Technology and Tradition: How Notre Dame Stadium got its Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football stadium and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

As part of its $400 million “Campus Crossing” stadium renovation, the University of Notre Dame made adding a high-definition stadium Wi-Fi network a priority, according to Rob Kelly, associate athletics director of ticketing, premium and technology for the school. Though such big projects often face budget trimming en route to completion, Kelly said the network was never on the chopping block.

“I’m pleased to say, Wi-FI was a priority,” said Kelly during an MSR visit in August. “It will power what we want to do for the future. Our vision is greater, and the things we want to do won’t work without the network.”

Future is now for Wi-Fi, video boards, premium seating

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

An outside look at the new construction surrounding the ‘old’ stadium bowl

Future aside, the new technology reality at Notre Dame Stadium is a huge step forward for a facility that first appeared in 1930, when the legendary coach Knute Rockne led the Fighting Irish football team. Since then the old concrete oval underwent only one significant upgrade, a 1997 enhancement that added another ring to the top of the stadium, boosting capacity from 59,075 to 80,795.

The Campus Crossing project, however, takes Notre Dame Stadium into a new era completely. By basically building three new buildings onto the back of the east, west and south sides of the stadium, Notre Dame added the ability to now have expanded premium club areas and seating sections, added classroom and other office space, and the ability to finally have a huge TV screen to show replays, a big upgrade to the experience from the Notre Dame games of the past.

Thanks to the video board, “we won’t have to text family or friends not at the game to find out if a player was in or out of bounds,” said Kelly. Though the tradition of attending a game in the same facility where legends like Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Joe Montana roamed the field is part of the game-day attraction, Kelly said that Notre Dame fans’ visits to away games made them well aware of amenities that were becoming commonplace elsewhere.

A good look at the railing AP enclosures in the east stands

“That old saying about ‘you don’t know what you don’t have’ just wasn’t true anymore,” said Kelly, who notes that currently most Notre Dame seasons will see the team playing in one or two NFL venues for prime-time contests. Brought in right at the start of the Crossroads project, Kelly said he had to become an “instant expert” on premium seating and on technology, especially on the Wi-Fi front. That wasn’t all bad, since it meant multiple visits to other stadiums to evaluate their technology deployments and seating options.

On the Wi-Fi front, Notre Dame paid special attention to Wi-Fi deployments in Green Bay (since Lambeau Field is similar to Notre Dame Stadium in construction and layout) and in Minnesota, where the new U.S. Bank Stadium had opened. The biggest question for Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi deployment in its no-overhang exposed bowl was about which method would be used — with the early leaders being under-seat or top-down placement of Wi-Fi APs. According to Kelly, a railing-mounted solution like the one used at U.S. Bank Stadium was not originally given much thought, mainly because the lower bowl seating area at Notre Dame Stadium didn’t have any handrails.

Shake down the Wi-Fi … from the railings

Though the new top part of the bowl required handrails for safety regulations when it was added in 1997, the lower bowl was historically exempt from those considerations, Kelly said. Notre Dame information architect John Buysse, one of the leads on the school’s network team, said the first reactions during network planning meetings rejected the idea of Wi-Fi on railings, with debate suggesting that the lower-bowl aisles weren’t wide enough.

Wi-Fi enclosures blend well in the concourse area

Under-seat deployment AP would be a challenge as well, for both the extra cost of drilling more holes through the concrete — many at locations “below grade,” or in the dirt, since the playing field is well below ground level — as well as a lack of space between the floor and the bench seats.

“Whoever had an AP [under the bench] would be miserable,” Buysse said.

Somewhere during the process, however, a survey of alumni found that the lack of railings in the lower bowl was a serious safety concern, especially during the rainy and snowy parts of the season.

“The alumni complained about how difficult it was” to negotiate getting to their lower-bowl seats without any handrails, Buysse said. With the ability to score a double positive with one move — adding handrails for safety and for Wi-Fi — the railing-mounted AP plan moved in for the win.

“It also really helped that Minnesota had done it [handrail deployments] and had success,” said Buysse, who got good performance statistics from the Vikings to back up the railing-mount idea. After seeing those numbers, he said, “any potential concerns went away.”

So far this season, the network has already performed like a winner. For Notre Dame’s Sept. 9 home game against Georgia, the network saw 6.2 terabytes of data used, the highest total ever recorded for a college football game.

