Vegas Golden Knights get Wi-Fi boost at T-Mobile Arena

Vegas Golden Knights fans congregate during pregame in the outdoor “Park” next to T-Mobile Arena. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In hockey, it’s called being caught shorthanded. Outnumbered on a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rush, or down a player due to a penalty, it’s never fun to compete without an appropriate amount of resources.

In Las Vegas this winter the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, found themselves somewhat shorthanded on the wireless side of things when the Wi-Fi network in their castle — a building also known as T-Mobile Arena — couldn’t quite keep up with the demand generated by the Knights’ smashing debut.

But by deploying a classic Vegas strategy — going “all in” with a quick network upgrade that added nearly 200 access points — The Knights, T-Mobile Arena and connectivity partner Cox Business brought the Wi-Fi in line with the team’s first-place level of play, ensuring that fans will be able to share whatever happens in Vegas during the upcoming playoff run on a high-density network that reaches from the rink to the roof, as well as outside the arena.

Needing the feedback of regular fans

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Visiting team fans also have made T-Mobile Arena a popular NHL spot this season.

While the building itself has been open now for nearly 2 years, its original accelerated construction time frame and the uncertainty of the NHL bid meant that network deployments inside T-Mobile Arena were always going to have some wait and see attached.

“The original network design was kind of a best guess,” said Vikrant Bodalia, director of technology operations for MGM Resorts International (which co-owns T-Mobile Arena in a joint venture with the Anschutz Entertainment Group), during an interview and tour of the stadium the day after MSR attended a Knights game during the regular season.

When the arena opened there were approximately 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs throughout the building, but according to Bodalia there were only about 66 of those in the lower seating bowl. While there were some that were mounted under seats, those APs were few in number and mainly in the lowest rows, where Bodalia said performance was weakened by interference from fans’ bodies.

In between the time when T-Mobile Arena opened its doors in April of 2016 and the start of the current NHL season, every event was different from the next one, meaning that new fans filled the arena each time. The high percentage of “transient” crowds, Bodalia said, made it hard to get good feedback on how the Wi-Fi network was performing.

Cisco Wi-Fi APs in custom enclosures designed by Cox Business ring the overhangs above the main seating bowl.

Once the Golden Knights started playing, however, fan feedback was “very vocal and very good,” Bodalia said. Though it was always expected that there would be some rush in popularity for an expansion team, the surge in season ticket sales (team officials said attendance is more than 75 percent season ticket holders) is probably at the high end of expectations.

Add in to that the appeal for visiting teams’ fans to spend time in Vegas, along with the completely unexpected division-leading on-ice performance, and you have a sort of perfect storm that pushed bandwidth demands early on. For Bodalia and his IT team it was game on, with a quick research project into the best way to add more capacity, followed by an all-hours plan to get the job done.

Going under seat, without core drilling

One technique that has worked well in other stadiums — putting Wi-Fi APs into handrail enclosures — didn’t work at T-Mobile Arena mainly because the height of the railings was too low. A few test deployments didn’t produce the desired performance, Bodalia said, so that path was rejected.

Instead, the team of Cox Business, T-Mobile Arena and Bodalia’s MGM squad settled on a plan to deploy under-seat Wi-Fi APs, a deployment with a split degree of difficulty since about half the lower-bowl seats are on a retractable metal infrastructure to allow for customizable seating arrangements.

New under-seat Wi-Fi APs in the lower bowl

For the APs placed under concrete-mounted seats, Bodalia’s team devised a method of deployment that did not require them to drill through the concrete for each placement. Instead, the APs used low-profile conduit that stretched beneath the seats to the walkways, where connections could be consolidated. The T-Mobile Arena crew even tucked some of the wiring underneath rubber gaskets between concrete partitions, a method also used at Notre Dame Stadium to get cabling to APs without going through the concrete.

For the APs located on movable stands, Bodalia said the key was to find a method that didn’t disrupt the sometimes daily need to move the seats back and forth to comply with the venue’s busy schedule of concerts and events other than Knights games. What they ended up with was a design that included multiple switch-mounting sites on the walls underneath the backs of the stands, and then flexible “caterpillar” tracks to host cables, which would curl up or stretch out as needed, without having to detatch cables while physically moving the stands. At project’s end, there are now 200-plus APs in the main lower seating bowl, more than triple the initial deployment.

Wi-Fi as solid as the team on the ice

So with the three-month project now finally complete — after a lot of midnight shifts to get the work done between games and other events — how does the T-Mobile Arena Wi-Fi perform now? In a one-game visit by Mobile Sports Report during a Knights contest against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, we found Wi-Fi connectivity solid in every part of the venue, from the fan park outside to the rinkside seats to the upper reaches of the “castle.”

One of the many solid Wi-Fi speed tests we took in T-Mobile Arena.

