Colorado brings Wi-Fi and DAS to Folsom Field

Folsom Field at night. Credit: University of Colorado (click on any picture for a larger image)

There will be a change in the air at Folsom Field this fall, and not just from the team that new head coach Mel Tucker will lead onto the gridiron. For the first time, the mile-high atmosphere inside the University of Colorado’s historic venue will be filled with fan-facing Wi-Fi and cellular signals, thanks to new networks being installed this offseason by third-party host Neutral Connect Networks (NCN).

In a deal that will also bring Wi-Fi and a cellular DAS to the school’s basketball arena, NCN will use Cisco gear for the Wi-Fi network and JMA Wireless gear for the cellular networks. A centrally located head-end will serve both venues via fiber connections, some run through existing tunnels from the campus’ old steam-heating infrastructure.

Due to be live (UPDATE: Now CU says the networks will not be operational until later this fall) before the 2019 football season begins on Sept. 7 when CU hosts Nebraska, later this fall, the Wi-Fi network will use 550 APs in a mostly under-seat deployment at Folsom Field, where there are no overhangs over any of the seating areas. DAS deployment in Colorado’s historic football stadium — which first hosted games in 1924 — will use antennas pointing down from the stadium’s top edges, with some new flagpoles scheduled to help provide antenna-mounting locations.

While its incredibly picturesque location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains has historically made Folsom Field a fan-favorite place to visit (at least for photos), the lack of any comprehensive wireless coverage of any sort has produced some grumbling from Buffs fans in recent years. According to Matt Biggers, CU’s chief marketing officer and associate athletic director for external affairs, wireless coverage inside the sports venues has been a topic of internal research for more than 6 years.

“It was all about finding a partner and a financial model that works for us,” said Biggers. “It finally got to a point where it made sense to pull the trigger.”

Neutral host model appealing to schools

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the Wi-Fi records set at Super Bowl 53, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

The CU Events Center, home of Colorado hoops teams. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The model brought to CU is a classic neutral-host operation, where a provider like NCN (which bought the former sports-stadium practice from 5 Bars) will build a school’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks under a revenue-sharing deal with the school where the carriers help some with upfront payments and then provide payments over a long-term lease to operate on the DAS.

The neutral-host option is one good way for schools or teams with smaller budgets or lightly used facilities to bring connectivity to arenas. CU’s Folsom Field, for example, doesn’t see much use other than the six home games per football season. This year, the stadium will see big crowds beyond football only at a few events, including the Memorial Day Bolder Boulder 10K footrace (which ends inside the stadium), a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, and a couple of July concerts featuring the Dead & Company tour.

According to James Smith, vice president of carrier services for NCN, AT&T will be the anchor tenant on the DAS, and will be first to be operational. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, Smith said, are still negotiating long-term agreements but are expected to be on the DAS by 2020.

NCN [then under its old name of 5 Bars] negotiated a similar neutral-host deal with CU’s neighbor to the north, Colorado State University, for CSU’s new football stadium which opened in 2017. Now known as Canvas Stadium, the 41,000-seat venue had 419 total Wi-Fi access points when it opened, with approximately 250 of those used in the bowl seating area. Like CSU’s deployment, the Wi-Fi network at Folsom Field will use primarily under-seat AP deployments, mainly because the stadium’s horseshoe layout has no overhangs.

DAS gear already installed in the CU Events Center

According to NCN’s Smith, the current plan sees a deployment of 550 APs in Folsom Field, with another 70 APs in the basketball arena, the CU Events Center. Both venues’ networks will be served by a central head-end room located in an old telephone PBX space near the center of campus. Fiber links will run from there to both Folsom Field and the Events Center.

At Folsom, the NCN team will have a long list of deployment challenges, mainly having to navigate the construction particulars of a stadium that has been gradually expanded and added onto over the years.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s behind a brick,” said NCN director of program management Bryan Courtney, speaking of existing infrastructure that has been around for decades. Smith said the Folsom Field DAS will make use of overhead antennas, including some that will require new flagpole-type structures that will need to match Folsom Field’s architectural heritage.

Basketball arena is all top-down

At the 11,064-seat CU Events Center, formerly known as the Coors Events Center, deployment of both Wi-Fi and DAS will be somewhat easier, as all the gear servicing the seating area will be suspended from the catwalks. With the main concourse at stadium entry level and all the seats in a single rectangular bowl flowing down from there, the ceiling is close enough for good top-down coverage for both Wi-Fi and celluar, NCN’s Smith said.

