Eagles fans use 10.86 TB of Wi-Fi at season opener

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Credit: Philadelphia Eagles

In their first regular season home game as defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles saw their fans use 10.86 terabytes of Wi-Fi data at Lincoln Financial Field, the third-largest single-day total of Wi-Fi usage, trailing only the last two Super Bowls.

According to figures provided to Mobile Sports Report by the Eagles, an eye-opening 47,274 unique devices connected to the network at some point during the Eagles’ 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6, out of 69,696 in announced attendance. John Pawling, the Eagles’ vice president for information technology, also said the Eagles saw a peak concurrent connection of 36,829 devices on the Wi-Fi network, traffic that at one point “briefly maxed out” the Comcast-provided 10 Gbps backbone pipe that supports the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.

Since the night game was the NFL season opener and included the Eagles’ Super Bowl celebration ceremonies, Pawling expected a high amount of network traffic — they did, after all, see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi used at the NFC Championship game back in January — but admitted the end result left him and his team “somewhat surprised.” One element that might have contributed to additional traffic was a pregame weather delay, time most likely spent online as fans waited for action to commence.

Everest network up to the test

An Everest Wi-Fi antenna points down at the stands. Credit: Everest Networks

The Sept. 6 game marked the start of the second full year for Lincoln Financial Field’s new Wi-Fi network, which uses gear from Everest Networks, a Silicon Valley startup company that was seed-funded by Panasonic, which acted as the exclusive distribution partner until earlier this year when Panasonic relinquished sole distribution rights to the Everest gear.

While Pawling said that the business of Everest leaving Panasonic caused “a little concern” last year, he said that from a technical perspective the Eagles “are dealing with the same people” at Everest as they did at Panasonic, and that there have been no issues that affected the network’s performance.

“It’s business as usual,” Pawling said. “It [the network] is rock solid. We’re very happy with it.”

Pawling said that the Eagles chose Everest a couple years ago during what he called a standard refresh review. Previously, the Eagles had used Extreme Networks gear for a Wi-Fi network put in place in 2013.

“We tend to look at 5 years as a technology’s horizon, and it was time to evaluate what was in the marketplace,” said Pawling. With its new design that puts four radios into a single AP and new antenna technology that theoretically has a farther reach than older equipment, the Panasonic/Everest gear won the Eagles’ bid.

“We did some tests with it [the Everest gear] and it seemed to handle things without a problem,” Pawling said. “We felt it fit our needs the best.”

Only 5 GHz in the bowl

Another Everest AP deployment. Credit: Everest Networks

According to Pawling, Lincoln Financial Field now has 683 Everest APs covering the entire building, a lower AP number than most venues that size because of the multiple radios in most units. Pawling said the entire deployment is top-down, and that the Eagles aren’t even using the 2.4 GHz radio in most of the Everest APs since the team only uses 5 GHz channels for the bowl. (The multiple-radio Everest APs have three 5 GHz radios and one 2.4 GHz radio.)

“It’s a plus, absolutely,” to have three radios in each AP, Pawling said, citing the reduced time needed to deploy fewer APs.

While the NFL opener now joins the top three in our unofficial list of top Wi-Fi events, we expect this list to change rapidly this year as it seems like the surge in mobile bandwidth demands at big events is still increasing rapidly. We can only imagine what might happen if Taylor Swift plays a halftime show at a big football game, but we can guess it would be a workout for any network currently in place.

THE MSR TOP 14 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
12. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
13. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
14. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

Eagles sign Appetize for new point-of-sale system at Lincoln Financial Field

Self-serve kiosks from Appetize allow fans to order and pay for their own food for nearby pickup. Credit all photos: Appetize

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed a deal with Appetize to bring its technology-centric point of sale system into Lincoln Financial Field, a deal designed in part to help speed up concessions transactions for home fans of the new Super Bowl champions.

According to a press release out today, Appetize will install “more than 500” iOS- and Android-based terminals inside the Linc, including some touch-screen fan-facing checkout displays as well as self-service concession kiosks that are meant to function much like the terminals found at airports for checking in to flights.

