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Can Wireless Technology Keep Fans Safe in Stadiums?

October 15th, 2014

SETH3 1024x768 Can Wireless Technology Keep Fans Safe in Stadiums?When I was growing up, my dad took me to a Redskins game at RFK Stadium.

After the game and in a remote, dark area of the parking lot, we were approached by two men who demanded that my dad give them his wallet. My dad was a big man who stood over six-feet-two and calmly replied, “Mike, let’s go find a policeman.” And with that, the two men vanished – presumably to try to boost someone else.

Several years ago, I attended a Monday Night Football game at FedEx Field.

As we waited among the sea of fans waiting for the gates to open, I was at-once impressed with and intimidated by the power of the group: one had to “move” with the crowd or risk being knocked down.

Recently, a fan was severely injured in a fight that occurred in a bathroom at Levi’s Stadium. (Read Kai Savaree-Ruess’ article here in SportTechie)

Earlier this year, SOLiD president Seth Buechley observed in an article published in the Q1 Stadium Tech Report from Mobile Sports Report that:

Venue owners and content providers alike are pulling out all the stops toward the goal of keeping fans entertained and engaged. In-stadium investment and innovations to enhance fan engagement abound; from massive LED video boards, live twitter feeds, half-time live entertainment, and kitschy games of picking the right car or mascot to win the derby, venue operators feel the pressure to meet rising fan entertainment expectations. But what about just keeping fans safe?

Keeping fans safe in and around stadiums and arenas

According to ​Savaree-Ruess the responsibility of fan safety belongs to the venue.

“…the 49ers can’t control what their players do outside of team facilities. ​But the 49ers actually can control what goes on inside its facilities. The team has an obligation – moral, if not legal – to ensure that its patrons are in a safe environment. That is why I cannot understand the chorus of demands that land on Jed York’s desk for clarity on the Harbaugh situation, a solution to the logistical issues with the new stadium and action on McDonald, but barely a peep about addressing fan violence.”

This view is being advanced throughout the country via legislation. For example, California has responded to several well-publicized incidents of stadium violence in Assembly Bill 2464 (Improving Personal Safety at Stadiums Act) authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). The bill requires major-league sports stadiums in California to clearly post the numbers fans can use to call or text-message stadium security.

Savaree-Ruess suggests the solution is rooted in security personnel.

“Put uniformed security everywhere. Put them at every gate; position them at every tunnel; make them visible from everywhere in the concourse; and, yes, put them at the entrance of every bathroom.”

In practice, Buechley notes that it’s “stadium security (from within the stadium) and not the police (coming from outside the stadium) who is best equipped to quickly respond and prevent an injury from becoming more serious.”

But is a show of force pragmatic?

The role of wireless technology in fan safety

Fans Against Violence which is a fan-based organization that “aims to improve and enhance game day experiences at professional sports venues across the United States and around the world” is an advocate of – among other things – using smartphones to keep fans safe.

The #1 item on their list of Game Day Safety Tips is “Be sure your cell phone is fully charged.” The organization also curates a list of Game Day Hotlines and Security Text codes for NFL, MLB and MLS teams and stadiums.

Buechley concurs that smartphones and in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) networks capable of supporting wireless capacity and coverage for tens of thousands of fans is a key strategy for keeping fans safe:

“When people cannot use their smartphones to communicate they feel less safe. If a phone doesn’t work in a hotel, hospital or shopping mall people may just feel disconnected. When a phone doesn’t work in a raucous crowd of 50,000 people, personal and family safety become legitimate concerns. Add a drunk fan or two with deafening crowd noise, and being able to connect with local stadium security can potentially become a big deal. Even simple matters of making plans to meet someone within the stadium become difficult or impossible with no cellular coverage.”

A call to action

For Savaree-Ruess, teams need to take action now.

“Fan violence is becoming a problem; and the team needs to make the financial and logistical commitment to stop it. We, fans, should be able to keep ourselves in-line, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that a small minority simply cannot.”

Clearly, it’s unrealistic to believe that dangerous incidents such as the potential one my dad and I avoided years ago can be completely stopped.

Similarly, it’s clear that when you pack many people into a concentrated space, accidents and incidents are going to occur.

But fan safety needs to be a primary consideration within the overall fan experience.

Venues can afford to retain security and police personnel. As fans, we possess smartphones. Many stadiums have deployed DAS networks. CCTV security cameras are installed throughout venues. Heck, there are even have apps to inform us of which bathroom has the shortest lines.

Fan safety is achievable.

Or as the Buechley article concludes: “Entertainment is good, but feeling safe is paramount.”

