Lucas Oil Stadium getting upgrade to 5G for Verizon customers

Lucas Oil Stadium will be among the first NFL venues to receive 5G service through a partnership between the league and Verizon.

The telecommunications company announced Thursday that 12 stadiums used by 13 teams are expected to receive upgrades to the company’s new 5G Ultra Wideband service ahead of the teams’ regular-season home openers. This includes the Colts, whose home opener is Sept. 22.

The upgraded network—available to Verizon customers with 5G-enabled devices—will be limited in its first year at Lucas Oil Stadium, generally to lower-bowl seating between the 20-yard lines and on the concourses. All other areas will still have 4G LTE service.

In addition to limited availability to Verizon customers, the telecom company also plans to have displays and exhibits at Lucas Oil Stadium where it will demonstrate 5G’s capabilities and how the cellular network will interact with Wi-Fi.

5G is intended to carry a higher capacity of users, while also offering better network connections, faster download and upload speeds, and lower latency.

Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said the rollout will also include a collaboration with the league to offer improved interactive fan experiences at each of the league’s stadiums. The initiative is part of the league’s celebration of its 100th anniversary.

“What we’ve done is we’ve introduced coverage in each of the stadiums, but we expect to both expand the coverage within the stadiums and the fan experience over time,” Dunne said, noting that work in several stadiums is still underway to finish the improvements.

While Dunne declined to share how much the company is investing in this specific project, he said it is a “major capital investment” as part of the $17 billion Verizon spends annually to improve its wireless infrastructure.

The Capital Improvement Board, which owns the stadium, is not financially responsible for the network upgrades, executive director Andy Mallon confirmed to IBJ.

“Verizon is working directly with” the league on the project, Mallon said. “We did not pay for (the) 5G.”

The 5G network will be expanded to all corners of the stadium next year, once Verizon’s rollout phase is over, said Tom Boyle, director of operations for the CIB.

“The 5G being implemented for the 2019 season is a very small window in the stadium, and it’s really for the Verizon customers; it’s an introduction to 5G,” he said.

Dunne said other carriers are expected to also add 5G capabilities to NFL stadiums in the coming years.

Cellular networks have generally operated at Lucas Oil Stadium through a singular distributed antenna system, Boyle said, adding he anticipated that would continue with the 5G upgrades.

Other NFL stadiums getting upgrades to 5G:

— 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)

— 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).

Upgrades to the cellular network comes as the CIB finalizes improvements to the stadium’s Wi-Fi capabilities, a $7 million project reported by IBJ in March. The improvements include placing an unspecified number of wireless access points beneath the stadium’s seats.

The Wi-Fi updates—the cost of which will be split between the Colts, the CIB and Verizon—are long overdue for the 11-year-old venue, and are expected to position the stadium in the top half of all NFL stadiums, in terms of wireless capabilities.

“I would expect that in due course, when we have completed the rollout of 5G with in stadiums and other areas, this will be a high-quality, direct substitute for Wi-Fi in those stadiums,” Dunne said.

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