August 23, 2017

IBM lands tech deal for new L.A. soccer stadium

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

IBM’s growing sports-venue technology business landed its first soccer-specific client, with the announcement that IBM will lead all technology deployments at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium, a venue scheduled to open in 2018.

Like it has at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, IBM will act as a lead general contractor of sorts for technology at the under-construction 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium, responsible for picking vendors and leading deployment for such features as Wi-Fi and cellular networks, digital signage, and as yet-to-be determined fan experience applications and services.

The MLS expansion team LAFC, which will begin play in 2018, has a star-studded ownership group that includes names like former pro athletes Magic Johnson and Nomar Garciaparra, actor Will Ferrell and Golden State Warriors owner Peter Guber, among others. The new stadium is being built on the space once held by the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. According to the team website the stadium will have clear-plastic shields overhead to reduce sun glare and reflect heat, made of the same ETFE plastic used in the clear window sides of the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.

Though IBM was not yet ready to name specific vendors or any specific apps or services that will be available at the new stadium, it did say that its contract with LAFC shows that IBM’s strategy of having a single integrator in charge of all technology deployments isn’t just for huge stadiums or big new projects like Atlanta’s new venue.

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

“As [stadium network] technology evolves, it just becomes more complex, whether it’s a small venue or a large one,” said Jim Rushton, global leader for the sports & entertainment practice for IBM. “Our methodology is the same.”

Just like a lead contractor for plumbing or electricity, Rushton said that IBM’s size and purchasing power gives it an edge that individual venues might not have. Rushton also said that IBM’s ability to oversee all parts of a venue’s technology offerings — from wireless infrastructure to network security and application development — and its ability to integrate technologies from firms other than IBM — can help venues plan more strategically and put together a more complete venue-technology plan than they might be able to do on their own.

Rushton said that IBM’s sports venue practice, which was formally announced a year ago, will be naming more projects underway soon, including some in Europe. IBM is rumored to be the lead technology integrator for the stadium renovation that will be taking place at Notre Dame after this football season, but there has been no announcement of that yet.

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Cisco deploys Wi-Fi network at San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

The San Jose Sharks have announced a new Wi-Fi network for their home arena, SAP Center — one that will use Cisco Wi-Fi gear as well as Cisco’s StadiumVision system for digital-display content management.

San Jose Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said that the new Wi-Fi network — believed to be the first full public Wi-Fi deployment in the building — joins a new team app developed by VenueNext as part of a big revamp for the technology-related fan experience at the so-called “Shark Tank.”

According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network will have 500 access points, with 50 of those mounted in handrail enclosures in the lower seating bowl; another 17 APs will be located under seats in the retractable seating sections of the arena. Wi-Fi design and deployment firm AmpThink helped install the new network, which is slated to go live by Dec. 1, the Sharks said.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said in an email communication. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

Sharks fans at Wednesday night’s home opener may have noticed some of the other technical enhancements to the arena, which include 13 new LED panels and 625 new digital displays. The Cisco StadiumVision system allows for remote control and synchronization of digital display content, including the ability to split screens to show things like live video alongside static advertising.

Until the Wi-Fi network goes live, SAP Center attendees should still be able to connect via an in-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) run by AT&T, which also carries Verizon Wireless signals.

Analysis: The year of the big stadium Wi-Fi upgrade

Carolina Panthers director of IT James Hammond shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers director of IT James Hammond shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Carolina Panthers

Even in the midst of several brand-new stadium debuts and the future-proofed wireless networks inside them, there is a separate, yet distinct trend emerging in the big-stadium, wireless connectivity world: Call it the year of the big upgrade.

Our profile in our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., is a case in point: Thanks to the never-ending demand for more connectivity for fans, stadiums that deployed networks just a few years ago are now finding that those old systems already need upgrades or replacements, typically at a much higher cost than the original network. In addition to BofA Stadium, the New England Patriots’ home, Gillette Stadium, also got a Wi-Fi makeover this past summer, going from about 400 Wi-Fi APs to well over a thousand, with most of the new ones deployed under seats.