Handrail AP mounts, Kelly said, “were better than the alternative of under-seat — it costs less, and there are fewer holes in the concrete.”

It also didn’t hurt, Kelly said, to make a double positive from a single move.

“Adding handrails [for safety] was a positive, and better connectivity was another positive,” Kelly said. And the fact that the enclosures look cool — with a snappy ND logo embossed into each cover — also probably doesn’t hurt.

AmpThink steps up to lead Wi-Fi deployment

The custom AP enclosures with the ND logo embossed into the molded plastic were courtesy of AmpThink, a Dallas-area firm that in most of its previous history had provided its Wi-Fi skills in a specialist or subcontractor role where it had full responsibility for network deployments. But with an increasing amount of experience in its resume — including doing designs for several of the recent Super Bowl networks, as well as new network installs at Texas A&M University and U.S. Bank Stadium, among others — AmpThink bid and won the lead on the Notre Dame Wi-Fi project, another football-size stadium project on a list that also includes the renovated Wi-Fi network at the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., and the ongoing renovation at the Alamodome in San Antonio, which will host the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Fans at a summer scrimmage enjoy the new premium seats

In AmpThink, Notre Dame found a partner not just with technical skills but also with the appreciation with how making things that look good as well as perform well matters. One look at the custom Wi-Fi AP handrail enclosures tells you a lot about this commitment, when you see the sharp, widely recognizable yet understated “ND” logo stamped into each ABS plastic casing.

AmpThink execs showing off the gear during a recent tour pointed out details like the slightly roughened surface, finished that way to keep any scratches from showing. AmpThink also made sure all the logos were horizontal when installed, no small feat with numerous different angles of slope on various railings.

“There are different [railing] angles all over, and only one of the ones AmpThink delivered didn’t match — and they had a spare to fix it on hand,” Buysse said.

“AmpThink has been a tremendous partner,” said Kelly, noting the early help AmpThink provided by bringing in demo units to mock up what the deployment would look like.

Of the 1,096 total Wi-Fi APs in the new network, a full 685 serve the seating bowl, Buysse said. For the below-grade APs located near the bottom of the seating bowl, AmpThink and Notre Dame brought bandwidth to the railings by drilling a trench down the sides of stairways and covering the cables with rubber gaskets afterward. The APs in the bowl are mainly Cisco 3800 units, which have two radios each. Buysse said the bowl network will be exclusively on 5 GHz channels, like many other stadiums these days.

AmpThink’s engineering ingenuity is apparent in other places as well — for flat-ceiling AP locations like those in suites, the firm developed an AP enclosure that can be installed by one person, instead of having to have electricians and other construction specialists teaming up to get all the work done. It might not sound particularly interesting, but when you are installing hundreds of APs in far-flung locations, finding a way to save time on each one ends up being a big benefit in the end.

Even with all the new construction the main concourses of Notre Dame stadium have successfully combined the old hallowed-ground feel with modern amentities like new and more concessions stands, as well as Wi-Fi and DAS antennas painted and mounted in ways to keep them out of direct sight. Our speedtest in the concourse area showed a connection of 70 Mbps on the download and 52 Mbps up. Crown Castle built and operates the neutral-host DAS, which already has AT&T and Verizon Wireless working with T-Mobile set to join in soon.

Though there weren’t any fans on hand yet, our speedtests taken in late August were impressive, with Wi-Fi readings of 69 Mbps on the download and 70 Mbps on the upload in the upper deck benches on the stadium’s east side; we also got a reading of 67.56 / 68.68 inside the new premium club area on the west side; and a test of Verizon DAS connections at 46.68 / 11.39, also on the west side of the stadium.

TV production, mobile app plans ready for the future

The next tale to tell from Notre Dame Stadium may be on the content and application side, where the Fighting Irish are just getting ready to play with their new toys. At the SEAT Conference in Atlanta this summer, Notre Dame execs talked about starting slow with the stadium mobile app, not trying to do too much so that fans wouldn’t be turned off by the approach if features failed. For this season the app will focus mainly on digital ticketing, allowing fans to show tickets, transfer tickets via email, or donate unused tickets back to the university. Kelly said the school will explore using a portal for Wi-Fi login in the future, to “reinforce” the value of the app.

