New report: Coors Field gets Wi-Fi 6 upgrade ahead of All-Star Game

Stadium Tech Report is pleased to announce our Summer 2021 issue, which includes an in-depth profile of the new Wi-Fi 6 network upgrade at the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, which will host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game this July. Planned ahead of the pandemic, the Coors Field network upgrade includes new equipment from Cisco and some innovative design and deployment tactics from integrator AmpThink, the Colorado Rockies and MLB. With a full house expected for the July 12-13 events, Coors Field is ready to go from a Wi-Fi connectivity standpoint, including coverage at the new McGregor Square area adjacent to the ballpark.

We also have a profile of a new esports facility deployment at the University of Arizona, done by a new firm called 1337 Facilities, which is led by stadium technology veteran Bob Jordan. One more story looks into the possibilities presented by smart poles, which can bring connectivity and other technology features to parking lots. Take a read and tell us what you think!

If you are reading on a desktop or tablet, you can view all the stories in our web magazine format.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, American Tower, CommScope, AmpThink and Belden. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers.

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 12 of the 30 venues use Extreme gear exclusively for Wi-Fi. 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)

Boingo to bring Wi-Fi 6, DAS to Austin FC’s new stadium

Artist rendering of the under-construction stadium for Austin FC, which begins MLS play next season. Credit all photos: Austin FC

Austin FC has selected Boingo to deliver a neutral-host distributed antenna system and a Wi-Fi 6 network for the club’s new stadium, which is slated to open next year during Austin FC’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer.

While all scheduled things for sports and stadiums are currently “pending” due to the coronavirus pandemic, for right now the new venue located in the north-central part of the booming west Texas metropolis is still slated to open next year, according to Andy Loughnane, Austin FC President. And in a phone interview this week Loughnane said that when the stadium does open up, it should have the kind of connectivity that Austin’s tech-savvy populace will expect — namely, strong Wi-Fi and cellular.

According to Loughnane, Boingo emerged as the winner of a “competitive process” to choose the technology supplier for the venue. While some of the details of the networks have not yet been announced — including hardware vendors for both the DAS and the Wi-Fi networks — Loughnane and Boingo are confident that the stadium will have more than enough bandwidth to keep a full house of 20,500 soccer fans (or 22,000 concertgoers) well connected no matter where they are.

No matter which Wi-Fi vendor is selected, Loughnane said that using Wi-Fi 6 APs will be a performance key for what he hopes will be fully packed stands (if and when fans are allowed to attend large events again). Boingo senior vice president and general manager Doug Lodder said that the Wi-Fi network will use a combination of under-seat and overhead AP deployment, with “hundreds” of APs throughout the venue.


A construction cam shot shows the current state of the Austin FC stadium.

Dodgers up the ante with new Wi-Fi 6 network

Dodger Stadium upgraded its wireless with a new Wi-Fi 6 network installed this past offseason. Credit all photos: Los Angeles Dodgers (click on any picture for a larger image)

Professional sports may have put games and exhibitions on hold, but a handful of IT executives from Major League Baseball teams have been using pandemic downtime to upgrade Wi-Fi and DAS systems in their stadiums.

Case in point: The Los Angeles Dodgers just completed the league’s first Wi-Fi 6 overhaul along with adding new 5G cellular antennas to ensure Blue Believers stay seamlessly connected to social media, email, text and good old-fashioned voice calls during home games. When baseball returns to venues, Dodger Stadium and the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will lead the way as the first stadiums with Wi-Fi 6 fan-facing networks.

“We’re up against the same challenges that every stadium has, which is how to deal with the density of individuals trying to connect simultaneously – a challenge that’s unique to our industry,” explained Ralph Esquibel, vice president of IT for the Dodgers. “Wi-Fi 6 was created for this kind of high-density environment.”

Wi-Fi 6, better known in IEEE circles as the 802.11ax standard, is a significant upgrade for Wi-Fi networks that started appearing last year. Among its benefits are that use of the new standard can increase the amount of available spectrum and number of channels available for users; it can also significantly accelerate users’ average data rates, while also decreasing the amount of battery power used by devices searching for a Wi-Fi connection.