Organizations such as SEAT which brings together technologists among sports and entertainment venues have the unique ability to advance the discussion and solution.

MSR and SportTechie also have the platform and opportunity to keep safety as top-of-mind as player stats and whiz-bang technologies.

Your turn

What is or isn’t being done to keep fans safe in stadiums and arenas?

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Teenagers, Standards & Education: Themes at BICSI Fall Conference In-Building Panel

October 6th, 2014

IMG 0140 Teenagers, Standards & Education: Themes at BICSI Fall Conference In Building PanelI had the privilege last week to lead a panel of industry experts at the BICSI Fall Conference to examine the state of the in-building wireless industry – “Revolution and Evolution: Densifying the Network Through DAS and Small Cells”. The session fostered numerous observations and discussions that lasted well after the allotted hour.

It’s always revelatory to go play in another sandbox rather than one’s own. Meaning – much can be learned simply by going to non-wireless industry conferences.

For starters, it’s a good litmus test to check for alignment. Are we speaking the same language? Are we focused on the right things? Are we making it easy for stakeholders to do their jobs?

The wireless industry loves its acronyms (indeed, every industry has its own vocabulary). But within the BICSI crowd, we quickly discovered found that our “dazz” is often “D-A-S”. Similarly, a comment about coming carrier VoLTE deployments was immediately met with puzzled looks and a question of it meaning.

Don’t be fooled: BICSI attracts the smart folks who are in the infrastructure “trenches”.

Compared to a DAS panel I attended at last year’s conference, the majority of attendees in our session possessed experience in designing, deploying and managing a DAS. And true to BICSI membership characteristics, they were mostly technical engineers focused on network design and implementation; no OEMs nor wireless operators.

Here’s what we learned…

Teenage Angst

The in-building market exhibits the paradoxical characteristics of a teenager: mature yet immature.

Small cells – a shrunk down version of a macro network Remote Radio Head (RRH) – are part of the toolkit to cost-effectively densify smaller buildings. However, this strategy continues to lack an ubiquitous business process for deployment.

Similarly, it has been observed by ABI’s Stuart Carlaw that DAS is evolving at a frightening pace. Unlike small cells, DAS can serve as a “neutral host” to support multiple wireless operators as well as public-safety. Additionally, DAS systems can be tailored to provide appropriate capacity levels through a variety of remote amplifiers including low power (1W/2W), mid-range (5W) and high power (20W). Still, the deployment of LTE has meant end-of-life to many DAS networks – some barely three years old. Plus DAS is unable to deliver analytics beyond a rudimentary level.

As the title of the session alludes, the in-building space continues to mature – much like a teenager. So we expect the paradoxes will continue even as the industry makes significant advances.

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

We fielded a lot of questions…

Who’s responsible for owning the in-building network? 

Joe Mullin (InSite Wireless) believes the best model is for a “neutral host” such as his company to own it. They possess the capital and the repeatable process among OEMs, Integrators and Operators to see a densification project through “on air” completion. Over the past 12 months, neutral host has become the most prevalent model. But another is the carrier-owned model such as AT&T’s Antenna Solutions Group (ASG). This model enables the operator to be the anchor tenant and allows other operators to join (akin to a neutral host). Lastly, a venue itself may choose to own the network; however this model is currently less prevalent among DAS deployments

Who’s responsible for paying for a public-safety network to comply with local mandates?

Bob Kelley (MCS) says the building owner should’t have to shoulder the entire burden of cost to comply with public-safety mandates. A neutral host DAS is a pragmatic solution to deploy public-safety communications in addition to cellular services to meet requirements and mandates. If the DAS is being build – typically – for commercial cellular, it’s advantageous and cost-effective to add the public-safety layer. After all, Kelley says that public-safety should accomplish four things: (1) enable interoperable communications among agencies; (2) provide e911 location; (3) enable the general public to communicate with emergency personnel and; (4) enable emergency personnel to notify and communicate with the general public. (These are issues the Safer Buildings Coalition are wrestling with in which SOLiD is a founding member). However, some mandates prefer to keep public-safety, which increases the cost because it requires a separate and parallel network.

What’s the right tool to enable in-building communications?

The toolkit currently consists of DAS, Small Cells and WiFi. For buildings under 100,000 square feet, small cells are the obvious choice. Conversely, for big venues larger than 500,000 square feet, DAS is best-positioned to address capacity and coverage needs. But that exposes a gray area in-between where we believe there will be a hybrid. For example, consider a hotel / conference center… We might put small cells in the lobby, conference areas and open areas where there is a need for higher capacity and deploy DAS through the rooms. And layer WiFi throughout. We’ll be publishing a paper in the coming months on this thought-provoking topic.

