5G and the smart stadiums of the future

 Generally speaking, when we think of high-speed broadband and entertainment, we think of high-definition (HD) media delivered to our homes. Whether it’s TV or music, viewing habits have radically changed as we’ve moved from broadcast services and physical media to highly personalized, on-demand digital alternatives.
As we enter the era of 5G, the same kind of innovation is set to alter how we experience live entertainment. From big sporting events to music festivals, venues are beginning to understand how high-bandwidth, low latency communications can enrich fan and spectator experiences.

“Today we’re at the stage where things are very experimental,” says Chantal Abadie, a technology consultant who oversaw a trial of 5G technology at the Orange Velodrome in Marseilles, France, “but we’ve learned that we can do things we simply couldn’t before.”

In the Marseilles trial, just two 5G antennae were used to cover the majority of fan seating for football matches. That alone, says Abadie, is a breakthrough. To achieve full public coverage throughout the stadium using traditional WiFi would require around 1,500 hotspots to be set up. The cost of deployment for 5G, therefore, is much less.
With the connectivity in place, cameras around the pitch were able to transmit latency-free video at resolutions up to 8K. These included 360-degree view cameras just behind the goal lines, which meant that by using their smartphones as virtual reality headsets, fans gained the opportunity to see the game from the goalkeeper’s perspective. They could stop and rewind play, effectively choosing replays from their desired angle.

“The next step for this will be a live feed.” Abadie says.

Sports stadia and music festivals have proved popular testing grounds for 5G technology. Thanks to high crowd densities, the technology can be put through its paces with many users connecting simultaneously. Stadium owners and event organizers are also aware that, as the quality of streaming services continue to improve, they need to work harder to compete for fan attention. Utilizing smartphones to enhance the visitor experience is a smart solution.
 

At the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, for example, AT&T recently trialed 5G for spectators with an augmented reality app that enabled fans to superimpose themselves onto live action. At the Fuji Rock Festival 2019 in Japan, fans used VR headsets to see the venue from the point of view of on-stage performers.

It wasn’t just attendees who could experience FUJI ROCK in this way either. Guests at two external locations could also join in ‘on stage’, and talk to the avatars of people at the concert.
Abadie says that 5G inside the venue will also benefit those watching remotely, because even with the best current technology there is a lag between what happens on the ground and what appears on the screen. This can be as much as 45 seconds, she explains. The additional benefit for those attending an event is that visually impaired fans can have access to instant audio descriptions, which also, at the moment, often suffer from a slight delay.
There are many other ways that 5G will make attending live events more enjoyable, Abadie continues. Real-time updates on which queues are congested and where the best place to enter the venue or buy a snack will ease a lot of current frustrations, while digital technologies running on a high-bandwidth, low-latency network will allow for new ways to manage access.  And, in the near future we’ll be able to make the stadium access a lot smoother (and a lot safer) by removing turnstiles and using facial identification to recognise ticketholders as they enter. Only people without tickets and/or hooligans with stadium bans will be stopped while queues for fare paying customers are dramatically cut.
Security, too, can be improved. HD cameras in airports and shopping malls already scan for suspicious behavior or known troublemakers. Such cameras using the same biometric identification as at the entrance, will be easier to deploy in stadia with 5G covering network blackspots.

We’re just starting to discover some of the potential that 5G will unlock. 

“It’s like the internet in 1999,” says Abadie, “We’re still learning what’s possible and developing the skills. We don’t have a clue how it will develop in the future.”

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