Wi-Fi Whispers: Where’s Brocade in Niners’ New Stadium Plans? Plus More NFL Wi-Fi with Cisco in Atlanta, Verizon in Detroit

There was one thing missing from the great Ars Technica blowout on the proposed Wi-Fi network at the new stadium being built for the San Francisco 49ers: Any mention of networking partner Brocade, which made a big deal about how it was going to help the Niners with a state-of-the-art stadium network.

In a Twitter exchange with the story’s author, Jon Brodkin, he said that the Niners’ networking crew asserted that they hadn’t yet picked a vendor for the access points the network will use. That opinion was not taken well by the folks at Brocade, who have not commented publicly but are most likely having some interesting discussions with their new partner the 49ers.

What it may boil down to is the fact that the Niners’ networking crew is waiting for the next generation of Wi-Fi hardware to come out — most likely built around the new 802.11ac protocol — and since the network isn’t scheduled to go live for another year, it’s probable that they are not yet at final hardware decisions. Though no monetary details of the Brocade agreement were ever revealed, it was supposed to encompass not just building of the stadium network but name-sponsoring an attached meeting room area that Brocade (whose headquarters are close to the stadium site) would be able to use during non-football times.

Then there is the big question about whether or not networking giant Cisco, which also has headquarters within walking distance of the Niners’ stadium, will be involved in any way at all. Cisco, the current big player in the stadium-network space, might be tapped for digital signage or video, but it’s hard to imagine both Cisco and Brocade being “partners.” We are guessing this story is far from over…

Cisco Network in Georgia Dome Profiled

MSR would like to give a shout out to Steve Zurier, who penned this excellent breakdown of the new Cisco Wi-Fi network in the Georgia Dome. Steve, who at one point held down bass guitar duties on our old industry band Kludge, spells out how stadiums are the ultimate BYOD operation. I bet there will be plenty of Cisco employees on hand to “make sure the network keeps working” during the upcoming men’s Final Four.

Verizon makes Lions Wi-Fi Official

We’ve noted here before how Verizon Wireless doesn’t like to call attention to its stadium network deals — probably because it doesn’t want every team clamoring for the same investment — but it is nice to see Big Red come out publicly and talk about the Wi-Fi network it put into Ford Field in Detroit.

What I think is kind of bogus is the fact that the network is available only to Verizon customers; I hope the tradeoff of having a network that only keeps a third of your customers happy is worth it for the Lions, but to me it sounds like a poor decision. Check out the quote from Mark Emerick, Verizon’s director of network operations, about what fans can do if they’ve shelled out thousands for season tickets but have a phone from another provider:

“As fans are frustrated with other carriers they may look to their neighbors next to them and decide to switch.”

Or, they could decide to not come to the games.

CBS Plans Big Online Blitz for Super Bowl: Watch Online, Mobile, and oh yeah… on TV

With the Harbaugh Bowl lineup now set, NFL fans will be glad to know that CBS is planning to stream this year’s Super Bowl live online, for free, at this website, with apparently no requirement to download any software like last year’s broadcast.

The Feb. 3 game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, with lots of stuff beforehand. You can also “like” the CBS Sports Facebook page, or follow CBS Sports on Twitter, just in case you’re not getting enough pre-Super Bowl info.

What we really like, though, is the simple instructions for online viewing — “Bookmark this page to access the live stream on Super Bowl Sunday,” reads the CBS page. That’s a lot easier than last year’s online broadcast by NBC, which required viewers to download the Microsoft Silverlight plugin. Not good. Let’s also hope that they will sync the broadcasts this year, unlike last year when the online show was 3 to 4 plays behind the live TV, making it useless as a “second screen” app.

According to tweets we have seen from CBS execs, as well as this press release written up by Engadget, there are apparently going to be a lot of bells and whistles available online, even perhaps a fan-selected camera view. CBS’s Jason Kint was apparently beta testing the app during Sunday’s games:

Our only quibble is that CBS Sports won’t exactly show the game live on your cell phone — to have it stream via a cell phone or pad you need to have a Verizon contract and you need to download the NFL Mobile app, which costs $5 per month. No word yet whether or not you will be able to watch via the CBS web page via a mobile phone or tablet browser, but we will discount double-check that option so stay tuned.

Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: Brocade and the Niners, Part 2

Just a quick promised expansion of last week’s top story, the official signing of Brocade as the provider for the upcoming network in the new San Francsico 49ers stadium. Dave Stevens, Brocade CTO, told us that the deal between the networking gear provider and the team had been brewing for several years, while Brocade was building its new headquarters near the team’s Santa Clara training and business facility.

“Brocade’s campus buildings were all about being green, with photovoltaic power and LEED certification,” said Stevens, noting that some similar design guidelines (solar, sustainable) are being used in the Niners’ new stadium. “I think there was some commonality between them and us with vision.”

In terms of whether or not Brocade has the experience to build a stadium-ready infrastructure, Stevens said the company has already installed a couple stadium networks, but hasn’t publicized them. He also noted that Brocade typically sells to customers like large national telecom carriers and other big mission-critical enterprise businesses. “We grew up on that, so we’re confident with that [high pressure] environment,” Stevens said. In terms of stadium networks, he added, “we’re familiar with what has to be done.”

For the new Niners stadium, Stevens acknowledged that its location in the middle of Silicon Valley raises the bar for expectations about network performance. “It’s a much higher bar than for any other venue,” he agreed. “It’s the middle of Silicon Valley. But we should be able to put an infrastructure in place with enough capacity to drive whatever apps people can dream up.”

Right now Stevens said Brocade is guessing that a lot of the Wi-Fi gear will incorporate the new 802.11ac standard, which holds the promise of much greater throughput and much better antenna performance. But he also knows that in the ensuing two years before the stadium is scheduled to open, advances in mobile devices will probably continue to push the envelope for mobile data networks.

“There’s just an unprecedented amount of I/O capacity that’s now being carried around in people’s pockets,” Stevens said. “If you’re a tech guy it’s scary. But we are looking to deliver an unprecedented [wireless] experience, and make sure it’s ready by day one.”

Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: Brocade, Niners Make it Official

After hinting about a relationship earlier this year, the San Francisco 49ers and networking vendor Brocade made it official Tuesday, announcing Brocade as the “exclusive and official network solutions partner of the San Francisco 49ers.” Though no details on the exact buildout are yet available, Brocade Chief Technical Officer Dave Stevens told MSR in a phone interview Tuesday that Brocade will be responsible for the “entire wired and wireless network infrastructure” for the new Niners stadium currently being built in Santa Clara.

We’ll break out more details from our interview with Stevens next week but the bottom line is, he says Brocade knows that this stadium will have to live up to a higher standard because of its location smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. That means the Niners and Brocade will aim for building the best Wi-Fi and cellular fan network that can be built, as well as a wireless network to run other stadium apps like signage, ticketing, security and more.

“The Niners and Brocade are looking for an unprecedented network experience,” Stevens said. What that will be is a bit of a moving target, since the stadium won’t be ready for a couple years at the earliest. While technology changes and improvements will affect deployments some, Stevens said you can probably count on Wi-Fi equipment that embraces the nascent 802.11ac standard, which supports much higher data rates than current Wi-Fi gear. As we said, more from our interview next week.

If there’s a loser right now in the game it’s Cisco, which like Brocade has its headquarters in the same San Jose/Santa Clara neighborhood as the stadium. (Cisco’s HQ is literally just down the street.) With a business unit dedicated to building out stadium networks, Cisco might have been seen as a lock for the bid and even earlier this month had hinted rather strongly that they wouldn’t be shut out of the Niners’ new stadium, which has a long list of corporate sponsors on its roster, like SAP, whose name is on the practice center. Maybe there will be some room for Cisco on the digital signage part of the buildout? Cisco reps contacted Tuesday had the “no comment” light on, but from the looks of it this Brocade deal doesn’t seem to leave much room for any Cisco gear. But it ain’t over until the access points get connected, or something like that.

Ericsson Intros Stadium-Specific Wi-Fi Gear

Telecom supplier Ericsson Tuesday announced a set of stadium-specific Wi-Fi gear, the first new products coming out of the company’s acquisition of Wi-Fi specialist BelAir Networks earlier this year. According to the press release, Ericsson now has a Wi-Fi access point and a Wi-Fi controller designed specifically for stadium use. Since Ericsson sells mainly to big telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T, look for this year to be used side by side with small-cell cellular technology as the big carriers continue their quest to make fans’ phones work in stadiums worldwide.

(hat tip to Phil Harvey at Light Reading for alerting us to the news release. Phil and his crew cover Ericsson… a lot.)

