Verizon continued to expand its super-fast 5G wireless network to more locations, on Thursday announcing a deal with the National Football League to add coverage in 13 out of 31 stadiums starting this weekend.
Fans who attend games in one of the 13 stadiums, such as Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, will still need to have a 5G compatible phone to access the 5G networks, which can download data 10 to 100 times faster than the average 4G LTE connection. Verizon said it would add demonstration areas in the stadiums, as well, to let fans experience the speed firsthand. (See the full list of stadiums below.)
The limited addition to the carrier's 5G reach comes as the wireless industry is racing to roll out 5G coverage, but it will take several years and tens of billions of dollars before the networks come close to reaching as many people as today's 4G LTE systems. And customers will have to buy 5G compatible phones to use the networks, but only a handful of rather expensive models available so far. Apple, which has almost half the U.S. smartphone market, isn't expected to start selling a 5G iPhone model for at least another year.
Verizon currently only offers 5G in small parts of 10 cities, such as Chicago and Phoenix, with a goal of reaching more than 30 cities by year end and covering half of the U.S. population by the end of 2020. In the meantime, it's adding coverage in popular venues like NFL stadiums, or transportation hubs, like in its deal with Boingo Wireless announced last month.
"Our strategy with the initial launch of 5G has been to bring it to public places where lots of people gather, so that's why we started in dense urban areas," Heidi Hemmer, vice president of technology at Verizon, tells Fortune. "The stadiums play perfectly into that, as well."
The stadiums already all have 4G coverage and Wi-Fi. But the addition of 5G will allow more devices to connect and reduce delays as fans in attendance watch video, often from other NFL games, on their phones. That's important to those playing fantasy football and increasingly valued as legalized sports betting spreads.
"It's a constant battle on the connectivity front at every stadium," Michelle McKenna, the NFL's chief information officer, says. "The more bandwidth and speed that we've offered through LTE networks and Wi-Fi, the fans gobbled it all up. Whatever you provide, that's what they'll use. Of course, we are always looking for what will keep us ahead of that curve."
The list of 13 football stadiums includes several venues in cities beyond where Verizon's limited 5G service is offered so far, such as MetLife Stadium near New York City, home to the New York Giants and New York Jets, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks–and also Verizon rival T-Mobile. The list of 13 doesn't include AT&T Field in Dallas, sponsored by one of Verizon's chief rivals. AT&T added its 5G network there in January.
The NFL has been a longtime partner of Verizon, which had exclusive mobile rights to games until 2018 and still has non-exclusive rights. Verizon also struck a partnership with the league back in March to develop some 5G offerings jointly.
Full list of stadiums getting Verizon 5G coverage:
Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers)
Empower Field at Mile High (Denver Broncos)
CenturyLink Field (Seattle Seahawks)
Ford Field (Detroit Lions)
Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots)
Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Dolphins)
Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts)
MetLife Stadium (New York Giants and New York Jets)
M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens)
NRG Stadium (Houston Texans)
Soldier Field (Chicago Bears)
U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings)
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