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.

Wrigley Field gets new DAS in time for Cubs’ home opener

The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field will have a new DAS working for opening day. Credit for these 2017 season pictures: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After some construction delays that no Chicago Cubs fans minded, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field will have a new high-performance distributed antenna system (DAS) operational for Monday’s scheduled Cubs home opener for the 2018 season.

Designed and deployed by DAS Group Professionals, the new in-stadium cellular network was originally scheduled to be ready by last year; but when the Cubs took their historic march to the World Series title in 2016, many of the in-progress construction plans for Wrigley Field got delayed or rearranged, to the objection of nobody at all who cheers for the north siders.

And even though some of the most ambitious parts of the Wrigley renovation took place this winter — including removing most of the seats and concrete in the lower seating bowl to clear the way for some lower-level club spaces — the DGP crew along with the Cubs’ IT organization delivered the new cell network in time for the first pitches scheduled Monday afternoon.

Wi-Fi coming in as season goes on

“We definitely put scheduling and timing to the test, but we got it done,” said Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, in a phone interview. First announced back in 2015, the networking plan for the Wrigley renovations — which includes coverage for the plaza outside the stadium, the new team office building as well as the across-the-street Hotel Zachary that also just opened for business — also includes a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Extreme Networks. Since the Wi-Fi network is more construction-conflicted than the DAS deployment, it will be introduced gradually over the next few months, McIntyre said.

“By the All-Star break, we should have both systems online,” McIntyre said.

The DAS system deployed by DGP uses JMA equipment, just like DGP’s other big-stadium DAS deployments at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Steve Dutto, president of DGP, acknowledged the challenge of the Wrigley buildout, including one instance where DGP technicians needed to set up scaffolding to mount antennas but couldn’t because instead of a concrete floor there was a 60-foot hole in the ground.

Hey hey!

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto. According to Dutto DGP has signed up all four major U.S. wireless carriers for the DAS, with all except Sprint operational for opening day. The head-end building for the DAS, he said, is located in what he thinks is a former hot-dog stand a half a block from the park. (If you’re looking for a snack in the head end room, just remember, in Chicago there’s no ketchup on hot dogs.)

Dutto said the DAS antennas are all overhead mounts, not a problem in Wrigley since the overhangs offer plenty of mounting spaces. However, given the historic look and feel of the park, Dutto did say that “we definitely had to tuck things away better and make sure we had good paint matches.” Not a Chicago native, Dutto said that the charm of the stadium hit him on first view.

“When we pulled up for the first time,” he said, “it was… wow. There’s nothing like it.”

Under seat for Wi-Fi will take time to deploy

The Cubs’ McIntyre, who admits to guzzling coffee by the quart these days, said the field-level renovations — which included removing all lower seats and the foundational concrete to clear out room for field-level club spaces — made finishing the Wi-Fi deployment something that couldn’t be pushed. With no overhangs covering the premium box seat areas, Wi-Fi APs there will need to be mounted under seats, something that just couldn’t get finished by Monday.

“It’s less of a technical challenge and more of a structural engineering challenge,” said McIntyre of the under-seat deployment method, which usually involves a lot of work with drilling through concrete and mounting APs in weather-sealed enclosures. McIntyre said the Cubs and Extreme also plan to use under-seat deployments in Wrigley’s famous outfield bleachers, which also lack any overhead infrastructure. In what he termed a “slow roll,” McIntyre said parts of the Wi-Fi network will come online gradually as the season progresses, starting first with the spaces outside the stadium.

Bringing backbone power to the new network is partner Comcast Business, which just announced a sponsorship deal with the Cubs that will see a “XfinityWiFi@Wrigley” label on the Wrigley Wi-Fi SSID. According to McIntyre Comcast will bring in twin 10-Gbps pipes to power the Wrigley Wi-Fi network.

