SVG Sit-Down: Verizon Business’s Lee Field, Michael Ruhnke, Josh Arensberg on Making Video Ingest Over 5G the Norm
Verizon looks to extend its NFL success across the sports-media industry
With the sports-broadcast industry moving toward IP and major onsite sports events requiring massive amounts of connectivity to power fan experiences, telecommunications providers like Verizon are at the center of much of what makes live sports exciting and entertaining.
Most notably, Verizon Business has been working closely with the National Football League on projects surrounding tentpole events like the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft to build unique and connected fan experiences largely around video. Those use cases are setting the stage for similar 5G-layered deployments across sports of all kinds and sizes.
SVG recently spoke with Verizon Business Managing Director, Global Solutions, Lee Field; Group VP, Enterprise and Commercial Accounts, Michael Ruhnke, and CTO, Media and Entertainment, Josh Arensberg about how the company’s work can be scaled, how they see broadcasters demanding higher connectivity at venues, and what’s next for the company in its work in live sports production.
What is Verizon Business’s chief goal as it pertains to its involvement in live sports production?
Field: [Our focus is] taking what we’ve done with private network for the NFL and creating use cases typically around video. In the next six months, we would like to see video ingest on 5G become not just a science experiment but the norm. We’re working with different leagues, different teams, different sports to build out those use cases and develop how the future of connectivity for video ingest looks.
The NFL is a big-time project: we’re talking about the Super Bowl inside a new building like SoFi Stadium. What learnings from that are transferable or scalable or replicable for a league that’s not the NFL and an event that’s not the Super Bowl?
Field: As we were testing what we were doing, we did a lot of the testing in Miami [at Hard Rock Stadium], and [our] equipment was there for a good period of time. We found all sorts of different nuances, because there’s quite an RF-dense environment on that site. We run a macro network. All of the carriers operate in there; they use different spectrum, different frequencies. We found quite quickly how we can build CBRS [Citizens Broadband Radio Service] and a private network to coexist with existing networks, and we could see that it was transferable. Any sport that’s using digital radio or any RF-based communication mechanism, this is what the future looks like for them.
We’re going to see a huge shift from radio and the business spectrum that the radio guys use. Everything’s crossing our network: LTE Band 48 support is there in an iPhone; it’s there in a Samsung device. Everyone has the kit already. We’ve got the network already; we’ve got the private-network capability. That’s where we are seeing these things move.
Ruhnke: And you can apply that to motorsport. One of the next conversations is taking it to [hockey] and getting broadcasters behind the bench.
Field: We’ve done a lot of work making it mobile. As sports move around, so do we. A great example was the work we did in London with the NFL: deliver those games. Deliver the same thing in Germany. That was a lesson learned because, typically, we’re very good at selling our networks in the U.S.; we’ve gotten very good at it in Europe. We’re extending to Asia Pacific, and you’ll see quite quickly things that we are doing outside of the U.S.
Ruhnke: As the big picture, we think about outcomes. On private-network technology, it’s all about “what is the use case?” What is the next thing we can do beyond coach-to-coach? Maybe that’s coach-to-player. What’s the next thing that we can do with layering experiences in a venue instance: accelerated access, cashless retail — those types of things we’re doing to push the envelope a little bit. Not just getting it there but leveraging it for that next use case that makes an experience better, makes venues operate better.
Field: It’s a good point around what we’re doing with edge compute. The work we’ve done with that is putting wavelength — so, edge compute — inside the cellular network and going, next step, in the venue. Imagine a scenario where I could deploy a Zixi media gateway inside the venue on an edge-compute node or a private network or a public network that gives me the ability to pull video over a private network, push it out to the fans in the stadium, and also push it out to any distribution broadcast platform. With what’s changing in the market, the entire RSM model? Right place, right time.
In the business, are you speaking with broadcasters as well, or are most of your conversations with leagues, facilities, venues?
Field: A bit of both. We’re in that space because we can learn things and solve problems that are incredibly applicable to our enterprise customer base. If we could solve it for 80,000, 100,000 people at an F1 event, we can take that into the theme-park industry. We could take it into large campus environments. We could take into financial services, manufacturing. It’s taking those lessons that we learn in an environment where low latency is key, where no frame loss is key, where reliability is key. You cannot drop a video or the communications for a league. The level of resilience is incredible. We’re solving problems that are big problems.
Ruhnke: We’re excited. There are major opportunities and events in the future: a World Cup [in North America in 2026], the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. All of these events require the focus that we’re talking about here. I think the energy around wanting to find a better way with new technology that’s flexible is pretty cool.
Field: One of the key things that I’ve seen is, everyone’s talking about the move from satellite. It is happening way faster than I think anybody expected. We’re starting to see big broadcast networks very interested in how they can do [productions] with quicker connectivity. They need a 10-gig and a 100-gig in every venue. We can do that.
Ruhnke: The theme comes back to, you need a really great network.
Arensberg: The one thing I’ll leave you with is Verizon’s launch of one-to-one time-division duplexing, which allows synchronous up and down. This is big news. We tested earlier this year 1.2 gig down and 1.2 gig up synchronous. Where you can get that millimeter wave connectivity in select locations, we are going to be working with venues to be able to enable that.
Also, the uptick that we’re seeing in the media space and the sports-production space is, people are deploying the fixed-wireless-access capability that Verizon launched last year not just as backup connectivity but as primary connectivity to get the job done every day. We are seeing a huge amount of deployment right now for that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.