What was surprising upon arriving at the venue was the relative “maturity” of the fan base — while some had predicted that visiting fans would overwhelm the locals this season, instead the opposite is true, with families, couples and packs of Knights fans flooding the zone outside T-Mobile. In a well-thought arrangement, the surrounding area between the New York, New York, the Monte Carlo and T-Mobile Arena is an already successful “fan zone” with open spaces for games and portable concession stands, and several watering holes filled to the brim an hour before game time.

After clicking a single box on a splash screen to accept terms for the Wi-Fi service, we got speed results of 42.4 Mbps on the download and 33.7 Mbps on the upload standing in the middle of the plaza outside the main gates as fans flowed by. Switching to cellular, we got a reading of 16.2 Mbps/9.25 Mbps at the same spot on the Verizon network. According to T-Mobile Arena, there is a neutral host DAS in and around the venue that supports all four of the top carriers.

Inside the arena, we went right down to the lower bowl to find and test some of the new under seat APs, and got a mark of 56.5 Mbps/54.7 Mbps in Row J of Section 17, in line with a face-off circle near one of the goal lines. Moving up we got a test of 61.5 Mbps/52.3 Mbps in a packed-house Bud Light Club on the main concourse and a 56.2 Mbps/50.3 Mbps mark in the Goose Island club, which serves the suite level on the third floor.

The world’s lonliest seat.

We couldn’t get inside either of the two “sky lounges” or the Hyde Park club on the arena’s top levels since they had private parties that night, but we did find the lonliest seat in the arena — a single-seat row in section 209, at the highest regular-seating apex. Even with the challenging RF and tight spaces we still got a Wi-Fi reading of 21.8 Mbps/22.4 Mbps, showing that Bodalia’s team didn’t ignore the hard places.

It was fun to watch the Golden Knights’ Vegas-style pregame ceremony, which includes a fun “pulling the sword from the stone” routine to help fire up the fans. But the very vocal Vegas contingent — watch out for their clever coordinated shout during a certain part of the national anthem — doesn’t appear to need much help, as there is an infectious enthusiasm pervading the building, one that you might not expect from such a non-traditional “hockey town” as Las Vegas.

On one level, the team is a perfect antidote for the local pain caused by the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay last fall; many fans sported Knights jerseys with “Vegas Strong” written across the top of the back, and there is a very classy segment during the evening where a “Vegas Strong Hero” gets honored. The night we attended the “hero” was a nurse who stayed on duty that dark night helping to save many lives; she was honored with a standing ovation.

But now, following the Knights’ first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, you can add Stanley Cup excitement to the mix, adding to the network pressure as fans will want to connect and share more. The good news is, thanks to the recent upgrades there is now a Wi-Fi network to match the team’s performance, no matter how far they advance.


Fans pack a nearby beer garden before a Knights game

A view of the Park from one of the arena’s outside lounge areas

Some premium loge seats have interactive TVs at T-Mobile Arena

One of the two sky lounges that extend over the main seating area

Knights games offer a savvy blend of hockey and Vegas showbiz expertise

Wi-Fi gear for new APs mounted on walls underneath the moveable stands

APs for under-seat deployments in moveable stands were mounted underneath the seating floor

A unique ‘caterpillar’ track keeps APs connected as stands are moved back and forth

Everest going solo in Wi-Fi equipment market

Everest Wi-Fi APs (lower left, middle right) mounted underneath an overhang at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Credit: Panasonic (click on any photo for a larger image)

Once a very tightly coupled part of electronics giant Panasonic, Everest Networks is now going solo in its pursuit of market share in the competitive arena for sports stadium and large public venue Wi-Fi deployments.

Though Everest representatives claimed that business is normal and usual, the emergence of Everest as a standalone company is a recent thing, even according to news clips posted on the company website. There, reports of some recent customer wins and news accounts of a high-traffic showing at an Everest-powered network at the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field all refer to the equipment as being from Panasonic, or as “The Everest Network Solution by Panasonic,” as a Panasonic press release describes it.

Apparently a recent reorganization at Panasonic caused the change in the marketing structure around the Everest product line; the products themselves have drawn interest in the stadium Wi-Fi market for their advertised ability to provide wider and deeper coverage patterns than other existing products.

Though Everest COO Simon Wright said in a phone interview Friday that “nothing has changed from a product perspective” and that the relationship between Panasonic and the Everest product is “exactly the same,” according to several sources the internal reorganization has eliminated multiple jobs inside Panasonic related to Everest, and caused the formation of the standalone Everest entity, which according to Wright’s own LinkedIn profile happened just last month. According to Wright, the headquarters office is in Santa Clara, Calif., is “within sight” of the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium.

New models, new deals?

While the explanation about the change of business direction from the Panasonic side will have to wait — Panasonic has not yet replied to our inquiries — according to Wright the Everest business is looking good, with new models coming out as well as some new (yet unannounced) customer wins in the near-term pipeline. According to Wright one of the new products is a Wi-Fi AP that can send a signal 300 feet, an attractive option for stadiums and venues with high overhangs that need to reach distant seats. One of the advantages touted by Panasonic and now Everest is that its APs include multiple radios, reducing the amount of actual hardware that venues may need to deploy.