AT&T Adds 4G LTE DAS to… Some Stadium in Foxboro

From the “we can’t tell you but you can figure it out file” comes a press release from AT&T today telling us of the company’s newest DAS upgrade, a 4G LTE implementation that will make fans’ cell phones work better in… a football stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Yep, because of stadium naming rights AT&T apparently can’t use the name of the place but… we are under no such restrictions. So unless there is a spaceship stadium that landed during the night we are guessing that New England Patriots fans will find their AT&T iPhones connecting a bit better now.

Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: DAS, but no Wi-Fi, for Niners at Candlestick

There’s already buzz building in Silicon Valley for the new Niners stadium being constructed in Santa Clara, as the team is already out front saying the facility will be an example of how to do stadium technology right.

Unfortunately for Niners fans, the next two home seasons will still be played in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, which has historically been one of the worst places to try to get a cellular signal. Though a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment should help matters some this season, there is no stadium-wide Wi-Fi in the cards, a bit of a bummer since the team’s new game-day app features lots of video — which you need Wi-Fi to watch.

With an edict from the commish Roger Goodell to put Wi-Fi into every stadium, teams across the league are moving quickly to figure out how to get that done (see the second part of this post about Carolina’s new spiffy network). Caught in the middle of this deployment strategy is Candlestick, which has to be one of the worst geographic locations for wireless traffic. Not only is the stadium hidden by a small hill directly to the west (which can block signals from nearby cell towers), it is surrounded on its three other sides by the San Francisco Bay — in case you weren’t aware, wide open spaces of water also play havoc with wireless signals, and you don’t see too many antenna towers floating around.

The historically terrible cellular situation at Candlestick was brought even more to light by last year’s “blackout” game, a Monday night tilt against the Steelers that saw the stadium lose power not once but twice. Though we didn’t hear any reports of fan panic (no shaking) we did hear from a lot of folks about how nobody knew what was going on because nobody could get a cell signal to check Twitter.

To help alleivate the problem the Niners and the top three wireless carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel — collaborated on the installment of a DAS system at Candlestick, essentially a bunch of small cellular antennas mounted inside the stadium to make it easier for fans to connect. Apparently there is also a day-of-game Wi-Fi network in service at Niners games, though we haven’t been able to find any press material telling us where the service can be accessed. While we wait for the Niners’ reps to get back to us we will take a wild guess and post that it is a parking-lot or concession-area only network, and not something you can use at your seat.

So, Niners fans — even though there is a spiffy new game-day app, you probably aren’t going to get much use out of the video component at Candlestick. And since it doesn’t make sense to drop a few million bucks on a Wi-Fi network that will only be used less than a couple dozen times before the team moves south, unless the Niners can figure out how to bring in a portable Wi-Fi network the Candlestick fans are probably stuck with the DAS deployment as their best connection. Though DAS deployments are better than nothing, they simply don’t have the bandwidth that a robust Wi-Fi network can bring to the table.

Carolina Gets Stadium-Wide Wi-Fi, Courtesy of AT&T

In stark contrast to the situation at Candlestick is the news from the Carolina Panthers, who will have a powerful new Wi-Fi network at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte this year, courtesy of Ma Bell.

You can read the press release and from it what jumps out at us is the 460 Wi-Fi access points, a huge number that should keep everyone there connected. According to the release the Wi-Fi access is free and easy for AT&T customers, with users of other carrier systems having to connect via a “simple login.” Anyone out there in Panther land sample the new network yet? If so give us some SpeedTest results in the comments.

NFL’s Mobile Device Stadium Strategy Slowly Coming into View

There is no official announcement we have seen but if you peruse any NFL team web page you will see a bunch of little widgets popping up saying things like “Watch 49ers games online” with a link to the new preseason and rewind tablet apps that Greg Quick wrote about last week. There are also several teams, like the Niners, who apparently have some kind of GameDay Live-branded app — if this reminds you at all of MLB.com and its AtBat app strategy, it’s not a coincidence. You don’t need a press release to see what is happening, albeit a bit slowly — the NFL, like baseball, is moving to a single app for live mobile-device action, and it will cost you a bunch of extra dollars to watch it.

I think the fly in the ointment right now is the NFL’s current exclusive deal with Verizon for the NFL Mobile app, but I think that contract is up soon and I would be surprised if the NFL renews it. More likely we will see an MLB.com strategy emerge, where you purchase mobile-device access on a monthly or season-long basis. For the current year the NFL will take baby steps as it tries to help teams get networks put into stadiums. But I bet by next year there is a cohesive digital device content strategy that will cost fans a few more bucks. Might be worth it though, to get other games and RedZone while you are tailgating or waiting through halftime.

Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers: Niners-Brocade News, Coming Soon

Welcome to “Wednesday Wi-Fi Whispers,” our clever title for a new rumors and news snippets column debuting… right about now. The idea here is to keep this a bit more informal than our regular, solid news coverage, to give a home to those whispers of things we hear that might be happening in the world of stadium Wi-Fi. First up is the yet-to-come formal announcement of the stadium-technology partnership between the San Francisco 49ers and networking gear supplier Brocade.

Brocade and the Niners: It’s all about 802.11ac

When the Niners finally broke ground on their new stadium that is being built in Silicon Valley (Santa Clara, just north of San Jose) back in April, team president Jed York let loose with a tweet that all but announced which Silicon Valley company would get the prized stadium-technology deal. In a bit of a surprise, it wasn’t Cisco Systems, the 900-pound gorilla of networking, whose main corporate campus is seriously “just down the block” from the Niners’ new digs.

If you don’t know Brocade that just means you don’t follow networking technology. Having covered this company in my previous tech-writing lives I was surprised since I thought of Brocade as a core/backbone gear provider, and not a company that had products for things like Wi-Fi access. Silly me. With not a lot of digging I discovered that Brocade had signed a partnership with Motorola several years back and now in fact was heavily into Wi-Fi access points, the key technology in any stadium build.

And though Brocade hasn’t yet commented officially on the Niners deal — a formal press conference is apparently just around the corner — we did speak recently with David Hunt, a senior technical marketing engineer at Brocade, who said that among other innovations you can look to see Wi-Fi gear with the new 802.11ac protocol (which provides much higher throughput than current technology) when the Niners’ stadium is ready. Hunt said that Brocade is already assuming that data loads when the new stadium opens in 2014 will eclipse what is being used now, so look for all kinds of new gear and smart-networking designs to ensure that what will probably be the world’s most wired crowds will stay wirelessly connected.

Cisco, which has an entire building at its nearby HQ that is decked out like a sports bar (as part of its Connected Stadium marketing push) must be smarting a bit to have lost the Niners deal to its smaller neighbor Brocade, whose HQ is also just around the corner from the new site. But in the end Cisco will probably sign up a lot more stadium customers, since Brocade is likely to do the Niners’ arena as kind of a “see what we can do” deal rather than part of a big strategy to go after stadiums. Still, it’s not a bad place to showcase your stuff if you are trying to sell to enterprise technology buyers. Those people spend a lot of time — and money — in Silicon Valley already. Stay tuned to MSR for more when the formal announcement is made. The wait is probably not gonna be long.

Will Time Warner Cable surf from the beaches to the stadiums?

In a cool side-gig thing we did last week we got to hear about how Time Warner Cable has brought Wi-Fi to the beaches in Southern California — according to Rob Cerbone, VP of wireless product management at TWC, the beach Wi-Fi uses solar-powered ACs mounted on lifeguard stands to bring web surfing to the shore.

(By the way, I am shameless about seeing how many times I can milk that web surfing/real surfing line. Twice now, and I’m probably not done yet.)

As we cornered Cerbone after his panel talk we asked the obvious MSR question — if you could bring Wi-Fi to the beach, when can we expect to see TWC bringing Wi-Fi to stadiums? Seems like a natural fit, given the content TWC likes to send over its cables. The official word from Cerbone: No comment. But the body language seemed to say, you might hear something soon. Since TWC plans to have more than 10,000 wireless access points deployed in LA by the end of the year — should be interesting to see where some of them end up. There are a lot of beaches, but more malls… and stadiums.

SEAT Conference — who’s going?

Here’s a free plug for the SEAT 2012 conference, which takes place in Boston the first week of August. With this agenda it looks like a place for MSR and our industry leading stadium Wi-Fi coverage and analysis. We are working on finding a way to get there… if we can, we will see you there.

Is your stadium unwired? Let us know!

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance. No! Now is the time on Wednesday Whispers when we profile a stadium that has Wi-Fi… but since this is the first time out there are no profiles and we are sad. Is your place “unwired?” Drop us a line and let us know. It could be the start of a grand tour… MSR visits the country’s unwired stadiums! Preferably, with a hot dog and beer in hand. Until next week… stay unwired, my friends.