In 2004, the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark became the first professional sports facility to offer free universal Wi-Fi. On April 11, nearly 20 years later, Comcast Business announced along with Extreme Networks that Oracle Park would now offer 100% Wi-Fi 6E-ready connectivity by the end of this month.
“For us, it's always been about providing expanded connectivity to the fans and giving them more megabits per second so they can upload and download more content,” says Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO for the San Francisco Giants in an interview with Network Computing.
The catch? Apple iPhones do not yet support Wi-Fi 6E, but fans can now connect on laptops, iPads and Android phones without any lag, according to John Brams, vice president of strategic accounts at Extreme Networks.
“Though Apple has not made any official commitments, given the consumer and enterprise interest in Wi-Fi 6E, it is likely the next generation of iPhones will support it,” Brams says.
The benefits of Wi-Fi 6E
By offering Wi-Fi 6E, the Giants aim to boost the experience at the ballpark for fans while achieving operational efficiency on the business side. Not only are tens of thousands of fans using the Wi-Fi, but so are stadium staff and operations teams, Brams notes.
“With the additional new spectrum brought in by Wi-Fi 6E – which is more than double the usable channels of the current 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels combined – stadiums like Oracle Park can add more wireless capacity and ensure optimal performance for everything connected to the network,” Brams says.
The Chase Center, a 19,000-capacity arena where the NBA’s Golden State Warriors play, unveiled some WiFi 6E capabilities for its fans this season; Oracle Park is a roughly 42,000-capacity stadium. Wi-Fi 6E enables stadiums like Oracle Park to achieve lower latency while uploading and downloading data, Comcast reported.
“Beyond iPhones and consumer devices, Wi-Fi 6E provides an additional 1,200 MHz of new spectrum in the 6 GHz band. Venues like ballparks will have greater wireless capacity and can dedicate connectivity for the devices that are most critical for operations, including mobile ticket scanners and point of sales systems at concessions stands,” Brams says.
With Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, Oracle Park reaches over 100 Mbps when the ballpark is empty, and when it fills up, fans experience a range of tens of megabits per second up to around 100 Mbps, Schlough says. For example, that could be 40 Mbps, 50 Mbps, or 60 Mbps, he says. Schlough estimates that Oracle Park has a speed 10x faster or more than three other parks he has visited in 2023.
“And that's without a 6E device,” Schlough says. “With a 6E device, we would expect another 10x of that.”
Oracle Park has installed about 900 Extreme Wi-Fi 6E access points, which the stadium places overhead or under seats. Extreme worked with Comcast on the design and implementation of the network. Upon completion of the deployment, Comcast will manage the Wi-Fi network’s daily operations.
The Giants plan for fast mobile ticketing and mobile concessions as well as innovating with biometrics park entry. The team has partnered with Clear on biometrics to speed up entry for almost 10 years, according to Schlough. Entry methods for fans include using finger or eye scanning, he notes. Currently one of the stadium’s gates supports Clear, but expanded Wi-Fi coverage will enable the stadium to incorporate the wireless technology at more gates.
“If we can provide them with more reliable, higher speed connectivity at our gates, it will only serve to expedite entry,” Schlough says.
Giants aiming for operational efficiency
The ExtremeCloudIQ toolset will let the Giants manage the network and check for anomalies. It can also establish a baseline for network and device performance, according to Brams.
“ExtremeCloud IQ enables the Oracle Park IT team to view and manage its entire network from a single pane of glass,” Brams says. “With an increasing number of users, applications and devices relying on the network, this is hugely important for managing performance.”
In addition, ExtremeAnalytics allows the team to spot network issues and monitor venue foot traffic that can cause bottlenecks. It can also monitor traffic at concession stands to see when to redeploy resources. The Wi-Fi 6E network also provides the flexibility to change the menu items on electronic menu boards depending on what fans would like at a Giants game compared with a concert, Schlough says.
ExtremeAnalytics provides a “gold mine of data,” according to Brams. Data points include fan application usage, location and dwell time.
“Venue management teams can analyze network activity to predict what might happen in the park depending on the weather, team rivalries, the timing of the game or the type of event,” Brams says.
Schlough noted that the team is just starting to use the Extreme tools, but it plans to monitor speeds to make sure fans can access the content they expect to see.
Network traffic can tie into promotions, Schlough explains. The team can receive instant feedback if many fans order food from their phones after seeing a promotion in the ballpark, he says.
“Those are the types of things we're excited to be able to experiment with and get instant feedback on what works and what doesn't in the park,” Schlough says. “We've never had that capability before.”
Future-ready stadium technology
Wi-Fi 6E allows a capacity crowd of about 40,000 to stream video replays or watch other content while sitting in the stands and watching the game, according to Schlough. He calls this a second-screen experience. Fans may be watching an NBA playoff game while at the ballpark or streaming baseball highlights.
“I relish the opportunity to have a packed house in the postseason where everybody wants to be uploading content simultaneously,” Schlough says.
“Enabling that hopefully helps people feel more comfortable coming to our ballpark and doing it as an experience where they know they'll always be connected,” Schlough says.
If a strike or a ball is in question, fans can call up a replay instantly on their phones with the expanded Wi-Fi connectivity.
“What you're likely to see is people creating a Snapchat or TikTok video or live streaming an event from their phone to hundreds of thousands of followers,” says Scott Cohen, executive director of strategic wireless solutions at Comcast Business. “All of that becomes increasingly more bandwidth-intensive. You need a reliable, stable, strong connection.”
Fans are both consuming video and serving as content creators themselves in streaming some of the game’s action, Cohen says.
With the Wi-Fi 6E technology installed, the Giants plan to experiment with augmented reality (AR) at Oracle Park. Schlough envisions fans pointing their phones toward a player on the field to get statistics and content such as video highlights for that player. The team has not set a specific date on when the AR technology will be possible.
Building in adaptability at Oracle Park
Adaptability will be key for the future, and Oracle Park will now have the network backbone to handle a capacity of 10GB to up to 100GB.
“Whether it's fan-facing devices or applications, or back-of-house devices, there's just ample wireless capacity at this point at the venue,” Cohen says. “So when the device ecosystem catches up a little bit, they'll be well-prepared at this stage in the technology life cycle.”
Schlough notes that reliable connectivity is a must at the ballpark with mobile ticketing, especially if fans did not download their tickets before they get to the ballpark.
“There are still quite a few facilities – and I've been to a few this year already – where that connectivity can be pretty unpredictable, especially when the facility is full,” Schlough says.
Cohen expects a significant increase in fans holding Wi-Fi 6E-capable devices for the 2024 season. For now, a majority of other stadiums are supporting Wi-Fi 6, Cohen says.
“Going forward most, if not all, professional sports stadiums will deploy 6E,” Cohen says.
“I can't imagine in the coming years that any facility that implements Wi-Fi will not be implementing 6E,” Schlough says. “We just happen to be leading the charge because it's going to give fans a level of connectivity in terms of speeds that they've never seen before.”