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.

Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center will use really fast fiber technology from CommScope

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Since the Sacramento Kings are already talking about bandwidth-hogging applications like virtual reality replays for fans who visit the new Golden 1 Center, it’s perhaps no surprise that the venue will also have some of the fastest, highest capacity fiber network technology at its core.

On Tuesday, the Kings and network infrastructure provider CommScope announced that Golden 1 Center will be the first place to employ something called wideband multimode fiber, or WBMMF in the world of tech acronyms. Without getting too deep into fiber optics details it might be enough for most to know that WBMMF, a new developing standard in the cabling infrastructure world, lets you send more stuff over fewer fibers, an advancement developed mainly for the data center world but one that will also benefit places that expect to move a lot of data around, like Golden 1 Center.

Back in the old days, it was news when stadium networks upgraded to 1-gigabit per second pipes coming in to provide bandwidth. These days, many stadiums are talking multiple 10-gig pipes and even looking at 100-gig pipes (like Golden 1 Center will use from Comcast), meaning that the internal networks also need to get faster and wider to handle the never-ending increases in data use.

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Before its scheduled October opening we are sure we’ll hear more about the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS network deployments, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the underlying core network at Golden 1 Center should be able to handle data expansion for the foreseeable future thanks to the choice of the latest in fiber technology.

John Schmidt, vice president for CommScope’s Data Center solutions team, said the WBMMF products are primarily targeted at the data center market; but he also noted that with its own 6,000-square-foot data center, Golden 1 Center qualifies as the kind of place that will need the kind of future-proofing WBMMF can provide.

When the plans for Golden 1 Center were first talked about publicly, Schmidt said CommScope reached out to the Kings with a pitch about using the latest fiber technology in the core.

“It was clear they wanted something state of the art, with a great fan [network] experience,” Schmidt said. “We told them we could help with the physical layer, to support the bandwidth they would need.”

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Wi-Fi for concourses, suites makes its debut at Daytona 500

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

The famed banked track at Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Daytona International Speedway

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! Then connect to Wi-Fi!

Fans at Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR season opener will be able to connect to free Wi-Fi services in the new, wide concourses, suites, and midway area of the newly refurbished Daytona International Speedway, thanks to a new deployment led by Arris International, using Wi-Fi gear from Ruckus Wireless, management software from Aptilo and a new wiring infrastructure from CommScope.

According to Pete Wagener, senior vice president of sales operations at Arris, the already operational “phase 1” of the Wi-Fi network serves the new concourses, the VIP suites and the front-stretch “midway” area behind the seating structure. As part of the $400 million refurbishing of the historical racetrack, the first permanent deployment of Wi-Fi at Daytona was targeted at areas where the 101,500 fans who fill Daytona can congregate, Wagener said. A “phase 2” deployment will bring Wi-Fi to campgrounds and parking areas next year, but a “phase 3” plan to bring Wi-Fi directly to seating areas is still not yet a confirmed deal, Wagener said.

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

New concourse area at the track. Photo: DIS

Under the “Daytona Rising” refurbishing of the speedway, the addition of wide concourse areas behind the main seating area and a newly designed “midway” area on the ground level gives fans more areas to congregate, and with video monitors and Wi-Fi, they can stay connected to the action on the track. A new mobile app is also ready for its Daytona 500 debut, with features like live wayfinding inside the stadium and a parking locator, no small thing in the huge lots that are filled on race days.

Wagener said the Wi-Fi network has already been tested a couple times, at the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, and at the Daytona qualifying events earlier in the month. He added that the network management system has already allowed the IT team to make adjustments, adding more Wi-Fi access points (there are now 250 in the current phase) to get ready for the expected traffic on race day.

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris

Wi-Fi antenna on light pole at Daytona. Photo: Arris


Planning for future needs now

Putting fan-facing networks into huge race tracks like Daytona has always been something owners were reluctant to do, since it was hard to justify the costs of covering hundreds of thousands of seats that only might be filled with fans a few days a year. Daytona itself had seen some mobile Wi-Fi deployments, mainly to cover areas like campgrounds or parking, but had never brought Wi-Fi into the actual stadium itself.

But now with more events scheduled for the Daytona facility — and a plan to use the Daytona network operations center as the central control unit for Wi-Fi deployments at other International Speedway Corporation tracks — Wagener said that with the highly granular analytics its system will produce, NASCAR will be able to more easily justify the cost of the network through targeted marketing and maybe even charging for higher tiers of service in the future, especially at the campgrounds and parking areas, where fans may want to consume more bandwidth during their overnight stays.