Kevin Anderson, co-founder and chief strategy officer for Appetize, said in a phone interview that internal company tests have shown that the self-service kiosks can speed up a concessions transaction by as much as 20 percent, good news for fans who are tired of spending lost minutes standing in line waiting for a cheesesteak. For teams and venue owners, the 10-inch screens being installed at other, regular concession stands in the Linc can help with upsell, as Anderson said that the screen space allows the operator to program in add-on options (like adding a drink or fries to a sandwich order) via a side-of-screen advertisement that makes it easy to add to the order with a click.

In addition to the new customer-facing technology, Appetize is also gaining entree to venues for its cloud-based back-end systems, which Anderson said cuts out the need for teams to have localized infrastructure to buy and manage. Though he won’t name them all yet, in addition to the Eagles win Anderson said Appetize has claimed three other NFL contracts that were out for bid this summer, perhaps proof that the company’s mantra of having “enterprise and modern” facets in their systems is finding receptive ears.

Making sure the infrastructure is set up for kiosks

While MSR clearly needs to schedule a stadium visit sometime to check out kiosk wait times compared to older concessions systems, Anderson did note that teams can’t just plug the kiosks in and expect them to work with an existing infrastructure. “There is a shift in operations” that is necessary, he said, since kiosks can double or triple the number of orders in a given time to an existing kitchen location. However, having kiosks also means that self-service stands can be staffed with workers who simply put orders together, instead of having to train those workers on payment systems and devices.

New tablet-based POS terminals can entice fans into add-on purchases

One area where Appetize doesn’t see a lot of explosive growth is on the in-seat delivery end, a trend that seems to slowing down and finding its way mostly into premium seating areas at most venues. While Appetize can support mobile-device ordering and delivery (it even started its corporate life with an end-user focus on a mobile/delivery app) Anderson said the infrastructure and human engineering necessary to support a full-stadium delivery scheme is usually found to be unworkable. The San Francisco 49ers, who opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014 with mobile-app delivery of concessions to every seat, scrapped that service last season.

“We’re definitely not seeing [customers] asking us to do full-stadium” in-seat delivery, Anderson said. However, having the ability to place an order via a mobile device does have value in premium seating areas, where stadiums may already have systems like the Appetize-based one currently used at Lincoln Financial Field, where servers with wireless devices roam the seating areas offering in-seat ordering as a white-glove service.

“It’s a nice line-item for the season ticket sales sheet” to offer in-seat delivery services in places where it makes sense, Anderson said. “Venues are being smart [now] about where they are putting it.”

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.”

Average per-fan Wi-Fi use total jumps again at Super Bowl 52

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

After a year where the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan at the Super Bowl dropped, the trend of more data used per fan reversed itself again to a new peak at Super Bowl 52, with an average total of 407.4 megabytes per user.

Even though the number of unique connections to the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 also increased to a record 40,033 users (according to the official statistics compiled by Extreme Networks), the jump from 11.8 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl 51 to 16.31 TB used at Super Bowl 52 pushed the average per-user number to the top, surpassing the 333 MB per user number from Super Bowl 51, as well as the 370 MB per user mark seen at Super Bowl 50.

While this statistic has not ever been called out by the Extreme Networks Super Bowl compilations, we here at MSR think it is a vital mark since it shows that even with more users on the network those connected users are still using more data. That means that IT departments at venues everywhere should probably still plan for no letup in the overall continued growth in demand for bandwidth at large-venue events, especially at “bucket list” events like the Super Bowl.

Last year we guessed the drop in per-user totals from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51 might have been due to a larger number of autoconnected users, but we never got an answer from the Extreme Networks team when we asked that question. At U.S. Bank Stadium there was also an autoconnect feature to the Wi-Fi for Verizon Wireless customers, but it didn’t seem to affect the per-user total mark.

Eagles see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi data for NFC Championship game on new Panasonic network

Panasonic 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)

The Philadelphia Eagles saw 8.76 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 21 during the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, a new high in one-day Wi-Fi usage for reported marks in games not called the Super Bowl.

