Big DAS news: CommScope buys TE Connectivity’s telecom and wireless business for $3 Billion

It’s a little bit industry insider baseball but in the world of DAS big deals like this don’t come along that often. Yes we’re talking about the deal that went down Wednesday, with communications infrastructure supplier CommScope acquiring the telecom, enterprise and wireless businesses of former rival TE Connectivity for $3 billion.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 7.38.26 PMThere’s more to the businesses of both CommScope and TE Connectivity than DAS, but if you read MSR you know TE and CommScope as major players in the DAS infrastructure and gear business. In fact, for the last two big stories on our pages — the upcoming Super Bowl and the College Football Playoff championship game — TE Connectivity and CommScope were the gear providers behind the scene, with TE gear being used at the University of Phoenix DAS and CommScope at the core of the AT&T Stadium DAS.

We asked Rick Aspan, vice president for corporate communications at CommScope, to provide some quick details on a deal we’re sure to talk more about in the future. For now here’s a quick email Q and A which focuses on the DAS side of the deal:

Mobile Sports Report: What percentage of the deal has to do with DAS? Was DAS a big/small/medium part of the reason?

Rick Aspan: The Wireless business of TE Connectivity, which is almost entirely their DAS business, was $164 million in sales for the year ending September 2014. The other two businesses we’re acquiring were Enterprise ($627 million) and Telecom ($1.1 billion). So the DAS/wireless business is by far the smallest piece. That said, we’re excited about adding all three to our existing business. We feel they all are very complementary and will contribute to our growth and ability to serve customers.

Mobile Sports Report: What specifically was a fit? Talent, technology or customers?

Rick Aspan: All of the above. TE Connectivity has a strong engineering culture and a record of innovation. Post-acquisition, we will add approximately 7,000 patents and patent applications from them, giving us nearly 10,000 overall. And those TE businesses have some great customer relationships with key industry players that will help strengthen CommScope’s position across multiple markets, including DAS.

Mobile Sports Report: How much does CommScope see the overall DAS market growing, and how will this help?

Rick Aspan: DAS remains one of our fastest growing businesses, reflecting the accelerated drive from operators and building owners/managers to add capacity and coverage indoors and within large venues. We can’t provide specifics yet on the TE DAS business and how it will help, but we feel it’s a great complement to our existing market position in DAS.

Super DAS, Part 2: Super Bowl stadium DAS expands to address increased demand for cellular connectivity

Editor’s note: This story is part 2 of a series of profiles of the providers of the extensive Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment for Super Bowl XLIX at and around the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. and other parts of the Phoenix city area as well. Stay tuned all week as we highlight how DAS will keep Super Bowl fans connected, no matter where they roam in and around Phoenix and Glendale this week and weekend.

DAS antenna inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit all photos: TE Connectivity

DAS antenna inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit all photos: TE Connectivity

Two years ago, the University of Phoenix Stadium had a pretty good distributed antenna system (DAS) network to handle cellular communications inside the building. But with Super Bowl XLIX coming to the Glendale, Ariz., facility this year, pretty good wouldn’t be good enough — so the stadium’s network operators expanded the DAS by almost 50 percent in preparation for the game-day network surge expected on Feb. 1.

For fans attending the big game with cellular devices in hand that information may be comforting enough; thanks to a bigger, better DAS that is built to service all the major U.S. wireless carriers, they should have no problem getting a signal. Stadium technology professionals, however, usually want to know more about such expansion plans: What does it really mean to increase DAS capacity? How does that new DAS stack up to others in different stadiums and arenas?

More sectors means more capacity

For the Crown Castle neutral-host DAS at the University of Phoenix Stadium, there is one quick measure of how much the DAS expanded: More sectors. In DAS parlance, a “sector” is an area that has a dedicated amount of base station capacity; for the University of Phoenix Stadium DAS, the number of sectors increased from 33 two years ago to 48 sectors now, according to John Spindler, director for product management at DAS gear maker TE Connectivity. TE’s FlexWave Prism and FlexWave Spectrum DAS gear are part of the infrastructure deployed by neutral host Crown Castle in the UoP network.

John Spindler, TE Connectivity

John Spindler, TE Connectivity

Without getting too deep into telecom physics, more sectors in the same amount of space means more capacity. And when it comes to all the different flavors of phones and carrier spectrum, there’s a lot that goes into a DAS to use up that capacity. With all four major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile) using the DAS, the infrastructure must support a full range of cellular spectrum, from 700 MHz LTE signals to LTE, CDMA, UMTS and EVDO signals in the 800 MHz, 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands. The DAS inside the stadium will use 228 remote antenna units, according to Crown Castle.

“More frequencies, more MIMO [multiple-in, multiple-out antenna-enhancement technology] and heavier sectoring,” is how Spindler described the general needs for most DAS upgrades, and for the UoP DAS, where Spindler foresees another big number for Super Bowl stadium DAS traffic on Feb. 1.

“I would expect to see record [DAS] numbers,” Spindler said.

