Verizon CEO touts everything 5G during CES keynote

Who knew Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) would get so much love on a CES stage? That’s exactly what happened Monday during Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s keynote to kick off this year’s virtual CES show.

Sure, Vestberg talked about a lot of things associated with 5G, bringing folks like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the stage (via video) and touting some cool technology enabling drones to deliver packages for UPS. He recited the 5G currencies that he shared with a CES audience a couple years ago, such as speed, throughput, low latency and reliability.

But like the name implies, the Consumer Electronics Show typically attracts a lot of folks interested in mass distribution products, like smartphones and other gadgets, so it’s worth noting that MEC, a technology often cited by trade sites like yours truly, wound its way onto the stage.  

Vestberg talked about how MEC places unprecedented levels of computing power at the edge of Verizon’s 5G network. Last year, Verizon announced a private MEC solution with Microsoft and deployed public 5G MEC with AWS in 10 locations across the United States. “And we’re just getting started,” he said.

What MEC involves is taking processing out of expensive hardware and putting it into the cloud, enabling access exactly when and where it’s needed the most, he explained. Small businesses, startups and consumers will get access to the same technology that until recently, was only available for large companies and major research institutions, according to Vestberg.

He called out the California city of San Jose, home to Verizon’s 5G Mobility and 5G Home, as well as one of the first areas where it launched MEC. “The city is on the cutting edge of what smart city technology can do to reduce greenhouse emissions,” he said.

RELATED: Verizon, AWS bring 5G MEC to Boston, Bay Area

Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development and 5G Labs at Verizon, said her team works with innovators inside and outside the company to create technology-based solutions and products for consumers as well as enterprise customers. Citing the large bandwidth and lower latency that 5G offers, she said they’re working with many different robotics companies, including Ghost Robotics, which builds robots to keep humans out of harm’s way, such as going into burning buildings.  

Drones to the rescue

In the drone space, Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband will allow Skyward to manage drones safely and securely, remotely controlling drones to deliver packages. “That technology is like what broadband is for the internet,” said Mariah Scott, president of Skyward, which Verizon acquired in 2017.

Skyward and UPS on Monday announced a collaboration to deliver retail products with drones connected to Verizon 4G LTE, as well as 5G testing and integration for delivery. The companies expect to deliver retail products via drones at The Villages, a collection of retirement neighborhoods in Florida.

UPS has a drone delivery company, UPS Flight Forward, that was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2019 to operate commercial drone flights. During the global pandemic, drone delivery actually provided high-risk seniors with a rapid delivery option so they could stay at home and still receive their medications.

Ultra Wideband and sports

Vestberg spent most of the keynote talking about how 5G is going to transform lives through the various currencies he’s previously discussed.

Sports, education, smart cities and entertainment each were given segments highlighting what 5G can do for them. Vestberg mentioned Ultra Wideband 5G quite a few times without noting that it’s only available in small pockets of 61 markets, a situation that rival T-Mobile points out at every opportunity.

Stadiums are popular venues for Verizon to showcase what its Ultra Wideband service, which uses millimeter wave spectrum, can do. While few people gathered in stadiums over the past year, sports still brought people together.

Vestberg invited NFL Commissioner Goodell via video to discuss how 5G will change the way fans watch sports and how teams interact with one another on the field. Raymond James Stadium, the home of the next Super Bowl, just went live with 5G a few weeks ago.

NFL legend Deion Sanders, now head football coach at Jackson State University, joined Vestberg to discuss how 5G can change how coaches, athletes and fans experience the game, and that’s a tremendous opportunity, he said. “If you haven’t already downloaded the NFL app, I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” Sanders said.

Verizon’s 5G SuperStadium app allows fans with certain 5G-enabled devices to engage with up to seven different camera angles during select NFL games. It uses augmented reality (AR) to project virtual players on the screen with overlaying stats.

Verizon ended the keynote with a performance by the band Black Pumas, complete with a QR code to join them on stage for an exclusive 5G experience.