August 23, 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.

Denver’s Pepsi Center gets Avaya Wi-Fi network

Denver's Pepsi Center. Credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Denver’s Pepsi Center. Credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Though it’s been operating inside the building since earlier this year, the Avaya Wi-Fi network in Denver’s Pepsi Center is official today, with a public announcement from stadium owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment about the deployment.

Home to the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche, the arena — which seats 19,155 for hoops and 18,007 for hockey — hosts more than 200 events per year, according to the stadium home page. Now, sports fans and attendees at concerts and other events will be able to connect to the Internet via the 325 Avaya Wi-Fi APs installed over the past year, a number confirmed by Rick Schoenhals, vice president for information and technology for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE).

According to Schoenhals, the Wi-Fi network inside the Pepsi Center has been fully operational since late this spring, the end of a ramp-up period designed to ensure full operation by the start of the upcoming basketball and hockey seasons. Though no statistics for fan use from the past season are available, the network is designed to also provide connectivity for in-house operations including video feeds, security operations, concessions and also for sideline team access, according to a press release.

Avaya said the network deployment at the Pepsi Center will also include a “fan engagement wall,” a live social-media centerpiece that displays fan social media posts in real time for arena attendees to view on digital displays. Avaya has a similar fan engagement wall at its eponymous Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home to major league soccer’s Earthquakes and home of this year’s MLS All-Star game later this month. In addition to the Pepsi Center and Avaya Stadium, Avaya also is the gear used in the Wi-Fi network at the Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre.

fanwall1

Fan wall at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Fan experience soars with arrival of Wi-Fi at Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans of the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens finally have a technological stadium experience that matches the team’s successful on-ice legacy, with the debut this season of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network that empowers a wide range of services meant to make the game-day experience second to none.

As part of an announced $100 million refurbishing of the 20-year-old Bell Centre, the new Wi-Fi network is already letting the Canadiens support services like in-seat food and beverage delivery ordered via a mobile-device app, as well as mobile ticketing and fan-loyalty programs. According to Pierre-Eric Belzile, vice president of information and communication technology for the Canadiens, the new network has been in development for several years, when the team determined that its fans needed better connectivity inside the 21,288-seat arena.

“Since we have Bell [Canada] as a partner, we have a completely new DAS inside the arena,” Belzile said. But a few years ago, he said the team was looking at making video available to the public, and to support “all the new devices” coming online, the idea of providing Wi-Fi to fans started taking shape.

Sticking with what works

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. In addition to this and other in-depth profiles we also take an in-depth look at the new trend of deploying Wi-Fi and DAS antennas under seats, and provide a wireless recap from Super Bowl 50. GET YOUR COPY today!

The arena, Belzile said, already had a Wi-Fi network for internal operations, including point-of-sale systems for concessions and ticketing, that was installed in 2006. Belzile, who has been at the stadium for the past 15 years, said he liked that system’s infrastructure, which was provided then by Nortel. The familiarity with the technology led Belzile and his team to look first to the current Nortel technology owner, Avaya, for a buildout to a fan-facing system.

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

“I had such a good experience with the [Nortel] switches, how flexible they are, it was a normal decision to look at Avaya,” Belzile said. That look turned into a deal, and for this season Avaya gear is at the base of the 500-AP strong network that brings free Wi-Fi to every seat in the house.

For an Oct. 15 game, Belzile said the network was already working well, with approximately 4,000 unique users and a peak of 3,200 concurrent connections, even with little to no promotion of the Wi-Fi by the team. That night the Canadiens saw 320 gigabytes of data carried on the Wi-Fi network, a nightly number that has no doubt grown as the season progressed.

With an upper bowl that circles the entire stadium, Belzile said “it was an easy call” to mount all antennas overhead, and not trying to go the more costly route of installing them under seats. Cement columns in the backs of rows also made for convenient AP mounting spots, Belzile said. For the hard-to-reach rows down near the ice, Belzile said that Bell has made extra efforts to improve the DAS coverage there, ensuring that the closest seats also have good connectivity.

Bringing food to the fan

The new network also allows the Canadiens to provide in-seat food and beverage delivery to fans who order from the app, a service available to all seats except the “Club Dejardins” level, where the team said food is included with the ticket. Though no food-delivery stats have yet been provided by the team, the team said its goal is to deliver all orders within five minutes of them being placed.

