I spent my Fourth of July holiday in one of my favorite places, Islamorada. Nestled almost precisely halfway between Miami and Key West in the Florida Keys, I’ve called the “Village of Islands” my second home since 2019. The 125-mile-long chain of islands has long presented infrastructure challenges, from the construction of the old Seven Mile Bridge near the city of Marathon in the early 1900s, featured prominently in one of my favorite movies, True Lies, to a railway that was eventually abandoned in the mid-1930s after a hurricane destroyed much of it.
Today, critical infrastructure is considerably easier to deploy and manage in the Florida Keys. However, there is a gap in cellular connectivity, and my holiday celebration demonstrated it. Mobile network operators are still deploying next-generation 5G public networks at the southernmost point of the continental United States. Still, there is an opportunity for entertainment venues, public parks, museums and water sports operators to lean into private cellular networking to support a vibrant tourism industry.
The value of venue connectivity
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit three venues that understand the value of connectivity in enhancing the fan experience and improving operational efficiency. As I attended the Independence Day celebration at Founders Park in Islamorada, the crowds swelled, eventually oversubscribing the mobile network. As a result, mobile point-of-sale devices failed, and the event likely lost thousands of dollars in concession sales earmarked for local scholarships. Seeing that unfold was frustrating and further underscored the importance of connectivity, especially in the Florida Keys, which rely on tourism so heavily to support the local economy. My negative experience got me thinking: where could private cellular networks be deployed beyond busy venues to provide an enhanced tourist experience in the Florida Keys?
Compelling private network use cases
The use cases for private 5G could be enormous in the Florida Keys. One of my favorite dive bars, Islamorada’s Oceanview Inn and Sports Pub (known by the locals as “the OV”), recently allowed PADL to install an automated rental kiosk for stand-up paddleboards next to its outdoor bar area. The challenge is that public network connectivity there is weak, and the bar’s Wi-Fi doesn’t extend far enough to make the kiosk consistently usable. A private cellular network would solve that issue and could be scaled up to include other watersport rental equipment such as masks and snorkels, security lockers and more.
In Key West, there are numerous venues near the Duval Street bar district that have public network gaps and poor, often oversubscribed Wi-Fi. Destinations such as the Mel Fisher treasure museum and the Hemingway Home and Museum, famous for its six-toed cats (and the renowned novelist who used to live there), would also benefit from a private 5G network with mixed reality experiences to delight tourists and generate incremental revenue. Finally, snorkel, scuba and fishing excursions supplied with enhanced mobile networking options would enable a number of tourist perks, including improved social media real-time experiences uploading and more consistent support for tipping via apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Cash App
It’s undoubtedly true that investing in a more robust public Wi-Fi network in the Florida Keys could accomplish many of the use cases I have identified. However, 5G’s superpowers, including ultra-low latency, robust throughput, more extended propagation and massive device support, would be a game changer for the tourism industry in South Florida. Margaritaville would certainly benefit!