Wagener also said that Arris, which deployed Wi-Fi networks at the Charlotte Arena and at World Cup soccer sites in Brazil, is looking toward more stadium deployments in the future, calling it “the next frontier for our industry.” Best known perhaps for its work providing gear and infrastructure for Comcast’s consumer network, Wagener said Arris brings “carrier class expertise” that is necessary for deployments on the scale of a Daytona Speedway.

In a separate announcement, CommScope said that it was also a partner in the communications infrastructure for “Daytona Rising,” deploying miles of copper cabling and fiber optic lines to support the new Wi-Fi system as well as TV displays and other stadium infrastructure needs.

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

Cabling run inside speedway. Photo: CommScope

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.

Stadium Tech Report: San Francisco’s AT&T Park lives up to its wireless reputation

Another tough day at the office for MSR. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR. (Click on any picture for a larger image)

Another tough day at the office for MSR. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR. (Click on any picture for a larger image)

Many times here at Mobile Sports Report we’ve referred to AT&T Park as the “most connected” or “best connected” stadium in baseball, if not for all sports anywhere. But even after multiple network tours and numerous reports from stats given to us by Giants CIO Bill Schlough and his staff I realized that one thing I’ve never done is to roam around the park on a game day, checking to see if its renowned Wi-Fi and DAS networks perform as promised.

Now after attending a recent day game as the guest of AT&T, I can tell you that the stadium that first put in fan-facing Wi-Fi for every seat is still at the forefront of ballpark connectivity, with Wi-Fi and DAS performance that knocks the ball out of the park almost every time. I say “almost” because during my walkaround tour I was able to find one place in the park that had almost no connectivity at all — but I will also bet you that as soon as this story is published, Schlough and his team will likely be out there the next day installing some kind of coverage since he and they have an almost unmatched enthusiasm for making their fan-facing network the best it can be. That, plus a strong partnership with AT&T, gives fans at Giants games perhaps the best stadium network anywhere, with performance so good for so long that it has almost become somewhat of an afterthought, one of the best kind of compliments a network staff can receive.

Nothing beats a strong team

Dynasty is a word fans like to use around Third and King Street in San Francisco, especially after the Giants won their third World Series title in 5 years last fall. Schlough, who loves baseball and the Giants as much as he loves networks, used the press-day gathering to show off his most recent Series ring, a chunk of gold and diamonds that probably gives you a wrist-curl workout when you put it on.

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

AT&T Park CIO Bill Schlough shows off his World Series bling.

(Point of reference: Schlough offered the ring to me to try on, but as a dyed-blue Cubs fan I refused. “Waiting for one with ‘Cubs’ on it,” I told him. As we say in Chicago, “if it takes forever.”)

You might have heard some of the early Wi-Fi stories from AT&T Park before, but they’re fun to repeat. Then known as SBC Park, after the sponsoring “Baby Bell” that would later revive the family name of AT&T, the Wi-Fi network that debuted in 2004 attracted an average of about 94 fans a game, Schlough said, diehard geeks who would have to put up with people mocking them for bringing laptops to a ballgame. Remember, the iPhone was still 3 years away from existing, and you had to stick a PC card in a laptop to connect to Wi-Fi.

Fast forward to 2015, and now for regular season games the Giants see an average of just more than 13,000 people connecting to the Wi-Fi network, a number that has basically leveled off over the past 3 years, Schlough said. What hasn’t leveled off, however, is data use — even from last season, when fans used an average of 591 gigabytes of data per game, so far this season they’re averaging 915 GB per game. That’s why this season Schlough and team will be busy adding another 400+ Cisco Wi-Fi access points to the park, a total that should hit 1,700 by the time October rolls around.

“We’ll be working hand in hand with AT&T trying to stay one step ahead of demand,” Schlough said.

AT&T Park cabling runs are SRO

AT&T Park cabling runs are SRO

Scott Mair, AT&T’s senior vice president of technology, was on hand to help lead network tours before the game and to talk about how AT&T was using a new device called the EchoBOT to help gauge network performance in the park. Though it’s a bit of inside baseball, EchoBOT — which is basically an off-the-shelf cell phone that sits in a ruggedized box — is the kind of thing that can come out of the smart-person pool at a technology giant like AT&T. Invented in-house, the EchoBOT basically gives network operators an on-the-spot way to determine not just how the network is working, but what the actual user experience is like from the end-user point of view.