Though the game’s position as No. 3 on our unofficial “top Wi-Fi” list (see below) may change as we get reports from other recent NFL playoff games, the mark is nevertheless impressive, and perhaps a big confirmation metric for Panasonic’s nascent big-venue Wi-Fi business. According to Panasonic, its 654-Access Point network inside “The Linc” also saw 35,760 unique connections during the game, out of 69,596 in attendance; the network also saw a peak of 29,201 concurrent devices connected (which happened during the post-game trophy presentation), and saw peak throughput of 5.5 Gbps.

What’s most interesting about the new Panasonic network in Philadelphia is that it is a completely top-down deployment, meaning that most of the APs (especially the 200 used in the seating bowl) shoot signals down toward seats from above. While most new networks at football-sized stadiums (and some smaller arenas) have turned to under-seat or railing-mounted APs to increase network density in seating areas, Panasonic claims its new “Everest” Wi-Fi gear has antennas that can provide signals up to 165 feet away, with “electronically reconfigurable directional beam profiles” that allow for specific tuning of where the Wi-Fi signal can point to.

By also putting four separate Wi-Fi radios into each access point, Panasonic also claims it can save teams and venues money and time on Wi-Fi deployments, since fewer actual devices are needed. By comparison, other big, new network deployments like Notre Dame’s often have a thousand or more APs; Notre Dame, which uses railing-mounted APs in the seating bowl, has 685 in the seating bowl out of a total 1,096 APs. Many of the Notre Dame APs are Cisco 3800 devices, which have two Wi-Fi radios in each AP.

‘The Linc’ before last week’s NFC Championship game. Credit: Kiel Leggere, Eagles

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which uses Aruba Wi-Fi gear mainly deployed under seats in the bowl, has nearly 1,800 APs, with 1,000 of those in the seating bowl.

Antennas close to fans vs. farther away

From a design and performance standpoint, the under-seat or railing-mounted “proximate” networks are built with many APs close together, with the idea that fans’ bodies will intentionally soak up some of the Wi-Fi signal, a fact that network designers use to their advantage to help eliminate interference between radios. The under-seat AP design, believed to be first widely used by AT&T Park in San Francisco and then at a larger scale at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., was developed to help bring better signals to seats where overhang-mounted APs couldn’t deliver strong connectivity. Older concrete-bowl stadiums like Notre Dame’s also went with a proximate railing design for a similar lack of overhangs.

Though the Eagles’ IT team has repeatedly turned down interview requests from MSR since this summer, Danny Abelson, vice president connectivity for Panasonic Enterprise Solution Company, met with MSR last week to provide details of the deployment. Citing new, patented antenna technology developed specifically by Panasonic to solve the limitations of prior overhead gear, Abelson claims Panasonic can deliver a similar stadium experience for “two-thirds the cost” of an under-seat or railing-mount network design, with savings realized both in construction costs (since it is usually cheaper to install overhead-mounted equipment than under-seat or railing mounts due to drilling needed) and in the need for fewer actual APs, since Panasonic has four radios in its main Wi-Fi APs.

Eagles fans cheering their team to the Super Bowl. Credit: Hunter Martin, Eagles

Abelson, however, declined to provide the exact cost of the Panasonic network at Lincoln Financial Field, citing non-disclosure agreements. There are also more questions to be answered about a Panasonic deployment’s cost, including charges for management software and/or administration services. Currently, Abelson said, Panasonic includes the costs for management software and management personnel in its bids.

When it comes to how the Eagles found Panasonic, the team and the company already had an existing relationship, as Panasonic’s video-board division had previously supplied displays for the Linc. According to Abelson, Panasonic went through a performance test at several Eagles games last season, bringing in Wi-Fi gear to see if the new technology could provide coverage to areas where the Eagles said they had seen lower-quality coverage before. One of the forerunners in the NFL in bringing Wi-Fi to fans, the Eagles had previously used Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear to build a fan-facing network in 2013. Though the Eagles would not comment about the selection process, after issuing an RFP this past offseason the team chose Panasonic for a new network, which Abelson said was deployed in three months during the football offseason.

Re-opening the debate for antenna placement?

Though Mobile Sports Report has not yet been able to get to Philadelphia to test the new network in a live game-day situation, if Panasonic’s new gear works as promises the company may find many potential interested customers, especially those who had shied away from deploying under-seat networks due to the construction issues or costs.

