Smart stadium renovations bring wireless to the forefront

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz

By Doug Lodder, Boingo Wireless

Over the last few years, the sports industry has marveled at the unveilings of new smart stadiums that enhance the fan experience and increase profitability through innovative technologies. In 2014, Levi’s Stadium was launched in the heart of Silicon Valley with endless tech features; in 2016, Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center opened its doors as an entirely solar-powered facility; and most recently, Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium debuted the world’s largest video board, providing 63,000 square feet of screen in a continuous, roof-mounted oval which, when stretched out, is longer than the Eiffel Tower.

Technology has exerted massive influence on today’s sports venues, but the impact goes far beyond new stadiums. Outpacing new construction buildouts are stadium renovations that have a concentrated focus on more bite- sized refurbishments, such as upgrading technology features, revamping hospitality and entertainment offerings, and adding more expansive seating and exclusive suites.

Bank of America Stadium, Ford Field, Hard Rock Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, Philips Arena, Raymond James Stadium, Vivint Smart Home Arena and Everbank Field are all among the major league sports facilities that have recently finished or kicked off renovation projects. The list continues if you add college to the mix, where Sun Devil Stadium, Neyland Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium and Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium are only a few examples of NCAA venues looking at or having undergone a facelift.

Mobile technology is the gold standard feature at stadiums and aging complexes are turning to high-tech renovations to stay relevant and attractive – all while fighting off a key competitor, the couch. At the heart of smart stadium upgrades are new wireless networks that can power the connected fan experience of the future, where new innovations like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will open a vast world of possibilities. This is where the triple threat – DAS, small cells and Wi-Fi – take center stage; and where network features like density, speed and coverage become paramount. Knowing which of these wireless technologies to adopt and how to integrate them within a stadium remodel is no easy task, but here’s a few pointers venue executives should follow to unlock their potential.

Align Network Needs with Smart Stadium Strategy

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.

Nearly every aspect of a stadium renovation is designed with technology in mind, which means the demands on your wireless network will skyrocket. Map out a converged network blueprint that leverages both cellular and Wi-Fi to align with all corners of a remodel. The design should account for new tech rollouts, which may include everything from wayfinding and digital ticketing to line queuing, mobile concessions, cashless payment and new innovations powered via Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

On the cellular side, opt for a DAS or small cell network for high capacity and widespread mobile coverage. Bringing strong cell signals closer to the fan via these networks is critical for combating the growing data surge at large venues and readying a stadium for 5G and IoT. Be sure to focus on the design of the cellular network during the planning phase to ensure antennas and other gear do not interfere with a remodel’s structural obstacles – for example, cement columns – and can transport mobile signals at full strength. It’s also critical that participation is brought in from all four Tier One carriers so fans have full bar coverage, regardless of their mobile service provider.

Remodels present the opportune time to adopt a public safety DAS, which transmit robust communication among first responders. Wireless solutions built for emergency preparedness have become a priority because many stadiums were built with older generation infrastructures, such as concrete walls, load-bearing columns and elevator shafts, which create “dead zones” that do not properly support cellular signals. This in turn makes it extremely difficult for first responders to communicate with each other, potentially delaying the course of action that is taken to handle an urgent situation. For first responders, a dropped signal has a profound impact on how they do their job – and if it can be done at all – underscoring the need for resilient public safety communications infrastructure. When looking at public safety DAS, ensure it supports 700 MHz and 800 MHz public safety services.

Advanced Wi-Fi networks must also be accounted for, with upgrades that supply more bandwidth and faster speeds. Smart venues should adopt premium Wi-Fi networks that increase the number of Access Points (APs) and support a combination of speed, density, security encryption and device flexibility.

To create a truly ubiquitous Wi-Fi experience – one that removes the headaches of log-ins, passwords, ads and other frustrations – smart stadiums can turn to Passpoint. Fans with a Passpoint profile installed on their device can enjoy a seamless and automatic Wi-Fi connection from the moment they enter the stadium or parking lot.

Passpoint networks provide a WPA2 encrypted connection automatically, ensuring enterprise-level security. With several IEEE 802.11 security features, Passpoint transforms the security position of devices connected to hotspots with guaranteed mutual authentication and over-the-air encryption, as well as restricted peer-to-peer traffic, helping to protect sensitive information. In short, fans get connected faster to a safer network, while alleviating concerns with cellular data plan overages – a game changer for today’s connectivity experience.

Adopt the Right Network Features

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) will soon find a home at stadiums. NFV is receiving heightened attention for its ability to eliminate the need for expensive hardware and physical infrastructure, while reducing capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx). Using cloud-based technology, NFV can upgrade a stadium’s network equipment – servers, switches and routers – to handle new standards like 5G, all while eliminating complete system overhauls. NFV improves scalability, increases data visibility, distributes data centers and keeps information integrity.

