Verizon: U.S. Bank Stadium DAS already seeing more traffic than Super Bowl 51

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi). Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The trend of fans continuing to use more and more wireless data at big sporting events shows no sign of slowing down, especially after Verizon Wireless said that it’s already seeing more cellular traffic at Vikings home games this year than it saw at Super Bowl 51.

Verizon, which built the neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular carriers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, also said it increased the DAS antenna count by 48 percent at the venue this past offseason, in order to better support the expected surge coming at Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. At a press event at the stadium today, Verizon said it now has approximately 1,200 DAS antennas of its own at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re very confident” that both the DAS and Verizon’s networks will be more than ready to handle the Super Bowl when it comes to Minneapolis at the end of this current NFL season, said Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, in a phone interview earlier this week. Though the stadium opened in 2016 with a fully functional DAS, Scudder said Verizon spent the past offseason adding more capacity for its customers with additional DAS antennas in a variety of deployment methods, including antennas in enclosures both under-seat and in handrails, as well as in pole-mounted deployments along standing-room drink railings in both end zone concourses.

It’s selfie time on the drink-rail concourse area, where a DAS antenna looms on a pole behind

Though Scudder declined to say exactly how many DAS antennas there are in the building, with the new “48 percent” additional antennas Verizon said it now has 100 DAS zones throughout the venue, including the seating bowl, concourses, suites, and outdoor DAS coverage surrounding the stadium. But perhaps the most surprising reveal was that in-stadium DAS traffic at Vikings home games this season have already produced single-game numbers that Scudder said were greater than those seen inside the stadium at Super Bowl 51, held Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Pay attention here, because the italicized distinction is important.

Under-seat, handrail and drink-railing DAS

Given Verizon’s historic coyness on numbers, it’s no surprise that Scudder did not provide an exact number for the Vikings in-stadium DAS traffic that she said surpassed Super Bowl 51’s mark. She also didn’t disclose what the in-stadium only DAS number was for Verizon at NRG Stadium. The only reported Verizon number for DAS traffic at Super Bowl 51, 11 terabytes of traffic, includes data not just from the stadium, but also from macro network connections within a 2-mile radius of the stadium on game day, Scudder said. So far, Verizon hasn’t provided a Vikings regular-season game-day measurement for traffic outside the stadium as well. So if it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison yet, if the in-stadium marks are already higher, the bet is that whatever total number Verizon sees at Super Bowl LII, it will be greater than the 11 TB seen at Super Bowl LI.

It’s also not surprising that the DAS installation at U.S. Bank Stadium is already looking like it will surpass NRG Stadium’s marks, simply because with the advantage of greenfield construction, all networks at U.S. Bank Stadium were designed with some of the latest deployment knowledge available. At NRG Stadium, where networks were added well after construction, Verizon deployed DAS antennas under the concrete floors, an easier deployment method but one that typically produces lower throughput than other methods. And for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Verizon added under-seat DAS antennas in what was believed to be the first such deployment for cellular DAS.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

AmpThink, which built the Wi-Fi network in U.S. Bank Stadium relying on handrail-mounted AP enclosures, seems to have played a hand in part of Verizon’s DAS upgrade, as some of the new DAS enclosures seem to mimic the Wi-Fi ones. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. The new under-seat DAS deployments and the handrail DAS deployments are Verizon-specific, meaning they are not part of the neutral host DAS that provides service for other cellular carriers.

In addition to overhead DAS antennas mounted pretty much everywhere it would make sense — below overhangs, and even in twin-antenna mounts on poles hanging down over concourse walkways — there are now a series of DAS antennas mounted on poles just above the main-concourse end-zone standing areas, where fans can lean against drink rails while watching the game. In a pregame test on Nov. 19 for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, MSR tests saw DAS speeds of 77.35 Mpbs download and 32.40 Mbps upload on one of the end-zone concourse areas.

Even up in the most nosebleed of seats — in U.S. Bank Stadium’s case, section 345, which has seats almost touching the roof in the southwest corner, we got a DAS speedtest on the Verizon network of 60.87 Mbps / 44.22 Mbps, most likely from some antennas we could see mounted just above the seats on ventilation pipes a bit toward the field. And hanging from the middle of U.S. Bank Stadium’s roof are a pair of Matsing Ball antennas, which point down to provide cellular service for media and photographers on the sidelines, as well as for floor seating for concerts and other events.

Demand for bandwidth is ‘insatiable’

According to Scudder, any and all antennas are all needed, both for Vikings home games at the 66,200-seat venue, but also for the Super Bowl, where additional seating will host more fans, media and other attendees for the NFL’s championship game.

“The consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” Scudder said, noting that these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game. Verizon’s deployments don’t end at U.S. Bank Stadium’s walls, either. According to Scudder over the past 2 years Verizon engineers have been busy adding capacity all over Minneapolis, including in downtown areas, at the Minneapolis airport, and at the nearby Mall of America.

