Stadium Tech Report: New Wi-Fi network soars at Ohio State

Ohio Stadium set records this season for single-day Wi-Fi use inside a venue. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With its long tradition of excellence in all things pertaining to college football, is it any surprise that when the Ohio State University finally got Wi-Fi installed at Ohio Stadium the network would instantly be one of the best around?

Over this past offseason, the school oversaw the first comprehensive installation of a fan-facing Wi- Fi network inside the venerable “Horseshoe,” with almost 2,000 access points, some 600 of which were installed in handrail enclosures that all sport the Ohio State logo engraved on each side. Live and operational for the Buckeyes’ home opener on Aug. 31, the network saw just more than 47,000 unique users its first day and carried more than 13 terabytes of data, instantly lifting Ohio State to the front of the class in single-day collegiate football Wi-Fi records. In subsequent home dates this fall, Ohio State went on to record more big-data days, including the highest-ever single-day use of Wi-Fi in a stadium, 25.6 TB on Oct. 5 for a game against Michigan State.

Impressive as its first season might be, the network will only get significantly better in the near future as device technology catches up with it. A decision to use the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax, in as many of the APs as possible, will let Ohio State take advantage of the technology’s promise of higher throughput and the ability to handle more clients per AP when more fans get their hands on devices that support Wi-Fi 6 and bring them to games.

During a visit by Mobile Sports Report for the Aug. 31 game, close-up inspection of many of the APs in a pre-game walkaround saw no evidence of the frenetic summer of hard work getting the equipment installed. Using Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and installed with with a design by AmpThink (which also manufactured the AP enclosures), the deployment does an excellent job of looking like it’s been part of the almost 100-year-old stadium for a long time, with discreet wall and overhead antenna placements complementing the standout handrail enclosures. And with connectivity finally in their house, the Ohio State fans wasted no time jumping on the network, with many fans expressing great joy at being able to use their wireless devices at the game.

A bumpy road to Wi-Fi

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 new converged fiber network at Dickies Arena, and an in-person research report on the new Wi-Fi network at Las Vegas Ballpark. You can either VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed) or DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Handrail enclosures brought Wi-Fi gear close to the fans.

Built in 1922 as one of the then-largest poured- concrete structures, the building known officially as Ohio Stadium (and also as “the Horseshoe,” or just “the Shoe”) is among the biggest of the big, with capacity reaching 104,944 after renovations in 2014. That number actually decreased a bit with a recent round of renovations that removed some seats in favor of some new suite areas, but even with capacity of around 102,000, Ohio Stadium is still among the top echelon of Saturday afternoon shrines for its scarlet- and grey-clad followers.

While the venue is long held in reverence by not just Ohio State fans but by football fans in general, the things that make it a great place to watch a game – the big, open seating bowl and the historic concrete structure – also make it a challenge to equip with modern wireless technology. Back in 2012, it looked like the school had solved the problem by signing a deal with Verizon to bring Wi-Fi to the football stadium and basketball arena. But according to several reports, the installation never occurred and now the school and Verizon are still involved in a lawsuit concerning the non-deployment.

Fast forward to 2018, and the school finally approved a measure that will bring connectivity not just to the stadiums, but in many other places across campus as well. Jim Null, senior associate athletic director and chief information officer for Ohio State, noted that as a digital program partner with Apple, the school gives all students iPads as freshmen, leading to demands for coverage not just in classrooms but anywhere students may wander.

“There were a lot of coverage gaps on campus,” Null said. The new deal, reached in the spring of 2018, approved $18.6 million in spending for wireless coverage in the stadiums and across campus. According to Null, the sports stadiums’ portion of that deal was approximately $10 million. Null also said the stadium has a 30 Gbps backbone pipe, courtesy of the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), the 100 Gbps network that connects the state’s major cities and research institutions.

Handrails and Wi-Fi 6

With a bill of material in hand for the deployment, Null said that Aruba asked if the school wanted to use Wi-Fi 6 gear, which was available this spring when construction was to begin.

The big video board at Ohio Stadium helped fans find the Wi-Fi.

