Verizon wants to kick-start innovation in 5G. And it’s willing to spend a little money to do it.
The nation’s largest wireless carrier will offer $1 million in seed money to developers willing to work on new applications for the fifth-generation network, CEO Hans Vestberg said at a keynote address at CES 2019 on Tuesday. It’s called the Verizon “5G Challenge.”
With 5G being such a dominant theme at CES, it’s fitting that Vestberg is speaking at the show. Verizon, like all of the wireless carriers, have been talking 5G non-stop and the Vestberg laid on the superlatives in his address.
“5G changes everything,” he said.
“5G is a quantum leap over 4G,” he added.
“It’s the fourth industrial revolution,” he laid on.
Verizon has played its part in building up the hype. But this year, 5G is slowly turning into reality, with carriers putting the network in place for broader commercial launches later this year. Verizon launched its home 5G service in October (which some may quibble isn’t exactly 5G), while AT&T launched its mobile 5G service in select markets last month. T-Mobile and Sprint are promising broader deployments later this year.
But Vestberg’s point isn’t just that 5G will be faster, but that it has the potential to spur new businesses and ways of doing things. The next generation of cellular technology is poised to power the burgeoning Internet of Things trend of connected devices, enable autonomous cars to better talk to each other and spur new areas like telemedicine and streaming virtual reality.
“You limit yourself tremendously even at the Consumer Electronics Show thinking 5G is another smartphone,” Vestberg said in an interview ahead of the keynote.
Vestberg and a series of guests laid out the practical benefits of 5G beyond a faster experience on your smartphone. Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times, discussed plans for a “5G journalism lab” to test how a faster network can change the way people tell stories. Mariah Scott, president of Skyward, which is owned by Verizon, said the carrier has committed to connecting 1 million drone flights to the 5G network.
Vestberg used a tablet in the keynote venue at the Venetian to pilot a drone in Los Angeles through a 5G connection.
Scott mentioned the promise of using 5G-powered drones for industrial uses.
“The ability to gather data and analyze it in real time is what will change things,” Scott said.
He invited Los Angeles Lakers guard Kyle Kuzma via a live video stream to shoot basketballs in a carnival-style mini set while wearing a VR headset with a live feed around him. The stunt demonstrated the real time, low latency 5G connection. He hit 119 shots in 80 seconds.
One other guest was Clayton Harris, the first customer to get the home 5G service, who was fed into the keynote via a live video feed. He ran a speed test of around 690 megabits per second. Vestberg said he ultimately wants to see this become an easier installation process that you can do yourself.
While Vestberg didn’t mention AT&T directly in the keynote, he made an offhand remark about 5G and Hocus Pocus, a subtle nod to his rivals.
He did reference AT&T in an earlier interview when asked about his rival’s decision to use the term 5Ge (The E is for evolution) in its ads and phones to describe its 4G networks. It’s a move that has elicited criticism from T-Mobile CEO John Legere. (To be fair, he bashed both AT&T, as well as Verizon’s use of the term 5G Ultra Wideband.)
“Whatever other people are doing, let them do it,” he said. “We have the best 4G network in the market, and we’re going to market it as 4G.”