Petco Park Wireless Upgrade Plan Targets Fan Expectations

Cameron Maybin knocks one out of the park, and a young fan checks his fantasy stats. A couple catching a night game calls their babysitter to check in. A family snaps a picture of their personalized brick in Tony Gwynn Plaza and uploads it to Facebook. The Padres win a nail-biter in the 10th inning, and throughout the crowd, fans text friends, boasting that they saw it all in person.

San Diego Padres will provide 4G and WiFi capability to fans at Petco Park.

Addressing the expectations of fans that want to quickly and easily call, text, upload, stream, and tweet at the ballpark without hindrance or disruption, the San Diego Padres have signed a long-term deal with Verizon Wireless to upgrade the 4G and WiFi coverage at Petco Park.

“The first thing we wanted to do is be able to allow fans to experience this game any way they want to,” says Steve Reese, VP of technology, San Diego Padres, “whether that means they’re trying to get enhanced statistical information from MLB At Bat, trying to check e-mail, looking at video highlights of the game, engaging in social media, or just trying to make a simple phone call. That was front and center in our minds: just trying to cater to the fan and, the way I like to look at it, really [provide] the comforts of home while people enjoy the live experience.”

To boost cellular connectivity, Verizon will provide a distributed antenna system (DAS) comprising 400 access points throughout Petco Park and an additional 400 WiFi access points.

The Padres’ goal is to create a vendor-neutral system that will attract additional carriers, all of which will be centrally located in a 3,500-square-ft. room on the second floor of the stadium’s indoor parking garage.

“When it comes to coordinating the activities of one [carrier or] another or providing backup power or cooling, it’s going to be a wonderful for all these vendors to be housed in the same area,” says Reese.

Currently in the process of finalizing the design for the DAS, WiFi infrastructure, and control facility, Reese expects construction to begin soon and estimates that the project will be completed before the All-Star break.

“We want to make sure that we do [the construction of the control facility] right, so [that, in the] long term, it’ll serve our fans,” he explains. “We want to be careful not to rush a test, but we also want to make sure that the fans can access the system for the majority of the season. It’s going to be a big project [and] should be a lot of fun.”

Once the 800 antennas are in place and the control facility built, the information-technology team will work daily with the game-day production crew to evaluate signal flow throughout the stadium, monitor traffic patterns, and identify any choke points.

“When we turn [the DAS and WiFi systems] on, I think the first couple of months are going to be really critical,” Reese predicts. “[We’ll be] looking at where our issues are occurring and responding by deploying more resources to that area or another.”

A key benefit to installing both a DAS and WiFi infrastructure is the ability to divide traffic between the two. Fans can either connect to the WiFi or opt for the 4G network, enabling faster speeds on both platforms.

After ensuring that the system is operating efficiently, Reese’s team will consider adding Delaware North to the WiFi network, which will give the concessionaire added point-of-sale flexibility. The fan experience is the driving force behind the installation, Reese stresses, but will also benefit back-office personnel like guest-services representatives and engineers.

“These are things that people are expecting, and I think they should expect,” says Reese. “It’s really allowing fans to experience the game any way they want to [and providing] a good mode of communication so they can enjoy the game more. It’s really about the fan and providing what should be expected in most stadiums but, unfortunately, hasn’t been traditionally.”

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