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

The concession-delivery service is just part of an aggressive mobile-device strategy, one that includes a social media promotion headlined by the “Club 1909” (for the year the team was founded) program, which offers benefits like free tickets for loyalty points accrued.

Belzile said fans at the stadium can use the team’s mobile app to view instant replays, as well as participate in online quiz contests. On the concourses, the team added HD displays that show live game action, so that fans out of their seats don’t have to miss what’s happening on the ice. The multicast video system, Belzile said, is supported by the stadium’s Avaya-based network, and is easy to update dynamically, instead of the old static ads that used to be displayed.

“Sponsors have been very pleased with the results” from the new displays, Belzile said.

Though a bit of a newcomer to the stadium-network space, Avaya already has some big-name deployments under its belt, including its namesake Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home of pro soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, as well as a yet-unannounced deployment already working at the Pepsi Center in Denver, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche.

Belzile, who said he took a trip to San Jose recently to see the huge outdoor bar that is one of the signatures of Avaya Stadium, said he’s extremely pleased with the new Bell Centre network and what it supports: Solid connectivity for fans.

“We wanted to let people do whatever they wanted to do with their devices, anywhere in the building, even when they are at the game,” Belzile said. “The [new] network really helps improve the experience for the fans.”

Boston Bruins  v Montreal Canadiens - Game Three

Stadium Tech Report: Average connectivity doesn’t seem to hurt Avaya Stadium experience

Panoramic view of the packed house at Avaya Stadium for the official debut.

Panoramic view of the packed house at Avaya Stadium for the official debut.

From a strictly wireless perspective, the opening-day performance of the Avaya Stadium Wi-Fi network was good in some spots and very poor in others, leading to an overall grade of average at best. But the Wi-Fi issues didn’t seem to take anything away from the smashing debut of a facility purpose-built for soccer and well-designed for an easy, fun fan experience, even with a sellout crowd of 18,000 on hand.

Mobile Sports Report visited Avaya Stadium for its “official” debut, Sunday’s San Jose Earthquakes’ MLS season home opener against the Chicago Fire, which ended in a 2-1 San Jose victory. But the team on the field wasn’t the only winner, as fans seemed to be smiling and enjoying every part of the new $100 million venue, from its huge end-zone bar and its close-to-the-field seats, to the pre-game picnic area with food trucks, music, and space for kids to run around. Well-planned parking and traffic operations seemed to cause few problems, with most fans finding their way to their seats in the new park in time for the just-after-4 p.m. kickoff.

If my unofficial walk-around testing was any true barometer, my guess is that the only problem some fans might have had Sunday was trying to connect to the Internet to post the thousands of selfies I saw being taken with smartphones. With almost zero cellular communication inside the stadium, and very low Wi-Fi readings in much of the seating bowl, my tests lead me to conclude that while the stadium is wonderful right now for watching futbol, its wireless connectivity is still a work in progress but one that should get better soon when the planned neutral-host DAS from Mobilitie gets installed and becomes operational.

Parking and traffic a breeze

Since I arrived early and had an employee-lot parking pass (thanks to the Earthquakes for the media pass and parking) I didn’t encounter any traffic at all either in my drive down 101 or on the streets leading to the stadium. Approaching from the north on 6-lane wide Coleman Avenue, there was very clear signage for each of the parking lots, and no backups in sight at 2 p.m., two hours before the scheduled start.

Fans waiting outside the main gate

Fans waiting outside the main gate

Since it’s about one-fourth the size of its neighbor to the north, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, Avaya Stadium probably won’t have the same kinds of transit and parking issues that plagued Levi’s during its inaugural season. It also seems like the Avaya Stadium location is a much better setup for getting in and out of the stadium, with the wide Coleman Avenue and the huge dirt lots directly adjacent to the venue. Walking past some early bird tailgaters I was at the stadium gates in a couple minutes. In both the employee lot and the closest regular parking lot, I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal at all but cellular connectivity was pretty good (7+ Mbps on Verizon 4G LTE), as I could see several large cell towers around the edges of the lots. Even with a packed parking area, fans should still be able to get a signal on their way in.