This panoramic view shows why the lower level seats will need under-seat APs for Wi-fi

Minneapolis airport sees 6 TB of Wi-Fi traffic day after Super Bowl

Super Bowl signs hang in the concourse at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Credit: MAC (click on any photo for a larger image)

A day after Super Bowl 52 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis set new records for wireless data consumption, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport had a big wireless day of its own, with 6 terabytes of traffic used on the airport’s Wi-Fi network and another 6.5 TB on the Verizon cellular network.

Eduardo Valencia, vice president and chief information officer for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the Wi-Fi data used on Feb. 5 was “close to double typical data consumption” on the free-access network provided by Boingo Wireless, even though the airport saw a fairly normal range of users connecting.

“There was no spike in [the number] of users, but the users who did connect consumed twice as much data, with downloads about 3 times normal,” Valencia said. The Monday-departure crowd, he said, saw about 31,000 unique users connect to the Wi-Fi network, which Valencia said “is at the top of the normal user range” the airport network usually sees. Valencia said that during the week leading up to the big game on Feb. 4, the airport Wi-Fi saw between 23,000 and 31,000 daily connections.

Boingo, which has been powering the Wi-Fi at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (aka MSP) since 2012, updated and expanded coverage a year ago, according to Valencia. Though Boingo would not provide details on how many new APs were added or how many the network has now, Valencia said coverage was increased in many areas, like the tunnels between terminals, to make sure visitors didn’t lose connectivity.

New neutral host DAS from Verizon

Super Bowl LII signage along a moving walkway at MSP. Credit: MAC

The cellular infrastructure at the airport also got an upgrade before the Super Bowl, with a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed by Verizon Wireless. The DAS, which uses Corning ONE fiber equipment on the back end, provided coverage for all the top wireless carriers, Valencia said. Though it was cut close — the final pieces went live on Jan. 19, according to Valencia — the expanded DAS, which added antennas all over the terminals as well as outside covering runways, also performed well, according to Valencia.

Though only Verizon stats were available, Valencia said Verizon saw an average of 2.8 TB of data per day in an 11-day span around the Super Bowl, with 6.5 TB of traffic seen on Monday, Feb. 5. Like the Wi-Fi traffic, Valencia said Verizon’s day-after total was about double the average daily consumption.

While there is extra pressure to perform ahead of the NFL’s big game — “The NFL told us the Super Bowl experience begins and ends at the airport,” Valencia said — the payoff will stay for years, as all the new network gear added in advance is permanent.

“We swallowed hard for 9 days, but the success was the culmination of a lot of planning,” Valencia said. “Now the good thing is, everything [in the network] is here to stay.”

NFL, Verizon announce new deal to bring live games to all mobile customers via Yahoo

The NFL and Verizon announced a deal Monday that will provide live streaming of in-market and national NFL games to any mobile device regardless of carrier, mainly via Verizon’s Yahoo and Yahoo Sports platforms. The service is set to be available in January, for streaming of this year’s NFL playoffs.

According to the Wall Street Journal the deal is $2 billion for 5 years. Under the new plan Verizon has lost its former exclusive deal for mobile devices — a 4-year, $1 billion deal that was up after this season — for the ability to show more NFL games to a potentially much larger audience via Yahoo. Verizon said it will also make the games available via its g090 platform, as well as the NFL Mobile app. [Our friend Todd Spangler over at Variety has a good recap of the deal with more programming details.]

The games available look to be the same ones Verizon had via the NFL Mobile app — mainly any “national” games (including Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night games) as well as local-market games. The plan will also include playoff games and the Super Bowl.

Also not yet known is whether or not Verizon will continue to make live NFL action free of data charges to its customers. For the past two seasons Verizon has promoted the no-data-charges option but has also run into many issues with the implementation, with many fans reporting inconsistent experiences around whether or not their accounts were charged data when they shouldn’t have been. When asked if the data-free plan would continue under the new deal, a Verizon spokesperson said Monday “we have not disclosed that information yet.”