A look at the cabling path drilled alongside stairways for the lower bowl seats

On the video production end, the building on the stadium’s west side provided the space to create a multi-headed content production facility that hosts the new “Notre Dame Studios,” an internal startup of sorts that will centralize all kinds of video and streaming production not just for sports but for all the content being created all over the South Bend, Ind., campus and beyond. For football game days, the production facilities can be used by network crews, who no longer will need to bring a separate production truck to the venue.

For Notre Dame fans, the improvements bring the facility well to the forefront of the connected-stadium world, as well as for premium seating, especially for those with access to the rooftop club areas, where fans can relax on outside couches with an excellent view of the field, a commanding view of the greater South Bend landscape, and excellent connectivity for their mobile devices. All in the old stadium with its sturdy brick-and-concrete foundations, and the statue of Rockne out front, ready to shake down the thunder and then share that experience on Facebook or Snapchat.

“There’s a fine line in finding the balance between aesthetics and performance,” Kelly said. “Leadership understood that we couldn’t compromise the aesthetics of Notre Dame Stadium.”

But, Kelly added, he’s also “never heard that people don’t want better cell coverage.” While the changes may be startling to veteran Notre Dame fans — especially the video board — Kelly thinks the end result will be another positive, as the practice of combining technology and tradition with a commitment to quality becomes apparent.

“I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised,” he said.

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Orlando City Stadium adds high-density Wi-Fi for soccer fans

Orlando City Stadium, home of the MLS’s Orlando City SC. Credit all photos: Jenna Cornell (click on any picture for a larger image)

Resilient. Connected. Reliable. Even before its new stadium opened in March of this year, Orlando City SC, the Major League Soccer franchise in central Florida, knew exactly what it wanted from fan-facing Wi-Fi.

Leading that list was networking infrastructure to support the stadium’s 25,500 capacity. The team needed to be able to deliver live streaming video to fans through the team’s LionNation app. And they wanted a way to begin collecting user info and building relationships with fans, according to Renato Reis, CIO for the club.

And with so many professional sports teams having already installed wireless infrastructure, Reis knew there was no reason to reinvent the Wi-Fi wheel. “I had the privilege to travel and interview other organizations,” he said, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where the NFL’s Dolphins and the University of Miami both play football, as well as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., shared by the NFL’s Jets and Giants. Reis said Orlando City SC’s technology drew heavily on the experience and deployment of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “I used what I learned,” he laughed.

Paying their own way

Orlando City is barely 3 years old and played its first two seasons in the nearby Citrus Bowl, now called Camping World Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi deployment at Orlando City Stadium.

After some confusion with the City of Orlando, Orange County and the state of Florida over money and budget for a new stadium, Orlando City SC’s ownership abandoned a public-private partnership to go its own way. Orlando City Stadium was built with private funds and opened in time for this year’s opener. Orlando City SC shares the venue with the Orlando Pride, the women’s professional soccer team.

“We had a brand-new stadium and no installed Wi-Fi, two factors that really benefited us,” Reis told Mobile Sports Report. “We planned the position of our antennas and leveraged lessons from other organizations to design something from scratch and build for the future.”

Orlando City SC had some help there. The MLS franchise partnered with managed service provider Spectrum Communications; Spectrum in turn has a longstanding partnership with Orlando City’s equipment vendor, Cisco. Together, they installed networking gear, lots of new fiber-optic cable, and the wireless infrastructure that rides atop the stadium’s 10-Gbps backbone network.

The fan-facing Wi-Fi consists of more than 550 wireless access points around the stadium, or about one AP for every 45 users. The APs are installed under seats, in handrails and on posts. “It was more of a challenge to find the right places, design-wise, for APs to keep them out of people’s line of vision,” Reis said.

Orlando City CIO Renato Reis, posing in front of some cool graffiti and below a Cisco AP.

Supporting streaming video

AP density and processing power were important considerations for Orlando City SC. With such dense coverage, each AP delivers 50-80 Mbps per user, Reis said. That ensures that users of the team’s LionNation app enjoy high performance when using its streaming video capability; users posting to social media or checking email also get faster throughput, he added.

That sort of performance is essential, especially for users of the premium version ($8.99) of the LionNation app. In addition to live-streaming video, premium members get access to behind-the-scenes content, as well as 10 percent discounts off food, drink and merchandise purchases (and points for every dollar spent). They also get priority access to post-season tickets and single-game tickets.