“We’ve been partnering with the Twin Cities for 2 years now and they are very receptive and want to have the latest technology here,” Scudder said. Scudder also said that all the improvements, in DAS, small cell deployments and macro towers, will remain as permanent solutions, helping keep Minneapolis a Super-connected city even after the big game is over.

DAS antennas hang down from the overhang above a suite area

Even at the highest elevation seats in the venue, DAS coverage is excellent, provided in this case by antennas mounted on the ventilation pipes above (see next photo for close-up)

DAS antennas seen mounted below ventilation pipes


Two ‘Matsing Ball’ antennas hanging from center roof beams (this photo courtesy Verizon)

Under-seat DAS antenna (this photo courtesy Verizon)

Super Bowl LI Wi-Fi sees drop in average per-fan use total

Under seat Wi-Fi APs visible down seating row at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

Under seat Wi-Fi APs visible down seating row at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

While Super Bowl LI in Houston set records for most total Wi-Fi used in a single day event, the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan actually dropped from the previous year’s game, from about 370 megabytes per user at Super Bowl 50 to about 333 MB per user for Super Bowl 51.

Using official totals provided by the NFL’s official analytics provider, Extreme Networks, there was a total of 11.8 TB of data used on the Wi-Fi network at NRG Stadium in Houston during Super Bowl 51, compared to 10.1 TB used during Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

While the total Wi-Fi data number represents approximately a 17 percent increase from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51, the most recent game had 35,430 users who connected at least once to the network, an almost 30 percent leap from Super Bowl 50’s 27,316 unique users. So while Super Bowl 51 had more unique users (and more peak concurrent users as well) and a higher data total, the average amount of data used per connected fan decreased, from about 370 MB per user to about 333 MB per user.

Data for Super Bowls in years past is thin (mainly because stadium Wi-Fi didn’t really exist), but it’s certainly the first time in very recent history that the per-user average has dropped from one Super Bowl to the next. Super Bowl 49, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., saw a total of 6.23 TB of Wi-Fi used, with 25,936 unique users, for a per-user average total of 240 MB. We don’t have any stats for unique users at Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium, but with the total Wi-Fi used there at 3.2 TB the average was also presumably much lower as well, unless there were also 50 percent fewer connected users.

Did autoconnect drop the average?

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk at NRG Stadium. Credit: 5 Bars

The drop in per-user average data for Wi-Fi is curious when compared to the huge leap in overall DAS stats for the last two Super Bowls, with Super Bowl 51 checking in at 25.8 TB of data, a figure that does not include statistics from T-Mobile, which is declining to report its data total from the game. At Super Bowl 50, all four top wireless carriers combined saw 15.9 TB, so the total for Super Bowl 51 is about 62 percent higher — and if you add in the estimated 3-4 TB that was likely recorded by T-Mobile, that leap is even bigger.

Unfortunately cellular carriers do not provide the exact number of connected users, so there is no per-user average data total available. It would be interesting to know if the expanded DAS preparations made at Super Bowl 50 and at Super Bowl 51 actually connected more total users, or allowed users to use more data per user. We have a request with Verizon for more stats, but it may be a long wait.

One theory we have here at MSR is that it’s possible that a large number of autoconnected devices may have increased the unique-user total while not necessarily adding to the overall Wi-Fi data-used total. In our reporting about the NRG Stadium network we noted that Verizon, which helped pay for the Wi-Fi deployment, had reserved 40 percent of the Wi-Fi capacity for its customers, many of whom could have been autoconnected to the network even without them knowing. We have asked both Extreme and Verizon for a breakdown on Verizon users vs. other wireless customer users on the Wi-Fi network, but have not yet received a response.

Update: Super Bowl LI breaks 37 TB wireless mark

NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. Credit: AP / Morry Gash/ Patriots.com

NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. Credit: AP / Morry Gash/ Patriots.com

It’s official now, and without any doubt Super Bowl LI broke the single-day wireless data use mark, with at least 37.6 terabytes used.

The official stats for Wi-Fi at NRG Stadium are finally in, with a mark of 11.8 TB, which is a bit more than the 10.1 TB recorded at last year’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, the previous top mark. The official stats were reported Thursday by Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks, which posted them on the company website.

New DAS records even without any T-Mobile stats

On the cellular side Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint all set new records, with Verizon reporting 11 TB of use and AT&T reporting 9.8 TB, while Sprint (which ran on its own DAS at NRG Stadium) hit 5 TB. At last year’s Super Bowl Verizon (7 TB) and AT&T (5.2 TB) had set their respective previous high-water marks, while Sprint had reported 1.6 TB at Levi’s Stadium. Even without numbers from T-Mobile the current DAS count is 25.8 TB, much higher than the 15.9 TB cellular total from Super Bowl 50.

