Massive MIMO is Sprint’s path to 5G, says CTO Saw

Dr. John Saw, CTO of Sprint, at an IEEE keynote speech. Credit all photos: Sprint

Sprint chief technical officer John Saw has seen the future of cellular wireless, and according to him it was at a sports event.

“I was at the [Winter] Olympics where KT [Korea Telecom] and Intel set up the first 5G network,” said Saw in a recent phone interview. “Stadiums will be a good showplace for the capabilities of 5G. It’s pretty impressive what you can do with 5G that you can’t do today.”

Saw, who was CTO at WiMAX play Clearwire before that company became part of Sprint, will be the first to admit that the network built for the PyeongChang Olympics wasn’t “true” 5G, but said it was a good precursor. He also added that it wasn’t a cost-conscious deployment, something MSR had heard from other sources who said Intel and KT didn’t hold back when it came to spending.

“They spent a lot of money [on the network],” Saw said.

But some of the services the Olympic network was able to support included local viewing of replays using Intel’s True View technology, which gives fans the ability to watch a play or action from a 360-degree angle. While Intel has had limited deployments of the technology at some U.S. sporting events, for the Olympics Saw said they used hundreds of cameras linked over millimeter wave frequencies, which can offer very low latency.

“They needed [to have the images] in real time,” Saw said, and built the millimeter wave network to do just that. While the network “wasn’t fully compliant to the subsequent 5G standards, a lot of what they built is the forerunner to 5G,” Saw said. “It was a pretty cool showcase, and will certainly find a home in stadiums.”

No Millimeter Wave spectrum for Sprint

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Millimeter wave networks, however, won’t be part of Sprint’s early push toward 5G, said Saw. Instead, he said Sprint will concentrate on deploying “Massive MIMO” networks in its rich space of spectrum at the 2.5 GHz frequency, where Sprint controls upwards of 150 MHz of spectrum in most major U.S. metro markets.

Without trying too hard here to explain exactly how Massive MIMO works — think splitting up transmissions between mulitple antennas then using lots of compute power to bring the data back together — the key here is Sprint’s spectrum holdings, which Saw said are still only about half used.

“When we launched LTE [on the 2.5 Ghz spectrum] we used less than half the spectrum we had,” Saw said. “With 5G, we will use all the spectrum we have in market. We’ll be one of very few carriers who launch 5G in the same [spectrum] footprint [as LTE].”

With the ability to carry “four to 10 times the capacity of regular LTE,” Saw sees Massive MIMO 5G as something perfect for large public venues like stadiums and shopping malls.

Dr. John Saw

“When you have sports events with 50,000 people in the stadium, you need this kind of capacity,” Saw said. “Were building out the footprint for [5G] this year, and we’ll launch next year.”

Saw said that part of the infrastructure support for 5G networks will be different as well.

“It’s more than just speed, or more capacity. It’s more than tonnage,” Saw said. “We’ll have a different way of deploying the new network, with a more distributed core, one [with more resources] out to the edge of the network.”

Why is such equipment redistribution necessary? According to Saw, a network with more components at the edge can help with content delivery for the new bandwidth-hungry apps like virtual-reality replays.

“Say you want VR at a hockey game, where you want to give real time [replay] viewing to customers, with different camera angles,” Saw said. “You literally have to have the 5G core inside the stadiums, so it can process [the content] without having to go back to the cloud.”

Will DAS trail in the path to 5G?

One type of network Saw doesn’t see leading the way to 5G is the traditional DAS, or distributed antenna system.

“DAS is going to have to migrate to 5G,” Saw said. “It’s not going to lead the pack.”

In fact, Saw said Sprint has been somewhat of a reluctant DAS participant at times, including at the most recent Super Bowls. In the last two of the NFL’s “big game” events, Super Bowl 51 in Houston and Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Saw said Sprint used small cell deployments instead of the neutral DAS systems to augment its coverage.

“We had hundreds of small cells, inside and outside [the venues],” Saw said. “We got the same performance, maybe better, for a lot less money.”

Part of the issue for Sprint and DAS, Saw said, is that the carrier usually has to pay more for its unique spectrum bands, especially the 2.5 GHz frequencies which are not used by any of the other major wireless carriers.

“We always think through before we sign up for DAS fees… there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Saw said. While in many cases there is no alternative except to participate in a neutral-host configuration, Saw said “we do prefer small cells.”

Will CBRS help?

One of the more hyped platforms being pushed this year is use of the CBRS spectrum at the 3.5 GHz range for not just more carrier networks, but even for “private” LTE networks, like for venues or campuses.

“It’s an interesting concept because it opens things up to more than just four operators,” Saw said. But he also called out the need for an online database to make sure CBRS spectrum use doesn’t interfere with systems run by the U.S. Navy, and added that without any definitive FCC action yet, the rules for future CBRS use are still unclear.

“There’s quite a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of spectrum there,” said Saw. While claiming that Sprint is “watching CBRS with interest,” he added that with its 2.5 GHz holdings, Sprint most likely won’t be at the front of any CBRS deployments.

“At the end of the day, CBRS is not 5G,” Saw said.

How will a merger with T-Mobile help?