ISP powerhouse and Cisco partner Spectrum Communications helped with the stadium’s engineering and remains active in day-to-day management, said Reis. Spectrum performed three rounds of Wi-Fi tuning and collecting data to see where usage was greatest. No surprise: Entry gates and concession areas, according to Reis. They then made adjustments, repointing APs where needed, thus ensuring bandwidth is available where it’s needed most.

Orlando City SC has also been testing wireless food ordering in one stadium section with 1,500 users since the beginning of the year. “The challenge there isn’t technology but rather logistics,” Reis explained.

Screenshot of the Orlando City app

The team is planning to extend the capability more broadly, but needs more experience to help decide how to proceed. “We’ll probably run the test for the rest of the season and make changes next year,” he said.

Reis’s biggest challenge for the moment is encouraging Wi-Fi usage – and also persuading users to register if they’re not on the app. Even with Orlando City Stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage, most users will stick to cellular (the stadium’s DAS network is serviced by AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile and Sprint), he said.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is who is at the stadium,” Reis explained, adding that the only information he has is that a fan bought four tickets, for example, and when they get scanned at the gates. So how to learn more? “Most landing pages are boring,” he laughed; still, he’s considering offering different incentives for Wi-Fi users to check in.

“Can I loyal-ize you so I can learn what you like, what offers are more appealing, what you enjoy and don’t?” Reis asked. That’s a primary challenge for most sports teams, entertainment companies and ecommerce entities. Luckily for Reis and the Orlando City SC, he’s got the bandwidth, backbone and people resources to learn more about fans and build those relationships going forward.

Mobilitie brings interim Wi-Fi to L.A. Coliseum

The Los Angeles Coliseum is home to the NFL’s Rams and the University of Southern California. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Previously reliant solely on DAS coverage, the Los Angeles Coliseum added Wi-Fi coverage last November in the student section – about 7,500 seats on the bowl’s east side – thanks to a donation of equipment and labor by Mobilitie.

The wireless services provider is also in the process of adding Wi-Fi to two sets of club suites — behind the southern end-zone and on the deck of the Coliseum’s iconic peristyle. These are used by fans of the Los Angeles Rams, the recently relocated NFL franchise playing its second season in the City of Angels. The Rams’ new $2.6 billion stadium is under construction in nearby Inglewood, projected to be done in 2019 and ready for the 2020 NFL season.

In addition to the Rams, the Coliseum is also home field for the University of Southern California’s football team. It’s also slated to be the stadium for the 2028 Summer Olympics, playing host to the world’s athletes for an unprecedented third time.

More renovations coming soon

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Mobilitie’s generosity notwithstanding, all the fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum is temporary, according to Derek Thatcher, an IT manager for USC, which manages the Coliseum on behalf of the County of Los Angeles. Demolition at the stadium will get underway in January 2018; while much of the bowl’s structure will remain, permanent club suites will be added as will new seating and new aisles with handrails. That will translate to a reduction in bowl capacity from 94,000 to 77,500, according to USC.

Close-up of the under-seat Wi-Fi APs

The $270 million refresh was already underway before LA’s eleventh-hour entry in the Olympics sweepstakes, activated after Boston voted down a bid. The U.S. Olympic Committee has earmarked $175 million for other upgrades at the Coliseum for the quadrennial gathering of the world’s athletes – and broadcasters.

A surprise part of LA’s Olympic bid was a proposal for simultaneous opening ceremonies at two venues, Thatcher explained. Under the USOC’s plan, the visual and logistical extravaganza could be split between the Coliseum and the gleaming new NFL stadium that the Rams will share with the Los Angeles Chargers (formerly of San Diego). Though the Games are more than 10 years away, it’s unclear how the use of two venues would work logistically. But the potential wow factor of such a spectacle is undeniable.

In the meantime, Thatcher, many of his USC counterparts and busloads of subcontractors will have their hands full once the current NFL season ends early next year. Fan-facing Wi-Fi is part of the plan for the Coliseum refresh; no word on which vendors are in the running or when the university will award the Wi-Fi contract.

Another look at the under-seat AP deployment

Gaining insight for the future

The USC Trojan faithful and Rams fans at the Coliseum had been reliant on DAS from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. But Wi-Fi coverage is envisioned from the gates to the concourses and bowl. The Coliseum Wi-Fi will not extend to adjacent parking lots, which are owned by the State of California, not USC, Thatcher added.

