When Taylor Swift performed at Los Angeles’s SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in early August, Janette Smrcka went down to the field among the crush of fans live-streaming the concert, taking selfies and consuming massive amounts of data. The vice president of IT innovation and revenue for the stadium and surrounding Hollywood Park ran a speed test and saw Verizon’s network was still delivering 2 Gbps of data speeds on its 5G network.
“For a guest to be able to experience not just what’s happening in the venue, but to share it with their friends and family in the digital community — that’s a game changer,” Smrcka told Cord Cutters News at SoFi Stadium last week.
SoFi is one of the NFL stadiums wired with Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G service — the kind of suped-up cellular highway allowing for the kind of speeds you’d normally see with a fiber connection. It’s the kind of speeds that helped build up the early hype over 5G, but it turns out that so-called mmWave spectrum can only deliver a high capacity at a short range. Which makes it perfect for the NFL.
Verizon on Thursday said it had recently completed upgrades to the final three NFL stadiums, meaning that all 30 stadiums had access to the fastest version of its 5G network. The network is available to Verizon customers on its most premium plans that have compatible 5G phones.
“Verizon has made this investment in 5G Ultra Wideband to ensure that when thousands of fans gather together they can rely on their connection and have an awesome experience,” said Joe Russo, executive vice president and president of global networks and technology at Verizon.
The upgrades mark the latest step taken in the marketing and technology partnership between Verizon and the NFL. For the NFL, having a carrier going the extra mile in its venues ensures a way to keep fans connected and happy — even if the Wi-Fi network buckles under the data demands. Verizon, meanwhile, gets to showcase the best version of its service in these high-profile locations.
Verizon, for instance, spent nearly $120 million to build out its infrastructure at SoFi Stadium, Massimo Peselli, chief revenue officer for Verizon’s business group, told Cord Cutters News last week. That includes the 5G radios strung up inside of the infinity display hanging over the field, the 4G radios underneath various seats and the CBRS radios used by the coaches on the sidelines.
“The number of terabytes consumers are consuming is rising 20% to 30% year over year at a football game,” Peselli said. “We don’t want a bottleneck fo rfans as they share their experience with friends and family.”
The run of Swift concerts at the venue provided an ideal stress test. A Verizon engineer noted that the concerts marked the most data usage in the short history of the stadium, surpassing even the Super Bowl from earlier this year. But even with the traffic, the data speeds held up.
Beyond a faster connection for fans, Peselli said the 5G infrastructure is enabling other features at the venue such as cashless checkout or using facial recognition to admit fans. As the newest stadium, it marked the largest investment by Verizon at an NFL stadium.
“The real power of 5G is the almost unlimited capacity, and you can share and form the network to enable different things to happen in parallel,” he said.
Photo credit: Roger Cheng