Since our conversation took place just a day after Sprint and T-Mobile announced their renewed plans to merge, Saw didn’t have a lot of details to share, beyond his opinion that the two companies’ different spectrum holdings would build a more powerful competitor when put together.

“When you put our 2.5 (GHz) with their 600 MHz it gives you a much larger footprint with higer capacity,” Saw said. “There’s tremendous synergy. Both [companies] are enthusiastic about this deal.”

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

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.”

Cranes, dust dominate Los Angeles venue sites

Three Los Angeles-areas venues are under construction for soccer, football and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Workers install turf at the Banc of California Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

Between the cranes, earthmovers and swarms of fluorescent vests, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Los Angeles basin for a construction zone. Sporting-wise, there are three construction zones, including a new stadium for a Major League Soccer latest expansion franchise, the venerable Coliseum gets a much needed renovation, and a bling-y NFL stadium starts to emerge from the silt of the Angeles alluvial plain.

Construction or renovation plans for all the venues were underway before the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles last fall; all three venues are expected to host Olympic events in a decade.

Banc of California Stadium opening this April

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of the Vegas Golden Knights’ T-Mobile Arena and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Let’s take them in the order they’re expected to open. In its inaugural season, Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, Los Angeles Football Club, is moving with speed and efficiency to make sure the Banc of California Stadium is ready for LAFC’s first home game April 29.

The 22,000-seat venue features steep stands (35-degree angles), with no seat more than 135 feet from the playing field. IBM was tapped to handle the stadium’s technology requirements in October 2016; Ruckus supplied the access points for the new stadium, according to Christian Lau, LAFC’s VP of information technology. About 500 APs will blanket the stadium with Wi-Fi; Lau told Mobile Sports Report that number could “possibly trend higher.”

Construction at the LA Coliseum

Right next door (literally) is the Los Angeles Coliseum, where demolition began in January after the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams playoff loss to Atlanta. Located on the campus of the University of Southern California, the Coliseum is home field for both the Rams (at least til 2020… more on that in a second), and the USC Trojan football team. The Coliseum has already hosted opening ceremonies for two Olympiads and is poised to do the honors again.

Coliseum upgrade means fewer seats, more Wi-Fi

In the meantime, construction crews are working 16 hours a day, six days a week, according to Derek Thatcher, IT manager at the Coliseum and an employee of USC, which oversees and administers the venue for Los Angeles County. This is the eighth renovation of the 97-year old venue; in addition to making the bowl ADA-compliant, this latest upgrade will add more aisles and larger seats, reducing capacity from 93,607 to 77,500.

New Wi-Fi is also part of the renovation plan; no word yet on which vendor will supply gear, though Mobilitie donated Aruba APs last year for use in the student section and elsewhere in the bowl.

About half the Coliseum’s $270 million renovation will be done during this year’s football offseason; a new field and refurbished seats will be ready for the Rams and Trojans by late summer. Remaining construction and upgrades will be completed in the 2019 offseason, according to Coliseum officials.

Meanwhile, 9 miles southwest of USC in the LA suburb of Inglewood, the arcs of a bowl for the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park
are taking shape. Construction crews broke ground in late 2016 to transform a 300-acre site into a gleaming new sporting destination. The $2.6 billion complex will be shared by the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers starting in 2020; LA Stadium is scheduled host the Super Bowl in February 2022.

With a capacity of 70,000 (expandable to 100,000), the stadium’s indoor/outdoor design and a two-sided, 120-yard oculus video display are already generating buzz. Site managers haven’t mentioned any network technology or which vendors they’re considering for wireless and other IT requirements. LA’s Olympic planning committee also reserved the option to use the stadium and the Coliseum for dual-venue opening and closing ceremonies in 2028. Using the Coliseum satisfies the Olympic purists; mixing in LA Stadium would provide the glitzy spectacle global audiences have come to expect from Olympics hosts.

New Report: Wi-Fi scores at Final Four, Vegas Knights get more Wi-Fi, and more!

A live in-person report of the Wi-Fi network performance at this year’s Final Four is just the beginning of our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Mobile Sports Report traveled this spring to San Antonio, Texas, to get a firsthand look at the new networks installed at the venerable Alamodome, including one new permanent Wi-Fi deployment and another specifically tailored for the temporary courtside seats the NCAA brings in for its crown jewel event of the men’s basketball season.

Download our free report to get the details on how this network was able to deliver a superb wireless experience to the almost 70,000 fans in attendance.

The report from San Antonio, however, is just the beginning of our content-rich Spring 2018 issue, which also contains another in-person review, this one of the updated Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, the home-ice castle for the NHL’s newest sensation, the Vegas Golden Knights. Prompted by the team’s somewhat unexpected on-ice success, the quick network upgrade is a great lesson on how to respond to fan-experience demands. And it’s all explained in the STADIUM TECH REPORT.

More Wi-Fi for Vegas Knights, new construction in LA

There’s also a profile of the new network that was part of the refurbishment of Minneapolis’ Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves, as well as a look at some innovative marketing programs combining digital signage and Wi-Fi for greater fan engagement. Our Terry Sweeney also provides a look at new venue construction and old venue remodels in Los Angeles, and we also have a full recap of the record-breaking Wi-Fi and DAS traffic at this year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — all available for free download from our site!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Cox Business, Boingo, Oberon and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers.

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.