Carolina Panthers sees benefits from taking Bank of America Stadium DAS operation in-house

The Carolina Panthers, working with CommScope and Beam Wireless, are already seeing upsides to running its own DAS, which already supports three wireless operators.

Stadium remote units, Source: Commscope

James Hammond, director of information technology for the Carolina Panthers, told FierceInstaller that during the 2015 offseason, the team decided to review its current DAS that was, at the time, operated by a single carrier as a neutral host system.

"We didn't feel that it was keeping up with the needs of our fans and the overall density requirements so we decided to bring DAS operations in-house and manage it ourselves as the neutral host rather than relying on a carrier," Hammond said, adding that that approach would help eliminate any concerns about fairness and finger-pointing among the carriers.

Hammond said that once the carriers got over the short notice they were given, they became very receptive to the Panthers' plans to modernize the DAS and realized that the approach represented a lot of opportunities for them.

"It got to the point where we were negotiating with the carriers and they, on good faith, decided to proceed with installation without even having a signed contract," Hammond said. "So the carriers were clearly on board because they were willing to start installing radios and do all their work at risk without a signed contract. We literally had the DAS up and running before two of the three contracts were finalized."

Ben Cardwell, senior vice president of CommScope Mobility Solutions, called the Panthers' approach to stadium connectivity infrastructure very progressive and envisioned other venues eventually copying that approach in order to gain the same flexibility.

Hammond added that another advantage to taking the stadium DAS in-house is avoiding the large carrier's internal bureaucracy and avoiding having real estate companies, under a neutral host agreement, acting as a middleman and seeking to profit.

"When you have a venue owner such as the Panthers, our priority is not to profit from the DAS. Our priority is to make sure we have a good DAS for our customers," Hammond said.

That DAS upgrade process began with the Panthers contracting Beam Wireless to provide consulting on DAS product selection and integration. From there, an evaluation of DAS products and manufacturers narrowed it down to the Corning One and the CommScope ION-B and ION-U before the Panthers eventually chose to go with the ION-U.

Once the Panthers selected its DAS product, it picked Texas-based OTS to handle the installation and Beam Wireless was chose to stay on to provide consultancy, design services and optimization integration services.

From start to finish, the whole process took less than 90 days, a tight timeframe to which Hammond said the organization had to adhere in order to have the work done in time for a soccer game happening in mid-July at the stadium.

Hammond said meeting that timeline meant after-hours work as well as very close coordination with other construction projects, including a full renovation of the club suites, happening at the stadium.

Cardwell said the ION-U has some built-in intelligence features that reduce the time it takes to commission the system and made it easier to install and meet the 90-day deadline.

"It can take literally weeks to level some of these systems doing it the old-fashioned way, with people running out to every antenna and checking signals and having to go back to the same antenna two or three times to get it perfect," said Cardwell. "This has the software algorithm that can do it in a very short period of time."

Hammond said another factor in choosing the ION-U was the product's NEMA-rated remotes, which he said is important since the Bank of America Stadium is open air without a roof to protect remote gear from exposure to the elements.

With DAS now in-house, the Panthers decided to do the same with Wi-Fi, a process which is underway during the 2016 offseason. Hammond said the stadium did have a third-party managed system but now the organization will be handling Wi-Fi itself, a project which is almost finished.

Hammond said once the Wi-Fi project is done, the Panthers will relaunch its spectator application and fill it out with new features including location services.

"We need all these systems to work hand-in-hand in a way that our fans can get maximum coverage from the wireless/cellular side, the Wi-Fi side and down to the Bluetooth beaconing side," said Hammond. "All these technologies will hopefully work together to provide more of what we consider to be a fan-centric experience."

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