(Unfortunately, T-Mobile right now is refusing to provide a total data number — a spokesperson who didn’t want to be quoted claimed on a phone call that the total data number was “not relevant,” and that T-Mobile would not provide a final number. However, we did see a blog post from the company claiming it passed its 2.1 TB total from last year by halftime, so at the very least we could probably accurately add at least another 2.2 TB to the overall DAS total. So we may see a combined total of all cellular and Wi-Fi nearing 40 TB before it’s all counted up, approved or not.)

One of our close friends in the business was at the game, and was kind enough to send us a bunch of Wi-Fi speedtests from NRG Stadium (go check our Twitter timeline at @paulkaps to see the tests linked).

What was interesting was watching the speeds go down when “spike” events occurred, like touchdowns and the end of Lady Gaga’s halftime show. The incredible comeback by the New England Patriots to claim a 34-28 overtime victory kept the network busy through the night, and after the game as well during the awards ceremony.

Tom Brady with the Lombardi Trophy. Credit: AP / Patriots.com

Tom Brady with the Lombardi Trophy. Credit: AP / Patriots.com

New record for take rate

According to Extreme, fans at NRG Stadium also set new high-water marks for unique connections to the network as well as for peak concurrent connections. At Super Bowl LI Extreme said it saw 35,430 fans connect to the network, a 49 percent take rate with the attendance of 71,795. Last year at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium a total of 27,316 fans connected to the network out of 71,088 attending, a 38 percent take rate.

On the peak concurrent-connection side, Super Bowl LI set a new mark with 27,191 fans connected at one time, according to Extreme. At the Super Bowl 50, the top concurrent-connected mark was 20,300.

Extreme also released some social-media statistics, claiming that 1.7 TB of the Wi-Fi total was social media traffic. Leading the way in order of most users to fewer were Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Interestingly, Snapchat consumed almost as much data as Facebook, according to pie graphs in the Extreme infographic, which did not provide any actual numbers for those totals. Extreme also did not report what is typically the highest use of bandwidth in any stadium situation, that being Apple iOS updates and Google Gmail activity.

The NFL, which had its own game-day application for Super Bowl LI, has not released any statistics about app use.

Congrats to all the carriers, integrator 5 Bars and Wi-Fi gear supplier Extreme Networks.

THE NEW TOP 6 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. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
4. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
5. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
6. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB

THE NEW TOP 4 FOR TOTAL USAGE

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8; DAS: 25.8 TB**; Total: 37.6 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB; DAS: 15.9 TB; Total: 26 TB
3. Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB; DAS: 6.56 TB**; Total: 12.79 TB**
4. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB; DAS: 1.9 TB*; Total: 8.6 TB*

* = AT&T DAS stats only
** = AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint DAS stats only

NRG Stadium hit 4.11 TB on Wi-Fi for Texans-Raiders playoff game

NRG Stadium. Credit: Houston Texans Instagram

NRG Stadium. Credit: Houston Texans Instagram

In what became the last live tune-up before the Super Bowl, NRG Stadium in Houston saw fans use 4.11 terabytes of data on the venue’s new Wi-Fi network during Houston’s 27-14 playoff victory over Oakland on Jan. 7, according to the Texans.

Jeff Schmitz, vice president of information technology for the Texans, said that NRG Stadium also saw approximately 35,000 unique users on the network at the playoff game, a 48 percent take rate against the total attendance of 71,790. The peak concurrent user number for the game was almost 24,000 users, with all numbers setting season highs for the network that debuted at the NFL season start, according to Schmitz.

“The playoff game was definitely the biggest” network-traffic day for the Texans, said Schmitz in a phone interview. During the talk Schmitz clarified that the network went through a serious up-and-down stretch during the middle of the season, due to under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosures that didn’t completely seal out moisture.

Under seat APs visible down seating row. Credit: 5 Bars

Under seat APs visible down seating row. Credit: 5 Bars

While MSR had previously reported on the issue, Schmitz clarified that the full replacement of the APs took place in late October, meaning that the network staff had to basically re-tune and adjust the network in the later months of the season.

But the 4.11 TB mark and the large number of connected users for the playoff game was a sign that the network was in fine shape for Sunday’s Super Bowl LI, where if history offers any guidance there might be another new record set for single-day Wi-Fi usage.

The number to beat is the 10.1 TB mark from Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium last February, part of a 26 TB wireless day (with 15.9 TB recorded on cellular and DAS networks).

Wi-Fi coaches staying for Super Bowl

Schmitz also said that the Extreme Networks “Wi-Fi coaches” would be on hand for Super Sunday, helping fans figure out how to connect to the Extreme-based network and its 1,250 APs.

“We thought we’d only keep the coaches (who roam the stadium helping fans with network issues) for half a season, but with the switch [in APs] we ended up having them there for every game,” Schmitz said.

