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By Michelai Graham
Boardroom's Tech Reporter
April 25, 2024
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Tech Talk is a weekly digest by Boardroom’s Michelai Graham that breaks down the latest news from the world’s biggest tech companies and the future of industry-shaping trends like AI.

It’s NFL Draft week! I spent some time in Detroit this week with Verizon ahead of the draft to see how the tech company prepared the Motor City for the big event. Tune back into Tech Talk for our regularly scheduled programming, which will include a rundown of recent tech earnings reports.

A peek into today’s edition:

  • Verizon at the 2024 NFL Draft
  • How the NFL and AWS built the Digital Athlete platform
  • TikTok vs. the US is upon us


How Verizon Tackles Connectivity in Detroit During the 2024 NFL Draft

Have you ever thought about what goes into outfitting an area with enough broadband connectivity for large-scale events such as the NFL Draft?

Lucky for you, I spent some time in Detroit earlier this week with Verizon and walked through downtown, where hundreds of thousands of football fans are expected to swarm for the 2024 NFL Draft festivities. Here’s what I learned about Verizon’s work in the Motor City.

Verizon at the 2024 NFL Draft

Detroit city officials expect up to 500,000 visitors on the ground throughout the draft, and of course, the one thing everyone wants to do is to stay connected to their devices.

That’s where Verizon comes in.

The telecommunications conglomerate has been creating broadband infrastructures for the NFL Draft since 2015, and each year, Verizon is met with new cities and challenges to make the magic happen. Scott Hubble, a principal engineer at Verizon, told journalists that the tech company invested $25 million in the city of Detroit over the last year to boost broadband connectivity ahead of the draft. The best part about all of this is that 98% of the new connectivity service will stay in the city permanently.

Throughout the tech tour, Verizon leaders explained what they’ve actually installed throughout the city. One of the biggest implementations is a temporary mobile cell site Verizon calls a “cell on wheels” or “COW,” two of which were deployed to Detroit and connected through fiber infrastructure.

COWs are typically used in areas following natural disasters to get people back online quickly. One of these mobile cell sites has the same connectivity power as 10 traditional cell towers. Each of these COWs, which are set up in Hart Plaza and Cadillac Square in Detroit, can accommodate up to 30,000 devices at a time, including mobile phones, tablets, computers, and more. Each COW is connected by roughly 200 lines of fiber cables and they took about a week to get set up.

“Something that’s very special to this market particularly is that this is a new deployment. The engineers for the antennas [use] a new type of technology that they’re deploying; it a spherical antenna,” Hubble said. “The technology is really advanced in a way that provides the ability to slice up the coverage and provide the maximum capacity to all of the people we’re expecting in this area.”

Hubble said the Cadillac Square area is expected to carry a significant amount of traffic during the event, which sits to the east of Campus Martius Park, where the main NFL Draft stage is set up.

In addition to COWs, Verizon deployed various broadband connectivity sites, including a mix of antennas and small cell towers. If, for some reason, the fiber infrastructure fails, Verizon has teams on the ground ready to deploy backup generators.

The company also set up a post away from the downtown area that houses its Frontline team, which typically responds to natural disasters. I got an inside look at its Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response, better known as “THOR,” which is essentially a 4G and 5G network operator on wheels that can provide private networks when in need. Verizon’s Frontline division works closely with first responders, but representatives from the team are hoping they don’t have to respond to an emergency during the draft.

Hubble said Verizon spent so many resources in Detroit to boost service so fans, business owners, and everyone who plans on being downtown can stay connected however they see fit. He said making sure Verizon’s bandwidth in the area could handle social media and video capacity was an important aspect to consider when expanding connectivity.

“We want the best experience for all NFL fans. When we think about what’s most important, it’s the ability to make a call, so we serve that first. Then the next thing is data, speeds, streaming, [and] social media,” Hubble said. “We always strive to be the best.”

Verizon x Detroit Lions

Verizon’s work in Detroit won’t stop after the 2024 NFL Draft. The telecoms leader announced a new partnership to become the official 5G and wireless service partner of the Detroit Lions for the next three years. As part of the deal, Verizon will be the presenting sponsor of the halftime performance during this year’s Thanksgiving game.

Verizon has already started improving connectivity at Ford Field, which includes expanding wireless infrastructure, building private wireless networks for coach-to-coach communications, and installing its 5G Edge Cashierless Checkout tech at two food and beverage locations within the stadium. Fans can find the “powered by Verizon 5G” stores in Section 140 at the Express Shop and Section 226 at Little Caesars.

This new partnership with the Lions comes slightly over a year after Verizon announced a five-year deal with the NFL to bring its private wireless solutions to all 30 US NFL stadiums.

Verizon’s work with the NFL has only been expanding day by day, so what will the pair do next? I’ll be following to see, but one thing is certain: Verizon is running the 5G game right now.

The Digital Athlete: How the NFL & AWS Leverage Data to Keep Players Safe

I recently spoke to Jennifer Langton, SVP of Player Health and Innovation with the NFL, and Julie Souza, Global Head of Sports at Amazon Web Services, about their work building the Digital Athlete portal for all 32 NFL teams. Check out the full interview here.

  • ByteDance is gearing up for a legal battle with the United States after President Joe Biden signed a bill that could force the company to divest in TikTok or see the short-form video app face a national ban following the 2024 election. The bill comes after Congress passed legislation this week. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew quickly responded in a TikTok video to instill confidence in the 170 million US-based TikTok users who may be worried about the app disappearing by the end of the year.
  • Meta announced that it’s opening up the Meta Quest operating system, Meta Horizon OS, to third-party device makers like Microsoft’s Xbox, ASUS, and Lenovo to expand its reach over the emerging virtual and mixed reality realm. The Big Tech giant did this to work alongside other tech companies building mixed reality devices.
  • Apple is hosting another prerecorded virtual launch event on May 7 at 10 am ET, during which the Big Tech giant is expected to announce its next line of iPads and other new products. Apple didn’t announce new iPad models in 2023, and this special launch event comes a month before its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
  • Amazon is unexpectedly ending its same-day drone delivery service in Lockeford, Calif., and announced that it’s expanding the service to Tolleson, Ariz. Amazon still plans to expand its Prime Air drone delivery operations to more cities, as it committed to continuing to test the service, which is supposed to deliver packages weighing less than 5 pounds via drones in 30 minutes or less in select areas.
  • X CEO Linda Yaccarino announced earlier this week that the platform will launch a dedicated video app for smart TVs. The X companion app will reportedly feature a trending video algorithm and AI-powered topics, and eventually, it’ll have ads.
  • Oracle is moving its headquarters again, this time from Austin, Texas, to Nashville, Tenn., to be closer to health systems and investors in the area. The company moved its HQ from the Silicon Valley tech hub to Texas in 2020, but with its recent push into healthcare, Oracle wants to get closer to the healthcare epicenter in Nashville.

I’m going to double down on a previous bet I made since Congress passed legislation that could force TikTok out of the US. I’m still betting that ByteDance will likely spin TikTok out as its own company before it lets the app be the first to face a nationwide ban, but truthfully, I still don’t think the app is going anywhere.