Extreme Networks to provide Wi-Fi 6 to 16 Major League Baseball stadiums

Extreme Wi-Fi gear (small white box in center) at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

In one of the biggest sports-venue Wi-Fi deals ever, Major League Baseball said it has selected Extreme Networks as its new “official Wi-Fi solutions provider,” a deal that will see Extreme Wi-Fi 6 gear being deployed in at least 16 MLB venues, beginning with the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park.

In an announcement today, Extreme and MLB said the deal would bring in-stadium Wi-Fi gear as well as Extreme’s network analytics software to at least 16 stadiums by 2026.

According to Major League Baseball, the Extreme deal represents the latest step for the league’s “technology consortium,” a plan started in 2014 where the league brought together a consortium of technology and service providers to more quickly bring better connectivity to MLB venues through pre-arranged and shared pricing structures. (In the first version of the consortium plan, Cisco was the preferred Wi-Fi gear supplier.)

Truman Boyes, MLB’s senior vice president for technology infrastructure, said that adding Wi-Fi 6 technology to the consortium offerings was driven by the continued increase in network data consumption by fans at ballparks.

“We’ve seen growth [in network usage] ramp up year after year,” Boyes said.

And while an earlier version of the Wi-Fi 6 rollout plan was set to start last spring, Boyes said that the Covid pandemic and its subsequent closing of almost all venues to fans in 2020 actually helped MLB solidify its plans.

More Extreme Wi-Fi gear underneath the roof at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

“We did have some delays [due to the pandemic] but because there still wasn’t an actual standardized approach to Wi-Fi 6 at this time last year, it became a good time to wait it out,” Boyes said. And after evaluating all the equipment providers in the Wi-Fi space, Boyes said Extreme’s experience in large-venue Wi-Fi networks helped make Extreme MLB’s choice based on technical merit.

“When it comes to networks of 20,000 to 40,000 [users], it’s a totally different landscape,” Boyes said. With Extreme’s experience in NFL-size venues, he said, “they know how to make it scale.”

According to Boyes, 10 of the network deployments are expected to be completed by the end of the year, with Fenway’s deployment scheduled to be live by opening day. (See full list at bottom of story)

MLB deal follows NFL deal

The “official” Wi-Fi deal adds another win to Extreme’s sports-industry ledger, following the company’s current similar deal with the NFL. Next year will be Extreme’s ninth season as the official Wi-Fi supplier to the NFL, where 10 of the 30 venues use Extreme gear exclusively for Wi-Fi, with two other NFL venues having a mix of gear with some Extreme included. Extreme’s current deal with the NFL lasts until March of 2022, according to the NFL.

Like its NFL deal, Extreme’s contract with MLB does not require venues to use Extreme equipment; it simply provides teams with a league-approved deal that most likely has economics that are potentially more favorable than those available outside the consortium pricing, given that Extreme is both a supplier and a sponsor to the league.

“Teams can join if they want to share in the benefits of centralized management,” said Boyes of MLB’s consortium efforts. While 16 MLB teams have committed to the Wi-Fi 6 deal with Extreme, Boyes said there is “interest from other teams” as well. Currently, Boyes said 20 of MLB’s 30 teams have used consortium deals for connectivity in the past.

Extreme currently has two existing MLB customers for stadium Wi-Fi, the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the Baltimore Orioles’ home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles’ deal with Extreme had not been previously reported, other than that Verizon had paid for Wi-Fi at the park.

While Extreme has gotten big visibility out of its NFL deal — one which allows Extreme to control the announcement of network-usage results from the Super Bowl each year, even if Extreme gear is not used at the venue — it has also not won any recent deals for new NFL Wi-Fi networks. The two newest NFL venues, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, both chose Cisco as their Wi-Fi 6 gear supplier.

However, some long-standing Extreme customers in the NFL have recently stuck with Extreme for renovations, including updates at the last two Super Bowl venues, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Extreme and the Seattle Seahawks were also set to announce a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade to the network at Lumen Field this past year, but that announcement was delayed by the team due to the Covid pandemic.

Wes Durow, chief marketing officer for Extreme, said in a phone interview that Extreme’s focus on analytics makes it a great fit with Major League Baseball, which he said has been out in front of the entire sports world when it comes to emphasizing new statistics as a way to engage fans more closely.

And while acknowledging that a sponsorship with MLB was part of the equation, he said “that’s not what drove this deal. They [MLB] needeed to make a technology decision first.”

Consortium focusing on Wi-Fi

Unlike the past version of the consortium efforts, which included cellular distributed antenna network (DAS) systems as well as Wi-Fi, Boyes said the MLB consortium would “focus on Wi-Fi” going forward.

Part of MLB’s stance of “keeping DAS a little bit at arm’s length for now,” Boyes said, has to do with the complexity of 5G cellular deployments. Unlike 4G LTE cellular, where the top U.S. carriers all used similar spectrum spaces, the early 5G deployments from the top carriers all use different spectrum bands, which doesn’t work with a shared-antenna system.

