June 25, 2017

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!

Ookla shares Speedtest data from CenturyLink Field, other stadiums

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Ookla ad banner being flown over CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Credit: Ookla

Anyone who follows Mobile Sports Report knows that I use the Speedtest app from Ookla to measure stadium network performance whenever I visit a sporting venue. While my one-man tests do show some measure of network power, I always dreamed of harnessing the results from many fans at the same game to see a better picture of the network performance.

Well, Speedtest’s creators think along the same lines, and conducted an experiment during an Aug. 25 Seattle Seahawks preseason game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. You can read their very thorough post and neat results here, with some interesting twists — for instance, the cellular networks are way faster than the CenturyLink Wi-Fi, according to the Ookla results.

UPDATE: Ookla responded to our email and let us know that on Aug. 25, there were 252 Speedtests at CenturyLink Field, a great sampling to draw results from. Ookla also talked about tests from 12 different events at CenturyLink Field, and said in the email that across those events it saw 1,143 tests conducted.

Ookla also published some test result totals from other stadiums as well, including Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium and Bank of America Stadium, but didn’t say when those tests were recorded, or how many tests were taken.

What we really like, however, is that Ookla’s tests show what our stadium tech report surveys have been showing — that overall, in-stadium network performance is steadily improving. Over time, more data like this can help dispel the still-lingering rumor that stadium networks don’t deliver good connectivity. Now if we could only get Ookla to partner with us to do league-wide or college-comparison speedtests… anyone ready for that idea?

Verizon: Denver fans used 2.87 TB of wireless data during AFC championship; AT&T also sets DAS traffic records at both Sunday games

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, during Jan. 3 game vs. San Diego. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, during Jan. 3 game vs. San Diego. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

During their team’s exciting 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday, Denver Broncos fans who are Verizon Wireless customers used 2.87 terabytes of wireless data, according to Verizon. That total includes 1.7 TB used on the Verizon-only Wi-Fi network at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and another 1.17 TB of data on the Verizon LTE DAS network at the stadium.

Also on Sunday, at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., where the Carolina Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, Verizon Wireless customers there used 1.3 TB of data on the Verizon LTE DAS network, according to figures sent to us by Verizon.

According to AT&T, its wireless customers set DAS traffic records at both stadiums Sunday, with 819 GB used on AT&T’s DAS network at Sports Authority Field and 739 GB used by AT&T DAS customers at Bank of America Stadium. Both totals are the highest-ever marks seen by AT&T at the respective stadiums, according to AT&T; the Denver total Sunday was 34 percent higher than the total used in the team’s first playoff game this season against Pittsburgh, and was 52 percent more than the average data used during regular-season games. In Charlotte, the DAS traffic total Sunday was 16 percent higher than the number hit during the playoff game a week previous against Seattle, and 50 percent higher than the average regular-season game, according to AT&T.

On the AT&T Wi-Fi network at Bank of America Stadium, fans used 740 GB of data, which AT&T said is also the highest-ever mark for that network, 19 percent higher than the previous playoff game vs. Seattle and 36 percent more than the network saw for average regular season games. The Wi-Fi network at Bank of America Stadium will be replaced this offseason, with a new network built by AmpThink and Aruba.

In Denver, the network situation is somewhat unique since Verizon built the Wi-Fi network inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but so far only Verizon customers are allowed access to it. While we’ll describe the situation in more detail in a stadium-visit profile coming very soon, the word from stadium IT types is that the Wi-Fi is open to other carriers but none have yet signed on to allow their customers access to it. There are, however, separate DAS networks for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile inside the stadium as well, so at least from a DAS perspective most fans at Mile High are pretty well connected.

Stay tuned for more soon on the networks at Sports Authority Field at Mile High! In the meantime, some pictures from our Jan. 3 visit below.

mihi3

Count the antennas! See if you can spot the AT&T DAS antennas (slightly rounded) and the T-Mobile antenna (big square) among others in this overhang shot at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

mihi4

Denver’s south end zone scoreboard is topped by a horse… and two Wi-Fi antennas

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

The parking lots just outside Sports Authority Field have good Wi-Fi coverage as this light pole shows.

