At the Super Bowl, 5G Gives You 7 Ways to View the Action-news

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Raymond James Stadium (Image: Verizon)

What is 5G for? I’ve been struggling with that question for years now, and Verizon has one solid answer: Super Bowls. The carrier outfitted Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with its ultra-high-capacity 5G UWB system to deliver huge amounts of bandwidth to the 22,000 butts that will actually be in seats, foreshadowing what live sports may be like in the future, if we ever have packed stadiums again.

In a stadium like this, you’re pretty far from the field. The core of Verizon’s experience is to bring you closer, with seven, 720p camera streams available to anyone on Verizon’s UWB 5G network running the NFL Mobile app. And Brian Mecum, VP of device technology at Verizon, points out that can be only done with 5G—not 4G and not Wi-Fi.

Verizon’s $80 million network build around the stadium includes 60 miles of fiber, hundreds of small cells, 50 in-building systems, and “the most dense millimeter-wave we’ve ever deployed,” all within a three-mile radius of the stadium, Mecum says.

Here’s the math: Everyone running the app gets all seven streams at once, requiring a total of 34Mbps. For the streams to go smoothly, that needs to be a floor of 34Mbps, not an average. Regular 4G and Wi-Fi systems just can’t handle that streaming volume, Mecum says.

Verizon’s SuperStadium app lets you choose between seven different high-def views—if you’re on 5G inside the stadium.

Because Verizon can’t count on the bandwidth people outside the stadium will be getting, folks at home will get only five streams of 480i, rather than seven of 720p, for a total of only 5.4Mbps.

That kind of math tends to get lost in flashy articles about 3Gbps speed tests. UWB isn’t always about 3Gbps speed to one device – it can be about reliable 50Mbps speed to many more devices than was possible with 4G. Everyone who’s had a Zoom stall at home knows that their “100Mbps” home connection isn’t always a reliable 100Mbps, over Wi-Fi, at all times of day.

The way cellular networks work, the more cells you have, the more people you can support. So the stadium is festooned with tiny cells. They’re under seats, on railings, and along the top angles of the stadium. They operate at very low power so as not to interfere with each other; that also makes them safe to be very close to.

“We have built enough capacity for [the stadium] to be full and for it to have a nice index of Verizon customers,” Mecum said. “Not all 65,000 customers are going to be Verizon customers.”

Hidden mmWave antenna in the stadium

Verizon has put surreptitious, low-power 5G antenna units all around the stadium.

The experience isn’t as 5G as it will be in the future. There are ways millimeter-wave could further help big sports events that aren’t being put into place yet. Take how those video feeds get to you. Broadcasters have to run a ton of cable for their cameras, which aren’t terribly mobile. Once a future 5G feature, network slicing, comes into play, broadcasters could use smaller, more mobile cameras and still maintain their guaranteed quality of service by operating on a reserved part of the network.

Verizon experimented with a 5G-enabled camera last year, and networks seem enthusiastic, but there’s a whole ecosystem to move there. “That’s more for the camera manufacturers and the networks to get comfortable and confident in using 5G for that camera backhaul,” Mecum says.


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As I spoke to Mecum, something became very clear. Let me bullet point some great, early 5G millimeter-wave uses (other than home internet access, which is a whole different ball of wax), and I bet you’ll easily figure out what they all have in common.

  • Packed sports stadiums
  • Live music concerts
  • Convention centers
  • Wedding halls and other event spaces

Verizon doesn’t stand alone in proposing these uses. AT&T showed me a basketball arena in Las Vegas where it wanted to use millimeter-wave to let people courtside with phones broadcast first-person views. Qualcomm brought Steve Aoki on stage in 2019 to talk about how he could make concerts surreal by letting you look at them through AR lenses. So, why do you think none of that is happening?

You’ve figured it out: Coronavirus killed many of the reasons we need millimeter-wave. It shines when there are a lot of people who need bandwidth in a limited space. As Verizon has said for years now, it’s not a coverage layer, it’s a capacity layer. And given our experience of the past year, the idea that we may ever need a capacity layer again feels a little like a cruel joke.

So here’s one thing 5G UWB is for: hope. If we ever make it out of this thing, if we ever get together with people again, we’re probably all going to want to post that to Instagram at once.

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