5G Scores in the Steel City: Dagostino Electronic Services deployed 5G ultra-wideband in Pittsburgh’s Acrisure Stadium

By Randolph Sturdivant | Jun 14, 2024
acrisure stadium
Since opening its doors in 2001, Pittsburgh’s Acrisure Stadium has been the beloved home of the NFL’s Steelers and the NCAA’s Pitt Panthers, while also playing host to professional hockey games, concerts and other special events. 

Since opening its doors in 2001, Pittsburgh’s Acrisure Stadium has been the beloved home of the NFL’s Steelers and the NCAA’s Pitt Panthers, while also playing host to professional hockey games, concerts and other special events. Originally known as Heinz Field, financial tech and insurance company Acrisure acquired the naming rights in 2022. The stadium, nestled comfortably alongside the banks of the Allegheny River in the Steel City’s North Shore neighborhood, enjoys a rich, eclectic history. 

From the Super Bowl winning campaigns of the 2006 and 2009 Steelers, to the 2011 NHL’s Outdoor Winter Classic, to comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock rocking the house, to a record-setting 73,117 jubilant fans at Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stop last summer, the stadium offers an oasis of entertainment and fellowship. And now attendees can look forward to a more convenient, differentiated stadium experience courtesy of 5G ultra-wideband service. The installation was carried out by Pittsburgh-­based Dagostino Electronic Services (DES), the “Preferred Technology Provider” of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A serious upgrade

Founded in 1973 by Pittsburgh native and company president Bob Dagostino, DES has been overseeing the telecommunications needs of the stadium from its beginning as Heinz Field to the present day. The cabling infrastructure is huge, with a whopping 240 miles of cable that includes 747,000 feet of Cat 5e cable, 238,000 feet of broadcast cable, 169,000 feet of security cable and 36,000 feet of fiber optic cable throughout prior to the 5G upgrade, for point-of-sale systems, display monitors, sideline communications, cable TV connections, security cameras and Wi-Fi networks.

“Yep, we know that place inside and out,” Dagostino said.

So when the NFL issued a directive stating that all 30 stadiums in the league must be 5G-enabled by the opening kickoff of the 2022 season, it was clear who would tackle the assignment. 

The project, started in early 2022 and completed in August, involved a crossing over from a lower-capacity 4G LTE network—which can be slowed by many users coming together on it at the same time in one place—to Verizon’s higher-capacity 5G millimeter wave network. 

The 5G network is supplemented by edge computing, allowing stadium attendees and service providers with compatible devices a faster, more robust experience through access to greater coverage areas, an increase in speed range and a decrease in latency, or the time it takes data to be processed on the network.

Diligent work by the team of 25 technicians from DES all but guaranteed that the stadium would meet the opening day deadline to the delight of football fans and more.

The 5G upgrade chiefly enhances the Steelers’ immersive fan experience platforms. Stadium-goers can access live action or replays from multiple camera angles on enabled devices; real-time, in-game performance stats; up-to-the-minute player information and scoring; heightened engagement through augmented reality and virtual reality experiences; and interactive games. Social media sharing is made easier through faster uploading and receiving of content on apps. Plus,
in-stadium transactions for concessions and merchandise sales are easier and more convenient. 5G also allows for improved security and crowd management through advanced video surveillance systems and wearable communications devices for staff. 

The 5G installation 

The 5G installation involved laying in 90 radios, 440 antennas and over 100,000 feet of fiber optics throughout Acrisure Stadium. DES’s expertise in fiber optic installations, and the use of Digital Electricity to push energy to a vast densification of wireless endpoints, ensured that the project was completed efficiently and on-time.  

A VoltServer transmitter sends “safety packets” of Digital Electricity to a receiver unit.

Digital Electricity

Patented by VoltServer, East Greenwich, R.I., and operational in major venues nationally, including casinos, airports and stadiums, Digital Electricity is a means of transmitting significant power over long distances while using the same safety requirements as low-voltage cabling. The technology behind it is a fault-managed power system (FMPS), which works by “packetizing” or splitting an energy stream into smaller “safety packets” and then sending the packets from a transmitter unit to a receiver unit on the other end, where they can be converted to power AC endpoints. Leaders in the industry see a bright future in the use of FMPS, which has been classified under Class 4 Power in the 2023 National Electrical Code.

The expansive footprint of Acrisure Stadium made it an ideal candidate for Digital Electricity. Whereas the traditional architecture of electrical distribution would have meant power sourcing and all that accompanies it (conduits running to each radio location, 20A circuit panels, etc.) running out of multiple UPS systems, the greater distances enabled by Digital Electricity allow for data and power to be centralized in one location. The Class 4 wiring can push loads of up to 1,500W for distances of more than a mile. Digital Electricity also offers greater levels of control for technicians, such as the ability to reboot an antenna remotely rather than needing to be on-site to do so.

“When I first started in the business, we were changing fuse panels to circuit panels. This to me is probably going to be one of the next evolutions of controlling energy. Overcurrent conditions, ground faults, fibrillation—a fault-managed power system mitigates all those issues,” Dagostino said.

Air-blown fiber optics

A preferred technique of DES, air-blown fiber optics can best be described as the placement of microtubes within a cable framework into which fiber strands are blown through controlled, compressed air. The air acts as a lubricant between the fiber’s cable jacket and the inside of its tubing. 

After installing a backbone of more than 100,000 feet of tubing throughout the stadium, the DES team blew strands of fiber optic cable throughout the facility using compressed air before connecting the signal portion of the radios back to the host. DES is a regional leader in fiber optic cable installations. 

Feedback, and the future

Feedback on the upgrades from officials, staff and public users at Acrisure Stadium has only been positive. Fans attest that the features make their stadium visits more enjoyable, and these comments fall in line with national surveys showing that overall consumer satisfaction with 5G is high and growing, along with the still-evolving system. But technology marches on, and glimpses of the future are on the horizon.

According to Dagostino, “There [are] a lot of studies going on right now for the 6G initiatives, and what that is going to do—smart cities, vehicle-to-vehicle communication. It’s gonna be a big lift when you get 6G.” 

Research and requirements gathering on 6G technologies have already started, and with tentative plans calling for the beginning development in 2025, another upgrade may be in the stadium’s future. But Dagostino was unfazed about a possible future 6G install.

“What you need to do is an RF study of how the 6G antennas and radios would function,” he said. “The nice part of it, though, [is that] the majority of the pathways have already been put in.” 

This will be a good thing, because there is also talk of yet another technology coming around the bend.

“Light fidelity [Li-Fi] is going to come into play here sooner or later,” Dagostino said. 

This might mean the pairing of 6G with Li-Fi, a wireless communication technology that transmits data by modulating the intensity of visible light from a light source.

NASA is one of the biggest governmental users currently of Li-Fi, but applications are currently being adapted, and further use in the private sector is being explored. 

Until then, thanks to DES, visitors have plenty of technology to make any event at Acrisure Stadium unforgettable.

Dave DiCello / Pittsburgh Steelers / dagostino electronic services / VoltServer

About The Author

Randolph Terrance Sturdivant is an SPJ award-winning, Emmy-nominated, freelance writer and comedian living in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. He is a prolific writer with stories covering a range of emotion and subjects. Reach him at [email protected]





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