And though the equipment and service contract hasn’t been awarded yet, Mobilitie made a smart move with the interim gear it donated – Wi-Fi access points all made by Aruba (now owned by HP Enterprise), the same Wi-Fi gear in use across the rest of USC’s campus. The donated network also gives Mobilitie insight to usage patterns, user habits and engineering challenges that are unique to the venue.

The Coliseum’s renovation is projected to be done by August 2019, though the facility will be useable for home games played by both USC and the Rams in the interim, according to Thatcher.

In the meantime, 166 Aruba APs will power fan-facing Wi-Fi at the Coliseum. Mobilitie installed under-seat APs; rather than drill new conduits or use saw-cuts through stadium concrete, the service provider used low-profile rubber matting to conceal the wiring. Many of the APs are also installed on angled concrete, which helps preserve storage space beneath the seats, a plus for fans and their sacks and packs.

Bird of a different feather: Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes tech in a new direction

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As you walk up to it, the striking angular architecture of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a way of telling you, before you even set foot inside, that this building is different from any other stadium you may know. When you get inside, see the eight-petal roof and the circular video “halo board” right below it, those feelings are confirmed.

Deeper inside the venue’s construction, the theme is continued with the building’s network technology, which is similarly different if less easily seen. With more fiber optical cabling than perhaps any comparable stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons is built more with an eye toward what comes next, while also debuting with systems built with the peak of current knowledge and deployment designs.

Unlike the owners and operators of some other new arenas, the Falcons’ aren’t wasting much bandwidth trying to paint Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the best-ever when it comes to stadium technology. (In fact the stadium network crew is being very closed-mouth about everything, not providing any game-day statistics even though informed rumors tell us that the Wi-Fi network is doing very well.) But come back in 5 years, or even 10 years from now, and see if the decisions made here were able to consistently keep the Falcons’ new roost at the top of the stadium-technology game.

Table stakes, plus a halo board

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Inside the Falcons’ new roost, with the halo board and roof visible

What’s working now, as the venue enters the Falcons’ 2017 NFL season, includes a Wi-Fi network built with nearly 1,800 Aruba access points. Of the 1,000 of those installed in the main seating bowl, most are mounted underneath the seats, a trend that gained steam a couple years ago and now has numerous proof points behind the higher capacity and faster performance of so-called “proximate” networks. There’s also a neutral-host distributed antenna system, or DAS, for enhanced cellular coverage, built and owned by the arena with space rented out to all four of the major U.S. cellular carriers.

And then there’s the halo board, the circular or oval-shaped video screen that circumnavigates the roof right at the base of the also-innovative eight-petal roof, which is designed to open or close in seven minutes or less. If big video screens are a never-ending trend the Falcons are right out in front with their offerings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, starting with the halo board and the “mega-column,” a hundred-foot high vertical screen just inside the main entryway. The 2,000-plus other regular-sized screens scattered around the venue should ensure there’s always a display visible, no matter where guests are looking.

And while the team has future plans for video, the one piece of network technology that may matter most is the optical fiber, which can support wider bandwidth and faster speeds than traditional copper cabling. The statistic thrown around often in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium press materials — nearly 4,000 miles of fiber used — is meaningless to most who repeat it, other than it seems like a lot of glass wiring.

What’s more interesting from a stadium-design perspective is not exactly the total but instead the reach of the fiber, as the network designers pushed fiber out to the edges much further than before, betting that by putting more capacity farther into the reaches of the stadium, there will be less needs for big-time network upgrades in the future, when the inevitable need for more bandwidth arrives.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP

“We like to say we’re future flexible, not future proof,” said Jared Miller, chief digital officer for the Falcons. “Future proof does not exist in technology.”

Informed by Texas A&M

In picking IBM as its lead networking technology partner, the Falcons most certainly gleaned a lot of their stadium network design lessons from the 2015 deployment of a new Wi-Fi network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, a project also led by IBM. Making deep use of Corning fiber networking technology, A&M’s Wi-Fi network hit the ground running hard, as a big number of under-seat APs supported several big days of data use by the 100,000-plus Aggie fans who filled the building on home-game weekends.