“It was good timing in a sense – Aruba came back to us and said, why not go with Wi-Fi 6, and everyone here [at the school] decided that was a good idea,” Null said. While the new version of the standard will improve Wi-Fi performance in any kind of network, at large sports venues the improvements will likely be significant. AmpThink president Bill Anderson, who is urging most new-construction Wi-Fi clients to install Wi-Fi 6 if possible, calls the new standard “a significant game-changer” for in-venue networks.

AmpThink’s Anderson, whose company has designed and helps run networks in the biggest stadiums that see the biggest events – including last year’s Super Bowl and last year’s men’s NCAA Final Four – says that over the past year or so, networks based on older Wi-Fi standards are reaching some theoretical limits, mostly with spectrum re-use. “We are getting to the cutting edge of what we can support,” with the older Wi-Fi 5 technology (also known as 802.11ac), Anderson said.

Wi-Fi 6, however, promises to deliver more capacity per access point, along with better techniques for communication between devices and access points, which most industry followers agree should produce significant benefits, especially in venues where spectrum re-use is necessary given the large numbers of APs needed to provide coverage. While it’s true that it may take some time before Wi-Fi 6 technology is on both the access point and the balance of user devices in stadiums (both sides of the equation need to support Wi-Fi 6 for the full range of benefits to be realized), the fact that many new devices – including the recently announced Apple iPhone 11 line – contain support for Wi-Fi 6 means that the full improvements will likely be seen sooner rather than later.

“Ohio State made the right choice to go with Wi-Fi 6,” Anderson said.

Putting the APs into handrail enclosures was another decision point, but one Null said the school was unified on. Though Aruba has traditionally preferred to deploy Wi-Fi in under-seat placements, like in deployments at Levi’s Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Null said the combination of aesthetics, performance and cost made railing enclosures the preferred choice at Ohio State.

“The combination of all three led us to the handrails,” Null said, noting that with the ability to place two APs into a single handrail enclosure, Ohio State was able to approximately cut in half the number of holes it would have to drill into the concrete to string cable to the devices, a huge savings in cost and construction time. With bleachers in most of its seating areas, Ohio Stadium would have cut into under-seat spaces significantly with under-seat APs, Null said.

Wi-Fi enclosures in the handrails at Ohio Stadium’s upper deck.

Though some lower-bowl areas without handrails did get under-seat AP placements, the 600 handrail enclosures – all manufactured by AmpThink and custom-stamped with an Ohio State logo – now wrap around the entire seating bowl, from near the field to way up at the top of Deck C. Null said performance from some other recent AmpThink deployments that primarily used handrail enclosures – including Notre Dame Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium – led Ohio State to believe that handrail installation techniques would be “very comparable in performance” to under-seat.

According to stats compiled this season, the Ohio Stadium handrail enclosures are working just fine. According to the school the network saw 47,137 unique connections out of 103,228 in attendance for the home opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, with a peak concurrent connection number of 28,900. Total bandwidth tonnage for the first game was 13.3 terabytes, a mark which put Ohio State in fifth place in the unofficial all-time Wi-Fi single-day record list kept by MSR. But Ohio Stadium’s network was just getting started.

Ohio State’s second home game of the season, a week later versus Cincinnati, was nearly equal in performance statistics. According to figures provided by Ohio State, on Sept. 7 the network saw 47,579 unique connections out of 104,089 in attendance, with a peak concurrent connection mark of 28,900. Total tonnage for the second game was 12.7 TB, good enough for then sixth place on the MSR list. Peak bandwidth rates were just over 10 Gbps for the home opener, and just above 6 Gbps during the second game.

Later in the year, the network heated up even more as OSU hosted its biggest games. On Oct. 5, Ohio State shattered the all-time Wi-Fi record with a mark of 26.5 TB, with an astonishing 74,940 unique connections and a peak concurrent connectivity number of 45,200 users. Hosting Wisconsin on Oct. 25, Ohio State saw 17.0 TB of data used on the network (during a full-day rainstorm) and then saw another 16.10 TB used on Nov. 9 against Maryland. Then on Nov. 23 against Penn State the network saw 20.70 TB of data, giving Ohio Stadium seven of the top-10 Wi-Fi days we’ve ever heard of.