According to Fred Kirsch, who oversees the Gillette Stadium network, some of the under-seat placements there were especially tricky, since granite underneath the stands didn’t allow for the ability to drill through the concrete. A workaround involving an above-ground enclosure was envisioned and manufactured, underlining the custom complexity of network deployment found from stadium to stadium. No two are the same, and what works at one may or may not work at another.

But what is common across all these large venues is the ever-increasing need for bandwidth, a moving target that has yet to slow down or stabilize. Last year the story that turned everyone’s head was the need by carriers to upgrade their DAS infrastructure at Levi’s Stadium ahead of Super Bowl 50 – this coming just a year after the stadium had opened for business. While the demands of a Super Bowl (especially Super Bowl 50, which set records for DAS and Wi-Fi usage) are perhaps much different than everyday events, it’s still a safe bet that for many stadiums with Wi-Fi networks – especially the early movers – 2016 has become a year of reckoning, or biting the bullet and writing more checks for more coverage, perhaps seemingly too soon after the initial rollout.

Getting ready for Super Bowl LI

In Houston, NRG Stadium finally has Wi-Fi, and not a moment too soon, with Super Bowl LI on the near horizon. Since the venue didn’t have Wi-Fi prior to this season it’s not really an upgrade but it’s hard to understate the challenge of putting in a Super Bowl-ready network in just one summer, a construction calendar shortened by the fact that integrator 5 Bars and equipment vendor Extreme Networks had to wait until after the NCAA Men’s Final Four was over to begin installing cabling and APs. At of the start of the NFL season the Wi-Fi network is already live at NRG Stadium, and is sure to go through weekly tweaks as the league marches on toward its championship game.

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 11 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via Patriots.com

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 11 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via Patriots.com

And while attention-grabbing new stadiums like US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta are planning big network capacity from the get-go, some new stadiums like T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas have upgrade thinking planned in from the start, with the idea that the network will never really be a finished product, at least until they stop making new phones or developing new apps. Of course, that future isn’t happening anytime soon, with the Apple iPhone 7 announcement with the new double-lens camera coming in just before the start of another football season.

New phones and new apps mean more bandwidth demands, leading even those who already have stadium networks to keep wondering if what they’ve installed is enough. We suspect this may be an ongoing story line for the foreseeable future, so – stay tuned here to Mobile Sports Report for the latest success stories and lessons learned from those who have already jumped in or jumped back in to the deployment fray.

Editor’s note: This column is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available for free download from our site. Read about Wi-Fi deployments at Bank of America Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and more!

New Report: Carolina Panthers build new Wi-Fi and DAS; Mercedes-Benz Stadium update, and more!

Q3thumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the Q3 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our Q3 issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at Wi-Fi analytics at the Mall of America, and a story about how the Cleveland Browns found $1 million in ROI using new analytics software from YinzCam. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:

— Bank of America Stadium profile: An in-depth look at the Carolina Panthers’ decision to bring new Wi-Fi and DAS networks in-house;
— Mercedes-Benz Stadium profile: An early look at the technology being built into the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, with an emphasis on fiber;
— T-Mobile Arena photo essay: A first look at the newest venue on the famed Las Vegas Strip;
— Avaya Stadium profile: How the stadium’s Wi-Fi network became the star of the MLS All-Star game.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, DAS Group Professionals and Boingo Wireless. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your interest and support.

Jaguars get out of SignalShare deal, turn to PCM for EverBank Field Wi-Fi management

Pregame activity at EverBank Field last weekend. Credit: Jaguars.com.

Pregame activity at EverBank Field last weekend. Credit: Jaguars.com.