The basic idea behind using fiber is that optical cabling can carry far more bandwidth at faster speeds than a comparable copper wire. By putting more fiber farther out into all reaches of a stadium, a network can be “future proofed” by being able to support many more new devices on the end of each fiber strand. By not having to string new cabling everywhere to support greater demand, a stadium will theoretically spend far less money in the long haul.

Wi-Fi and DAS will have the bathroom lines covered

From a network backbone perspective, the Falcons took what Texas A&M did and pushed even farther with fiber, taking the glass circuits as close to the edge devices (mainly Wi-Fi APs) as possible. In our mid-August press tour at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we saw many of the so-called “mini-IDFs,” small closets with three or four pieces of gear in them, mounted on walls throughout the stadium.

“We kept the use of copper as short as possible,” said Miller. “With bandwidth demands continuing to grow at an exponential rate, we need to make sure we keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.”

If there is one big drawback to using fiber, it has to do with the intricacies of dealing with the construction end of building fiber networks, since the cables need to be precisely cut and joined, often with highly specialized equipment. There are also far more network technicians who are trained in copper wiring deployments than in fiber, so personnel issues can also increase costs and complexity.

On the eve of the Falcons’ first regular-season home game, a mid-September playoff rematch with the Green Bay Packers, Miller and his crew had not yet provided any traffic or network throughput statistics from the preseason games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, some inside sources told MSR that the Wi-Fi traffic during the preseason and the early September college game was at the top range of what has been historically seen for NFL game days, so it appears that the system is ready to go.

Holding off on more bells and whistles

Though it may be hard for any other stadium to top the halo board for a while, on some other technology-related items the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium are taking a step back and not pushing digital solutions to where they might not be needed.

One of the many ‘mini-ISFs,’ this one in the press box

On the stadium app side, for instance, the IBM-developed application does not support some services seen at other NFL or pro-league stadiums, like “blue dot” wayfinding or in-seat food delivery or even express pickup for concessions. Instead, the app uses wayfinding based on static maps, where you need to put in both a location and a desired destination; and on the food-ordering side, fans can enter in an order and their credit card information, but must then take it to a stand to be scanned and fulfilled.

And while the Falcons’ new app does have a fun FAQ chatbot called “Ask Arthur” (for the team’s owner, Arthur Blank), there won’t be any live instant replay features in the app. With all the video screens in the stadium, the Falcons think they have the replay angle thing covered. The Falcons will use the app, however, for expanded digital-ticketing features as well as to help fans find and pay for parking. On the concessions side, the Falcons’ well-reported “fan friendly” pricing with low costs for most stadium food staples might prove more interesting to fans than being able to have food delivered.

Miller was also adamant that fans won’t see any portal or other marketing messages between finding and connecting to the Wi-Fi network.

“You just join ‘AT&Twifi’ and you’re on,” Miller said. “You’re a guest in our house. The last thing we want to do is slow you down from getting on the network.”

The big metal falcon in front of the stadium looks out over downtown Atlanta

More Wi-Fi APs visible under the overhang

A view from the AT&T Porch out through the windows

New Colorado State stadium has winning Wi-Fi network

Colorado State University has a new on-campus football stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even though it’s not completely finished, the Wi-Fi network at Colorado State University’s new football stadium has already shown strong signs of promise, signaling a future with great connectivity for Rams fans at their new on-campus venue.

Being built by integrator 5 Bars, the network is in its final phases of completion, with enough of it turned on to get some positive results in the first two home games for Colorado State this season.

On Aug. 26, during Colorado State’s 58-27 win over visiting Oregon State, a sellout crowd of 37,583 crammed into the new on-campus venue for the Fort Collins, Colo., school. During the inaugural event, the not-yet-finished Wi-Fi network nevertheless saw 5,891 unique connections during the day with a peak concurrent number of 3,680 users at 3 p.m. local time, according to 5 Bars. Even with most of the under-seat Wi-Fi connections not yet online (5 Bars said the network was about at 35 percent capacity), the network still saw 2.7 terabytes of data used, an average of 458 MB per connected user.

Some under-seat Wi-Fi APs needed conduit cored through the concrete steps

A couple weeks later, Mobile Sports Report was in the house for CSU’s second home game, a 38-10 victory over Abilene Christian. With 27,038 fans in attendance, many wearing bright orange to celebrate CSU’s “Ag Day” heritage (the official school colors are green and gold), the network saw 4,548 unique users and 1.8 TB of traffic, according to 5 Bars.