New Everest logo from the company website

However, no Everest stadium customers have as of yet agreed to allow any up-close testing or provided any detailed season-long performance metrics. While team officials at the Philadelphia Eagles have provided praise for the Everest gear in press releases, they have not yet answered requests for live interviews. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic/Everest deployment at the arena whose networks he oversees, and said in subsequent messages that he hopes the equipment line will continue.

According to Wright, the path ahead for Everest is a typical one for a startup, with hiring and funding tasks part of the mix. While he would not provide a total of funding that Everest has to operate, or how many members it has on its team, he did say that Panasonic remains a major investor and will continue to resell and promote the product line.

“They [Panasonic] just secured a major contract for us,” Wright claimed. “They will continue to be an important partner for us.”

Tampa Bay Lightning pick Venuetize for new Amalie Arena app

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena have selected developer Venuetize for a new team and stadium app that will bring features including a multi-purpose digital wallet that will help fans manage their ticket options for hockey games and other events at the venue.

Screen shot of the new Amalie Arena app by Venuetize.

Announced in January, the new app is already available for iOS and Android devices. According to the team, the app supports the ability to purchase concessions and merchandise with a mobile device, as well as being able to perform detailed ticketing transactions including transfers and even transfers of discounts.

The deal with the Lightning represents Venuetize’s second NHL deal this season, following the company’s win to provide a similar stadium and team app for the Detroit Red Wings (and the Detroit Pistons) at Little Caesars Arena. Venuetize also previously built an integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres.

With new entrants like Hopscotch challenging established app players like YinzCam and VenueNext in the stadium and team app arena, Venuetize seems to be claiming its own turf with apps that lean heavily on transaction features, as well as the ability to easily shift between sporting events and other events at stadiums.

YinzCam, which made its name early in the space with content-focused apps, recently unveiled a feature that allows app users to order and pay for food and beverages. Clearly, the ability to support more transaction-based services seems to be part of the increased table stakes in the stadium and team app market going forward.

Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

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The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.

San Jose Sharks add more features to SAP Center stadium app

The San Jose Sharks announced today a raft of upgrades to their stadium app, including a feature that will allow fans to toggle through four separate modes of functionality, for Sharks games, SAP Center events, minor-league hockey info and information about the Sharks-associated public skating rinks in the area.

Now called the San Jose Sharks + SAP Center app, the mobile-device program developed by VenueNext and Adept Mobile will bring to life some previously mentioned services for Sharks fans, including the ability to order Sharks merchandise and in-stadium “experiences” — like purchasing a message on the big video board — directly from the app.

Screen shot of new ‘marketplace’ options in Sharks app

Other new features include live audio broadcasts of Sharks games and games for the AHL’s Barracuda; augmented reality experiences; and a message preference and inbox feature that will allow fans to self-regulate the frequency of in-app communications with the team.

The ability to toggle between different versions of the app — say, for Sharks hockey games or for a concert at SAP Center — is a feature finding its way into most stadium apps these days, including VenueNext’s app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. The Sacramento Kings have a similar two-apps-in-one strategy for the team and for Golden 1 Center, in an app developed by Built.io.

For fans, it’s a way to have all the arena-going information in one place, while for the teams and venues it’s a way to keep current customers informed of all the associated businesses. (On its face the feature sounds like a smart idea, but so far we haven’t seen any metrics from any teams showing proof that it is really working for either fans or teams/venues.)

Putting the ability to order experiences like big-screen messages (just $75!) or visits from the Shark’s toothy mascot into the app seems like a good idea, since those actions can now be acted on in the moment instead of having to plan far ahead. And for fans who like to hear play by play either at the rink or at home, having team audio is a great feature and alternative to radio.

Wells Fargo Center gets new LED boards for concourses

New LED screens in the atrium area of Wells Fargo Center. Credit: ANC/Wells Fargo Center

Joining what looks like a developing trend for stadiums and arenas, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia will have new LED boards in much of its atrium and concourse area this season, thanks to an ongoing partnership between signage and design provider ANC and Comcast Spectacor, the owner and operator of the venue.

According to a recent press release, ANC recently finished a “complete digital media transformation” of Wells Fargo Center, including replacing static signage with LED displays in the arena’s atriums, which are among the highest-trafficed zones in the building, according to ANC. Last year the San Jose Sharks went down a similar path, bringing LED boards to many of the internal concourse areas, replacing static signage or blank walls.

ANC, a Learfield company, said the new LED displays at the joint home of the NHL’s Flyers and the NBA’s 76ers (which include highway signage outside the stadium) can be controlled through a single management system, offering a powerful way to convey synchronized messages across all digital displays in the building. Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a similar system, where it can “take over” all digital displays to provide a powerful, full-stadium look at either highlights or a sponsor message.