MLB Stadiums that will get Extreme Wi-Fi 6:

Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)
Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds)
Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)
Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)
Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
Citi Field (New York Mets)
Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
T-Mobile Park (Seattle Mariners)
Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

Super Bowl LV Wi-Fi: Low total, but per-fan usage remains steady

Fans at Super Bowl LV in Tampa used 13.97 TB of Wi-Fi data during the game. Credit: Preston Mack/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Thanks to the reduced crowd size due to the Covid pandemic, the total Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl LV was well below previous years’ numbers — but the data used per device was nearly equal to last year’s number, showing that fans are still using their devices at the “big game” with gusto.

Because of needs to socially distance, this year’s Super Bowl LV at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium only saw 24,835 fans in attendance, much lower than the sellout crowds usually seen at the NFL’s championship game. According to numbers compiled by Extreme Networks, fans who connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network used a total of 13.97 terabytes of data, far below last year’s total of 26.42 TB used at Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, when 62,417 fans were at the game.

The fans watching Tampa Bay’s 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs live, however, used almost as much data per device as last year. According to Extreme 23,766 devices were seen on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network before and during the game. That works out to a per-user bandwidth usage rate of 587.8 MB per device, comparable to the 595.6 MB per user mark seen at last year’s big game.

Only 24,835 fans were in attendance at Super Bowl LV due to safety restrictions. Credit: Preston Mack/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

According to Extreme the 23,766 total-devices number includes 3,891 devices that connected to the network before the gates were open, utilizing an expanded Wi-Fi network in and around the stadium entry areas and the parking lots. Once the gates opened, Extreme said it saw 19,875 devices connect inside the venue, for an approximate “take rate” of 80 percent. At last year’s game Extreme saw a take rate of 71 percent, with 44,358 unique devices connected to the network.

Some more interesting nuggets from the Extreme numbers:
— Peak bandwidth usage was 7.9 Gbps, and peak concurrent users on the network was 12,288.
— The fans used 2.58 TB of Wi-Fi data before kickoff, and 11.39 TB afterwards.
— Top app used by fans was Facebook, accounting for 1.6 TB of all data used.

In part because of the pandemic safety measures, this was the first Super Bowl ever to go completely cashless for concessions and all-digital for ticketing. According to Extreme the company added some temporary Wi-Fi infrastructure to handle the increased needs for connectivity in areas like entry gates and other places outside the stadium.

Smaller crowd leads to smaller cellular numbers at Super Bowl LV

A MatSing antenna (white ball on right hand side of structure) hangs from the light tower at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., during Super Bowl LV. Credit: MatSing

With limited attendance due to the Covid pandemic, the best bet on Super Bowl LV was that the fans’ wireless traffic usage totals — which in past history have only gone up every year — would be diminished from previous events.

And even as the carriers continue to report numbers with parameters that make them hard to analyze, the bottom line from Sunday’s big game — which had 24,835 fans in attendance — was a total of 17.7 terabytes combined for AT&T and Verizon (with no numbers reported by T-Mobile), about half the usage when compared to last year’s game.

Once again, it is impossible to compare apples to apples as Verizon’s reported total of 4G and 5G data used, 7 TB, is from Raymond James Stadium only. AT&T, meanwhile, reported 10.7 TB of 4G and 5G data used, but from an area “in and around the stadium,” with no exact description of how far out “around the stadium” meant.

Still, taken at the highest totals the traffic pales compared to that seen at the most recent Super Bowls, where cellular traffic reported was above 35 TB for AT&T and Verizon last year and somewhere north of 50 TB two years ago, when Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) also reported numbers.

Verizon, which did say that 56 percent of the attendees were Verizon customers (which if you use the official attendance as a starting point gives you 13,907 Verizon customers at the game), gave us a chance to do some bandwidth-per-user math. Our unofficial calculations show Verizon customers using an average of 503 megabytes per user, a fairly solid metric when compared to last year’s Super Bowl Wi-Fi per-user usage total, 595.6 MB per user. (Wi-Fi total usage for Super Bowl LV has not yet been reported.) According to Verizon, its 5G customers saw an average download speed of 817 Mbps, with peak speeds reaching “over 2 Gbps.”

AT&T, meanwhile, claimed that its average 5G customer download speed was 1.261 Gbps with a peak download speed of 1.71 Gbps. However, since AT&T didn’t give us any way to calculate approximately how many customers it had at the game, it’s hard to measure its speeds directly with Verizon’s since there is no way of comparing how many devices AT&T had to support. T-Mobile, which claimed before the game that it had done as much as anyone else to support its customers at the game with 5G services, does not report traffic statistics from big events.