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk. Credit: 5 Bars

Wi-Fi gear visible above concourse kiosk. Credit: 5 Bars

Having the Wi-Fi coaches at the Super Bowl also makes sense since many fans at that game will likely be visiting NRG Stadium for the first time, as opposed to Texans season ticket holders.

Though NRG Stadium won’t have to contend with temporary structures like those built on the concourses at Levi’s Stadium last year, Schmitz said there is some extra network work ahead to make sure the auxiliary press box area has “beefed up” Wi-Fi as well as wired connections for media use.

Another thing missing from last year’s Super Bowl is the ability for fans in any seat to order beverage delivery via the game-day app. Though details of services for the Super Bowl app have yet to be fully announced, Schmitz said the only in-seat delivery would be for premium club-level seats, which in addition to app-based ordering will have live humans who can take orders from fans for in-seat delivery, something Texans fans have available during regular-season games.

“That service [fans ordering from servers] gets used the most,” Schmitz said.

NRG Stadium Wi-Fi ‘soft launches’ at Texans preseason game

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.35.17 AMThe Houston Texans gave their fans more to cheer about with a 16-9 preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints last Saturday, but what might have made a lot of people happy at NRG Stadium was the unofficial debut of the stadium’s new Wi-Fi network, which was available in a sort of “soft launch” mode.

We say “sort of,” because according to people who were at the game there was pretty heavy promotion of the new network’s availability, with bandwidth sponsor Comcast distributing flyers in seat cup-holders as well as making in-stadium announcements about the wireless connectivity. NRG Stadium had been one of the few NFL venues without Wi-Fi, but with the Super Bowl headed to Houston at the end of this season installing Wi-Fi became a priority.

Starting after the Final Four concluded this past spring, integrator 5 Bars and Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks got busy, eventually installing approximately 1,250 Wi-Fi APs inside NRG Stadium. According to 5 Bars representatives, many of the APs in the seating bowl were installed under the seats, a deployment method that is becoming a trend in larger stadiums.

Though we don’t have any stats yet (since the network isn’t really “officially” launched) we did hear from network sources that there was a good uptake on the system, and we are looking forward to watching the Wi-Fi’s performance this season leading up to Super Bowl 51 in February. If any fans out there hit another Texans game anytime soon, send us a speedtest of the Wi-Fi!

5 Bars finally gets official nod for Wi-Fi deployment at Houston’s NRG Stadium; but will use Extreme gear instead of Ruckus

NRGstadium_1It took a long time, but wireless deployment firm 5 Bars was finally given the official approval as the company leading the installation of Wi-Fi at Houston’s NRG Stadium, which is scheduled to host Super Bowl 51 in 2017.

Though construction won’t be started until after the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four — which also takes place at NRG — the network is scheduled to be completed in time for the next NFL season, according to 5 Bars. The only change from previous reports about this deal is that 5 Bars will be using Wi-Fi gear from Extreme Networks, and not Ruckus Wireless, apparently due to the NFL’s preference to have gear it is familiar with at a Super Bowl venue.

Given the sensitivity of the process and the gear-switch outcome, and the timing of the holidays, it’s perhaps understandable that calls and emails for comments to the stadium authorities, the NFL, and both Ruckus and Extreme have not yet been returned. The best we can guess is that with huge wireless demands expected at all Super Bowls going forward, the NFL — which gets extremely involved in Super Bowl venue preparations and management — didn’t want to have to work with gear it was unfamiliar with for a “big game.” Extreme, which has an exclusive-supplier deal with the league, is currently being used in nine NFL stadiums, though not in any that have recently held a Super Bowl.

Monnie McGaffigan, senior vice president for 5 Bars, who did confirm that 5 Bars originally submitted a joint bid with Ruckus for the NRG network, said 5 Bars remains “extremely happy” with the Ruckus gear it used in its Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. But now that the end result is a switch to Extreme, she said that 5 Bars is “getting ready to get boots on the ground” in January, doing local prep work for when the deployment will start in earnest at the home of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

According to McGaffigan, the network will use approximately 1,100 Wi-Fi APs, with under-seat deployments used for a majority of the in-bowl APs. Backhaul for the network will use 5-gigabit Ethernet pipes that are burstable to 10 Gbps, McGaffigan said. Verizon Wireless, which runs the DAS at NRG Stadium, is also apparently going to have its own Wi-Fi bandwidth at NRG like existing deals it has in place at NFL stadiums including Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

For 5 Bars, the deal is a signature win, a big second step up from its Wi-Fi and DAS deployment at Angels Stadium. While McGaffigan said the small startup-ish firm based in Irvine, Calif., has some other interesting projects afoot — including wireless infrastructure for tollroads and downtown city areas — she said the company is “excited to win a big deal like this.”