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Volume 26 No. 227
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Verizon Touts 5G Effort In NFL Stadiums, But Challenges Remain

Verizon rolled out its plans Thursday to fit NFL stadiums with its 5G cellular network this season, using the venues as a showcase for the possibilities with dramatically increased speed and bandwidth. But they face a big challenge: Almost nobody has a personal device sophisticated enough to pick up the network. “There are a few hundred thousand 5G devices, by most estimates,” said Craig Moffett, a Founding Partner at MoffettNathanson. “Under a million anyway, and there are 300 million phones in the U.S." Verizon’s NFL deployment is among the most visible gambits made by any cell provider to prove they are on the cutting edge of the 5G upgrade. Stadiums, train stations and airports are among the best places to demonstrate 5G, because their compact designs make installation affordable and large groups of people can see the benefits at once, Moffett said. But Verizon acknowledges that they must walk a delicate line, running the risk of their marketing efforts outpacing the technology and leaving consumers disillusioned or confused when their own experiences don’t line up with the hype. “We do want to make sure we’re very forthright and accurate with our customers about what it is today, and also about what it will be tomorrow and in the near future,” Verizon VP/Technology Heidi Hemmer said.

NOT THEIR FIRST RODEO: This problem came up at the '18 Pyeongchang Games, where Korea Telecom and Intel both promoted their role in the coming 5G world. KT billed the Games as the first "5G Olympic Games in the world,” but most connectivity in Pyeongchang was unremarkable, and instead there were examples of how 5G would improve the fan experience at promotional locations. Verizon will have activation zones inside stadiums where fans can borrow 5G-capable devices to experience the technology first-hand. Also, Hemmer said, Verizon will post maps clearly marking where the 5G connection is and is not available in stadiums, a big part of managing expectations. Other than the designated activation zones, the 5G will be deployed primarily in the lower seating bowls, Hemmer said. Verizon said it would like to complete its 5G deployment across every NFL stadium this year, but it may bleed into '20.

LOOK TO THE FUTURE: Widespread availability of 5G networks and devices is still at least a couple years away. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg predicted half of the U.S. will have access to a 5G network by '20. Cisco predicted in a report this year that 12% of global mobile traffic will be on 5G by '22. Moffett predicted most fans will be pleased by the 5G experience at the stadiums, but it will be hard to convince them to buy the more expensive 5G-enabled devices and data plans unless the benefits can bleed into the rest of their lives. Moffett called it a “chicken and egg” problem. "The problem isn’t when customers are in the stadium watching the game, the problem is when customers go home and can't find a 5G network on their device,” he said. "And that’s going to take some time."