With 18 EchBOTs scattered throughout AT&T Park, Schlough and AT&T can get a much more granular view of how the stadium’s network is performing, just another way of using the resources of one of the world’s biggest telecom companies helps the fan experience at AT&T Park.

The one place without Wi-Fi

With our network tours concluded and some crispy chicken fingers inhaled in the comfy confines of the AT&T suite just above the third-base line, it was time to go to work to see if the AT&T Park network could deliver as promised. Since I’ve sat in seats at the park many times and had great connectivity there, I spent my time during the afternoon game seeking out what I thought might be some of the hardest places to bring connectivity. The first, in the second-level concourse, looked like it might be a tough antenna spot, with narrow halls and lots of concrete. But bam, on my Verizon iPhone 6 Plus I got a Wi-Fi signal of 31 Mbps down, 21 Mbps up; on my companion loaner device from AT&T, an LG Optimus G Pro, I got a 4G LTE connection of 26.15 Mbps down, 18.02 up. (For all remaining measurements I’ll just use the down/up convention to save time; I was using the standard Speedtest.net app from Ookla for all measurements.)

So yeah, you can connect while you’re in line to get a hot dog.

Here's the only place we couldn't find decent Wi-Fi. #firstworldproblem

Here’s the only place we couldn’t find decent Wi-Fi. #firstworldproblem

Strolling through the concourse toward right field, I saw several Wi-Fi advertisement signs, letting fans know they should definitely connect to the network. That’s a sign of deployment confidence, unlike many parks that install Wi-Fi but don’t really promote it, perhaps in order to keep user numbers down. After walking outside to get a view of McCovey Cove and the kayaks waiting for home-run balls to clear the park’s fences for a “splash landing,” I found a spot with almost zero connectivity — in the standing-room-only area backed up against the wall overlooking the bay.

With a Wi-Fi reading of 0.93/2.23 on the Verizon device and a 0.94/3.24 on Verizon 4G the SRO perch on the promenade was easily the poorest connection I found all day. But looking around, it’s kind of a silly place to be looking at your phone since from one direction a well-hit ball might be landing on your head and in the other direction there’s great views of the San Franicsco Bay. But still it does go to show that even in the most-connected stadium perhaps on earth, it’s not easy to get a signal everywhere. With no roof overhead and no railings close by, there simply isn’t a place to put an antenna out there. (But I bet Schlough and team will soon come up with a solution.)

Concourses covered, and upper deck too

I kept wandering around the outfield concourse and found decent connectivity at the centerfield Coors Light bar, 9.32/17.31 for Wi-Fi on the Verizon device and 14.21/43.00 for Wi-Fi on the AT&T device, as well as outside the Giants’ social media cafe in left-center, 14.32/32.20 for Wi-Fi on the Verizon device and 13.61/34.70 for Wi-Fi on the AT&T phone. Unless you’re a Wi-Fi geek like me you probably won’t ever see the APs since they are painted to match the structures they’re attached to. But I could see multiple APs hanging off the centerfield scoreboard structure, a piece of architecture that helps to deliver such solid connectivity to the open outside areas.

You can see Wi-FI APs -- if you know where to look.

You can see Wi-FI APs — if you know where to look.

Taking a break in a standing area behind the left field foul pole I got a smoking result for Wi-Fi on the Verizon phone, 22.46 Mbps on the download side and an amazing 52.05 on the upload. (I think it’s important to note that some of the best signals were on a device from an AT&T competitor, a sign that the facility does a great job of ensuring that any customer will get a good signal, no matter where you purchased your phone or service plan.) Climbing the stairwells to the view deck I still got a good signal on the concourse behind the seats in upper left field — 7.24/8.75 on the Verizon phone.

Since it was getting windy and cold (summer in SF!) I ducked back inside and found an empty seat in section 332, near the upper left field corner of the park. There I got a Verizon Wi-Fi mark of 17.52/24.33, and a Verizon 4G LTE mark of 5.62/6.81, again showing that the AT&T Park DAS is also delivering solid performance for customers on other carriers. The AT&T phone at that location saw 12.46/18.79 on Wi-Fi and 12.68/17.06 on 4G LTE. According to Schlough, the AT&T neutral-host DAS, which uses CommScope ION equipment, is so good that many fans don’t even bother to switch their phones to Wi-Fi. The upper deck, or view level, is scheduled to get many of the APs slated for installation this summer, in the under-the-seat enclosures that bring the network right into the seating areas.