Complementary to NFV, SDN separates the network control logic from network equipment to make the network programmable; essentially, it centralizes command and control of the network without having to physically reconfigure or program individual devices. SDN can be used without NFV, and vice versa; however, when used together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Leave it to the Experts

Increasingly, in-house IT staff are opting for managed service providers to design and deploy wireless connectivity that is flexible and scalable – all within a tight remodel timeframe. By outsourcing to experts, the daunting task of building and launching the right architecture is removed, allowing IT to focus on other business matters tied to the remodel and day-to-day operations. The key is to pick a partner who has a proven track record designing, building and operating wireless networks in high-traffic venues. Relationships with all Tier One carriers are also essential; and be sure the partner can monitor the network 365/24/7.

It’s a Wireless World

Stadium renovations will remain a hot market for years to come. From consumers demanding a higher quality and more authentic experience, to the desire for sports venues to be more multipurpose, renovations have emerged as a major storyline. Add to this record crowds that continue to climb – all who want a high-tech experience. Over one million spectators packed the city of Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl alone.

To keep pace, both new stadiums and older existing arenas need to make sure they have both the best networks for now and the ability to scale for the future. No two renovations are alike, but wireless will have a huge influence across the board.

Doug Lodder is senior vice president of business development for Boingo’s DAS, small cell, offload and wholesale businesses, where he oversees the strategy and development of wireless networks for new and existing venue partnerships, as well as the monetization of those networks. He has nearly a decade of experience in managing telecommunications infrastructure in large-scale, high growth environments.

Utah Jazz pick VenueNext for new stadium app

There’s no official announcement yet but the Utah Jazz today confirmed the scoop that was announced by CIO BJ Vander Linden last week at the Mobile World Congress Americas show, that the Jazz will use VenueNext for a new stadium app for the upcoming season.

More details will likely become available as we get closer to the tipoff of the 2017-18 NBA season, but in the meantime it’s interesting to ponder what has become of the equity deal struck between app provider YinzCam and the NBA 2 years ago.

Under the terms of that deal, YinzCam was supposed to “re-do” the stadium apps for 22 of the NBA’s teams, with things like food delivery and ticket services included. With two of those teams (the other is the Minnesota Timberwolves) now having announced plans to use VenueNext, there is a valid question about what is happening with YinzCam and some of its former clients.

Mobile Sports Report has reached out repeatedly to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan over the past couple months, but we have not yet received a reply.

Listen at your leisure: Live interview webinar with Vivint Smart Home Arena, Boingo and Solid, April 11

If you missed Tuesday’s event, you can still hear from the experts to learn how to deliver a seamless connectivity experience for the thousands of people coming through your venue. Listen to the replay of this Mobile Sports Report “Live Interview” webinar for exclusive access to insights from March Madness host Vivint Smart Home Arena and connectivity partners Boingo and SOLiD.

(Editor’s note: The recording starts a few minutes into the event, after your host remembered to push the “record meeting” button.)

Participants:
Vivint Smart Home Arena: Frank Zang, SVP Communications
SOLiD: Shane Hague, Director Business Development
Boingo: Doug Lodder, SVP Business Development
Mobile Sports Report: Paul Kapustka, Editor in Chief

If you have any questions please contact Paul at kaps@mobilesportsreport.com. Come hear what was an interesting discussion!


Vivint Smart Home Arena. Credit: Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz overhaul DAS, Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz / Boingo. Credit all photos: Utah Jazz (click on any photo for a larger image)

A $130 million overhaul of Vivint Smart Home Arena provided the perfect opening to refresh its wireless infrastructure as well — so the venue installed new DAS and Wi-Fi to improve the game experience for fans of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

“When we understood we’d be undertaking both a renovation and improving guest experience, we realized a severe lack in the Vivint bowl for guest wireless,” said BJ Vander Linden, CIO for Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, which owns the downtown Salt Lake City venue as well the Jazz franchise. Wireless was an afterthought, if it was thought of at all, when Vivint was first built in 1991. “We knew we needed something more interactive for guests to watch, share and talk about the game and give them more opportunities to be involved,” Vander Linden told Mobile Sports Report.

Editor’s note: Come hear the Utah Jazz, Boingo and SOLiD talk about the new network inside Vivint Smart Home Arena during MSR’s first LIVE INTERVIEW WEBINAR on Tuesday, April 11! Register now for this event!

This wasn’t the first time that Miller Sports and the Jazz had considered Wi-Fi upgrades for Vivint, which had been using a lightweight Cisco switch and about 20 APs. “A few years ago, we looked at Extricom, Xirrus and Ruckus, but we weren’t willing to fund the project at the price points offered then,” said Aaron Cook, vice president of information technology for the Jazz.

Since then, Jazz officials talked with other NBA teams about their Wi-Fi experiences, which is when Cisco and Aruba (now part of HP Enterprise) emerged as frontrunners for Vivint’s upgrade. “We went up and looked at the Portland Trailblazers’ infrastructure and had both vendors talk about pricing and engineering designs,” Cook said. Aruba-HPE emerged as the winning supplier for Wi-Fi access points; Aruba’s engineering partner, M S Benbow & Associates, also helped tip the scales in Aruba’s favor, with Benbow’s particular expertise in sporting venues.

