How AT&T Park hooks up your phone during game time (pictures)
The guts of San Francisco's baseball stadium reveal how AT&T has data-hungry fans in mind.
Home of the (data) Giants
Before a single Giants fan settles into a fold-down chair at AT&T Park, the carrier's network awaits the onslaught of uploads, downloads, tweets, texts, and calls. When the name on the park belongs to the nation's second-largest wireless network, you have expectations to meet.
Wi-Fi launched in the park in 2004, AT&T IT SVP and Chief Information Officer Bill Schlough told a small knot of journalists during a tour. In the beginning, fans who accessed the free Wi-Fi network were few and far between. "People would throw garlic fries at them," Schlough joked. Things have changed. The 2010 World Series games saw the first time fans uploaded information like photos, videos, and tweets more than they downloaded data.
You'll have to know exactly where to look to spot the 336 Wi-Fi access points throughout the stadium, but here's a hint: there are more in the section reserved for media than anywhere else. CIO Schlough says the ballpark tracks (through the MAC address) more than 11,000 devices connecting over Wi-Fi during each game. The number of connections has exponentially grown every year after the iPhone launched in 2007. Schlough says that fans are starting to bring in more than one device apiece.
AT&T doesn't hold back on advertising its 4G LTE network to fans, and is expanding 4G support to meet demand. That wasn't always the case. In 2009, CIO Schlough said, calls weren't coming through, so the park decided to add a distributed antenna system to serve as the stadium's own mini 3G network. "We had a come-to-Jesus moment," he said.
There are currently 116 cellular antennas at the Giants ballpark. Many look like this distributed antenna sitting atop the sign. AT&T began building out LTE support for the 3G/4G transceivers beginning in November. By the park's opening day, 4G was good to go.
Complaints that access points and antennas are an eyesore are one of Bill Schlough's pet peeves. Can you find the 3G/4G antennas at the park's club level, he challenged? Here they are, inverted cones that stud the ceiling, interspersed with security cameras and automatic sprinklers. On the same level, Wi-Fi antennas lurk in boxes above wide, hanging ceiling panels, concealed from view.
In a hot, stuffy room in the bowels of AT&T Park sits the Wi-Fi network hub; the fiber snakes up through the floor. Currently at a 100MB connection, AT&T plans to pipe in a 250MB connection soon. The network caches fans' most often-searched content -- like players' profiles and scores -- for faster delivery.
This room contains 21 base station radio heads, 7 of which are dedicated to LTE, and 14 for 3G. Six-foot tall towers power the 3G network, but much smaller wall boxes (pictured) power the 4G network, an LTE advantage in terms of space.
There's no question who owns the ballpark, but a stadium is a business, and ticket holders demand data, especially in tech-savvy Northern California. While you won't see Verizon's network within the park for space reasons, Verizon has similarly wired its ballpark network support across the street from the stadium.
Because of AT&T's exclusivity clause with the iPhone, Verizon was two or three years behind AT&T as far as device penetration goes, Schlough said, "speaking as a CIO."