When Wi-Fi design and implementation firm SignalShare legally imploded earlier this year, one of the biggest questions that surfaced was — what would happen to teams and stadiums who had contracted with SignalShare to run their Wi-Fi networks? The Jacksonville Jaguars, who a couple years ago announced big plans with SignalShare, have gotten out of their contract with the now-bankrupt SignalShare and have turned to integrator PCM to manage the Wi-Fi network at EverBank Field, team officials said.

Mike Webb, director of IT with the Jaguars, said in a phone interview that the team was “able to terminate” its 3-year deal with SignalShare with help from Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme, which was part of the original deal. PCM has also teamed up with Extreme to run the Wi-Fi network at the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium. Neither SignalShare nor NFS Leasing has responded to any queries about the legal actions; Extreme Networks has also refused to comment on any specifics of any SignalShare-related deals.

While the original deal called for big plans to bring exclusive content to fans at EverBank Field via SignalShare’s portal software, Webb said that currently there is no stadium-specific or game-day app for Jaguars fans. He also said that Comcast sponsors the Wi-Fi connection (as it does at many other stadiums), with fans logging on by connecting to the xfintitywifi SSID.

Adding more APs for patios, new construction

Currently, EverBank Field has 650 Extreme Wi-Fi APs in the venue, with approximately 450 of those in the seating bowl, Webb said. Over the past offseason, the stadium added Wi-Fi coverage to five new areas, mainly patios outside club areas as well as to the South end zone tunnel, which will eventually connect to the theater that is being built outside the stadium.

For the lower level of seating, Webb said Wi-Fi APs are installed in railing enclosures, while higher-level seats are served by overhead mounts. While Webb said the network initially “had some issues” with 2.4 GHz band activity, the addition of more 5 GHz capacity helped to “vastly increase performance.” The Wi-Fi network now regularly sees 14,000 connections per game, Webb said.

More cellular capacity is also on the way to EverBank Field, as Webb said that two (unnamed) wireless carriers have agreed on a plan to build a DAS in the facility for outside seating coverage.

Melbourne Cricket Ground breaks its own top mark for concurrent Wi-Fi connections

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Credit: MCG

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Credit: MCG

Fans at a recent Australian Football League game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground set a new record for concurrent connections to the venue’s Wi-Fi network, with 16,500 fans able to connect at the same time. According to venue officials, the new internal record was set during the AFL Qualifying Final between Geelong Cats and Hawthorn on Sept. 9 at the 100,000-seat plus arena.

Previously, the Wi-Fi network from Cisco, IBM and other partners had seen a concurrent connection top mark of just under 10,000 connections at MCG, according to stadium representatives. The stadium has approximately 800 Wi-Fi APs, as well as a DAS deployment from Telstra for enhanced cellular connectivity. Though many U.S. stadiums have seen much higher concurrent-user totals, the new MCG record is believed to be the highest recorded in Australia, according to club officials.

The Melbourne Cricket Club had promoted the idea of trying to break the Wi-Fi connectivity record, with a promotion that offered a chance at winning free tickets to an upcoming Guns N’ Roses concert for fans who participated.

melb2According to the team, the Wi-Fi network has seen more than 150,000 unique connections since its installation late last year, part of a $40 million tech upgrade that also saw new scoreboards, LED signage, televison screens and the DAS installed in the venue.

“We significantly bettered the MCG’s previous record for the most concurrent Wi-Fi connections, with approximately 16,500 fans able to connect at the same time,” said Rey Sumaru, general manager for IT and innovation at the Melbourne Cricket Club in an email reply. “We are confident that this is the highest number of concurrent Wi-Fi users achieved in Australia, and the figure represents roughly 20 percent of the total match attendance.

“We are certainly pleased with this outcome and have gained some valuable insights and learnings about the Wi-Fi system as a result of this load testing,” Sumaru continued. “We will now be working with our technology partners Cisco and IBM to improve even further, to ensure fans have experience world-class connectivity every time they visit the ’G.”