Verizon makes $80M investment leading up to Super Bowl LV

The Super Bowl traditionally is a time to showcase new tech, and this year is no exception. The pandemic is putting a focus on the virtual experiences for fans of the big game.

Verizon said it invested more than $80 million to improve its network in areas in and around the Super Bowl, which takes place this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Verizon’s millimeter wave network, which it dubs Ultra Wideband, will be ready for business when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Improvements in and around the stadium include 70 miles of high-speed fiber, an upgraded distributed antenna system (DAS) and 281 small cell antennas. The enhancements are for the stadium as well as downtown Tampa, Ybor City and the Tampa Riverwalk. Like other years, improvements for the Super Bowl are designed to benefit residents and visitors for years to come.

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With the pandemic limiting the Raymond James stadium to 22,000 fans on game day, Verizon is using the occasion to highlight interactive mobile viewing experiences for fans in the stadium and those at home.

On Sunday, the Verizon 5G SuperStadium in the NFL mobile app will allow fans with an iPhone 12 the chance to engage with seven different camera angles while in the stadium and five angles at home, as well as project AR overlays of NFL’s Next Gen Stats for players. A free co-viewing experience in the Yahoo Sports mobile app will give fans the ability to co-watch Super Bowl LV with friends and family on their phones.

It's also offering a virtual Verizon 5G Stadium in Fortnite Creative, built by BeyondCreative and in partnership with Epic Games, for fans to come together and compete.

Verizon said the Fortnite experience will give gamers the opportunity to interact with their favorite NFL players and pro gamers in a way that’s never been done before. The activation will feature four football-inspired games and “a few hidden surprises” for players, according to the company. The virtual stadium was built to highlight Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network, so players can expect low lag times and super-fast speeds.

“With 5G, we are beginning to see the transformation of various industries and the innovation that comes with it,” said Verizon CMO Diego Scotti in a statement. “Reimagining live events is one of the best use cases for the power of 5G. During a year like this one, it is a thrill to transform the Super Bowl experience by creating a first-of-its-kind virtual stadium in Fortnite that brings a new level of gaming to life, while at the same time we’re innovating the in-stadium experience.”

Verizon has been concentrating on stadiums and other venues in dense urban areas for its millimeter wave 5G deployment. In the last year, it’s expanded the service to 52 stadiums and arenas, with speeds up to 4 Gbps in some places. (Its Nationwide service uses lower band spectrum and much lower speeds.)

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Last year, Verizon featured its work with public safety in TV commercials leading up to and during the Super Bowl. This year, the company said it’s working closely with the Tampa Police Department to provide deployable assets and boost capacity as needed.

Separately but somewhat related, Verizon announced a multi-year commitment to help small businesses. To kick off the program, Verizon is producing The Big Concert for Small Business, an after-party for Super Bowl LV on Sunday night. It will be hosted by Tiffany Haddish and feature performances by a  number of artists, including Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus.

Verizon said it's donating $10 million to the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), focusing on business owners in historically underserved communities.