For my early entry time I didn’t see any issues with stadium entry technology, but the lack of metal-detector gates (security personnel used handheld wands to scan each fan as they entered) might be something that slows down the process of getting into the stadium. I did notice larger lines around 3:30 p.m., but like anywhere else the entry procedures will likely only improve with time.

Before coming to Avaya Stadium I downloaded the new team app, which seemed a little bare-bones. Since I didn’t have a ticket I couldn’t test the digital season-ticket integration, but I was able to use the directions to the stadium feature and the stadium map, which provides a helpful picture-view of all amenities that can be found in the U-shaped seating area as well as the open-air bar. The map is interactive, giving you a description of each amenity (bathrooms, team store, etc.) when you touch the associated icon. As of yet there is no way to use the app to pay for concessions or to view any live or archived video. Like other stadium apps, including Levi’s, the Avaya Stadium app will likely grow in functionality over time.

Wi-Fi performance: Great on the concourses, weak in the seats

Just after finding my “exterior press box” seat in possibly the “worst” part of the stands — the upper northwest corner — I quickly saw how Avaya Stadium was going to deliver its Wi-Fi signals to the seating area, by looking up at the metal beams supporting the awnings that are the open-air “roof.” On each beam I could see anywhere from two to three Wi-Fi access points, all targeted directly down at the seats below them. The Avaya Wi-Fi deployment has no under-the-seat APs or any handrail APs that I could see, but there are lots of other APs visible on top of concession stands and other places around the single, ground-level concourse. There are also some APs attached to the huge bar area that spans across the open east end of the stadium. Gaining access to the network was a snap, done by just clicking on the “proceed” button that popped up on the splash screen that appears after you select the “GOQUAKES” SSID on your device. There was no login credential or password required.

The view from our seat, probably the "worst" in the place

The view from our seat, probably the “worst” in the place

How did the network perform? Before the stadium filled up, my rooftop seat had a signal between 5 and 7 Mbps on the download and upload sides, a figure that would decline steadily as the day progressed. Walking down the steep stairs into the largely empty seating bowl, the Wi-Fi speeds decreased, with a couple readings in the 2-3 Mbps download range near the lowest row of seats.

Hungry because I hadn’t had lunch, I ventured out past the huge end-zone bar to a large grassy area that was lined with food trucks and filled with soccer fans having impromptu picnics with lots of kids running around. There were various booths for soccer clubs and from sponsors, as well as a band, which made the area seem (in a good way) more like a county fair than a pro sporting event. I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi connection out on the lawn, but I was able to get a good cellular signal, around 8 Mbps, on my Verizon device (an iPhone 6 Plus). Feeling thirsty I headed to the bar, where Wi-Fi kicked in again, with one signal of 22 Mbps down and 17 Mbps up.

Heading back through the now-crowded concourse toward my seat, I stopped and got a Wi-Fi reading of almost 16 Mbps down and 9 Mbps up, in the middle of a large throng of fans. But I wouldn’t hit that mark again the rest of the afternoon, which makes me wonder how well the network held up under a full-house load.

Up close and personal areas a hit with fans

Panoramic view from the cheering section

Panoramic view from the cheering section

Since I’d never been to a professional soccer game before I decided to soak in as much fan flavor as I could. At Avaya Stadium I headed down to the space behind the west end zone, in the closed end of the stadium, where there are several rows of standing-room only spaces where some of the loudest fans congregated (there was one group with a band, and many flags). Directly above the standing section was a seat section reserved for the team’s ardent followers, many of which spent the entire game standing, cheering, chanting and singing. Down below, I was fortunate enough to be close to the action and saw the Earthquakes’ first goal in their new home arena, a double header off a corner kick.

And though I was able to catch the score on video, because there was basically zero Wi-Fi signal there (I was directly underneath the bottom row of the stands) I wasn’t able to immediately post it to Twitter or Vine. Not that I cared that much, since it was fun to be swept up in the chanting and cheering and streamer-tossing that followed the goal. So even if I wasn’t connected wirelessly, I was certainly connected to the fans right around me — which, I think, is what Avaya Stadium is all about.


I’m no wireless engineer, but I was hardly surprised that the Wi-Fi signal in the seats wasn’t strong; looking way up at the APs on the roof, they seem too far away to be able to provide a high level of connectivity to the seats below, especially the ones closest to field level. Other stadiums we’ve covered in the near past have already either started or are making plans to increase the Wi-Fi APs at field level, since that’s one of the toughest areas to put an AP.