Solid tests throughout the venue

An unofficial walk-around testing process by MSR before and during the home opener showed solid performance in just about every part of the venue, from outside the entry gates to all the seating areas low and high, and on concourses and other busy walkways. Inside of Gate 14, we got one of the highest Wi-Fi speedtest marks in the stadium, at 62.7 Mbps on the download side and 72.1 Mbps for upload. According to Null the entryways are well covered, with four access points hidden behind a directional sign that simply blends into the structure.

A good look at the spread of handrail enclosures in the lower bowl.

Inside the stadium, we got a mark of 49.2 Mbps / 42.9 Mbps in the seats in the lower bowl around the 45-yard line, an area covered primarily by handrail enclosures. Closer to the field in seats along the goal line on the press box side of the stadium we got a mark of 51.2 Mbps / 32.0 Mbps; in the same spot we tested the DAS coverage for cellular and got a Verizon network speedtest of 20.1 Mbps / 1.34 Mbps. According to Null Verizon runs a neutral-host DAS inside the stadium, with AT&T as a client.

Back on Wi-Fi with the stadium still closed to fans we went up into the metal bleachers in the non-curved end zone and got a speed test of 38.6 Mbps / 18.7 Mbps. In the concourse below these same stands we got a test mark of 47.2 Mbps / 48.5 Mbps.

An elevator ride to Deck C and a hike up the steep steps found us at the top row of the stadium, where the Wi-Fi was still strong, with a mark of 42.0 Mbps / 35.6 Mbps in row 41. We then went down to Deck B on the non-press box side of the stadium, where some concrete overhangs make for interesting placements. There, we saw Wi-Fi APs mounted above the seating areas pointing down. With fans starting to come into the stadium we got a mark there of 24.3 Mbps / 45.2 Mbps; in the same area the DAS provided a test of 21.8 Mbps / 12.6 Mbps, again on the Verizon network.

The one place we found with poor Wi-Fi coverage – down near the field in section 28AA – was one of the few areas where Null said that the network deployment was not yet complete early in the season. (The app we use for testing dropped during the test here; the same area did have DAS coverage, with a mark of 16.9 Mbps / 4.66 Mbps on the Verizon network.)

That the network was near complete for the opening game was a testament to extra work from all suppliers. AmpThink, which outfitted three major college fields this summer, had overtime shifts to manufacture enough enclosures, while Aruba had to produce enough Wi-Fi 6 APs not just to fill Ohio State, but also Oklahoma, whose stadium is of similar size.

“It was quite a ballet dance the last nine months,” said Jeff Weaver, director of high density consulting at Aruba. “Hats off to the construction team.”

Perhaps the most impressive tests we got were taken during live game action, one just after an Ohio State touchdown. In section 13 up on the C deck we wandered out into the middle of celebrating fans and got a speedtest of 59.9 Mbps / 57.9 Mbps. Walking down to section 27AA on the press box side after yet another OSU touchdown we sat in the aisle and got a speed test of 54.7 Mbps / 70.2 Mbps, from an area covered by handrail enclosures.

Fans happy now, likely to be even happier in the future

If Ohio State is known widely for its football excellence (Ohio State has eight national championship titles to its name, and is in the playoffs for this year’s title), its fans have known mostly wireless frustration over the recent years, a situation that has now changed 180 degrees. In several conversations with fans MSR heard how happy OSU fans were now “that we can actually use our phones!” And as good as the network speed tests and overall performance is now, it’s worth noting that the Wi-Fi 6 advancements are not yet even being used – meaning that when more fans have Wi-Fi 6 enabled devices the network should perform even better, leading to faster connections and more capacity for all.

Null said that Ohio State will also be deploying the Passpoint software in the future, which allows for automatic sign-on to the Wi-Fi network and better support for device roaming. Ohio State does not ask fans to log in with any sort of email information or personal identification – all they need to do is select the OSUfanWiFi SSID and connect. And if the first season is any indication, many Ohio State fans will continue to do so with great appreciation for the foreseeable future.