According to the NFL the new deal does NOT include streaming of the NFL Network’s popular RedZone channel, which shows an unending stream of commercial-free live look-ins at all NFL games. For the past two seasons, RedZone access has been available to Verizon customers via the NFL Mobile app for an extra $1.99 per month charge. According to the NFL the RedZone mobile access plan for next season has yet to be determined.

Denver Broncos, Verizon bring Wi-Fi blitz to Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Railing-mounted Wi-Fi enclosures in the lower seating bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as the team on the field seeks to regain its recent Super Bowl champion status, Denver Broncos fans will have something they can all cheer this season — vastly improved Wi-Fi networking service, which is now available to all fans and not just Verizon Wireless customers.

Even though we found good connectivity on our last visit to Sports Authority Field at Mile High two seasons ago, the caveat was that Wi-Fi was only available to Verizon customers, since the carrier couldn’t find another wireless provider who would chip in to fund the system. Fast-forward to later in 2016, when Verizon and the Broncos sought to upgrade the entire system and ended up picking a $6 million bid from Cisco to install a total of 1,470 new Wi-Fi APs, replacing the 640 APs in the old system, which started out with 500 Cisco APs in 2011 and added some more over the years.

The new network, which is scheduled to be fully completed by late October or early November this year, is already live in parts of the lower bowl at Mile High as well as in many concourse, suite and back-of-house locations. The big difference inside the hardware is the Broncos’ and Verizon’s choice of using the new Cisco 3800 APs, which can have two separate antennas in each device, basically doubling the amount of connectivity per unit. The new network will be powered by a new 10-gig backbone pipe provided by CenturyLink, replacing the 1-Gbps pipe that was previously used.

Close-up of a lower-bowl railing AP mount.

Cisco 3800s are proving to be a popular choice in venues lately, being picked for recent deployments at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center and at Notre Dame Stadium.

“The 3800 is a game-changer,” said Russ Trainor, the Broncos’ vice president of information technology, during a stadium tour Tuesday, citing its ability to connect more fans per device. Perhaps the most visually striking note of the upgrade is the huge amount of new railing-mounted APs in the building, with several per row not an uncommon sight in the lower bowl. Jason Moore, a senior IT engineer with the Broncos (and as Trainor calls him, a “Wi-Fi wizard”) said the enclosures are all custom designs from a local provider, with some of the fiberglass structures housing not just Wi-Fi but Verizon DAS antennas as well.

(Right now, the DAS situation at Mile High remains unchanged from our last visit, with all cellular carriers basically running their own operations.)

Going under-seat in bright orange fashion

The other new deployment method being used by the Broncos is under-seat placement, a tactic used for about 90 APs so far, half of those in the South end zone seats, where there are no overhead structures at all. Overhead AP placements are also being used in the main seating bowl, mainly to serve rows at the tops of sections.

No mistaking where the under-seat APs are at Broncos games.

Unlike other stadiums, who try to hide the under-seat APs as best they can, the Broncos have gone the opposite direction, painting many a bright Broncos orange to show up under the Broncos blue seats. “The mounting options are just about getting the APs as close to fans as we can,” Moore said. “Railing [mounts] work great. Under seat is new to us, and we’re excited to see how they work.”

In a quick empty-stadium test, MSR found Wi-Fi speeds in the south stands of 46 Mbps download and 47 Mbps up, on both the all-access and Verizon-customer SSIDs. In section 309, right at the 50-yard line, we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 69 Mbps down, 75 Mbps up. Verizon execs at the tour said that like at other NFL stadiums where Verizon helps provide the Wi-Fi, Verizon customers will have reserved bandwidth and an autoconnect feature that links them to Wi-Fi without any sign-in needed. Trainor said the Broncos are still undecided how to approach the all-access Wi-Fi onboarding, though the team is leaning in the favor of having some kind of portal approach to gather information from fans using the service.