But like in the standing section, I’m not sure that Wi-Fi connectivity is a big deal for fans in the seats during the game action, which in case you’ve not watched soccer, has no breaks like timeouts or inning changes. I’m generalizing here but I think that the continuous-flow of soccer action inherently results in fans who simply watch the game instead of taking breaks to check their phones (Mark Cuban, here’s your sport!). So maybe the expense of bringing Wi-Fi to all the seats at Avaya Stadium isn’t justified.

Halftime view of fans checking phones

Halftime view of fans checking phones

That said, it seemed like during halftime there were a lot of people looking at devices in their stadium seats, but I didn’t hear any howls or complaints or see any obvious frustration. I do know that at my seat on the stadium’s top walkway (which can get very very very windy in the late afternoon) the Wi-Fi signal was weak the whole game, never registering more than 1 Mbps on the download side from the start of the game through the second half.

But again, this is just one phone and one person, a person who was also walking around a lot and connecting to multiple APs, a factor that sometimes makes network connections inconsistent. I did find that turning Wi-Fi off and on again helped get a better signal; when we hear back from the stadium network team we’ll ask if the network has been optimized for roaming connections. I did notice that the beer stand on the top deck just behind my “press box” seat was using cell phones and a payment-device gizmo to take credit card payments; when I asked the staffer running the stand she said she’d been taking payments all game using the regular Wi-Fi and hadn’t had any connectivity issues. So, the connectivity mileage may vary.

DAS to the rescue

Though team executives have talked a lot about the stadium’s networking plans, it would be better for fans right now to have a more realistic estimate of what is going on, and when future enhancements like video and food ordering will become a reality. Some improvement will happen in a big way when Mobilitie gets the neutral-host DAS up and running, since many people never think of joining a stadium Wi-Fi network, they just pull out their phones and hope for the best. With advanced cellular in the building, the connectivity loads will be shared between cellular and Wi-Fi, increasing overall capacity. Sunday, I wasn’t able to get either an AT&T 4G device or my Verizon phone to even register with Speedtest.com to get a figure anywhere inside the stadium using a cellular-only connection. While most fans might have been able to send text messages or get regular voice calls, it’s a good guess that many like me were stymied trying to do simple data tasks like post messages to Twitter. It will be interesting to see what the network folks from Avaya Stadium say when they give us the opening-day report.

Cheers to Avaya Stadium from the end zone bar!

Cheers to Avaya Stadium from the end zone bar!

In the end, my first impression from a wireless point of view is that Avaya Stadium has a basic, average level of connectivity for a new stadium, with enough reasons to believe it’s going to get better over time. I’m also cutting them some slack since the technology supplier for the venue changed wholesale last year when Avaya came in as a title sponsor, leaving just a few short months for Avaya to get its own gear in the building and in working order. Again, I’m no engineer but I did see things like electrical tape holding some antenna connections in place, the kind of stuff you don’t expect to see in a professional stadium deployment.

And while the connectivity didn’t particularly stand out as awesome, it also was good enough in enough places to make sure there wasn’t the dreaded “no signal” issue that could have soured things for lots of fans. In the end, there was so much to like about the facility — even in my top-row seat I felt close to the action on the field — that it’s hard to call the day anything short of a smashing success, especially if you are a Bay area soccer fan who’s had to endure sub-par stadium experiences in the past. Those days are gone, and Avaya Stadium should be a fast favorite place going forward.

LOTS OF PHOTOS BELOW! Click on any picture for a larger image. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

Avaya Stadium, from the employee parking lot

Avaya Stadium, from the employee parking lot

Tailgate action before the game

Tailgate action before the game

Connecting to Wi-Fi was easy

Connecting to Wi-Fi was easy

Interactive stadium map was one of the best things in the app

Interactive stadium map was one of the best things in the app

Wi-Fi APs attached to roof beams

Wi-Fi APs attached to roof beams

More APs, underneath the canopy roof

More APs, underneath the canopy roof

Still more AP views

Still more AP views

Another AP, out on the end of the stanchion

Another AP, out on the end of the stanchion

A view to give perspective on how far away the roof-beam APs are from the stands

A view to give perspective on how far away the roof-beam APs are from the stands

Seats with promo scarves. The team asked fans to donate if they wanted to keep the scarves.