One DAS to rule them all

DAS active integration panel

DAS active integration panel

Last year, the DAS situation at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey was especially tough to explain, since both AT&T and Verizon built their own separate infrastructures. According to AT&T its DAS customers at Super Bowl XLVIII used 624 gigabytes of traffic, a record then but a figure that has been surpassed many times this past football season at both college and pro football venues (the recent College Football Playoff championship game, for instance, saw 1.4 TB of DAS traffic for AT&T customers at AT&T Stadium). Verizon claimed last year that its customers used 1.9 TB of wireless data during the Super Bowl, but Verizon never provided specifics whether that number represented just DAS traffic, or Verizon customer usage of the MetLife Wi-Fi network as well.

Either way, the guess is that the DAS at the University of Phoenix Stadium will set new Super Bowl traffic records on Feb. 1, and by all accounts the infrastructure seems ready to handle it. Spindler, for one, said the Crown Castle DAS is “definitely well designed.” And Travis Bugh, senior wireless consultant for CDW (which installed the new Wi-Fi system at UoP), said he was also impressed by the performance of the Crown Castle DAS, which he said seems more than ready for the coming Super Bowl crush.

NEXT: What are the carriers doing to supplement the DAS coverage?

Bengals tap Extreme for Wi-Fi, TE Connectivity for DAS at Paul Brown Stadium

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.42.52 AMEven though the NFL season is barely underway, there’s one organization that already has a multi-win streak going: Extreme Networks said it will provide a Wi-Fi deployment for the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, the fifth NFL team deal for Extreme and the third announced this year.

The Wi-Fi network at Paul Brown Stadium is scheduled to go live this Sunday for the Bengals’ home opener against the Atlanta Falcons. According to the team and Extreme, the Bengals will also utilize the Extreme Wi-Fi coaches strategy, where knowledgeable network types roam the stands to help fans connect. Prior to this year, Extreme won Wi-Fi deals for the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field. In addition to Cincinnati, this year Extreme has announced Wi-Fi projects for the Tennessee Titans’ LP Field, and a joint deal with SignalShare to bring Wi-Fi to EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And while we haven’t seen a press release yet we also know that TE Connectivity is in charge of installing a DAS at Paul Brown Stadium, meaning that cellular reception should improve as well.

We haven’t yet spoken to the folks at Paul Brown Stadium, but here are some prepared quotes from the press release to tell you how happy they are to be joining the NFL Wi-Fi fraternity:

“Our fans are of the utmost importance to our organization, and as technology continues to provide new possibilities, it was crucial that we identify a way to provide fans a truly differentiated in-person game day experience,” said Michael Kayes, Bengals director of technology. “The partnership with Extreme Networks provides the foundation to do just that, affording fans the connectivity they’ve grown to expect. We’re also excited to be able to offer our fans the opportunity to get field-level action through NFL RedZone.”

Here’s a Twitter pic of the press conference today:

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi, DAS and live video get good reception at Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Sometimes, the best surprise is no surprise. That’s the case when it comes to technology deployments at the still-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Wi-Fi, DAS and live video on both fixed and mobile platforms are all performing pretty much as expected.

According to Chip Foley, vice president of building technology for Forest City Ratner Companies (the developer of Barclays Center), perhaps the only mild surprise so far at the just-over-a-year-old Barclays is that the biggest Wi-Fi usage came not during a sporting event, but instead at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony this past August.

“We had 7,000 people using the Wi-Fi network at the VMAs, and I was a little surprised at that,” said Foley. At Brooklyn Nets games, Foley said, the average Wi-Fi load in the 17,500-seat arena is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 users per game. In a recent phone interview, Foley recapped the performance of the stadium’s cutting-edge technology, which also includes one of the first deployments of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile, which brings live video feeds to fans using the stadium app. There’s also Cisco-powered digital displays throughout the arena, and a robust DAS deployment to make sure regular cellular connections don’t fail.

HD Wi-Fi attracts 20 percent of attendees

Barclays Center, which opened in September of 2012, had the benefit that few NBA stadiums have in that it was built from the ground up with networking as a key component. If Foley has any regrets about the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi deployment, it’s that it hasn’t really been fully tested yet. Even during the VMAs, Foley said he was using the in-building Wi-Fi to watch 10 different streaming video views on his laptop, from the red carpet cameras to the behind-the-scenes views of stars getting their awards.

Chip Foley

Chip Foley

“Our goal was to build as robust a network as possible, so that we can handle big needs of one-off events [like the VMAs] as well as the 41+ Nets games every season,” Foley said. With two 1-gigabit backbone lines providing Internet access, Foley said the Barclays network is meeting its goal of being “as fast as your fiber connection at home.”

The only drawback so far seems to be getting more fans to try out the network connection when they are at the games or events. According to Foley, despite advertising and promotions, Nets crowds almost always hit a figure of between 20 percent and 25 percent of them being online, a “Groundhog Day” situation that has Foley wondering whether it’s a natural limit.

“That may just be the number of fans who want to use it [the network]” at a game, Foley said.