Becoming Experts

With BYOD (bring your own device) initiatives and trends where companies eschew desktop phones (remember those?) for smartphones, the BICSI community can’t avoid in-building.

But is it possible to make it simpler though – say – a “DAS in a box” approach for deploying in-building networks? Dave Dohm (Panduit) and Greg Soffera (P2S Engineering) don’t think so.

Given the unique characteristics of every building, these RCCD engineers say there are too many variables to consider including LEED (green building) materials; leaded walls (in hospitals); floorplans (open areas versus offices); and proximity and sides facing macro towers – all of which affect design and link budget.

However, the in-building industry continues to struggle with the challenge of expertise among those who design, install and manage the networks.

Wireless operators are increasingly requiring training and certification to ensure QoS (quality of service) over DAS networks. OEMs including SOLiD offer sophisticated training programs that cover RF principles as well as product-specific nuances. CIBET has led the industry by providing BICSI accreditation for the in-building RF Engineering and Project Management communities. And PCIA just announced its training initiative vision.

BICSI is actively developing standards and guidelines to define current practices and drive improvement in quality and system performance.

With public-safety rapidly becoming a requirement, standards will be increasingly important including ways to certify that buildings are FirstNet public-safety compliance.

Our Brilliant Panel

Engaging discussions are made great by insightful thought leaders. We were fortunate to have accomplished stakeholders from the network design, infrastructure, OEM and integrator roles including:

 

We hope to keep the discussion going among the BICSI community through webinars and inclusion on future conference agendas. Stay tuned.

 

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A view from the stage as attendees start filling up the room

 

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Fueling up before the panel with Joe Mullin (InSite), Ken Sandfeld (SOLiD), Bob Elliot (Panduit) and Mike Collado (SOLiD)

 

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Wireless guys can’t resist car shows (the Orange County Auto Show was setting up as BICSI was winding down). Nor unicorns, it seems…

 

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Test drive?

 

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Stunning

 

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Outside the Anaheim Convention Center – Bird of Paradise flower

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Advice Before You Jump Into A DAS Project

September 25th, 2014

 Advice Before You Jump Into A DAS ProjectWhat would I need to know and do if I had no experience with Distributed Antenna Systems(DAS), but was given the problem of fixing cellular coverage in my own sports venue?

My answer, in short, would be; (1) Get Educated, (2) Be Realistic, and (3) Decide Who You Will Trust.

Get Educated

DAS is now a mainstream solution for solving indoor and high-capacity public venue wireless performance issues. There are several specialized industry conferences where you can get familiar with high-level trends and meet the vendor ecosystem that forms the DAS industry. Reading Mobile Sport Report indicates you’re on the right path.

The DAS industry association, known as the HetNet Forum, is also good place to start. Most importantly, talk to those that have gone before you. I like to say that “the first person to uncharted waters should make the charts.” Many of the highest profile sports venues have had years of experience with DAS systems that have evolved and in some cases been ripped-and-replaced over the years.

Use your sports industry network and attend events like SEAT 2015 to ask the tough questions about lessons learned. Never rely on the positive press releases from participating carriers as the whole story. Dig deep for the pain points and the “if you had it to do over again…” truths that come from painful mistakes.

Be Realistic

What financial and timeline promises will you make to your stakeholders? Even though you control the venue, there are a lot of moving parts that are completely unknown on the front end of a DAS project. Most NCAA Division I schools can expect to have a DAS constructed in their football stadium at no cost to them. If we’re talking about a NCAA basketball arena for no cost, the numbers probably drop by 50 percent. And, only the rare world-class venue should expect to generate meaningful rent or profit from their DAS. A DAS without a firm commitment from the wireless operators to fund or join the DAS won’t help your cause, so make sure to use your organization’s influence to arrange high-level meetings with the wireless operators to get plugged into their budget cycles and align your stated schedule with what they can truly deliver on.

DAS deployments for sports venues are major projects that involve new construction, permits, license agreements with participating carriers, system integrators and consensus across multiple stakeholders in your own organization including facilities, athletics, venue ownership and team ownership. It is almost unheard of for a venue owner to complete a project within a single year.

BIG CATCH Advice Before You Jump Into A DAS ProjectDo yourself a career-enhancing favor and double your initial timeline estimates before going public with a target date on enhancing coverage in your existing stadium. If your sports venue is new construction you’re in good shape – deadlines have a miraculous way of making people make it happen.

