Tech talk: Wireless upgrades at sports facilities
CONSOL ENERGY CENTER
Crown Castle installed the distributed antenna system at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ arena that opened in 2010.
“We’re working externally with them to increase connectivity because of overwhelming demand,” said David Peart, the team’s senior vice president of sales and service. “Usage has exploded over the past 18 months,” he said, requiring the arena to expand its system.
The arena has no public Wi-Fi network but plans to install the technology for the coming season.
“We can’t fulfill the needs of the fans,” Peart said. “They’re looking for access to stream radio broadcasts, statistics and GameCenter Live, in addition to communicating with friends and family. The increase of smartphones has taken the load to a new level and it’s not leveling off.”
Peart said, “We thought YinzCam [providing unique in-venue content] and replays was going to be a really important part of the fan experience, but (fans) want the full complement of Wi-Fi with the applications, Twitter, Facebook.
“Fan surveys told us overwhelmingly that Wi-Fi access was far and away the most important thing fans need.”
The San Diego Padres signed a deal with Verizon in 2010 to upgrade the stadium with Wi-Fi and a distributed
|The Wi-Fi system at San Diego’s Petco Park features more than 400 access points.
Verizon paid for the $10 million combined cost, said Tyler Epp, the team’s senior vice president of business development. The deal grew out of Verizon’s interest in upgrading connectivity in downtown San Diego in general, including the ballpark.
Cisco’s hardware powers the Wi-Fi system with more than 400 access points, providing a capacity of 16,000 simultaneous connections. The park has two Wi-Fi networks, one reserved for Verizon customers and a second network for customers of all other cellular carriers.
“We wanted to be sensitive to Verizon’s needs and goals but we did not want to make it difficult for another carrier to get on the network,” Epp said.
So far, capacity has not been an issue, Epp said, but the system tends to slow down when the park is full with 40,000 fans.
“As we start to move into this era with replay on your phone, the video portion of the in-park fan experience, that’s when we have to worry about the system,” Epp said.
Verizon is a cornerstone partner at the stadium and part of its deal covered the installation of Wi-Fi and a distributed antenna system.
The Wi-Fi system, with Cisco providing the hardware, has roughly 660 access points. But the stadium is upgrading to a higher density system, adding another 180 access points for greater coverage, said Steve Baetz, the building’s senior director of information technology.
Verizon, in conjunction with Cisco, is paying for the upgrades. Baetz estimated the cost at $3 million.
Verizon and AT&T both have a presence on the stadium’s distributed antenna system. Stadium officials are expanding that network as well to provide better coverage in the seating bowl for all carriers, including Sprint and T-Mobile customers.
The 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium will be a “completely different animal” regarding connectivity, said Brad Mayne, the stadium’s president and CEO.
“Obviously, [the NFL] will tie into our system but they will be bringing in a lot more equipment specific to the Super Bowl itself. They know where they want to go and what they want to do, but the specific design has not been completed.”
AT&T, an Arizona Diamondbacks sponsor, is the primary provider for Wi-Fi and distributed antenna systems at the ballpark. Both networks were installed prior to the 2011 MLB All-Star Game in Phoenix.
Diamondbacks officials would not disclose the costs of the investments.
This season, the wireless systems have peaked at 6,000 confirmed users for a single game. Connectivity issues often revolve around streaming video accessed through MLB’s At Bat mobile application, said Craig Pozen, the team’s director of application development.
“We can’t show replays on the big screen and folks that are really into baseball want to look at those replays,” Pozen said. “You may have 15 people in a section that want to connect to an access point and two are streaming tons of content. It makes the user experience not as great as it can be.”
The Diamondbacks have made some software changes and added more antennas over the past six months, but have not pulled the trigger on a major upgrade, said Bob Zweig, the team’s vice president and chief information officer.
Said Zweig: “People expect it to work, and there’s a ton of learning that we go through every single year to figure out how to do it better the next year.”
The Dallas Cowboys built their own distributed antenna system in partnership with local firm TPI. Together, they share revenue from charging fees to five wireless carriers connected to the system — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and MetroPCS.
Cisco, in a deal tied to AT&T’s naming-rights deal for the stadium, is now upgrading the building’s Wi-Fi network.
“We get our big spikes right before kickoff, introductions and halftime,” said John Winborn, the Cowboys’ chief information officer.
The competition for bandwidth is an issue to contend with as mobile technology continues to expand and the number of devices multiply.
“There have been stories in every sport of some TV station turning on their microwave truck and it blanks out the Wi-Fi network,” Winborn said. “Having control over those things and being able to sniff out where the rogue device is coming from and get to shut down whatever is disrupting service is key.”