AT&T announced this week that AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be outfitted with 5G technology this year. (Getty Images)
Igal Elbaz, AT&T’s senior vice president for wireless network architecture and design, lives in Dallas. On a personal level, he said he couldn’t be more excited to make the easy trip to AT&T Stadium in Arlington sometime in 2019 to experience firsthand his company becoming the first wireless carrier to outfit a stadium in 5G technology. On a business level, it signifies new opportunities for teams to program fan-friendly experiences.
“It is an exciting time as 5G represents a paradigm shift in how we think about wireless networks,” he said. “We are at the beginning of the journey and it will take some time for all the capabilities to show, but the promise is unbelievable.”
AT&T announced Tuesday at the CES technology show in Las Vegas that it would load the stadium with 5G, saying it would outfit AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, in the next few months. AT&T has already brought mobile 5G capabilities — which increase speeds, download times and connectivity over 4G LTE — to 12 cities and plans to expand in 2019. Now, though, Elbaz said it is time to think about expanding wireless services into “use cases,” announcing the addition of 5G not just to the stadium but also to a hospital and a Samsung manufacturing facility in Austin.
For sports, the benefits extend beyond mobile speed to the way fans experience the event. “Obviously the networks need to be in the center of this,” he said. “The stadiums or teams will have to work and create the right experiences for fans.” With the technological capabilities, Elbaz said to expect a heightened use of augmented reality and 360-degree video. AT&T said virtual reality glasses could integrate as part of the in-venue experience, all connected to a user’s smartphone. Of course, the simplicity of watching “crystal clear” instant replays, even while walking the concourse, comes as a basic advantage.
Elbaz said it was a natural fit to launch 5G at a stadium that bears the company’s name and has served as a technological leader since it opened in 2009. “Being the first one was a natural extension for the leadership they have demonstrated,” he said.
While the actual installation and connection of systems inside the venue isn’t new for the company as they layer in 5G technology, AT&T wants to see what they can learn from the process. AT&T said it is too soon to calculate the cost of adding 5G to the venue.
“We definitely believe in the first occasion to do it the right way and iterate through the process of deployment to see in real time how to scale inside the stadium and other stadiums,” Elbaz said. “We definitely think of this as something over time we will see in more and more venues.”
In the end, though, much of the onus on harnessing the power of the technology falls on the teams, both in the way they communicate to fans inside the venue about the 5G capability and in the experiences the technology builds. “I have full trust the Cowboys and the stadium team will know exactly how to do this,” Elbaz said.
“Since opening AT&T Stadium in 2009, our vision and focus was to remain on the cutting edge in every facet of our building,” said Charlotte Jones Anderson, the Cowboys’ chief brand officer, in a statement. “Together with our strong collaboration with AT&T producing the most innovative technology that the world has to offer, we believe this announcement only further enhances the fan experience.”