June 25, 2017

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.

Commentary: Super Bowl 50 and the pursuit of stadium network statistics

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi's Stadium new turf grows silently behind him in this 2014 photo. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi’s Stadium new turf grows silently behind him in this 2014 photo. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

If there’s one person who didn’t get enough recognition in the run-up to today’s Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, it’s Dan Williams, the former director of information technology for the Niners and the man who was largely behind the venue’s celebrated network design.

From our standpoint, Williams deserves credit not just for leading the deployment of a stadium network that set the standard for the future of connected venues, but also for being among the first to openly talk about the network’s performance, sharing statistics both good and bad during his short stay at Levi’s Stadium. His honesty helped open the door wider on a potentially rich stream of information that we think could greatly assist stadium network professionals everywhere, especially if more teams followed his lead and shared stats openly and honestly.

But the pursuit of meaningful network statistics remains a challenging process on many levels, and it’s one that is ironically likely to get more confusing today as multiple parties are set to release live network statistics from Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T are planning to release live game-day performance figures for their cellular networks in and around the venue today, and we also expect to get Wi-Fi network statistics from the San Francisco 49ers, if not during the game then shortly thereafter.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4) during the first preseason game at Levi's Stadium, July 2014

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4) during the first preseason game at Levi’s Stadium, July 2014

While we salute the change of heart (especially from Verizon) to make more information available, we’d also like to make a plea here for more independent access to venues on game day, so there can be an independent, objective voice on hand to counter the “sanitization” or simple non-reporting of less-impressive data that is almost sure to occur when interested parties are talking about themselves. But unless team, league or venue IT representatives band together and craft recognized standard methods of reporting the most-interesting data, we’re going to be left to sift through an ever-increasing mix of figures provided by those with their own agendas on what’s important and what should remain hidden. We’ll do our best on that front, but it’d be better if we had some industry-wide help.

Out of school behavior provides the most interesting info

Like many other stadium network professionals we’ve been fortunate enough to meet and spend time with — a list here that includes folks like the San Francisco Giant’s Bill Schlough, Madison Square Garden’s Katee Panter, the Dallas Cowboys’ John Winborn, and Chip Foley, formerly with the Barclays Center, among many others — Williams from the start showed a passion for making the network better, so it could better serve the fans who used it. Our first face to face meeting came during the first preseason football game at Levi’s Stadium, when I tweeted that I was having problems connecting to the Wi-Fi network. William’s response? An email asking me where I was sitting, followed quickly by an in-person visit. Now that’s customer support.

The outcome of that interaction was a revelation that the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network hadn’t prepared adequately for older devices that were still using the 2.4 GHz unlicensed bands; what was cool to me was not just that I kind-of discovered it by accident, but that Williams and his team admitted it publicly, then went about fixing it. The combination of objective reporting and honest confirmation, I think, worked to the benefit of all. But not everybody sees such things in the same light.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

For instance, during the rest of Levi’s Stadium’s first year of operation, Williams shared with us not just raw “tonnage” numbers of Wi-Fi use but also interesting stats from the app, like exact numbers of replays watched and in-seat food delivery orders. Since those numbers were kind of low — in the low thousands for food deliveries and a decline in replay use after the season opener — they weren’t necessarily flattering to the owners of the system, even if you took into account the fact that some of this (like delivering to any seat in a 68,500-seat stadium) had never been tried before. In the end, even Niners CEO Jed York admitted that some elements of the stadium hadn’t performed as expected, as the stats we’d been seeing had borne out.

After Williams left the team, the Niners took control of the network stats reporting and hugely trimmed down the list of things they were willing to report, though we would also note that Roger Hacker and the Niners communications team are still at the top of the list when it comes to consistent, repeated reporting of the network stats they feel comfortable talking about. When there are big numbers to report, all goes well because everyone loves to talk about systems that deliver for fans as promised. But I can also tell you that when things go south, so does a lot of the honest communication, an unfortunate if understandable situation.

Who will tell you when things don’t work?