Under-seat coverage impressive

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

If there is a design tactic that seems to have paid off, it’s 5 Bars decision to go under-seat with Wi-Fi APs in most of the lower seating bowl. With 250 in-bowl APs out of the estimated 419 total APs used in the venue, many are in under-seat enclosures, both in premium areas with seats with backs, as well as in seating areas with metal benches.

And while building a stadium from scratch with Wi-Fi in mind usually means under-seat deployment can be easier, 5 Bars found that in the end it needed to place some APs in different spots, leading to some on-site construction that included coring holes in concrete steps to thread conduit across some aisles. The end result, however, is impressive, with MSR speed tests hitting the mid-50 Mbps and into the 60-Mbps marks for both download and upload speeds in most of the lower bowl seating, with tests taken before the game in an empty stadium.

The on-campus proximity of the new stadium is a welcome change for CSU fans

But even later, with orange-clad CSU fans filling the seats, the working Wi-Fi network still performed admirably, with a 63.58 down and 48.35 up reading in the middle of the student section on the stadium’s east side during the first quarter. Closer to the end of the first quarter, we got a 24.33 / 9.96 reading in the lower section of the west side, the most tightly packed area in the stadium that day.

Light standards and beer gardens

While under-seat placements may be the workhorses at CSU’s new stadium, there are also plenty of overhead APs to fill in the gaps, such as at the top of the lower-bowl sections, mounted underneath the overhang. There are also Wi-Fi APs as well as DAS antennas on the large light standards that top the east stands. Though we didn’t test the DAS network, 5 Bars has a neutral host deployment that currently has Verizon Wireless online, with AT&T and T-Mobile to follow soon. Sprint is scheduled to be added next year, with support for Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum, 5 Bars said.

One thing that makes the new CSU stadium unique is the New Belgium Brewing beer garden that fills the north end zone of the stadium. With several rows of long, stand-up tabletops where fans can sip a beer while watching the game, as well as a bar area behind, the beer garden was already a popular place to hang out, as evidenced by the big line that formed shortly after the stadium opened.

And thanks to the structures over the bar area, the beer garden was well covered by Wi-Fi APs mounted above the taps. Even down in one of the stand-up rows close to the field we were still able to get a Wi-Fi reading of 55.69 down and 24.11 up. We also taste-tested New Belgium’s “Old Aggie Lager,” a brew made specifically by the local company for CSU. It’s crisp and refreshing, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And it goes perfectly with good Wi-Fi.

Fans are able to share social media posts via the new big screen video board

A look at the west stands from the back of the student section

An overhead look at the north end zone beer garden, with a view to the mountains just west of the venue

The beer garden standing area provides an up-close look at the action

As always, Mobile Sports Report tests, tests and tests again

Notre Dame’s new Wi-Fi, Mercedes-Benz Stadium first look — all in our new Stadium Tech Report!

We always get excited here at Mobile Sports Report when we have a new quarterly report out, but the stories, profiles and analysis in our Fall 2017 issue just may be our best-ever effort. With a detailed look at the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, and a first look at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, our Fall 2017 issue starts off with a doubleheader of deep information profiles and it doesn’t stop there!

In addition to Notre Dame and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this issue also has a detailed look at the new football stadium at Colorado State University, which also has high-performing Wi-Fi and a neutral-host DAS deployment. We also take a look at the Wi-Fi renovation taking place at the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a network upgrade that should lift the Broncos’ home to the top of the list of NFL stadium networks. And we’re still not done!

Also in this issue is a well timed, deeply informed essay from Chuck Lukaszewski about unlicensed LTE and what it means to venues. Chuck, the top wireless guru at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, digs into this developing cellular/Wi-Fi issue and delivers some heads-up knowledge that all venue tech professionals should absorb. We also have one more profle in the issue, a look at a temporary Wi-Fi network being installed at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That’s a lot of reading, so get started by downloading your free copy today!

Part of the reason we’re able to bring you so much good content is the support we get from our industry sponsors. In this issue we also have a record number of sponsors, including Mobilitie, Crown Castle, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, Extreme Networks, Oberon, Cox Business, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. The support of our sponsors allows Mobile Sports Report to not only do all the work necessary to bring you these great stories, but it also allows us to offer our reports to readers free of charge! 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.

Download the Fall 2017 Stadium Tech Report today!