Why this year's matchup might be the last 4G Super Bowl in history

Fans are still using 4G LTE smartphones this year, but by 2020, a plethora of 5G devices are expected to be in use at large sporting events such as the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl 53 is ready to make digital data history

This year's Super Bowl LIII showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots could be the last 4G Super Bowl in history.

Large sporting events such as the Super Bowl are one of the first areas where the impact of next-gen 5G connectivity will be felt. This year, fans will be using 4G LTE devices to send their selfies and Snapchat videos at Super Bowl 53, but by 2020 there will be a plethora of 5G smartphones available to consumers and that could change everything. And since large sporting events result in some of the greatest amounts of data usage over a relatively short time span, the ability to have massive bandwidth, low latency, faster download speeds and improved network reliability will make a difference.

SEE: Super Bowl 53 is poised to make digital history (TechRepublic)

As proof of the demand, Samsung is releasing a 5G phone in the first half of 2019, and other manufacturers such as LG and Huawei have said they are releasing 5G phones at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later in February. In all, 20 devices manufacturers have said they are backing 5G, according to CNET. Apple is reportedly holding off until 2020 to release a next-gen phone.

The ability to use augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to improve the fan experience at the game is one of the reasons that teams are so drawn to 5G. The NBA's Sacramento Kings worked with Verizon on 5G trials to use the technology for AR/VR experiences for fans.

The Kings plan to use 5G to change the fan experience, based on insight gained during early trials of AR/VR. The team provided a 5G experience to local students in October. The students wore VR goggles with content delivered through 5G technology and they experienced the game as if they had courtside seats, even though they were actually in a separate room.

SEE: How 5G will transform business (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

"We are always trying to find ways to utilize technology and innovation to improve the fan experience. We want to be able to deliver the best fan experience in the world," said Ryan Montoya, CTO for the Kings, adding that he thinks the future for sporting events will be mixed reality, which is a combination of AR and VR.

The addition of 5G will make it possible for fans at home to experience some in-stadium perspectives of a game while at home, as well as when they're actually in the stadium, whether it's an AR overlay showing stats, or using VR to see things from a player's point of view.

SEE: Quick glossary: 5G technology (Tech Pro Research)

Geoff Reiss, general manager of Yahoo Sports, said that he thinks 5G technology will change the fan experience at future Super Bowls.

"Logically speaking, by the time the sports world gets together in South Florida next year for the Super Bowl I would expect us to have 5G driven experiences for sure," Reiss said, referencing Super Bowl LIV in 2020, which will be in Miami Gardens, FL.

Getting 5G into stadiums is a critical component of the fan experience, particularly for the Super Bowl, according to Nicola Palmer, senior vice president of product development and 5G ecosystems at Verizon.

"This year, you're going to see some 5G at Super Bowl 53. It will be mostly in a demo sort of way. We'll have it in our Experience Zone, and we'll have some different things that we'll be able to show. The primary reason that you're not going to see 5G yet is there's really no 5G devices. We could put 5G radios or antennas throughout the stadium, but we don't have yet consumer devices that could take advantage of that. I think that would change for next year, because we've already announced that in the first half of 2019 this year that we'll have two consumer devices 5G devices. One will be a Samsung, one is a Motorola and they'll be out this year," Palmer said.

5G will help with the massive bandwidth and provide low latency in a venue. "There's all sorts of obstructions in terms of concrete and steel and you have people basically having the same experience at the same time, and wanting to use social media to share it, so there's a lot of pressure on bandwidth and during the halftime show at the Super Bowl, everyone's taking videos and pictures and uploading it, then that puts a lot of stress on a network," Palmer said.

AT&T also predicts that 5G will play a much greater role in future Super Bowls. Marvy Moore, vice president and general manager for AT&T, said that while Atlanta is one of the cities where it's already deployed 5G, there's still plenty of work to be done before it's a commonly used technology.

Whatever the technology that fans use during the game, Super Bowl 53 is sure to generate plenty of data uploads and video streams both inside the stadium and at fan events around Atlanta.

Stream Super Bowl LIII, including the halftime show, live on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 at 6 PM ET / 3 PM PT with CBS All Access and on CBS Sports.

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Image: CBS

By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included writing on s...