The Golden State Warriors have a lot to be proud of. They often lead the league in assists, points, field goal percentages, and rebounds. Yet, until 2019, there was one thing they never bragged about: their home stadium.
That stadium, in Oakland, Calif., was the oldest among all NBA arenas. Despite renovations over the years, the Warriors still faced challenges with an aging networking infrastructure that couldn’t deliver the reliability, scalability, and optimal fan experience that team owners wanted. It also didn’t help that the team rented the venue, which limited the types of alterations they could make.
“We did the best we could with the infrastructure we had, but there was only so much retrofitting we could do to keep up with demands and expectations. We were playing in a building full of concrete, and that doesn’t take well to access points,” said Daniel Brusilovsky, the Warriors’ vice president of technology. “We couldn’t go all-in with mobile ticketing or contactless payments, for example, because we didn’t have reliable and ubiquitous connectivity.”
The key to providing services like mobile ticketing and mobile food ordering was delivering a fully connected, reliable, and scalable experience for fans. This meant ensuring not only the latest Wi-Fi technology but enabling fans to easily enjoy ticketing and food ordering services using their cellphones.
With these considerations in mind, the team owners decided to start from scratch with a privately financed sports entertainment complex in San Francisco. The new facility, Chase Center, provided an opportunity for Brusilovsky to construct the necessary infrastructure. The arena, accommodating up to 18,000 fans, opened in September 2019.
Designing Two Networks
With an overarching goal of providing reliable and responsive connectivity for everyone within the arena, the team designed a system that would support two distinct networks: a wired network and a wireless network.
The wired network supports thousands of internal devices like security cameras, badge readers, point-of-sale (POS) systems used at concession stands, and more than 1,300 IPTVs for real-time video streaming. The wireless network, meanwhile, was dedicated to fan-facing activities, including mobile ticketing, in-seat food ordering, and content sharing on social media.
Scalability and flexibility were also important considerations in the design. The management wanted to cater to diverse customer needs for various events, ranging from basketball games to concerts. With concerts, for example, a greater number of attendees may want to capture videos and audio and share that content on social media.
Upon its opening, Chase Center was equipped with extensive fiber networking spanning 60 miles across the entire campus. This network relied on about 30 IDFs – devices that route telecommunications between end users and the main distribution frame. The IDFs connect to the thousands of devices that run on the wired and wireless networks. The tech stack is entirely based on Aruba, featuring a CX 8400 Core Switch and Aruba 3810 edge switches.
For optimal flexibility, the team chose to install hundreds of Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs) throughout the venue, including under seats in the bowl area of the arena. The APs have Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee beacons running the location-based Aruba Meridian platform. Each beacon emits a Bluetooth low-energy signal that the arena uses for indoor wayfinding and proximity-based notifications within the arena. Notably, the APs themselves also have built-in virtual beacons, allowing for additional coverage or areas where physical beacons can’t be placed, Brusilovsky said.
“If there are areas where we can’t put a physical beacon or need to add a little more coverage, we can do that using the AP,” Brusilovsky explained. “So, we use a combination of more than 800 standalone beacons in and around the arena and virtual beacons built into the access points.”
The team addressed security in two ways. Wi-Fi is configured with two service set identifiers (SSIDs): one designated for fans and the other for internal use. Fans connect to the fan-facing network through a portal that allows the team to capture data and personalize the experience. The internal SSID handles the other network traffic via Aruba’s ClearPass technology. ClearPass segregates network traffic based on virtual LANs and security controls established by the team.
In addition to a comprehensive wired and wireless network, the new stadium also needed a telecommunications network that would enable users to use 5G instead of Wi-Fi if preferred. To achieve this, the team struck a deal with Verizon to implement a distributed antenna system. The system combines 5G with mmWave, a wireless technology that uses 5G waves to transmit data. With this technology, attendees can use their cellular services, such as Verizon or AT&T, and get the same level of connectivity quality as Wi-Fi.
The Journey to Wi-Fi 6E
When the stadium opened, mobile ticketing, contactless payment, the Warriors app, and mobile food and beverage ordering all worked smoothly. However, technology marches on and soon the team considered an upgrade, specifically Wi-Fi 6E. At the time of Chase Center’s construction, the Wi-FI 6E standard had not yet been available, but Aruba, the team’s primary networking vendor, urged the team to consider upgrading once it became available.
Wi-Fi 6E builds upon the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 by enabling access to the new 6 GHz wireless band in addition to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. It offers benefits such as increased power spectral density, faster speeds, and reduced interference, along with triband filtering, which dynamically adjusts available channels to minimize signal interference and performance degradation.
“When you think about an 18,000-seat indoor arena, it can be challenging to provide as much bandwidth and speed to fans as possible, but that’s what 6 GHz provides,” Brusilovsky said. “It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Over the next two years, the Warriors’ IT team worked with Aruba to understand how Wi-Fi 6E works and upgrade the access points. They began by replacing the old access points with Aruba 635 access points, starting with the under-the-seat enclosures. The team plans to complete the retrofitting of the entire arena during the summer.
In September 2022, the stadium went live with the Wi-Fi 6E upgrade for an Alicia Keys concert, making Chase Center the first venue to implement the 6 GHz technology.
“We want to be great, not good, and that’s what drives all of our decisions,” Brusilovsky said.