Seats with promo scarves. The team asked fans to donate if they wanted to keep the scarves.

More Wi-Fi APs, on the concourse level. This was above a bathroom entrance.

More Wi-Fi APs, on the concourse level. This was above a bathroom entrance.

Wi-Fi APs atop small building near the open end zone

Wi-Fi APs atop small building near the open end zone

Good view of standing-room area in front of end zone bar. It was packed all game.

Good view of standing-room area in front of end zone bar. It was packed all game.

Panoramic view of the picnic lawn. Hey there Quakes fan!

Panoramic view of the picnic lawn. Hey there Quakes fan!

Fans waiting to get in, about a half hour before game time

Fans waiting to get in, about a half hour before game time

Where the rich folks watch from: Over the gate view of a club level area and their nice buffet

Where the rich folks watch from: Over the gate view of a club level area and their nice buffet

Lots of selfies being taken Sunday

Lots of selfies being taken Sunday

You can see the big screen from just about everywhere in the place -- great resolution

You can see the big screen from just about everywhere in the place — great resolution

San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium will have Wi-Fi for ‘soft’ preseason opener

Practice on the pitch at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Credit all photos: Avaya (click on any photo for a larger image)

Practice on the pitch at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Credit all photos: Avaya (click on any photo for a larger image)

Keeping in tune with its Silicon Valley location, the San Jose Earthquakes‘ new Avaya Stadium will have a bit of a “beta” launch this weekend when the Quakes host the Los Angeles Galaxy for a 2 p.m. preseason match on Feb. 28, with only 10,000 fans being allowed into the brand-new 18,000-seat venue.

While all the bells and whistles for Avaya Stadium may not be in place yet, one thing will be at full strength for the preseason tilt — the stadium’s free fan-facing Wi-Fi network. With 180 Wi-Fi access points from Wi-Fi gear supplier Ruckus Wireless and a 10 Gbps backbone pipe, the network should be ready for the first batch of selfies and other communications from the Bay area’s newest sports stadium, located right next to the San Jose airport a little bit south and west of the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium.

If the Avaya Stadium app gets finalized in time, fans who attend Saturday’s game will be able to use the “Phase 1” features which include ticketing, parking and concession information. According to Peter Thompson, managing director of global sponsorship for Avaya, a follow-on phase of the app will add in-game statistics, among other features being considered. Thompson said the unfinished feeling to the app is a bit by design, since Avaya and Earthquakes officials want to first get some fan feedback on things they’d like to have in an interactive platform.

In-stadium message board touts the Wi-Fi

In-stadium message board touts the Wi-Fi

“We’re trying to make this collaborative,” Thompson said in a phone interview Friday afternoon, following the official ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the stadium. “We’ll be looking for fans to tell us what they want [in the app] and see which ideas float to the top.”

And even though the crowd this weekend will be limited to 10,000 fans, Thompson is quite sure the network will see almost 10,000 devices access it, from fans as well as those from media at the game. Fans may want to switch to the Wi-Fi network early, since according to Thompson there isn’t yet a distributed antenna system (DAS) deployment inside Avaya Stadium, which might make cellular communications a bit constrained.

And even if the Avaya Stadium app launches in time for the game, Thompson isn’t sure it will be the most-used application. When Avaya ran networking operations for the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thompson said iTunes and DropBox were at the top of the list.

“It [app usage] wasn’t what we expected, it wasn’t Facebook or Twitter [at the top],” Thompson said. “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

We will have stats from the Avaya Stadium network following the preseason match as well as the sold-out home opener on March 22. More photos from the stadium below.

Panoramic view of the field

Panoramic view of the field

Good look at the steep pitch of stands

Good look at the steep pitch of stands

Big scoreboard atop open-air bar area. Sure to be popular, with many beer taps available!

Big scoreboard atop open-air bar area. Sure to be popular, with many beer taps available!

Let's hope this grass holds up better than some other stadium turf we have seen

Let’s hope this grass holds up better than some other stadium turf we have seen

Soon to be full of soccer fans!

Soon to be full of soccer fans!