Verizon touts 5G capabilities at Super Bowl 2020

It's built 5G-only capabilities into the NFL OnePass app and will show off how 5G works for live sports broadcasting.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
5 min read
Verizon 5G demonstration ahead of Super Bowl 2020

Guests participated in a Verizon 5G demonstration at an event before Super Bowl 2020 in Miami.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Verizon

Verizon is calling Super Bowl LIV the first 5G Super Bowl, as it'll be showcasing its next-generation wireless service at the big game in Miami on Sunday. The carrier says this will be the first time that its wireless customers will be able to access its 5G mobile network at the event. 

Verizon's 5G mobile network hadn't even launched for commercial use a year ago. The company officially kicked off its 5G mobile network in April 2019 once the first two handsets with 5G were available.The situation was similar for its competitors. While AT&T launched its mobile 5G network at the end of 2018, its customers didn't have access to 5G handsets until later in 2019. T-Mobile and Sprint also began rolling out 5G later in 2019. 

Since then, the carriers have been racing to deploy their networks and touting all the cool things that the newer technology will enable their customers to do. (AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint also will have some 5G capabilities at the Super Bowl.) Verizon has been at the forefront of using very high-frequency spectrum known as millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave) for its service. This high-frequency spectrum is largely what's behind the super fast speeds and ultra low latency promised by 5G. 

5G is not only about 100 times faster than 4G, but it also has much lower latency than 4G, making the new networks more responsive. This will allow a whole slew of new applications in areas such as VR, AR and self-driving cars . Verizon, which now offers 5G in parts of 34 cities around the US, is using the Super Bowl to showcase these new capabilities and highlight how some of these functions just aren't possible over 4G LTE networks.

But it's still early days for the technology. All four major US wireless carriers are still deploying their networks. And handset makers are still rolling out new devices. Verizon currently supports seven 5G devices, but it plans to release 20 new 5G devices in 2020. By next year, there are likely to be even more uses for the technology at the Super Bowl.

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A 5G bonus for NFL OnePass

Verizon has partnered with the NFL to add some 5G-only capabilities inside the NFL OnePass app, which it developed with the league and which has already been available to Verizon 4G customers attending NFL games throughout the US. 

While many of the app features will be available to customers on 4G devices, such as in-stadium "wayfinding" capabilities that help them locate the closest bathroom or food, Verizon subscribers with 5G-capable devices will also be able to access a new multi-camera-angle streaming feature. Using this feature, fans in the stadium will be able to stream action from five different camera angles on the sidelines. They'll be able to switch between views and rewind and play instant replays from any of these angles. 

What's more, fans will be able to use AR to see real-time stats as they're watching the video streams from any of the five camera angles on the field. Verizon representatives say all of this will happen in real time, which they say isn't possible over 4G, because of bandwidth constraints. 

It's the first time an app's been developed specifically for its 5G subscribers, Verizon said. 

While Verizon executives say that the 5G service is deployed throughout the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and outside in the parking lot, it's unclear if the service will actually be available in every single seat. That's because the mmWave spectrum is limited by distance, so there may be some spots in the arena that don't get a signal as well as other spots. 

5G-enabled sports broadcast

Verizon will also be showing off another 5G-enabled capability at the Super Bowl. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg alluded to it on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday when he mentioned that fans would see "quite a lot of the 5G experience" in Miami at the game. 

He said the company would be showing off "how we can use broadcasting cameras with 5G." 

Specifically, Verizon has partnered with Fox, which is broadcasting the game, to show how a live video feed from a TV camera can use 5G to transmit video from the sidelines for its live broadcast. Verizon says this will be the first time 5G has been used by a broadcaster to transmit wirelessly from the sidelines at a live sports event. Traditionally, broadcasters must keep their TV cameras tethered to a wireline connection to feed video from the sidelines to a broadcast truck, which then is able to blast the video to TVs across the world.

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Because of the increased bandwidth available via 5G over millimeter wave spectrum and the very low latency via 5G, Verizon officials say broadcasters in the future will be able to use 5G-enabled cameras to shoot and broadcast wirelessly. 

Sunday's 5G broadcast will mostly be a proof-of-concept. Here's how it will work. A traditional Fox broadcast camera will be connected via Ethernet to a 5G hotspot, which will then transmit the video to the broadcast truck at the stadium, which then broadcasts it live over its channels. 

This 5G setup won't be used to broadcast any part of the actual game, but will instead be used at some point during the game between plays to show off what the technology can do. 

Verizon tested 5G-enabled broadcasting in December in Houston during an NFL game between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots. Using Sony cameras , NBC Sports transmitted shots from the sidelines wirelessly via Verizon's 5G network to a production room in the stadium. The company said in a release at the time that the "test proved that 5G-connected cameras can be a reliable and beneficial option for future live sports broadcasts."

What about the other carriers?

Verizon's rivals also say they will have 5G available at the Super Bowl this year.  

T-Mobile, which uses a combination of low-band and millimeter wavelength spectrum, also has an extensive 5G network surrounding the stadium in Miami. It also has mmWave 5G deployed in Hard Rock Stadium. 

But the company has also made enhancements to its 4G LTE network for fans. 

"T-Mobile more than doubled LTE capacity at Hard Rock Stadium so customers can stream, tweet, post and chat about every big moment from the game," the company said in a press release

AT&T also promises 5G coverage at the stadium and throughout parts of Miami. The company is also highlighting improvements to its 4G network and what it calls its 5G+ network. The company says it's "invested more than $85 million to boost our network through a series of both permanent and temporary upgrades in the city."

Sprint has also beefed up coverage and says it will offer "4G/5G dual connectivity within the stadium, transmitting 4G over a state-of-the-art distributed antenna system with more than 1,800 antennas and 5G through Massive MIMO radios."