Of the 1,470 planned new APs (that count may change as final tuning is made, Moore said), the Broncos plan to deploy 920 of those in the seating bowl. With many of those devices having two 5 GHz antennas for each AP, the Sports Authority Field at Mile High crowds should enjoy one of the league’s top network experiences when all the work is completed.

Both railing and under-seat deployments are used to bring Wi-Fi to the south stands.

Those readers who closely track MSR stories for such stats should know that we are now working on a new chart to show not just the top numbers of APs in stadiums, but actual radios and antennas thanks to devices like the Cisco 3800 that have more than one per unit. (Any and all help with such counts is appreciated, you know where to find us!)

Like other stadiums, the network in the bowl at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will switch to only 5 GHz connections when complete. Even a few years ago, stadiums needed to still support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connections for fans, but the quick shift in consumer devices has shown that almost all mobile devices used these days have a 5 GHz radio.

A string of summer concerts at the stadium (which still bears the name of the now-bankupt and closed sporting-goods business as the Broncos search for a new title sponsor) kept the network deployment from being completed sooner, but Trainor and Moore said the incremental improvements are already being noticed. With both the old system and new system working simultaneously, Moore said that at last week’s college game between the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, the network saw approximately 35,000 unique users — more than the typical 25,000 unique connections during a Broncos game when only Verizon customers could use the network.

“Our goal and challenge is to connect as many fans as possible,” Moore said.

A smaller railing mount seen in the upper deck (300 level) seating section

Wi-Fi antenna mounts in the ceiling of the United Club

Wi-Fi coverage also exists for the fan-gathering area outside the stadium to the south

No Wi-Fi here, just white horses

Strong showing for Wi-Fi network at SunTrust Park

The Atlanta Braves’ new home, SunTrust Park. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After speaking with the Atlanta Braves via phone about their new home, SunTrust Park, we couldn’t wait for our recent visit to Atlanta for the SEAT 2017 Conference. Thanks to a personal tour hosted by Greg Gatti, senior director of information technology for the Braves, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at not just the new park’s excellent wireless networks but also its impressive innovations in seating spaces and other amenities that should keep Braves fans and visitors (like the numerous Cubs fans in attendance this week) happy for the foreseeable future.

Any doubts about whether the network reports were too optimistic were quickly laid to rest the first moment we took a Wi-Fi speedtest. While waiting outside the main right-field gate of SunTrust we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 96 Mbps on the download and 136 Mbps for the upload, a level of connectivity we would see often during our visit. In addition to the ballpark the Braves also built the surrounding mixed-use neighborhood, called The Battery Atlanta, a mix of office space, mall-like retail and residences, a sort of instant neighborhood with superb connectivity at its core.

Both before and after our stadium tour MSR walked around the Battery, getting speed tests anywhere between 40 Mbps and 140 Mbps, depending usually how close you were to any of the numerous Wi-Fi APs mounted on buildings along the streets, walkways and public areas like the Braves fountain or on balconies of the close-by sports bars.

Yes it is, in great force

Having such good connectivity made tasks like getting an Uber ride a snap, since the Wi-Fi coverage extended out from the ballpark exits through the Battery streets to the designated Uber pickup zone.

Inside the park, Gatti first showed us (through a glass door) the Braves’ new data center room, which reminded us of the similar facility at the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. If there’s any commonality for new stadium builds, it’s that the geeks usually get a nice, clean, efficient looking room for their gear instead of some dusty concrete dungeon in the venue basement. And though we’re not network engineers here at MSR on our walk around the visible AP mounts and other equipment installs looked sharp, well constructed and smartly hidden, placed when possible out of the normal fan’s line of sight.