Assessing your own internal assets and obstacles will also help set a realistic schedule. For instance, do you have available environmentally controlled (think Data Center) carrier head-end equipment space? If not, how long will it take you to find space or build it out? Another key area where realism is required is in the area of Wi-Fi. Carriers are currently cold on paying for adding Wi-Fi to your venue for the simple reason that Wi-Fi moves subscribers off a network they control (licensed spectrum) and moves them onto a free network (unlicensed spectrum) they have much less control over.

Additionally, owning the Wi-Fi network usually comes with an obligation to replace 802.11X  Access Points at a pace rivaling the fashion industry. Keep in mind that a carrier who invests properly in a DAS should have sufficient capacity to handle the traffic in that venue for a few years.

One of the biggest sticking points we have seen lately occurs when a venue demands a wireless carrier fund a Wi-Fi network in order to win the DAS deployment. If Wi-Fi is a must have for your venue, you’re best off working with a Third Party Owner (3PO) who can build your DAS and Wi-Fi network for you and manage the interaction with carriers on your behalf. Several 3PO firms have gained tremendous experience deploying, and more importantly, monetizing Wi-Fi in major public venues.

Decide Who You Will Trust.

The DAS industry is growing exponentially and has many new entrants claiming that they have “built” a DAS. Do your homework on the scale, credibility, and relationships of the members of your DAS team.

Whether you self-perform using a DAS Integrator as your expert, select a 3PO to handle the whole project, or rely on a carrier to “drive the bus,” make sure you’re putting your project and reputation in the hands of a partner with motivation and the wherewithal to execute. Working with leading DAS industry players brings a built-in sense of obligation to meet deadlines and work through challenges since there are national ramifications when commitments aren’t kept. Stated simply, major DAS OEMs, System Integrators, and 3POs can’t afford to drop the ball on your project because bad news travels fast and reputation is everything.

In your research, you’ll discover that technology is evolving quickly and keeping an eye on what’s coming around the corner will be a key factor in avoiding having to replace or rebuild your DAS earlier than planned. By taking the time to get educated, keeping the project expectations realistic, and finding yourself a proven industry partner to trust you’ll be well on your way to completing a successful DAS deployment and keeping your sports fans safe and happy.

(Note: this article by SOLiD president Seth Buechley recently appeared in the Stadium Tech Report from Mobile Sports Report in which SOLiD is a sponsor)

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Jam-Packed End of Year Event Calendar

September 18th, 2014

IMG 0133 300x225 Jam Packed End of Year Event CalendarEach year, the event calendar for the wireless industry starts off with a bang with CES and Verizon’s IBTUF in early January.

The schedule remains full into June. (Although this year events crept deeper into June!)

Then there’s a brief respite during summer. (Notable exceptions include HITEC, SEAT and APCO which was set this year in – um – steamy New Orleans)

Things kick back into high gear right after Labor Day before settling down briefly in December before the cycle starts once again.

So buckle up and earn those travel awards!

Here’s where we’ll be through the end of the year. Please contact us to meet, follow our updates on LinkedIn and Twitter or just stop by at the event.

(Be sure to check our our events calendar for updates):

 

BICSI Logo.209120742 std Jam Packed End of Year Event Calendar

BICSI Fall Conference 2014
September 28 – October 2
Anaheim
Panelist: “Densifying the Network Through DAS and Small Cells” (October 1 @ 10:30 AM)


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HetNet Expo
October 15 & 16
Chicago
Panelist: “Connecting the Dots on DAS” (October 16 @ (9:00 AM)


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NEDAS Fall Training & Social
October 22
Washington, DC
Sponsor & Exhibitor


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Small Cells Global Congress
October 28 & 29
Barcelona
Presenter: “Densifying the Network for the Next Decade”
Panelist: “Overcoming Practical Obstacles to Small Cell Network Deployments”


cwts logo Jam Packed End of Year Event Calendar

Canadian Wireless Trade Show
October 29 & 30
Toronto
Presenter: “Evolution and Revolution: Densifying the Network through DAS and Small Cells” (October 29 @ 2:00 PM)


LTE NorthAmerica 2014 Jam Packed End of Year Event Calendar

LTE North America
November 18 – 20
Dallas
Panelist: “Small Cell Deployment in the USA” (November 19 @ 11:50 AM)
Presenter: “Evolution and Revolution: Densifying the Network through DAS and Small Cells” (November 19 @ 2:00 PM)
Sponsor: Awards Party
Meeting Room


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DAS & Small Cells Congress Europe
November 19 – 21
Munich
Presenter: “Meeting In-Building Enterprise Coverage and Capacity Demands” (November 20 @ 4:20 PM)


scamer logo Jam Packed End of Year Event Calendar

Small Cells Americas
December 1 – 3
Dallas
Presenter: “Evolution and Revolution: Densifying the Network through DAS and Small Cells”

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