AT&T prioritizes 5G potential at Miami events

For AT&T, 5G experiences at live events are less about managing consumer expectations and more about showcasing 5G potential, AT&T's Valerie Vargas says.

As fans head to Miami this weekend for Super Bowl LIV, AT&T is taking the opportunity to get people excited about more than just the final score.

Ahead of the game, AT&T is hosting its 10th annual AT&T TV Super Saturday Night (rebranded from DirectTV to highlight the carrier’s new video product launching in Q1), a concert event headlined by Lady Gaga this year, with 5G experiences on display for the roughly 9,500 attendees.

In the still-early days of 5G, figuring out how to position the technology to consumers may be a bit tricky for carriers as clear definitions, applications and expectations haven’t been set yet. However, AT&T’s SVP of Advertising and Creative Services Valerie Vargas told FierceWireless that the best way to get consumers excited about the new technology is to bring it to them live.

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“With 5G, if you ask consumers, a lot will play back to you that it has a speed component, or may even play back to you that it has a latency component, but what does that really mean to me the consumer?,” Vargas said. “Being able to demonstrate that live is absolutely the richest way for someone to get their head wrapped around, wow this is incredibly powerful, and I want some of this, I want to be able to purchase something like this.”

In terms of network, the carrier said it’s been prepping for more than a year to boost coverage in Miami, investing around $85 million to deploy additional assets that include both permanent and temporary upgrades. In December AT&T rolled out 5G+ in select parts of the city, including Miami Gardens.

It’s also deployed a Super Cell on Wheels (COW) to power 5G+ at the Meridian Island Gardens for the 5G experiences on Saturday night. For that event AT&T’s operating in the 39 GHz band to showcase 5G under Special Temporary Authority (STA) granted by the FCC, using up to three fixed base stations and up to 20 end-user equipment units.

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5G activities on Saturday include a 5G-powered 60-foot digital wall that turns participants into Lady Gaga’s namesake “little monsters”, an AR/5G air-graffiti experience, and a live stream of the night’s concert with special camera angles.

Even though the demos are using millimeter wave spectrum, which AT&T brands as its 5G+ service, for purposes of signage and marketing the Super Saturday Night event, AT&T is dubbing experiences simply as ‘5G.’ The decision again goes back to consumers' general understanding of 5G, according to Vargas.

“Consumers readily have consciousness of 5G, they might just not know the details of it,” she said.

To that end, AT&T staffs each 5G experience area with “ambassadors” who are there to give details about what the 5G experience is, how it’s working, the differences of 5G and why they would want AT&T 5G versus a different carrier.

“This is all an opportunity to provide additional [5G] education to our guests,” she said.

When it comes to consumers and what they think they’ll get with 5G, J.D. Power managing director Ian Greenblatt recently told FierceWireless that setting realistic expectations about the different flavors of 5G is critical. Others have warned about consumer confusion from carriers’ differing marketing and deployment strategies.

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AT&T’s low-band flavor of 5G, which it started rolling out in December and is aiming for nationwide coverage in the second half of 2020, uses spectrum that delivers broader reach than 5G+ but not the speeds of its millimeter wave service, which is still only available to business customers.

Vargas indicated that when it comes to choosing what 5G experiences to put on at live events, showcasing the potential of 5G is more of a top priority than keeping consumers’ expectations in check.

“It’s less about managing those expectations and more about ‘where can you take this, what could we do?’” Vargas said.

AT&T’s creative and network teams work together with talent to think up both what’s possible with 5G and what will resonate with attendees. That’s part of what's exciting about creating 5G-powered events, she said.

“The world of 5G is wide open, no one has fully dictated what it’s going to be or what it’s possibilities might be, so we challenge ourselves at AT&T to lean into any of these opportunities and make them contextually relevant,” she said.

Contextualized 5G experiences

In terms of making 5G relevant for visitors, the teams worked to create 5G experiences that would tap into Lady Gaga fans’ knowledge base and interest. In this case, Vargas said fans are well aware of Gaga’s “little monsters” with the theme of promoting kindness and her signature “paw pose,” which are incorporated into the demos.  

For the digital display wall, fans get a full body scan and then as they move or dance their video is captured over 5G using a network demo kit on 39 GHz and downloaded via five Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspots. It then renders users’ own glowing neon digital avatar on the display wall that moves in real-time with low-latency. The video is uploaded so that users can get it via email to put on social channels or sharable video platforms.

Vargas said that the frictionless 5G experience can generate up to 24,000 variations of monsters by guests performing different dance moves and gestures, and there are a few Easter eggs hidden within.

ATT Monster pose
Example of a "little monster" avatar powered by 5G. (AT&T)

AT&T will also have a slew of Samsung S10 5G devices on hand for attendees to use as they move under a 10-ft-tall paw structure and write a word of kindness using AR in neon light trails. The air-graffiti then stays permanently, so if visitors come back later and hold up the 5G device, they would see not only their word, but all the additional words or gratitude symbols that other users have written.

The Netgear mobile hotspots are providing connectivity and the fan-created graffiti is uploaded over 5G to a content server which downloads the virtual graffiti mosaic so that fans can view it on the device, according to Vargas.  

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Finally, during the concert itself Samsung 5G devices will be used on AT&T’s 5G+ service to film special angles like Gaga costume changes and back-stage action, and live stream them over Twitter.

AT&T’s aim is to get as many consumers as possible to see 5G up close and personal and up next will be 5G-powered events during NBA All Star Weekend.

“We’ll continue to look for those events where we can get [5G] to the broadest reach of consumers to touch, feel and trial,” she said.

Could 5G-only experience events be a draw in and of themselves some day?

“Absolutely,” Vargas said. “I think the in the future, especially as we all continue to learn and push the boundaries of what 5G will do, there’s so much more in front of us in opportunities to create.”

Here’s some of the other network prep AT&T’s done in Miami ahead of this weekend’s events:

  • Upgraded its in-stadium Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and added 39 GHz and Band 14 spectrum to increase LTE capacity by more than 300% than at the start of football season. 
  • Installed a new DAS at 29 additional locations throughout Miami
  • Deployed six Cell on Wheels (COWs) to handle increased network demands
  • Set up three FirsNet Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) outside of the stadium for additional coverage for first responders