Verizon CEO makes the case that 5G is more than just faster phones

From drones to 3D renderings of museum exhibits, Hans Vestberg rattles off a list of ways 5G will change your life.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg spends his keynote talking about the different applications of 5G. 

Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

The advent of 5G was supposed to change, well, everything. But aside from tons of commercials and smartphones with a faster wireless connection -- and, at times, not even that -- the next-generation cellular technology has been a non-factor for most people. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg showed up to this year's CES with a few real-world examples of how 5G will have an impact.

"It's more than just another tech innovation," he said at his CES 2021 keynote address on Monday. "It's a platform that makes other innovations possible."

Vestberg's session is a follow-up from his appearance two years ago, when he first introduced the eight "currencies," or the company's jargon for 5G applications. On Monday, he ran through programs in areas like sports, education and drone deliveries that emerged from the concepts laid out in 2019.

The Verizon keynote comes at a pivotal and unconventional time for 5G. The wireless industry should be crowing about the breadth of devices and wide rollout of the network, but the coronavirus lockdown has most people at home -- using Wi-Fi -- and few able to take advantage of the fastest connections found in city centers. The inconsistent speeds available on 5G nationwide networks, meanwhile, have some consumers wondering what the fuss is all about. 

Vestberg made the case that even as the pandemic caused many things to shut down or freeze, the work around deploying 5G and taking advantage of its higher speed and responsiveness continued through 2020. He also said these networks will be ready to serve when some sense of normalcy returns and people head back into city centers and sports arenas. 

"We leapfrogged seven to 10 years in the data revolution," Vestberg said in a media briefing ahead of his keynote, noting that areas like telemedicine and touchless retail have seen faster adoption because of the dynamics of new norms like social distancing and working and learning remotely. 

Anyone looking to Vestberg's keynote for new unlimited plans or phones may have been disappointed, but that wasn't his point. He has long talked about 5G as an unprecedented platform for innovation and continued to build his case at CES. But much of the trials and applications he did run through -- like a better experience at NFL stadiums -- will depend on a return to normalcy before consumers really see any benefit. 

Here's a rundown of what Vestberg announced. 

More NFL stadiums with 5G: Verizon has committed to deploying 5G Ultra Wideband, or the super-fast variant of its 5G network, in 28 NFL stadiums this year and has already deployed the network in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, which will host Super Bowl LV.  Vestberg said fans with a Verizon 5G device will be able use the "SuperStadium in the NFL" app to check out different camera angles of the game and use augmented reality features when keeping tabs on player stats. Vestberg said Verizon is also working with the other sports leagues as well. 


Verizon is continuing its investment in upgrading the networks around sports stadiums, and had retired NFL superstar Deion Sanders on to talk about the evolution of the game. 

Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Smithsonian goes 3D: Over the next five years, Verizon will scan collections and artifacts and create digital experiences that can be viewed anywhere. Verizon has worked with the Smithsonian's Open Access platform to create augmented reality experiences out of its 3D artifacts

The Met embraces AR: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Verizon launched The Met Unframed, a virtual art and gaming experience featuring dozens of digitally rendered galleries of 50 works of art from The Met. Any 4G or 5G device will be able to access the experience, but Verizon customers will have access to enhanced activities on four of the AR works. 

Watch this: CES 2021: What to expect as the show goes all-digital

Connecting drone deliveries: Verizon is also working on this area through Skyward, a Verizon-owned business created to push cellular-connected drones . Verizon and Skyward are using 5G to connect delivery drones and are aiming to use them to deliver packages in The Villages in Florida with the help of UPS's Flight Forward program. Vestberg said many of the drone deliveries that happened in 2020 were to transport critical supplies like medicine, but he hopes it will be broadened out. He said the only way to effectively coordinate and connect a massive number of drones in the air is through a cellular network, and 5G gives you the necessary capacity. 

Live Nation venues get 5G: Verizon said it will deploy its Ultra Wideband flavor of 5G in 15 Live Nation clubs and theaters, including the Wiltern in Los Angeles and Irving Plaza in New York. Like the NFL stadiums, the 5G access will enable the venues to livestream shows where users have access to multiple camera angles. Verizon said it would power new tools to manage crowd flow and hinted at other "in-venue elements."

Carbon neutral goal: Not a 5G announcement, but the company said it was aiming to be carbon neutral by 2035.