Interesting parking-lot poles and MatSings for the field

As part of the connectivity expansion ahead of the Super Bowl, poles like the one seen here may have 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi for outside-the-venue coverage. Credit: ConcealFab

A couple of interesting notes: We want to tell you a bit more about the parking-lot pole enclosures that the carriers (and the Wi-Fi providers) used to cover the areas outside the venue. The supplier, a company called ConcealFab from Colorado Springs, Colo., said the pole enclosures (see picture) were designed and manufactured in-house, and can support a heady mix of wireless gear in what we consider an attractive ensemble.

Though not every pole had every bit of equipment, according to ConcealFab the enclosures “conceal low & mid-band 4G radio equipment and has a pole top shroud that contains omnidirectional 4G and public WiFi signals. 5G radios are mounted with shrouds that have clearWave™ technology that has been tested and approved for mmW frequency.” The company said that some of the poles had lights and security cameras mounted atop them as well.

Inside, the poles were a veritable United Nations of supplier gear. According to ConcealFab, here’s which suppliers brought what to the table:
— Ericsson radios (mmW) inside modular shrouds
— CommScope radios (AWS, PCS, CBRS) in the base and along the pole body
— JMA canister antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Extreme Networks access points and Wi-Fi antenna inside the pole top concealment
— Leotek LED luminaires
— Axis cameras

We’d also like to note that MatSing Lens antennas once again played a role in providing cellular coverage, with a couple of the distinctive ball-shaped devices used at Raymond James Stadium to provide cellular coverage to the field. MatSing antennas, which have recently been installed at Allegiant Stadium and AT&T Stadium, have been part of the past four Super Bowls by our account.

Verizon updates DAS, brings more 5G to Raymond James Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LV

Raymond James Stadium, the place where Super Bowl LV will take place on Feb. 7, 2021. Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers website

The limited number of fans being allowed to view Super Bowl LV live at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium should have no problem finding wireless connectivity inside the venue, thanks in part to new deployments that include a renovated 4G LTE distributed antenna system (DAS) and 5G cellular infrastructure from Verizon.

Ordinarily, the Super Bowl would be the place where once again new records would be set for wireless data consumption, as fans at the “big game” would spend most of their time there posting updates on social media to let their less-fortunate friends know just how good a time they were having either cheering on their favorite team or just being a part of the nation’s yearly biggest single-day sporting event.

But in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Super Bowl LV will be a big game unlike any other, with only about 22,000 fans allowed in the stadium because of health concerns. But Verizon, as it usually does ahead of the Super Bowl, said it has spent somewhere north of $80 million to upgrade its systems in and around Raymond James Stadium and the greater downtown Tampa area, not necessarily for this year but also for the big events expected in the near future at a venue known for hosting big events like the college football playoff championships and Wrestlemania.

“This is all being built for the next Super Bowl, or when the WWE [Wrestlemania] comes to town,” said Brian Mecum, vice president for device technology and sports partnerships for Verizon, in a phone interview. For the reduced crowd fortunate enough to be at Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, and for all the big crowds that will soon (we hope) be able to attend future events, Verizon has put in place a renovated DAS as well as a “robust” 5G millimeter wave deployment that will bring the next level of wireless connectivity to cellular customers across the board.

Verizon said it has also installed 281 small cell antennas to provide permanent extended cellular coverage around town, both in and around Raymond James Stadium as well as in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Riverwalk, and in nearby Ybor City.

All carriers are on the new DAS

While he would not reveal an exact count of the number of antennas or remotes in the new stadium DAS infrastructure, Mecum was able to confirm that all three major U.S. cellular carriers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — will be participating in using and paying for the DAS, meaning that customers of any of the aforementioned providers will be able to take advantage of new deployments, including some new under-seat antenna enclosures.

“It’s not good for the public if people are boxed out,” said Mecum, praising the “good relationship” between the carriers around the stadium DAS.

Verizon customers, however, will have the added advantage of being able to connect to 5G services at Raymond James Stadium, if they have an advanced handset that supports the company’s 5G signals. While there aren’t really any applications that can only be used on 5G, Mecum did say that 5G connections are “about 25 times faster than 4G,” so overall a user experience on 5G should be better.

Like in many other NFL stadiums, at Raymond James Stadium Verizon also does have an autoconnect feature that will switch Verizon customers over to the venue’s Wi-Fi network if their devices have their Wi-Fi radios active. But Mecum did suggest that Verizon customers at the game who have 5G-capable phones may want to turn Wi-Fi off at the event, to take advantage of the 5G connectivity.

“We do have Wi-Fi authentication [at Raymond James Stadium] but I would say stay on 5G if you can,” Mecum said.

MatSing antennas and upgraded Wi-Fi

We are still waiting to hear back from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about improvements made to the venue’s Wi-Fi network, and will provide details when we receive them. We also have seen several recent photos of the stadium showing deployments of a few MatSing lens antennas, something we’ve seen at several recent Super Bowls where MatSings are used to provide direct connectivity to sidelines, typically for media and photography bandwidth.