Covid-weary consumers coming back to cities, stadiums boost 5G traffic, Verizon CEO says

  • More and more consumers are jumping on to next-generation 5G wireless technology as the economy reopens, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told CNBC on Wednesday.
  • "We see people coming back to urban places" where 5G is available as Covid pandemic restrictions are lifted, Vestberg added. "We see them coming back to stadiums."
  • The battle over 5G comes at a time when Verizon and rival AT&T are scaling back their media operations so they can spend more on wireless.

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More and more consumers are jumping on to next-generation 5G wireless technology as the economy reopens, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told CNBC on Wednesday. 

"We see people coming back to urban places" where 5G is available as coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted, Vestberg added. "We see them coming back to stadiums."

"We have three business cases, all of them are start happening big time right now and into next year," he told CNBC's Julia Boorstin from Sun Valley, Idaho, where many CEOs from the biggest tech and media companies are back for their annual conference after last year's cancellation due to Covid.

  • First, Vestberg expects consumer adoption trends to continue.
  • Second, he pointed to Verizon's partnership with Amazon and Microsoft to provide its 5G Edge mobile edge computing platform for businesses.
  • Third, he said Verizon is focusing on 5G over fiber optic or ADSL broadband connection, as other growth avenues for the company.

5G wireless has been developing since 2019, with Verizon and rival AT&T spending billions just this year to buy key airwaves for running the service. Covid accelerated the transition to 5G, which is still in its early stages, Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer at Defiance ETFs, told CNBC in March.

The rollout of 5G coupled with the return of the post-pandemic economy has shifted customer usage patterns as people use wireless "much more in different places than before," Vestberg said, stressing that foot traffic and urban movement is also returning to normal levels as stores reopen.

As competitors like T-Mobile rapidly expand their 5G customer base, Vestberg said Verizon is focusing on building its 5G network and integrating its new 5G C-band spectrum in time for the first quarter of 2022. 

Verizon is also set to buy prepaid mobile phone provider TracFone, telling regulators last week it would continue to support the low-cost service if it is allowed to complete the $6.9 billion deal. The TracFone acquisition will add to Verizon's portfolio in the value segment, Vestberg said.

"I think we have a great strategy, which is built on network service. We use our network, we use the platforms and the brand, and that's how actually we can grow," he added.

The battle over 5G comes at a time when Verizon and AT&T are scaling back their media operations, allowing them to spend more on wireless instead of having to divert cash to noncore efforts.

On May 3, Verizon said it will sell its media businesses, including Yahoo and AOL, to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $5 billion. Two weeks later, AT&T agreed to spin out WarnerMedia — home to CNN, HBO and the Warner Bros. studio — and combine it with Discovery.

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