A DAS antenna in the arena’s ‘halo’

Surveying for wireless in the Vivint arena began in summer 2016, and installation began in November, owing to the demands on the arena’s schedule and non-Jazz bookings. The biggest engineering challenge was the halo ring for the arena’s center scoreboard, where the Jazz installed several APs. “We needed to get [the halo’s] wiring completed first and had some events that limited when it could be lowered,” Vander Linden said, since the arena needs to be empty to lower the halo. “We needed a few days or a week to leave it down so that Benbow and our local electricians could put things in place,” he added.

In addition, Vivint’s lines of sight meant the Jazz only needed overhead APs inside the arena’s bowl, avoiding the expense and additional engineering required with under-seat APs.

Most of the engineering was otherwise pretty straightforward, according to Josh Barney, director of technology and innovation for the Jazz. “We had to revisit our Level 6 plan, which is the top concourse with suites. There are corner boards and LED boards, so we had to revisit how we’d mount antennas,” he added. Benbow re-engineered the antennas so that they were inside the boards and then aimed back down toward the seats.

As of this writing, there are 108 active APs in the Vivint bowl; 32 of those hang from center halo. Ongoing demolition and construction in the concourses render those areas inaccessible til July when they’ll also be outfitted with Wi-Fi, Vander Linden said. That will give the Jazz a grand total of around 250 APs when the NBA season ramps up again in October. “We have a friends-and-family ‘beta test’ going on right now,” he noted, with an invitation to Jazz season ticket holders to test the new Wi-Fi and submit feedback.

New Cisco switches and an upgrade to Cat 6a cabling brought the Wi-Fi budget to about $1.2 million, Vander Linen confirmed.

DAS Infrastructure Gets a Boost

The Vivint renovation also allowed the Jazz organization to rework a DAS system installed in 2002. Working with Boingo and DAS gear provider Solid Inc., Boingo built two DAS networks, one for fans’ use, as well as a commercial public-safety DAS that’s part of the arena’s emergency preparedness strategy.

Solid gear in the data center racks

All four major cellular carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless) have capacity on the new 10-zone DAS system; 105 DAS antennas blanket the Vivint arena, according to Boingo, which is also managing the Jazz’s DAS infrastructure.

Vivint’s new scoreboard had a lot of “unfriendly RF characteristics,” according Doug Lodder, senior vice president for business development at Boingo. “As we were designing and installing the DAS, we had to be cautious and ensure our antenna setup and network would not be impacted by the scoreboard,” Lodder said. And bowl-based DAS often means there are fewer ideal areas to install the necessary wiring. To reduce the length of coax runs to the antennas, Boingo installed Solid’s new 2-watt remotes directly on the catwalks.

App Upgrade in the Wings

Vander Linden is also preparing to re-launch the venue’s mobile app. And given that the Jazz is the arena’s top tenant in the building, he said they’ll do one of two things: It will either be handled as a single app for just the Jazz, or it will be like the Sacramento Kings’ app that embraces both the arena and the team.

“The intent with the new app is to handle ticketing, food and beverage, merchandise, parking, and way-finding, along with in-game specific content,” Vander Linden explained. “We’ve spent time with other teams to see what’s been successful in the app world. We like a lot of what Orlando is doing.”

Yinzcam developed the Jazz’s existing app; it’s unclear if they’ll handle the upgrade, according to Vander Linden. (Orlando’s app, for instance, is developed by VenueNext.) Vander Linden wants to have the new app in place and ready to go by mid-September.

Vivint also has Bluetooth low-energy beaconing built into its wireless upgrade plan as well. “We’ll be putting up beacons over time as we can and testing and determining the right way to go,” Vander Linden said. He thinks wayfinding would be valuable for letting people know where things are around the arena, but he’s also appropriately circumspect with the fledgling technology. “We’re aware from talking to other arenas and providers that it’s a learning experience,” he laughed.

New Report: New Wi-Fi, app and digital displays for San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our profiles for this issue include a first-look visit to the San Jose Sharks’ newly wired SAP Center, where a Cisco Wi-Fi and StadiumVision network (deployed by AmpThink) has brought high-definition connectivity to the old familiar “Shark Tank.” We also have a profile of new DAS and Wi-Fi deployments at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, as well as a recap of the wireless record-setting day at Super Bowl LI at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Plus, our first “Industry Voices” contribution, a great look at the history and progression of Wi-Fi stadium networks from AmpThink’s Bill Anderson. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY today!

We’d also like to invite you to join in our first-ever “live interview” webinar, which will take place next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, 2 p.m. Eastern time. All the details are here, so register now and listen in next week for more in-depth views from Vivint Smart Home Arena, and their technology partners, Boingo and SOLiD.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this Stadium Tech Report issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, 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. We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank our growing list of repeat readers for your continued interest and support.