in Tampa. More likely the dropoff is due to the fact that the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium had been through recent upgrades to prepare for both the college championship game and Super Bowl XLIX, while the network in Raymond James Stadium hasn’t seen a significant upgrade since 2010, according to stadium officials. At last check, the Wi-Fi network at University of Phoenix Stadium had more than 750 APs installed.

Joey Jones, network engineer/information security for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said the Wi-Fi network currently in use at Raymond James Stadium has a total of 325 Cisco Wi-Fi APs, with 130 of those in the bowl seating areas. The design is all overhead placements, Jones said in an email discussion, with no under-seat or handrail enclosure placements. The total unique number of Wi-Fi users for the college playoff game was 11,671, with a peak concurrent connection of 7,353 users, Jones said.

Still tops among college playoff championship games in Wi-Fi is the first one held at AT&T Stadium in 2015, where 4.93 TB of Wi-Fi was used. Next year’s championship game is scheduled to be held at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where one of the latest Wi-Fi networks should be in place and operational.

Seahawks see big jump in Wi-Fi usage at CenturyLink Field for 2016-17 season

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 1.11.24 PMThe Seattle Seahawks saw almost every metric associated with the Wi-Fi network at CenturyLink Field just about double from the 2015-16 to the 2016-17 NFL regular season, according to statistics provided by the team.

Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks, sent us over some excellent season-long charts of Wi-Fi activity, including unique and concurrent-user peaks, top throughput, and a couple of comparison charts mapping this most recent season’s activity compared to that a year before.

With a capacity crowd attendance total of 69,000, the always sold-out CenturyLink saw a take rate nearing 50 percent for most of the season, with a top unique-user number of 35,808 for a Nov. 7 31-25 win over the Buffalo Bills. Interestingly, the biggest day for total data usage wasn’t the Bills game (3.259 terabytes) but a 26-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 20, when the Wi-Fi network saw 3.526 TB of data used. If you look at the comparitive graphs, both peak usage and total usage numbers pretty much doubled down on what was seen the year before.

According to Suttles, there wasn’t much in the way of upgrades to the Extreme Networks-based network before this past season — just some firmware and software updates, and “about a half-dozen” new APs to support additional seating added in the south end zone area. “Overall, I think it [the data increases] is more to do with familiarity,” Suttles said. Thanks to Chip and the Seahawks for sharing the numbers!

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