The Panasonic system may be of particular interest to indoor arenas, like hockey and basketball stadiums, where the gear could be potentially mounted in catwalk areas to cover seating. John Spade, CTO for the NHL’s Florida Panthers and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., has tweeted favorably about a Panasonic deployment going in at the arena whose networks he oversees:

But even as the impressive 8.76 TB mark seen at the NFC Championship game now sits as the third-highest reported Wi-Fi data use event we’ve heard of (behind only the 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi seen at Super Bowl 50 and the 11.8 TB seen at Super Bowl 51), that number may fall a bit down the list if we ever get verified numbers for some network totals we’ve heard rumors about lately. (Or even any older ones! C’mon network teams: Check out the list below and let us know if we’ve missed any.)

So far this season, we haven’t gotten any reports of Wi-Fi usage out of the network team at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (which recently hosted the college football playoff championship game), and we’ve only heard general talk about oversized playoff-game traffic at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. Like Notre Dame Stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium uses a mostly railing-mounted AP deployment in its seating bowl; both networks were designed by AmpThink. We are also still waiting for reports from last week’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, where the previous non-Super Bowl top mark of 8.08 TB was set in September; and from any games this fall at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the NFL’s biggest stadium has 2,567 Wi-Fi APs.

Will overhead still be able to keep up as demand for more bandwidth keeps growing? Will Panasonic’s claims of lower costs for equal performance hold up? At the very least, the performance in Philadelphia could re-open debate about whether or not you need to deploy APs closer to fans to provide a good Wi-Fi experience. If all goes well, the winners in renewed competition will be venues, teams, and ultimately, fans.

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
6. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
7. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
8. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
9. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
10. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB

NFL Wi-Fi update: AT&T Stadium adds 667 APs

A row shot of the under-seat APs at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

With today’s main NFL season schedule already underway, here is a quick update on all the NFL stadium Wi-Fi updates we know about that are either finished or still under construction for the 2017 season:

— AT&T Stadium, already the location of the biggest (by number of APs) stadium network we know of, is in the process of adding another 667 APs, a project scheduled to be finished in the next few weeks. According to John Winborn, CIO for the Dallas Cowboys Football Club, the new APs are all the Cisco 3800 two-radio models, and will be installed on the stadium’s 400-level seating area.

When done, AT&T Stadium will have 2,567 APs, with plans to add another 400 in the upcoming offseason. After that, said Winborn, AT&T Stadium will “be out of locations in the stadium to place additional APs without additional spectrum opening up.” (editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct an error in reporting that previously stated that 600 new APs had been installed.)

— In Atlanta, the fans are getting ready for the first regular-season game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will have nearly 1,800 APs total, many of those under the seats in the bowl.

— As previously reported in MSR, Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High is in the process of ripping and replacing its former Wi-Fi network, installing 1,470 new Cisco 3800s in a project scheduled for completion by late October/early November.

— In Philadephia, Lincoln Financial Field is in the process of switching from an Extreme Networks deployment to a new one using Wi-Fi gear from Panasonic. More details on this project are promised later this fall.

— In Seattle, the Seahawks’ IT team is adding additional APs to improve coverage in the four corners of the upper seating sections of CenturyLink Field, according to Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. Suttles said a full offseason tuning assessment with gear provider Extreme Networks also saw a new channel plan put in place, and “multiple Wi-Fi antenna orientations to improve coverage.”

— Detroit’s Ford Field also got a Wi-Fi (and DAS) upgrade over the past offseason, a revamp that will now allow all visitors, and not just Verizon Wireless customers, to use the stadium Wi-Fi.

— Chicago Bears fans will finally have free Wi-Fi this season, after being forced to pay for access previously.

— Following the announcement that the Arizona Cardinals were switching from CDW to Cox Business as the exclusive technology provider for the University of Phoenix Stadium, the UoP Stadium network was set for some additional APs and some network tuning ahead of the NFL season, according to Mark Feller, vice president of technology for the Cardinals.

Anyone else we miss? Send us the info… and the speedtests!