Editor’s note: You can now read our Stadium Tech Report profile of the new Ohio State network (with all our great photos) instantly online, with no registration or email address needed! JUST CLICK RIGHT HERE and start reading our latest report today!

Penn State Parody Gets Huge Sports Social Media Bump for The Onion

Image from The Onion's Sports Media Asks Molestation Victims What This Means For Joe Paterno's Legacy

A parody by Onion Sports Network about the Penn State rape scandal ignited on Twitter shortly after publication, generating over 1,152 tweets and 12,000 Facebook likes in its first hour of publication. Called Sports Media Asks Molestation Victims What This Means For Joe Paterno’s Legacy, the article underscores that quality content can and will be identified instantly by the sports social media community, even when every media outlet, blogger and tweeter is concentrating on the same thing.

One reason Onion Sports Network’s article is taking off is because it is so different from the cacophony of coverage going on everywhere else. It provides catharsis to a tragic, widening story that will likely to be the biggest sports scandal in our lifetime. True to Onion Sports Network’s form, it is also quality content.

Sports Media Asks Molestation Victims What This Means For Joe Paterno’s Legacy is satire, where fictional quotes from USA Today writer Steve Wieberg Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel, and ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel recount asking alleged rape victims of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky whether they were concerned if the scandal would affect Joe Paterno’s legacy.


No One Lies About Nittany Lions: Penn State Emerging As Sports Social Media Case Study

The title of Jerry Sandusky's book, "Touched," retweeted by sports social media community

It may not be O.J. Simpson hiding in the back seat of a slow-moving, white Ford Bronco on Los Angeles freeways, but it may as well be.

News that former Penn State college football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with 21 felony counts of abusing boys between 1994 and 2009, and that Penn State athletics director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz allegedly perjured themselves before a grand jury is the most far-reaching, negative news story to emerge during the era of the 360-degree sports viewing experience.

How Penn State moves to heal its following through sports social media communication, the figures who emerge as the most effective communicators and which sports content providers provide the best outlets for audience interaction will be important milestones in the development of best practices in sports social media.

On Nov. 7, Penn State was still a breaking news story. And, because of sports social media and the seriousness of the allegations, the story is breaking fast, loud and profane. Here’s what is happening right now:

Deadspin aggressively advances story, mainstream media largely a no show

True to form, Deadspin had the edgiest story among the major media outlets when the sports feature news cycle began on Nov. 7.

Here’s a Deadspin-centric tweet:

Good God. No words. “As Recently As 2009, Jerry Sandusky Was Running An Overnight Football Camp For Kids @ Penn State”


Aaron Sonnenberg

Columnist Jason Whitlock continues to step up as a mainstream media guy comfortable with sports social media. On Nov. 7, he took his strongest stance so far:

Institutions/corporations valued over human life. JoePa must go! My column today is why #realmenchooseFOXSports


Jason Whitlock

The Penn State story is proving a prove a boon for independent sports blogs.

TheBigLead, which was founded in 2006 and acquired by Fantasy Sports Ventures in 2010, has been knocking on the story hard while the big boys have tried to make sense of it.

A Nov. 7  story that posted at 10 a.m. titled “Joe Paterno Should Resign” generated 356 responses,  131 likes and 177 tweets in its first four hours.

Here’s TheBigLead’s strongest tweet on the morning of Nov. 7:

Disturbing RT @: Sandusky worked out in Penn State weight room multiple times last week


Jason McIntyre

ESPN gun shy after > Tebow?

TheBigLead was enjoying good interaction, especially in contrast to ESPN. ESPN’s Penn State lead story on the morning of Nov. 7 was a SportsCenter video. Comments were not allowed. That may be a critical misstep step by the sports network. ESPN is currently the subject of an out-of-control comment string related to Tim Tebow, according to an earlier article in MobileSportsReport. If ESPN opted out of publishing commentary-based journalism about Penn State on the morning of Nov. 7 because it was still gun shy over the Tebow incident, it lost out on an opportunity to provide a forum for anxious legions of fans to speak out.

