By: Karen Hogan, Assistant Editor, Sports Video Group
As subway signs change to reflect the arena growing in Brooklyn, black-and-white jerseys fly off shelves, and Jay-Z fine-tunes his opening-night set list, Forest City Ratner is working tirelessly to get the Barclays Center ready to open in September. Among the details to finalize is ensuring that the masses descending on the new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets have access to a fundamental part of the fan experience: a cellphone signal.
Forest City Ratner has tapped ExteNet Systems to design, install, manage, and maintain a distributed antenna system (DAS) network at the 19,000-seat Barclays Center. ExteNet Systems provides a neutral host allowing multiple wireless carriers to deliver enhanced coverage and capacity to their in-venue subscribers.
“We’re structured to make sure that we’re satisfying the needs of all the carriers and the venue, and, as you can imagine, those requirements are going to be different,” says ExteNet Systems CEO Ross Manire. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re in a position where we can address all of that. That’s why having somebody who’s a neutral arbiter of the various needs and wants of the constituencies is [key to] building this network, and that’s us.”
Formulating a Plan
ExteNet Systems must constantly balance the needs of the wireless carriers and the venue itself throughout the project. After settling on a venue agreement, ExteNet compiles detailed statistics on the venue to disseminate to individual wireless carriers, introducing the venue to the carriers.
“[The individual carriers then] provide us feedback in terms of the kind of capacity requirements they have, what technologies they’ll run in the venue, what frequency bands they’ll run in the venue, which all have implications to how we design the network,” Manire explains. “We’ll take that information back and do a design that addresses the individual carriers’ requirements using that common backbone infrastructure. [We’ll] then go back out to the carriers with a design [and] what we think the price is ultimately going to be to actually construct that network.”
Any equipment decisions are left up to the discretion of the wireless carriers. Traditional DAS networks operate out of a central hub, in which individual wireless carriers install a base station. The DAS network host takes an RF signal from that base station, converts it to an optical signal on the host’s fiber network, and sends that signal out to a remote node, where it is converted back into an RF signal.
“What’s happened recently is that the carriers are starting to use, in more instances, a type of equipment [that allows you to] actually segregate the RF component of the base station and the software component of the base station; the software component of the base station will reside in our BTS [base transceiver system] hub, but the RF component of the base station is what we’re actually putting at the end of our fiber network,” Manire explains. “We’re starting to do more implementations where [wireless carriers] are choosing to use their OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to provide us with this new technology, if you will, to attach to our network.”
Finding the Space
Nestled between Atlantic Ave. and Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, the 675,000-sq.-ft. Barclays Center is among the NBA’s smallest venues. Although its size promises an intimate fan experience, Forest City Ratner was challenged with finding space for a DAS network and carrier equipment.
“We have a lot of requirements for NBA storage, team storage, team-store storage, and I’m trying to get 1,200-2,000 sq. ft. for carrier headend equipment,” says Chip Foley, director of building technology, Forest City Ratner. “It becomes low priority on the list.”
He plans to move the headend equipment across the street and build out a 1,200-sq.-ft. space in a Forest City Ratner-owned parking garage. The equipment will be fibered from the garage into Barclays Center.
Although DAS networks have become necessary for the in-venue fan experience, seeing the antennas has not. Foley charged ExteNet Systems to design a DAS network in which the antennas would be hidden from sight.
“We have spent so much time designing this [building,] I don’t want to see one antenna,” says Foley. “They [ended] up using a different kind of antenna, these giant 12-in. panel antennas, which are going to sit above the [drop] ceiling [and] won’t affect the RF.”
A Continuing Presence
ExteNet Systems will remain a part of the Barclays Center day-to-day operations even after the DAS network has been installed and the Brooklyn Nets have officially moved in. The company will monitor the network 24/7 and deploy field technicians to the area to anticipate any maintenance issues.
As capacity requirements change and 4G takes the place of 3G, the Barclays Center DAS network can be scaled to accommodate carrier needs. Looking to the future, ExteNet Systems hopes to extend the reach of the DAS network to the area surrounding Barclays Center.
“Five years ago, nobody was really talking about the apps that people were trying to run in venues; it was more about voice coverage,” says Manire. “But, because of the video and pictures and text and e-mail [that] people want to use while they’re at a venue, this has become much more a capacity issue than just coverage. That drives a lot of what we do from a design perspective. We want to make sure that, when you have a stadium that’s full of 19,000 people and they all want to take pictures and send them to their friends, we have the capacity to address that.”