For Levi’s Stadium, the darkest night for the network came on Feb. 21, 2015, at the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. In what has easily been our highest-traffic post ever, we described in detail some of the big problems that surfaced that evening, which included breakdowns of the delivery service, the Wi-Fi network, the light rail boarding process, and part of Verizon’s cellular network. What’s funny about our reporting is that I hadn’t planned on “working” that night — I had bought full-price tickets for myself and my brother, and as longtime hockey nuts we proudly wore our Blackhawks jerseys to represent our hometown team.

Screen shot of Levi's Stadium app during hockey game issues

Screen shot of Levi’s Stadium app during hockey game issues

My plan was just to relax, take CalTrain and VTA to the stadium and show off the network by ordering us food and drink to be delivered to our seats, but when some obvious and incomprehensible network breakdowns were evident, I went into reporting mode, and eventually found out mostly what went wrong. My point here is that, without independent, objective reporting live from the scene, it’s doubtful that parties with vested interests — like cellular providers or owners of the stadium network — are going to honestly and quickly talk about breakdowns or failures. Yet it’s always the lessons learned from problem times that help the most; my worry is that with more “sponsored” or in-house statistics flooding the zone, the more valuable objective data will get lost or devalued.

How can this be fixed? For starters, teams and leagues that spend an inordinate amount of time and money promoting technical features of stadiums should at the very least credential some reporters who are interested in following up to see how said deployments perform. While we’re grateful for the few forward-thinking organizations that have given us the same access that sports reporters get, more often than not our requests for media access to events are denied.

Since we can’t be at every stadium, we also rely on teams, venues and network operators to provide stats when possible, and we encourage more participants to join the growing list who do provide us with network performance figures, like the IT teams at Nebraska and Texas A&M, among others. While we have also drawn some industry criticism for our headline focus on such stats, our response is that the more data we get and the more opinions on which data matter, the better we will get over time. We also encourage any and all interested parties to attend the SEAT Conference this summer in Las Vegas, where you can be sure we will have discussions about this topic and how to make stats reporting more useful for those to whom it matters most — the professionals who install and operate these networks so that fans can stay connected at events.

MSR on the scene at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in January

MSR on the scene at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in January

Niners: All (tech) systems go at Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50

Levi's Stadium, ready for the Super Bowl. All stadium photos: Levi's Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

Levi’s Stadium, ready for the Super Bowl. All stadium photos: Levi’s Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

As far as the technology at Levi’s Stadium is concerned, it’s all systems go for Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, according to San Francisco 49ers chief operating officer Al Guido.

In a phone interview with Mobile Sports Report, Guido said the 2-year-old stadium’s vaunted technology underpinnings — especially the wireless connectivity for fans — is ready to go for the NFL’s biggest yearly event, after a second season spent mainly fine-tuning the different components.

“We couldn’t feel more confident, hosting the game,” said Guido, speaking specifically about the technology infrastructure at Levi’s Stadium. As he stated before the regular season began, the Niners didn’t do anything radical to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, which uses gear from Aruba, an HP Enterprise company, to bring the main wireless bandwidth to fans.

And while the stadium’s distributed antenna system (DAS) got a complete replacement over the summer, the new capabilities including under-seat DAS antennas for Verizon Wireless should only lead to better reception than the year before. According to Guido, representatives from Aruba as well as from “all the carriers” will be on hand Super Sunday just in case anything needs close attention.

“Everybody’s going to be at a high tech [support] level” on game day, Guido said.

Drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.

Drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.


No food, but in-seat beverage delivery as part of stadium app

The Super Bowl 50 stadium app, designed for the NFL by the Niners’ in-house app development company VenueNext, will have some but not all of the features Niners fans have available during the regular season. The most obvious omission is the lack of food delivery to all seats, something that makes Levi’s Stadium stand apart from any other large public sporting venue. Instead, the stadium app will only allow fans to order beverages for in-seat delivery, with the option to order food, beverage and merchandise that can be claimed at “express pickup” concession windows.

According to Guido, the decision to only have beverage deliveries at Super Bowl 50 was one reached jointly by the NFL, the Niners and VenueNext, and the catering company for the stadium, Centerplate. Guido said that the potential “amount of education” for all the fans new to the stadium and new to the app led the league, the Niners and the caterers toward a path of greater simplicity, namely just having beverages available for in-seat delivery.

