AT&T's EchoBOT and rewiring the baseball fan experience

AT&T offers a peek behind the scenes at the digital networking pipelines designed to improve baseball fan experiences at its eponymous ballpark in San Francisco.

Topic: Networking
1 of 15 Rachel King/ZDNet

"The most connected park anywhere."

SAN FRANCISCO---AT&T asserts it is much more deeply connected to its eponymous ballpark by the bay than just owning the naming rights.

Scott Mair, senior vice president for technology planning and engineering at AT&T,went so far as to declare the home of the San Francisco Giants as the "most connected baseball venue in the nation."

Bill Schlough, chief information officer for the San Francisco Giants, suggested Mair was being "a bit modest" in only specifying baseball, positing he thinks it is "potentially the most connected park anywhere."

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Where the magic (or wi-fi) happens

The ballpark itself, sometimes described by fans as "Phone Company Park" given previous monikers owned by Pacific Bell and SBC, actually became the first professional sporting facility to offer free Wi-Fi to its guests in 2004.

Mair stressed that the Wi-Fi network is free to all visitors -- not just AT&T customers -- with additional carrier capacity to handle wireless traffic.

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SF Giants CIO

Schlough (pictured, center) credited AT&T for having "the foresight with the advent of the smartphone in 2007" for investing in, establishing and scaling its networking infrastructure at the ballpark since then.

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Wi-Fi stats and records

During the 2015 season thus far (April 13 through May 21), visitors to AT&T Park used an average of 1.14 terabytes of data per game on both Wi-Fi and LTE via Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks.

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1,300 access points and counting

By comparison, the ballpark's highest traffic game of the 2014 season came on October 25 at Game 4 of the World Series, seeing 2.1 terabytes of data across Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

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Distributed Antenna System (DAS)

The Distributed Antenna System (DAS) was installed to enhance the quality of cellular calls, messages and data across other networks such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.

At AT&T Park, the DAS has expanded to 185 access points with a cellular capacity equal to six cell sites, or a city population of 40,000.

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Stadium traffic

Wi-Fi uses a different type of spectrum than regular wireless networks -- and carries the majority of traffic in the stadium, according to Mair.

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Fans demand Wi-Fi

"For now, we have no choice," Mair remarked about the continued investment in Wi-Fi technology. "Fans are not going to come here if they can't be connected."

For example, that 1.14 terabyte per game stat cited earlier translates to approximately 3.27 million social media posts with photos.

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Not "easy or cheap to do"

"This isn't easy or cheap to do," Schlough added , citing AT&T Park already has approximately 1,300 Wi-Fi access points with another 400 scheduled to deployed this season -- ideally ending up with one for every 25 fans.

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Wireless nooks and crannies

AT&T Park has 119 wireless network antennas installed, varying in size and scattered around the stadium.

"It's not hard to hide them. We just paint them," the Giants CIO grinned. "If you look up, you might see them in nooks and crannies."

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Speaking of nooks and crannies, another set of easter eggs around the venue include EchoBOT.

AT&T Park was touted as the first venue where the nation's second largest mobile provider deployed EchoBOT.

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"Invented through necessity"

"It was invented through necessity," admitted Shane Elliott, who leads the AT&T EchoBOT program, explaining how EchoBOT was built to improve the customer experience without having to "put men on the ground" at this highly-attended events.

EchoBOT comes in a 10-by-10-inch square box resembling a typical access point. There are 18 EchoBOT device installed around AT&T Park with two in the press area alone.

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Data traveling from concession stands to seats

EchoBOT equips AT&T (and by extension, its corporate customers) with real-time information ("or in a matter of milliseconds," Elliot clarified) about the types of data going across the network during games and events, identifying anything from SMS to Facebook.

"Seeing it in real-time, you see a fluid motion," Elliott noted, tracing performance rates sector by sector. Thus, EchoBOT can offer information about where networking points are enduring heavier traffic, such as when fans are moving from concession stands to their seats.

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AT&T ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector

On a surface level, AT&T also had one of its newest wireless devices on-hand, which would surely make good use of all that wireless power in the stadium if not inundate it.

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Video conferencing from the ballgame

Here is the AT&T ZTE Spro 2 Smart Projector, a plug-and-play entertainment hub that can display everything from YouTube videos to Google Drive presentations while virtually anywhere with a standard outlet and Wi-Fi connection. About the size of a Mac Mini and priced at $399, the tricked out projector could be one of the most versatile and portable options of its kind.

One security note to know: Everyone can see you entering your password when logging into various Google apps or other portals on the web while in projection mode. But at least you can (theoretically) juggle two balls at once (work and play) from the afternoon game.

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