Yahoo! scores early, then disappears

In contrast to TheBigLead’s interaction, Yahoo! Sports’  failed to capitalize on an early advantage it established in the Sandusky story. On Nov. 5, Yahoo Sports sportswriter Dan Wetzel’s “Penn State’s insufficient action amid child sex allegations stunning”  broke the facts central to the story. Wetzel wrote:

“At approximately 9:30 p.m. on March 1, 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant entered what should have been an empty football locker room. He was surprised to hear the showers running and noises he thought sounded like sexual activity, according to a Pennsylvania grand jury “finding of fact” released Saturday.

When he looked in the shower he saw what he estimated to be a 10-year-old boy, hands pressed up against the wall, “being subjected to anal intercourse,” by Jerry Sandusky, then 58 and Penn State’s former defensive coordinator. The grad assistant said both the boy and the coach saw him before he fled to his office where, distraught and stunned, the grad assistant telephoned his father, who instructed his son to flee the building.

The next day, a Saturday, the grad assistant went to the home of head coach Joe Paterno and told him what he had seen. The day after that, Paterno called Penn State athletic director Tim Curley to his home to report that the grad assistant had told him he had witnessed “Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”

A week-and-a-half later, according to the grand jury report, the grad assistant was called to a meeting with Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s senior vice president for finance and business, where he retold his story.

…Curley did not notify university police or have the graduate assistant further questioned involving the incident. No other legal or university entity investigated the case.

Despite telling the facts of the case first, Yahoo Sports failed to capitalize as the story developed. Its lead story on the morning of Nov. 7 was posted 14 hours earlier, and titled “Paterno statement in abuse case raises more questions.”  The story had 1,000 likes but only 143 tweets, fewer than TheBigLead.

The key reason Yahoo dropped the ball may be fantasy sports. Yahoo has the largest audience and the largest revenue base for fantasy sports among digital sports content providers. Operationally, Yahoo moves from primarily a sports media outlet Monday-through-Friday to an information service company over the weekend. That may be the reason Yahoo ceded its status as news leader, at least temporarily, on Monday morning.

Public advances story with fact and observation

Twitter proved to be a better place than most websites to see facts that advance the story on the morning of Nov. 7.

These three tweets might seem trivial, but you can be pretty sure both of these facts will turn up in Sports Illustrated or similar in-depth magazine articles in the coming week:

The Penn State Creamery has pulled the “Sandusky Blitz” ice cream flavor from its list.


Sarah Goslee

In Hindsight, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story” Was an Unfortunate Book Title


John Knoeppel

Jerry Sandusky is married & has six kids; five boys & a girl… he’s one sick joker!!!


Mr. ManSitChoAzzDown

Penn State takes solid approach

Penn State displays best practices in public relations on its live Twitter feed, providing tweets about official news related to the case. Early on Nov. 7, it moved its latest update:

From last night, Curley and Schultz step down: ; Paterno issues statement:


Penn State

Arrington gets attention

Former Penn State great LaVar Arrington is one of the leaders in getting attention through Penn State on Twitter:

I am ashamed of the possible actions of what would seem to be very irresponsible men! Not my school Penn State did not do this


LaVar Leap Arrington

Arrington, a former No. 1 National Football League draft pick who was coached by Sandusky at linebacker U, is a radio host and sells T-shirts through his Arrington Entertainment brand. His Twitter posts are more inflammatory than a neutral blog post he wrote on the subject on the Washington Post.

The people speak

Comments on Twitter were running about one per minute on Twitter on Monday morning, and the average Twitter person delivered strong commentary:

The town of Sandusky, Ohio just changed their name to Hitler, Ohio. Less bad press.


Tucker Max

It’s been more than 24 hours since Joe Pa released his pathetic statement. Disgraceful that Penn State hasn’t fired him yet.


Jimmy Traina

Interestingly, some of the earliest tweets were among the most profane:

Just read the Penn State article. Joe Paterno, you’re a selfish prick. Fuck you and your program. (via @)


Michael Callow