How Verizon’s Super Bowl demo finally got me excited for 5G

I have a confession to make: For as much as I talk about a 5G wireless future among friends and colleagues, I’ve had a hard time feeling excited about it. On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, Verizon changed my mind.

Verizon Wireless, as part of its installation at the Super Bowl Live complex at Bayfront in Miami, Florida, gave me a demonstration of the 5G fan experience it is offering at the Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIV, and now I finally get it.

“You don’t just show up in the fourth quarter of 2019 ahead of the Super Bowl,” Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s Chief Product Development Officer told me. “I think our network team has watch parties when they announce the Super Bowl locations a number of years out because they know if it’s coming to their neck of the woods, they’ve got to start planning.”

Verizon 5G Super Bowl
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Verizon installed a command center in Miami almost two years ago with the aim of blanketing key parts of the city and Hard Rock Stadium in 5G. Several hotels, key tourist areas, the stadium, and the stadium parking lot all have solid, lightning-fast 5G connectivity up and running now. It’s a project that required miles of fiber-optic cable and cost about $80 million. But why?

For one, it’s great marketing. As a partner with the NFL, Verizon is poised to leverage the publicity of the Super Bowl to its advantage. But beyond that, it seeks to bring unique experiences to NFL fans descending on the city for the week. And at the stadium specifically, fans are getting something never seen before. Something they are hungry for.

What 5G can actually do

What does a 5G experience look like? Imagine holding your phone up in the stadium like you’re going to take a picture, but instead, augmented reality greets you with instant information you can immediately use. Find the closest restrooms and see their wait times. Find the food you want to eat and see how long it will take to get it, locate your car in the parking lot and get directions to it from your seat. And that’s just the start.

Want to buy some merchandise? The app will point you toward your favorite team’s jersey. Want stats on a player? Point your phone at them and it pops up. You can see the quarterback’s playbook as they position themselves to hike the ball. And if you want to see a replay, not only can you control the playback, you can do it from any angle in 3D space.

Verizon 5G Super Bowl Demo
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Speaking of multi-angle playback, Verizon 5G allows you to see the game from any number of angles. Just pick the camera view you want to see in real-time, and you can zoom in tight to exactly what you want to see. For now, this experience is limited to the Super Bowl, but it is only a matter of time until it comes home.

These experiences haven’t been possible until now. That’s because they rely on the insane speed and instantaneous reaction time that only 5G can make possible.

There’s more, of course. Facial recognition can be accomplished in real-time thanks to edge computing, and that same edge computing promises mobile gaming that competes with the best console and PC gaming available, all because ultra-fast 5G data allows all the heavy lifting to be taken on by supercomputers located in some building miles away.

Ultimately, 5G speed promises a bevy of new experiences that could transform the way we live. The question is whether or not Verizon can deploy its short-range, ultra-high-speed 5G solution broadly enough so that everyone can take advantage of it.

And that’s the challenge. Verizon’s version of 5G is insanely fast, but it is very short range. The reason Verizon’s Miami project cost upwards of $80 million is that it had to deploy a ridiculously high density of 5G nodes in order to ensure coverage over such large areas. Is that a scalable strategy? We’ll see. But Verizon sure seems bullish about it.

Still, I’m convinced 5G has some exciting things in store in the near future. That’s not something I would have said a few days ago.

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