The Barclays Center DAS, deployed by ExteNet Systems using gear in part from TE Connectivity, is another non-surprise center for Foley.

“The DAS is great, we never get complaints [about cellular connectivity],” Foley said. “You dread hearing that people can’t send texts. That just hasn’t happened.”

Digital displays, both mobile and fixed

One of the more compelling features of the Barclays tech experience is the implementation of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile technology, which brings several live “channels” of video to any fan using the Wi-Fi connection and the stadium app, which was built by WillowTree. With views from the benches, behind the basket and quick replays, Barclays can bring an up-close and personal view to even those far away from the court.

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

“StadiumVision Mobile is great for the upper pavilion seats, you can now get a view from a different perspective, and get replays,” Foley said. According to Foley, Cisco engineers tested the technology’s performance to ensure that it worked at every seat in the house.

Fixed digital displays are also a key technology at Barclays, starting with the unique Oculus display built into the striking exterior of the building, and continuing to the hundreds of digital displays inside. Using the Cisco Stadium Vision digital display technology, Barclays Center is able to change and update information on single screens or on all screens on the fly, allowing for greater flexibility in terms of messaging and information like concession-stand prices. Barclays also uses its displays to show train schedules, giving fans better information to plan their departures from events.

“The Stadium Vision displays have been nothing but great for us — we sold a lot of advertising on them even before launch,” Foley said. “It’s fun for our content group to build out content for the L-boards [displays where an L-shaped advertisement brackets other information on the screen], and keep it changing. Restaurant operators can use an iPad to change prices [on their screens] right before an event. They don’t have to talk to us. Overall, it’s a lot less maintenance than I expected or anticipated.”

If Foley had one chance to do anything over again with displays, it would be to add more of them to the original mix. His lesson to future stadium display builders is: If you’re in doubt, put up more.

“We must have had 30-plus meetings regarding [internal] TV locations, with 3D modeling and fly-throughs,” Foley said. “For the most part, I’m happy. But if I could, I would have more clusters [of screens]. Wherever there is one screen now, I wish I had three. People always look at a cluster.”

Adding new screens after the fact, Foley said, isn’t as simple as going to Best Buy to pick up a discount TV.

“You might be able to buy a TV for a couple hundred bucks on Black Friday, but no one tells you that to put that in a venue, once you get past union costs, connectivity and everything else, it’s about $5,000,” Foley said. “It’s way more money to add them now.”

What’s next: iBeacon, Google Glass and more analytics

What’s in the future for Barclays technology? For starters, Foley will oversee deployment of Wi-Fi services for the outside spaces surrounding the arena.

“It’d be nice to have Wi-Fi for ticket scanning outside the venue,” said Foley. “That’s one of those things that you don’t understand the need for it until you open the stadium and see what happens.”

Barclays is also looking into testing the Apple iBeacon technology, which can send text messages to devices in very close proximity. Technologies like iBeacon and even digital signage must also cross internal administrative hurdles, such as simply training sales forces and alerting advertisers to the opportunities.

“For some of the streams, there’s the question of ‘how do we sell this’ — the team has never done this and sponsors may not be aware,” Foley said. “You also have to figure out things like how many notifications and emails should we send out. You don’t want to send out too many, because that turns people off.”

Foley said the Barclays social media team is also at the start of a process of mining statistics from places like Twitter, Facebook and other social media streams, to get a better handle on what fans are using the technology for and how the experience might be improved. One possible way is through a Google Glass application, something Foley agreed might not be for everyone.

“I’m fascinated by the possibility of something like an XML stats feed [in Google Glass] where you’d still be able to watch the game,” Foley said. “We’re getting closer! It’s not for everybody, but some portion of the population is probably thinking that way.”

TE Connectivity reveals several big-league DAS deals

When it comes to stadium networking deals, there are often a lot of names and companies behind the scenes that don’t get the headlines when services are initially deployed. But now that claiming project wins is seen as an important point of reference for future business, you may start to see more of the type of news releases that crossed our desk today: One from DAS supplier TE Connectivity, naming the company as the DAS provider for four major-league ballparks, including Yankee Stadium, Target Field in Minneapolis, The Ballpark in Arlington, and Citi Field.

Fans going to those stadiums may never know what or who TE Connectivity is, but the people responsible for making cellular networks work better inside arenas know TE Connectivity, a communications infrastructure supplier that did more than $13 billion in sales during 2012. According to its press release TE Connectivity’s DAS gear is inside “more than 50 baseball, football, and soccer stadiums around the world,” so we will probably be hearing more from TE Connectivity as the “inside baseball” of stadium networking space becomes more well-known.

Likewise, TE Connectivity’s third-part neutral host operator partner in Minneapolis, InSite Wireless Group, will probably start talking more soon about its third-party DAS hosting skills, which include not just stadiums but “convention centers, hotels and casinos, airports, and transit systems like the MBTA Boston subway system,” according to the company. We have calls scheduled with both companies this week, so look for more details here soon.