Miami is buzzing over Verizon’s recent installation of 5G antennas at the Hard Rock Stadium. After a slow and delayed start, the highly hyped rollout of the new 5G wireless network is finally getting underway across the US, including installations at several sporting venues. But what value will this service bring to fans, and at what cost? How has the 5G launch fared so far at NFL games?
The NFL 5G Tryout
On the opening Sunday of the 2019 NFL season, Verizon unveiled working 5G networks in 13 NFL Stadiums, including the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. A few other NFL cities will debut 5G capability later in the season. The networks promise up to (with emphasis on the “up to”) 1 gigabit-per-second transfer speeds and an enhanced fan experience.
With NFL game attendance regularly in the high tens of thousands, stadiums are ideal, proving ground for the 5G rollout. What better way than to debut the super-fast speed at the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami. Because of the short-range of high-frequency 5G signals, it is only practical in densely populated areas. Small-cell 5G antenna arrays must be closely spaced and they require line-of-sight to users with little obstruction in order to be effective at maximum data transfer speeds.
Stadiums allow 5G providers to experiment with different products and services on game day with a large group of users. AT&T launched its own 5G experience at their eponymous NFL stadium in Dallas on opening day. Fans with 5G devices were able to interact with some of their favorite computerized Dallas Cowboys through augmented reality (AR).
Of course, in order to benefit from any exciting 5G perks, users must have a 5G-enabled device. The introduction of 5G smartphones and other end-user equipment has lagged behind the deployment of the network. Consumers are hesitant to shell out too much money for access to a network that has so far been limited and inconsistent. Even some of the seating areas of the inaugural 5G stadiums were unable to access the 5G network.
Fans who are concerned about exposure to 5G signals and their unknown health effects will have to choose between attending games – thus putting themselves in the midst of multiple antennas – and maintaining their peace of mind. Come next year though, they may not find that peace of mind downtown.
The Rush To Miami’s 5G
The Dolphins are not going to be playing in the Super Bowl this season barring an epic sports miracle. Hard Rock Stadium will, however, be hosting Super Bowl LIV in February, bringing in hundreds of thousands of fans, media, celebrities, and all that comes with them to the Miami area.
Super Bowls are often a boon to host city economies, and those cities take advantage of the spotlight when they can. In addition to installing 5G at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami has been scrambling to 5G ready in the downtown area so that it can showcase the network to the influx of tourists. Many, however, have been critical of how the city has managed the deployment.
To expedite the launch of 5G in time for Super Bowl season, The telecom carriers have been allowed to circumvent many of the approvals and permit requirements that are typically necessary in Miami for construction of communication towers. People have been reporting the towers, which are spaced about every 100 yards (ironically the length of a football field), being hastily constructed in inconvenient locations, obstructing walkways and often left in a semi-finished state with dangling wires and caution tape.
We’ll know in February 2020 whether these towers are completed and the network is running at full speed in time for the big week.