Conclusion: Like the Giants, AT&T Park is tough to beat

Here at MSR we get the question a lot — “what’s the park with the best network?” — and I would have to say that like its tenants, AT&T Park is tough to beat. Schlough and the impressive IT team down at AT&T Stadium have a friendly rivalry, and you can’t have the most-connected discussion without mentioning Levi’s Stadium. But the park that did Wi-Fi first continues to improve year in and year out, never resting on its historic laurels. That’s a “dynasty” that is perhaps as impressive as the one built by the team on the field.

(More AT&T Park visit pictures below)

A little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see the Giants showing fan social media posts on the big screen.

A little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see the Giants showing fan social media posts on the big screen.

These signs are up all over the park

These signs are up all over the park

EchoBOT enclosures (white) next to a Wi-FI AP

EchoBOT enclosures (white) next to a Wi-FI AP

View from the Coors Light concourse walk-up bar in center field

View from the Coors Light concourse walk-up bar in center field

Good connectivity here in left field. Maybe the buttons on the hat improved reception?

Good connectivity here in left field. Maybe the buttons on the hat improved reception?

MLB app ads greet you as you walk up the stairs at AT&T Park

MLB app ads greet you as you walk up the stairs at AT&T Park

Nice place for a ballpark, don't you think?

Nice place for a ballpark, don’t you think?

For Giants fans only: I swear that thing weighs about 3 pounds

For Giants fans only: I swear that thing weighs about 3 pounds

MSR editor Paul Kapustka, your man on the Wi-Fi scene.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka, your man on the Wi-Fi scene.

HP buys Wi-Fi gear maker Aruba Networks for $3 billion

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

The rumors from last week were confirmed Monday, as computing giant Hewlett-Packard (aka “HP”) announced it was acquiring Wi-Fi gear vendor Aruba Networks for $3 billion. After cash and debt are accounted for, the actual value of the transaction is $2.7 billion, but what’s $300 million between friends?

Though the headline of the HP release pegs the reason behind the deal as the desire to “create an industry leader in enterprise mobility,” the acquisition will likely cause a lot of business activity in our corner of the world, namely wireless network deployments for large public venues, like stadiums. Over the past year, Aruba has been making a name for itself with high-profile Wi-Fi deployments in venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium, Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field, and the Dallas Mavericks’ American Airlines Center, among others. Perhaps the most interesting question from a business perspective is whether being part of HP will help or hurt Aruba when it comes to making stadium deals, and whether or not using HP core networking gear will become a required (or preferred) part of prospective stadium Wi-Fi deals.

On a business-wide view, the second $3 billion acquisition this year in the DAS/Wi-Fi space (following CommScope’s $3 billion purchase of DAS and networking supplier TE Connectivity) is perhaps a signal that consolidation is upon us in the greater Wi-Fi and local networking marketplace. Though we didn’t know exactly how and when such deals would shake out, on one hand it’s not that much of a surprise to us since we have always believed that the stadium networking market is really just a precursor to what will eventually happen in other large public venues as well as in large public places like cities and towns: Wi-Fi, which already carries more wireless data than cellular, will continue to expand and appear in more places, generating new business ideas like Wi-Fi phones and Wi-Fi first wireless plans.

The appearance of IBM as a strong entrant in the stadium wireless space can also be looked at as another signal that bigger players are entering the market, which usually means that smaller players — like the Arubas of the world — get snapped up, like a star player being traded mid-year to a team seeking a championship. Cisco, which is no stranger to acquisitions, has been quiet of late, and we are noticing that telecom gear giant Ericsson is making more moves toward Wi-Fi, especially in the arena of small cells and the idea of bringing LTE to Wi-Fi frequencies. Sounds like the Wi-Fi market is moving up from the $10 tables into the green- and black-chip territory.

Who’s next in the Wi-Fi world as an acquisition target? The easy picks are players like Ruckus Wireless and Aerohive Networks, given their ability to conduct their own IPOs. But we’re also guessing there may be some digesting of other smaller concerns in the Wi-Fi DAS food chain as the bigger players seek to add skills, customers and technology via purchases. Stay tuned for what should be an exciting year in the enterprise and stadium Wi-Fi business arena.