As long as they have newer phones that support the new standard, Wi-Fi 6 networks provide everything a team could want for its connection-conscious fans.

Replacing the Wi-Fi 4 network

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is our comprehensive study on how venues can cope with Covid-19, plus a profile of Globe Life Field! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Like its predecessor, the Wi-Fi 6 network will use under-seat APs in the bowl

It’s been barely five years since the Dodgers installed Wi-Fi 4 in the stadium, making use of under-seat APs and what were the league’s first APs cleverly concealed inside hand railings for even denser coverage. There were about 900 APs powering the network then, which easily accommodated 8,000 simultaneous users on its maiden voyage.

“It was state of the art back at that point in time,” Esquibel recalled. But usage and uptake quickly soared among fans and it wasn’t long before 30,000 simultaneous users were contending for bandwidth at each game.

“That was when I’d get a call from previous ownership, usually sometime in the second inning with, ‘I can’t get on email or make a phone call…’,” Esquibel laughed. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how close your seat was to home plate; anybody watching the game became inadvertent victims of Wi-Fi’s highly successful rollout at Dodger Stadium.

Other baseball stadiums experienced similar capacity and uptake issues. That’s in part what prompted MLB to dispatch its technology committee to look at technology upgrades to make sure baseball fans could do all the wireless networking they wanted to while watching a game. Though MLB did not respond to a request for more information, STR was able to get some information from other sources about the pending upgrade plans.

Wi-Fi 6 coming to more ballparks

According to our sources, MLB technologists settled on Wi-Fi 6 upgrades as their next strategic push. So while the Dodgers will be the first baseball team to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, other teams were also reportedly in the first steps of adding Wi-Fi 6 before the coronavirus pandemic put a hold on many upgrade plans.

More APs were added in overhangs and roofed areas

It’s unclear if the MLB technology committee brought any financial help to the table along with their wireless expertise for these six upgrades. When MLB put together a consortium to bring wireless connectivity to parks starting back in 2014, it got financial buy-in from wireless carriers, equipment vendors and teams to help spread the costs around. Esquibel wouldn’t specify any dollar amounts for the Dodgers’ Wi-Fi 6 budget or whether the league contributed anything. He did note that the team negotiated an upgrade clause into its previous Wi-Fi networking contract.

Construction for the Dodgers’ new network began last fall, right after the Dodgers lost to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS playoffs. Back then, there were 880 APs that comprised the Wi-Fi 4 network; the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 bumped that total closer to 1,100 APs, Esquibel said. The Dodgers installed 9100 series APs from Cisco in most of the same locations, reusing the cabling and conduits in the process. The Dodgers also replaced network switches (Cisco again, and its 9300 switching line) to handle greater throughput and the increased processing capacity, Esquibel added.

On the cellular side, Esquibel said carriers are adding 5G gear to the stadium, with AT&T having the most extensive deployment right now. Customers of AT&T and Verizon will also be able to be switched over to the Wi-Fi network when entering the park.

The upgrades to its wireless infrastructure also set the stage for some new capabilities coming down the pike. The combo of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G services will help the Dodgers deliver 4k and 8k video formats; it will also help as professional sports move toward “probability gaming,” i.e., online sports betting. Esquibel credits partners Cisco, AmpThink, Horizon Communications and MLB with building a powerful solution to enable these emerging services and capabilities.

Bench seating also got under-seat APs

There were other elements to the Dodgers’ 2020 tech stack refresh as well. Inside the stadium, they reworked the outfield to create a centerfield plaza with left- and right-field pavilions, with cut-outs and walkways above the pavilions plus more APs than last year to accommodate more seated and standing spectators. Esquibel said the team has also replaced its point-of-sale system, and has added Appetize, a cloud-based POS concessions app, as well as ParkHub to keep closer tabs on the Dodgers’ parking lots.