“It was a risk-reward decision about the amount of fan education needed,” Guido said. “There’s so much going on at a Super Bowl and so many people new to the stadium that it didn’t seem worth it to us to risk someone not getting an order delivered because of their error, or our error.” Guido added that with all the extra breaks in action for a Super Bowl, and additional concessions stands, “there’s enough time to get around” to get food.

View of the temporary media towers on the Dignity Health concourse

View of the temporary media towers on the Dignity Health concourse

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NFL, told Sports Business Journal that the league was also concerned about game-day delivery traffic patterns being disrupted by the new media towers that have been built for the game in the corner plaza areas of the stadium viagra online no prior prescription. “We were worried about having to keep up with demand … and we need to keep the aisles clear, which is important to the security team,” McKenna-Doyle said in a story by SBJ’s Don Muret.

The app will, however, include its normal live wayfinding capabilities, which should prove useful to new visitors to Levi’s Stadium since they can watch themselves walk through a map of the facility as a familiar moving blue dot. Like it does for Niners games, the app will also have instant replays from multiple camera angles available, as well as Super Bowl extras like a “celebrity cam” and the ability to watch Super Bowl commercials right after they are broadcast on TV.

Guido said the Levi’s Stadium app performed well all season, with an average of about “2,000 to 2,500” in-seat delivery orders per game. What was especially pleasing to the team was the number of fans who used the app’s ability to support digital ticketing, a feature that makes life somewhat simpler for fans but exponentially better for the team, which can gain valuable marketing insight from digital ticket-use statistics. According to Guido almost 35 percent of fans used digital ticketing during the past season.

Media towers save seats for fans

Niners fans watching Sunday’s game on TV might be surprised by the media towers, which Guido said were built in the Intel and Dignity Health concourse areas, which during regular-season games are simply open spaces. Guido said the decision to build temporary facilities for media means that the regular stadium seats will be saved for fans. At many other pro championship or playoff events, the overflow media are often housed in regular seating areas.

“The NFL made a great decision there” to put the media in the pavilions, Guido said.

If there is one thing that can’t really be controlled, it’s the traffic and transportation issues of bringing fans to the game. On Sunday fans coming to the game will confront Levi’s Stadium’s unique location in the middle of many Silicon Valley corporate headquarters buildings, which presents challenges that stadiums like AT&T Stadium in Dallas or the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. — which are surrounded by acres of stadium-controlled parking lots — simply don’t have. To help with Super Bowl traffic the planners are using multiple methods, including using Google employee buses as shuttles as well as signing Uber as a sponsor with its own dedicated pickup and dropoff lot. There is also light rail service which stops right outside the stadium, which intially in the past experienced lengthy delays especially after games, but has improved over time.

“Traffic and transportation is our largest concern,” Guido said.

Bring on the players and fans!

Bring on the players and fans!

Ruckus, DAS Group Professionals, CommScope and Brocade all part of Sacramento Kings’ new tech-forward stadium

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Thursday morning at CES here in Las Vegas Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is scheduled to speak and will no doubt tell the CES attendees about the Kings’ new stadium, the Golden 1 Center, and about how tech-loaded it is by design. But Wednesday night details emerged about the vendors helping the Kings with their extensive wireless deployment, and the list includes Ruckus Wireless, DAS Group Professionals, Brocade and CommScope, among others.

As previously reported by Mobile Sports Report, Ruckus gear will be used in the Wi-Fi deployment not just at the 17,500-seat Golden 1 Center, but also in the surrounding area, which is supposed to include a new public plaza and other developments, including hotel, office, housing and retail space. In the press announcement of all the tech underpinnings the Kings do not state exactly how many Wi-Fi APs will be in the stadium proper but instead say that there will be “more than 1,000” APs in both the stadium and surrounding plaza and developments. UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded to clarify, saying there isn’t yet an exact AP count but density is expected to be in the area of one AP per 15 seats, which would put the final total well over 1,000 APs and easily be the most APs for a Wi-Fi deployment in any basketball/hockey arena we know of, and perhaps the most dense of any sporting venue (for now).