The Golden Buffalo Marching Band on a CU game day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though deployment of both networks in the Events Center is currently underway, neither will be active until after the current college basketball season is completed. However, the Events Center stays somewhat more busy than the football stadium, with events like local high school graduations and other special events (like a Republican Party debate in 2015) making use of the space. Both networks should be fully up and running by the next basketball season, according to NCN.

Unlike some other universities that are aggressively pursuing digital fan-connection strategies, CU’s Biggers said the school will start slowly with its fan-facing networks, making sure the experience is a solid one before trying too hard.

“We’re pretty conservative, and this is a complicated project and we want to make sure we get it right,” said Biggers. Though Biggers said CU fans haven’t been extremely vocal about connectivity issues inside the sports venues, he does admit to hearing about “some frustration” about signals in some areas of the stadium (which until now has only been served by a couple of dedicated macro antennas from the outside).

“There’s definitely a hunger [for wireless service],” Biggers said.

On the business side, Biggers said CU will also be taking more time to evaluate any additions to its game-day digital operations. Though CU recently introduced a mobile-only “buzzer beater” basketball ticket package that offered discounted passes that would deliver an assigned seat to a device 24 hours before game time, Biggers said that for football, a longtime paper-ticket tradition for season ticket holders would likely stay in place.

Colorado will also “re-evaluate” its game-day mobile application strategy, Biggers said, with the new networks in mind. “But the real game-changer for us is data collection,” he said. “We’re most excited about having data to better serve the fans.”

Former co-CEO files counterclaims against Sporting Innovations, denies ‘conspiracy’

Asim Pasha

Asim Pasha

The second shoe has dropped in the lawsuit filed by Kansas City’s Sporting Innovations against its former co-CEO Asim Pasha, with Pasha filing counterclaims denying the company’s charges against him while also alleging that he was denied promised ownership stakes in the company for providing the technology behind its stadium-application business.

In case you missed the first episode, that came in June when Sporting Innovations fired its former co-CEO, alleging basically that he used company resources, trade secrets and relationships in a plot to build a competing entity. In his first response to those claims, Pasha denied the company’s allegations and replied with some legal fire of his own, claiming basically that Sporting Innovations’ other co-CEO, Robb Heineman, was jealous of Pasha’s public recognition for Sporting Innovations’ stadium app work, and refused to provide legal documents that would confirm Pasha’s promised ownership stake in the company.

While the Sporting Innovations lawsuit sought $75,000 in retribution from Pasha, Pasha’s counterclaims want his ownership stake — which is either 20 percent or more — confirmed, while having himself cleared of all the conspiracy charges, which his legal filing claims were trumped up mainly to try to get him to give up his ownership stake in the company and a key patent. Pasha’s filing also seeks “actual and punitive damages” for harm caused to Pasha and his son Zain by the lawsuit.

As Pasha’s filing claims:

Sporting Innovations’ use of legal process is not for the purpose of recovering on the claims stated in the Complaint, but for the illegal, improper and perverted purpose of intimidating and coercing Asim into surrendering his 20% interest in Sporting Innovations, along with his interest in U.S. Patent Application No. 13/789,372.

The next planned step in the proceedings, according to Pasha’s lawyers, is a hearing scheduled for Sept. 2, to talk about the schedule for the case going forward. Sporting Innovations refused to comment on the case. The lawsuit and the counterclaims have been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Western District.

Will fallout cripple Sporting Innovations?

There’s lots of conflicting drama in the two legal sides of this case, and eventually we are guessing a judge or jury will hear all the details. As we said before, we’re not lawyers, but it seems from reading through Pasha’s filings that he has documented answers to refute many of the company’s original claims, including what looks like a personal note from Heineman under which the claimed intent was to transfer more of an ownership stake to Pasha.

However the case ends up, what seems to be clear is that Sporting Innovations is going to have a tough time drumming up new business in the meantime. Sporting Innovations was a business that grew out of technology developments for the Sporting KC professional soccer team and its home stadium, which was one of the first to have full fan-facing Wi-Fi and a specialized fan app. But the company’s vision to provide similar technology to other teams and stadiums may have hit a roadblock with the legal entanglements.

As we already reported, the company’s deal to provide a stadium app for the Pac-12 is dead, and one of the other clients still highlighted on the Sporting Innovations website, the Tampa Bay Lightning, said they are currently moving to a different app platform after using Sporting Innovations technology for their app through last season.