While the Wi-Fi 6 construction is complete, advance testing and fine-tuning are on indefinite hold. As of early June, Esquibel and his Dodger colleagues were sheltering in place and had been since mid-March.

“The pandemic has slowed down testing,” he said, nothing that the stadium needs capacity crowds to gauge how well the new networks are engineered and where antennas need adjusting. And it’s clear that contemplating the first post-pandemic home game brings out Esquibel’s fan boy, broadband wireless notwithstanding.

“I want to smell the grass and be with the crowd,” Esquibel said. “Like everyone else, I just want to see some baseball.”

New Report: What’s Next for venues in the face of Covid-19; plus profiles of Globe Life Field and Dodger Stadium

STADIUM TECH REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2020 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 stories for this issue include our first comprehensive look at how venue owners and operators, and teams and schools, might find a way back to live action and fans in stadiums following the current pandemic shutdowns. This feature is just the start of an ongoing series of research papers, interviews and other offerings of timely information we will be grouping under the “Return to Venues” title, a series of content done in part through an editorial partnership with AmpThink. We also have two profiles in this issue, one on the extensive network deployments at the ready-to-open Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and another on a new Wi-Fi 6 network deployment at Dodgers Stadium. Plus an explanation of our overall name change from Mobile Sports Report to Stadium Tech Report — read on!

You can also download a PDF version of the report.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, Samsung, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

Friday links: More Wi-Fi spectrum, Apple SE has Wi-Fi 6 and CBRS

Apple’s new $399 iPhone SE supports both Wi-Fi 6 and CBRS. Credit: Apple

If you need some pointers on things to catch up on this weekend here are some links to recent news that will likely have future impact on the stadium technology world, including new Wi-Fi spectrum, Apple’s support for Wi-Fi 6 and CBRS in its new phone, and Apple and Google working together on contact tracing.

FCC ready to clear 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi

This surfaced a couple weeks ago but it’s worth revisiting as venues plan their Wi-Fi networks of the future. In a vote expected to take place next week, the FCC looks ready to approve pretty much the entire 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, a big win for the Wi-Fi industry. Monica Alleven over at FierceWireless has a good recap, we will of course follow up as this moves along to see how venues and equipment providers plan to take advantage of the roughly 1,200 MHz of new spectrum. Can you say bigger channel sizes? Yes you can. The new spectrum will be extremely powerful when combined with the technical advances of Wi-Fi 6 — which you can read about in the report we put out last year in partnership with AmpThink.

Apple supports Wi-Fi 6, CBRS in new iPhone SE

Keeping pace with the wireless support it placed in the iPhone 11 line that came out last fall, Apple’s new iPhone SE will have support for both Wi-Fi 6 and for CBRS (LTE band 48), which should mean that our opinion that Apple may hasten acceptance of Wi-Fi 6 gets a turbo boost. At just $399, the new smaller form-factor phone is already being praised as a good value. Since venues regularly still report iOS devices as the majority of in-stadium network users, it’s a good bet the lower-priced iPhone will show up in big numbers in the near future. That also means that venues planning on Wi-Fi 6 networks or CBRS deployments will have more clients sooner rather than later.

Apple, Google partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology

It’s still very early days for venues trying to figure out which technologies they might need to adopt to help them re-open, but one development that bears close watching is the partnership between Apple and Google to work together on COVID-19 contact tracing technology. Again, no real plans yet on how venues might use this technology, but it’s a smart guess that some kind of tracking application will be needed to ensure people coming into stadiums can feel safe about being part of a crowd. The Markup has a good take on some of the pros and cons of the technology; we’ll be following this closely going forward as well.

How will touch screens work when people are wary of touching things?

As we pay more attention to concessions technology one question we’ve been wondering about is: What happens to touch-screen concessions technology in the era of COVID-19? Our pal Dave Haynes over at 16:9 has a virtual roundtable scheduled for next week Tuesday that will focus on that topic. Registration is free.

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