Since we’re nit-picking we’ll also question the Kings’ claim that Golden 1 Center will be “the first arena in the world to implement wide-band, multimode fiber technology” on the backbone, a curious claim since the fiber-based network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is already operational (and working quite well). UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded and say that their implementation differs from Texas A&M’s passive optical network; we will provide further details and comparisons in the near future.

The DGP team at Levi's Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

The DGP team at Levi’s Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

Frothy claims aside, we are very interested in hearing more about the venue’s tech underpinnings, especially the combined DAS/small cell deployment being installed by DAS Group Professionals, the builders of the DAS network at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. According to the Kings’ release wireless powerhouse CommScope will be part of the infrastructure as well (along with bandwidth provider Comcast, a deal that was announced last month), and network backbone gear provider Brocade will also be involved, making Golden 1 Center a mini-me kind of version of Levi’s Stadium, where Comcast, Brocade and DGP are all also involved. (This is also not so surprising since we have heard rumors that the Kings hired some IT folks who previously worked on the Levi’s Stadium deployment.)

If there is an outlier to the deal it’s the Wi-Fi presence of Ruckus, which has had a tough year when it comes to potential stadium deployments. First Ruckus had a deal for Wi-Fi at the new San Jose Earthquakes soccer stadium but lost that when Avaya booted Ruckus off the pitch by purchasing naming rights to now-Avaya Stadium for $20 million. More recently, Ruckus was part of an initial winning bid with integrator 5 Bars for the Wi-Fi deployment at Houston’s NRG Stadium, but was replaced at the last minute by Extreme Networks to unspecified and unconfirmed pressure, most likely by the NFL. On the plus side, Ruckus gear was used for the Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, as well as at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of the big spring pro tennis tourney.

We will try to fill in more blanks and details during Ranadive’s appearance Thursday (like who will be designing the team app, which we are guessing might be VenueNext), but the real proof of the Golden 1 pudding won’t come until October, since you never can tell how a stadium network will work until it’s turned on for a full house of device-holding fans. That’s why we don’t put much stock in theoretical claims, like the Kings’ ridiculous promise that the network can handle “over 500,000 Snapchat posts per second” — that’s some fast fingers for a full house of 17,500, no? When it comes to feeds and speeds we are firmly in the show-me house, so we hope the Kings and Golden 1 Center will be as open with their real-world statistics come next fall as they are with press-release superlatives now.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC WEST

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

View from the Levi's 501 Club section seats, 2014 season. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

View from the Levi’s 501 Club section seats, 2014 season. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

San Francisco 49ers
Levi’s Stadium
Seating Capacity: 68,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Though the San Francisco 49ers didn’t quite live up to expectations last year, the team’s new stadium delivered on its technological promise, especially on the Wi-Fi network front, where service was solid from day 1, supporting the innovative stadium-app features like food delivery to every seat and instant replays. And while there were no complaints about the stadium’s DAS, carrier customers paid deployment firm DAS Group Professionals to completely replace the system this offseason, to better handle even more traffic expected at Super Bowl 50, which will take place at Levi’s in February.

Arizona Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium
Seating Capacity: 63,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

If you want great Wi-Fi, by all means have your facility host a Super Bowl. The latest recipient of a high-fidelity network (using Cisco gear and deployed by CDW), the University of Phoenix Stadium set Wi-Fi records last February at the big game, with more than 6 terabytes of data used.

Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field
Seating Capacity: 72,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

CenturyLink Field, once a joke because it was a stadium named after a phone company that had poor connectivity, is now into its second year of a Wi-Fi deployment from Extreme and Verizon Wireless, where Verizon customers get their own part of the network. Watch for more innovation in Seattle on the app side, with multiple camera angles available for replays.

St. Louis Rams
Edward Jones Dome
Seating Capacity: 66,000
Wi-Fi – No
DAS – Yes

Still no Wi-Fi at the Edward Jones Dome, as the team continues to ponder its future and whether or not it will stay in St. Louis.
Fans should still have good cellular connectivity thanks to the Mobilitie neutral-host DAS installed last season.