Instead of listing all the speed tests we took I will simply say that in almost all places the speeds we saw were between a low of 62.29 Mbps / 65.84 Mbps (taken in the Home Depot balcony club area above the left-field bleachers) and a high of 88.17 / 101.54, in the upper deck seats along the right field line. A quick test of the Verizon Wireless DAS saw a reading of 106.36 / 25.18 in the upper deck concourse behind home plate; we didn’t have an AT&T phone with us so more thorough DAS testing will have to wait for another day.

A good look through the glass doors of the data center

Beer coolers a ‘cool’ idea

On beyond connectivity, the Braves clearly kept technology in the forefront when they made other innovations throughout the park. One that resonated with us were the electronic beer coolers we saw in several premium seating areas. Basically, these are cup-holder holes cut into a countertop with coolers inside, which keep your beer ice-cold when you’re not holding the cup.

The IPTV operations at the park were also impressive, from the tablet-based TV controls in suites (software provided by YinzCam) to the touchscreen directory kiosks in The Battery. For some of the premium seats right behind home plate, there are interactive televisions mounted between seats; another new premium area just above the first bowl of seats behind home plate has tables with four high-top chairs, which are sold as sort of very-small suites. The tables have a small TV in the middle which can be used to watch programming as well as to order food and drink to be delivered in club-seating fashion.

Several other club-type areas like the Home Depot suite, a Comcast-sponsored bar area in the upper deck near the right field foul pole and a club at field level in right field with a chain-link fence cutout view of the field give the Braves multiple options to give premium seating to groups of many sizes, along with the traditional suite areas.

An AmpThink-designed enclosure for railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs

In many of the premium seating areas the Braves have also installed USB charging ports, another nod to the ubiquity of mobile devices being brought to games. There are also numerous Big Ass Fans installed on concourse walkways, a nice amenity that takes into account the sometimes stifling humid heat in Atlanta.

If there was one snag to the game-day experience at SunTrust Park we’d say that the traffic situation of getting to and from the venue needs some more thought. Even though the park sits right by a major freeway, the exits and entrances don’t seem to offer a quick flow in our out for anyone who is arriving from, say, downtown Atlanta, which is about 10 miles away. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s good MARTA subway service doesn’t go anywhere near the park, making all transportation a wheels-based necessity.

The designated Uber dropoff area is a good example of an idea that needs some experience-based tweaking, with pickup and dropoff zones on the opposite side of a street that seemed congested from well before the game to afterward. While having a clearly signed place for ride-share activity is smart, the attempt to do dropoffs on one side and pickups on another led to several confusing U-turn attempts even in our small number of interactions. There’s also no oversight or on-site assistance or staffers to help either customers or drivers, which for a first-time venue seems an error in judgement.

But overall, SunTrust Park seems like a huge success that will only get better over time — according to Braves president of development Mike Plant, only about 30 percent of the space in the Battery is currently open, meaning there will be more businesses and residents surrounding the park in the near future. Already it’s clear that fans have found the space an agreeable one to hang out before games — while speaking at the SEAT Conference Plant said that most of the bars and restaurants are full well before game times, so he warned SEAT visitors to get there early if they wanted to grab a bite to eat or a drink before a ballgame.

More pictures from our visit below. Thanks to the Braves for our tour and to MLB for media access during our stay.

Panoramic view of SunTrust Park

A club space with a view out the right field wall

Wi-Fi AP mounted on outfield concourse

A look at railing AP mounts in the outfield bleacher seating

The IPTV control screen for suites

IPTVs located between premium seats right behind home plate

Tabletop seating with TV just above home plate

The big ball with its 360-degree LED screen

Fans walking through The Battery on their way to the game

Another Battery view with the Comcast office building behind right field visible

Main scoreboard promoting the MLB app

Sightlines and decks at SunTrust seem built for selfies

Nice view from the upper deck

Closeup of a Wi-Fi AP install

Above fans’ eyes is a DAS gear placement (and a Big Ass fan)

DAS gear mounted on the roof of the centerfield concourse wall

Thunderstorms, the beautiful but unwelcome visitors