Verizon's CEO returned to the CES keynote stage, albeit virtually, to make one clear and compelling argument: 5G will support new services and experiences.
Gone were the metrics of 5G tower upgrades and statistics of 5G download speeds that Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg leaned on during his first major keynote at CES for Verizon in 2019. Instead, Vestberg sought to show some of the ways that 5G technology might be able to have a demonstrable and positive impact on society: drone deliveries, virtual reality learning and improved traffic management, for example.
In the closing minutes of his address, Vestberg also cautiously and carefully seemed to take a few steps beyond traditional CES topics in order to discuss the wider American zeitgeist.
"Humans need to connect," he said in a nod to a pandemic that has not only separated Verizon's customers from the venues where it had hoped to show off its 5G network but has also isolated children from school, workers from their offices and just about everyone from their wider circle of families and friends.
"Our world has changed," Vestberg said. "It's been a year of unrest."
In response, he urged CES attendees to use 5G and other advanced technologies "for good" – for learning, sharing, preserving and community building. He said those at the show should seek the "greatest outcome for everyone."
"We said 5G would change everything, and then everything changed," he said. "Let us learn from the past year, and let us celebrate a better one to come."
Whether Vestberg had intentionally sought to tap into America's bigger cultural conversation is unclear, though his presentation certainly featured appearances from so many diverse speakers that he almost stuck out as one of the few older white men onstage.
Regardless, Vestberg's presentation was refreshing in an industry often focused on the minutiae of wireless technologies ranging from open RAN to edge computing.
"The currencies are now current," Vestberg said in a nod to the "eight currencies" of 5G he unveiled during his 2019 CES keynote.
The bulk of Vestberg's keynote was focused on a handful of actual, real-world 5G applications and services that Verizon is either funding or building. Those efforts – highlighted on Verizon's CES website – stretched from the company's NFL application that features video feeds from multiple cameras; to a drone delivery program the operator is expanding with UPS; to a traffic management system Verizon deployed with the city of San Jose in California.
There were few news nuggets, though; for example, Vestberg promised Verizon would install 5G in 100 schools around the country in the coming years.
But Verizon doesn't use its CES keynote appearances to drop big announcements. The company's executives don't have the kind of "one more thing" pizzazz that Apple and Samsung seek to employ.
Instead, Verizon's Vestberg tried to move the 5G conversation forward a few steps. He talked about how 5G might make online learning just a bit less sucky. He explained how 5G robots might make firefighting a tad safer. He pointed out that 5G-powered drones could alleviate traffic congestion and speed deliveries of needed medicines.
And, not surprisingly, Vestberg made sure to put Verizon's 5G in the center of the discussion. He ended his keynote with a performance by Black Pumas, which received a Grammy nomination for "best new artist" last year. Verizon customers could check out a 5G version of the concert in virtual reality via a QR code.
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