KC’s Sporting Innovations sues former co-CEO, loses Pac-12 app deal

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

From the outside looking in, it’s a bit of strange days going on at the Kansas City-based sports technology developer Sporting Innovations, which recently filed a lawsuit against its former co-CEO for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. It was also recently learned that Sporting Innovations’ project to help the Pac-12 develop a game-day app for sports teams is no longer active, after a year-long test with the Stanford University football team that didn’t produce any visible or public results.

Since Sporting Innovations isn’t offering any insight — a company contact replied “no comment” to an email asking for more information on both subjects — we can only guess as to what the business mood is at the company right now. But if you read the detailed report on the lawsuit by Kansas City Star reporter Kasia Kovacs it seems like Sporting Innovations has been plagued by some serious internal strife over the past year.

According to the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations alleges that former co-CEO Asim Pasha and his son Zain (also a Sporting Innovations employee) “began secretly plotting the formation of a competing company” sometime around September of 2014. From the introduction of the lawsuit, more details about the alleged conspiracy, which also allegedly involved a company named Vernalis, which was a contractor to Sporting Innovations:

To do so, they exploited SI’s resources, confidential information and trade secrets, business opportunities, and relationships with commercial partners, including Vernalis Group, Inc. (“Vernalis”), and Nader “Nate” Hanafy (“Hanafy”), Managing Director at Vernalis. Asim and Zain also misused SI’s corporate credit card to incur tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses. Asim and Zain have refused to provide documentation and receipts related to their improper and extravagant spending.

The lawsuit, which seeks $75,000 in damages and the return of Sporting Innovations assets — including laptops for both Asim Pasha and Zain Pasha, which the company contends were not returned — was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on June 17, a day after the company fired Asim Pasha. According to the copy of the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations is seeking a jury trial.

Pac-12 app trial is over, no role for Sporting Innovations going forward

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Last fall, Sporting Innovations seemed to get a boost for its sports-app technology when the Pac-12 and Stanford chose Sporting Innovations’ FAN360 software as the base for a game-day stadium app that was tested in various forms of completion at Stanford home football games. Asim Pasha, then still co-CEO, was quoted in the press release announcing the deal. Sporting Innovations highlighted the deal in interviews last fall, and Sporting Innovations execs were part of a sports innovation conference at Levi’s Stadium that was hosted in part by the Pac-12.

But that deal is now dead after one season, with a Pac-12 representative confirming that the conference is no longer working with Sporting Innovations following last year’s pilot program. At its recent meetings, the conference decided to create its own multimedia rights sales arm, which will lead fan engagement technology projects going forward, though no details of such projects have yet been revealed. However, the GoStanford app, which has a splash screen saying it is powered by Sporting Innovations’ Uphoria platform, is still active, with news updates as recent as last month.

On the Sporting Innovations website, the company has claimed app deals for its technology with several other schools and teams, including Oklahoma State University and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, among others.

Stadium Tech Report: THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL ISSUE looks at university Wi-Fi deployments

collegethumbIf there was a college football playoff for stadium wireless network deployments, which four teams would be in? Electing myself to the committee, I think my top picks would be the same venues we’re profiling in our latest Stadium Tech Report – Baylor, Nebraska, Stanford and Texas A&M. All four are pursuing high-end networks to support a better fan experience, leading the way for what may turn out to be the largest “vertical” market in the stadium networking field – sporting venues at institutions of higher learning.

To be sure, network deployments at major universities in the U.S. are still at the earliest stages — in our reporting for our latest long-form report, we found that at two of the top conferences, the SEC and the Pac-12, only four schools total (two in each conference) had fan-facing Wi-Fi, with only one more planned to come online next year. Why is the collegiate market so far behind the pro market when it comes to network deployment? There are several main reasons, but mostly it comes down to money and mindset, with a lack of either keeping schools on the sidelines.

Leaders look for NFL-type experiences

But at our “playoff” schools, it’s clear that with some ready budget and a clear perspective, college stadiums don’t need to take a back seat to anyone, pro stadiums included. The networks, apps and infrastructure deployed for this season at Baylor’s McLane Stadium and Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium are among the tops anywhere in sports, and the all-fiber infrastructure being put in place at Texas A&M should make that school’s Kyle Field among the most-connected if all work gets completed on time for next football season. Read in-depth profiles on these schools’ deployments, along with team-by-team capsule technology descriptions and an exclusive interview with Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin in our latest report, available for free download from our site.

We’d like to take a second here to thank our sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to offer these comprehensive reports to you free of charge. For our fourth-quarter report our sponsors include Crown Castle, SOLiD, Extreme Networks, Aruba Networks, TE Connectivity, and Corning.