AmpThink, Aruba win Wi-Fi deal for Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 9.29.18 PMDetails are still yet to emerge, but AmpThink and Aruba have officially won the deal to put a new 1,200-AP Wi-Fi network in the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium for next football season.

Of course, the undefeated Panthers still have a lot left going on this season, and fans at home games will still be able to use the AT&T Wi-Fi network that has been in the stadium for several years. But as we noted in our NFL Stadium Tech roundup this season, there had been some Panther-fan grumbling about the performance of the network and stadium IT execs had been busy vetting a new provider during this past year.

Earlier today James Hammond, director of information technology for the Carolina Panthers, sent us this brief note that confirmed the selection of AmpThink and Aruba. It also confirms another primarily under-seat AP design for AmpThink, following its help in deploying the new network at Kyle Field at Texas A&M (see report out very very very soon!); it’s also another big NFL deal for Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company), whose gear is also used at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. According to Hammond:

The Carolina Panthers have issued a letter of intent to award the high density Wi-Fi project to AmpThink. The deployment will utilize approximately 1,200 Aruba access points in an under-seat configuration.

More on this deal as details become available.

NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC South

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 SOUTH

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 4.57.13 PMNew Orleans Saints
Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Seating Capacity: 76,468
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Superdome remains a signal of the region’s recovery. Inside the dome, the Wi-Fi installed before the most recent Super Bowl there is still going strong.

Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome
Seating Capacity: 71,280
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Even as they wait for the technological wonder that is the coming next year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (with fiber-based Wi-Fi from IBM and Corning), Falcons fans still have way better than average connectivity inside the Georgia Dome, where a Cisco-powered network provides access to mobile treats like instant replays from multiple camera angles.

Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium
Seating Capacity: 74,455
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Bank of America Stadium completely replaced its DAS solution during the offseason with a new Commscope ION-U system. The new DAS is owned by the Panthers directly and includes Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint as participants. Look for the stadium to completely replace its Wi-Fi system this coming offseason, with a new 1,200-AP network for the 2016 season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium
Seating Capacity: 65,890
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Raymond James Stadium got free fan-facing Wi-Fi for the 2012 season, but since then we haven’t heard anything about upgrades to the system. With the college playoff championship game coming in 2017, however, you can probably expect to see connectivity improvements coming soon.

Stadium Tech Report — NFL stadium technology reports — NFC South

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 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 SOUTH

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome
Seating Capacity: 71,280
Wi-Fi – Yes, approximately 500 access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Last year’s 4-12 record came as a surprise to Falcons fans after three straight playoff seasons. With lots of talent on the field, the fans are looking forward to a rebound year. And they’ll get to follow the team with ease as the multi-venue Georgia Dome features 500 Wi-Fi access points from Cisco.

Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium
Seating Capacity: 74,455
Wi-Fi – Yes, 645 access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Bank of America Stadium receives a Wi-Fi boost from AT&T in 2014. Now with 645-plus Wi-Fi access points, Panthers fans should find it a little easier to share that photo of Cam Newton’s touchdown celebration. Will they be able to do so for another home playoff game?

New Orleans Saints
Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Seating Capacity: 76,468
Wi-Fi – Yes, 600+ access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Remember the blackout from Super Bowl XLVII? How could you forget? The Superdome doesn’t. Good thing the versatile venue was prepared to keep fans connected with a robust DAS and more than 600 Cisco Wi-Fi access points. Saints fans will have plenty to share on game days with a high-powered offense back in 2014.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium
Seating Capacity: 65,890
Wi-Fi-Yes
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

After installing Wi-Fi in 2012 and releasing an updated team mobile app in 2013, Tampa Bay delayed plans to enhance the stadium’s video boards in the offseason. The reason? The organization wants to supersize the upgrades with larger screen sizes and video replay capability. Owned by the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, Raymond James Stadium has secured the 2017 College Football National Championship game. This means Bucs fans can expect the game day experience to continue to improve in the coming years.