AT&T turns on Wi-Fi at Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium

We knew that AT&T had put in a new DAS at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium earlier this year, so we were a bit surprised when we saw the Dolphins announce a new Wi-Fi network for their season opener a couple Sundays ago. A quick phone chat with Chad Townes, VP of AT&T’s antenna solutions group, set us straight: Turns out that AT&T had installed a Wi-Fi network alongside the DAS, but hadn’t planned to turn it up until the NFL season started.

For those of us who were lucky enough to be at the SEAT Conference in August, however, the questions couldn’t stop there. At SEAT, Townes made one of the bolder statements of the gathering, proclaiming that AT&T wasn’t going to fund stadium Wi-Fi developments anymore. So why was AT&T building Wi-Fi at Sun Life?

The Wi-Fi at Sun Life, Townes said, was built via a model AT&T was comfortable with — mainly, it was a financial model where the team and venue participated in the deployment costs. “Our position on Wi-Fi remains clear,” Townes said — mainly, that AT&T isn’t going to fully fund a network that it doesn’t reap benefits from. Since stadium Wi-Fi is or will be mainly used for high-bandwidth apps like video replays, it will generate wireless traffic that “doesn’t leave the stadium,” Townes said. AT&T is more interested in building and paying for DAS, or distributed antenna systems, which bring better cellular connectivity for fans at stadiums.

Traffic that leaves the stadium, to connect fans to the outside Internet, is of interest to AT&T since it is something the company can make money on, by providing the service to customers. OK, but then what about the recent deal AT&T signed with the Pac-12, which called for DAS builds in all conference stadiums, but may also call for AT&T to build… stadium Wi-Fi networks?

Again, it’s all about the economics, which in the Pac-12 case involved a big content carriage deal between the conference and AT&T’s home Internet and video service, U-verse. From what we’ve heard and read the deal involves a lot of stadium-intensive content agreements, so to make it all run right, AT&T wants to build the networks itself. In the case of that deal, Townes said networks would be built to “support the value of our brand” in those stadiums. So the bottom line is — AT&T isn’t going to simply pay for a Wi-Fi network in your stadium. Unless there’s more to the deal than that.

Big DAS Deals: AT&T Bringing DAS to Pac-12, Extenet Scores with AEG

Though no specific stadium installation plans have yet been made public, two big DAS deals were announced in the past week, with AT&T on track to bring DAS deployments to the Pac-12 conference, while ExteNet scored an exclusive DAS deal with entertainment giant AEG.

I don’t have confirmation but I do believe that AT&T’s agreement to be the exclusive wireless sponsor for the Pac-12 is the first such deal signed with one of the top collegiate conferences. Though agreements and details will have to be worked out on a stadium-by-stadium basis, the opportunity to be the exclusive provider of DAS infrastructure for all big facilities at the 12 major universities is a big win for AT&T. Jon Wilner over at the Mercury News has a good explanation of the full deal, which also includes content agreements for carrying Pac-12 broadcasts on AT&T U-Verse.

After deploying DAS (Distributed Antenna System) networks to all stadiums by next year, it will be interesting to see if AT&T helps the schools financially with any corresponding Wi-Fi network buildouts. AT&T has gone on the record publicly to say that it doesn’t want to help fund Wi-Fi, but that stance might be different if AT&T has exclusive deals like this one. In other DAS news AT&T also was announced as the supplier of new DAS deployments at CenturyLink Field in Seattle; you have to believe that when it comes to stadium DAS AT&T is the market leader, all part of a big push toward the small cellular antenna systems started a few years ago by CTO John Donovan.

ExteNet and AEG

But even with AT&T’s big wins, that doesn’t mean there isn’t DAS opportunity for multiple players. Infrastructure experts ExteNet proved that with the announcement of its exclusive-rights deal to build DAS and other wireless infrastructure for AEG facilities. In terms of venues, AEG owns or is affiliated with a long list of big facilites, like the Staples Center in LA, the Sprint Center in Kansas City, O2 in London, and more.

With no announced specific plans yet a deal like this is what we call “a work in progress.” And some of the AEG facilities already have networks, so it’s unclear what the total opportunity is. Still, not a bad win for ExteNet, which has put networks in places for customers like the University of Michigan and the Miami Marlins and the Barclays Center.

“We are working with individual [AEG] venues to understand the level of coverage, if any, in their venues,” said ExteNet VP Jon Davis in an email reply to our questions. “The specific venues we are engaged with have limited, if any, in-building coverage. There is a mix of sports and music concerts in these venues and the demand is for high bandwidth mobile connectivity to cater to the coverage and, increasingly more important, capacity needs for these venues.”