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Global sports media rights could be worth $60 billion in 2024. No wonder stadium organisers are using hi-speed private mobile networks to improve the fan and viewer experience…
In a world of fracturing consumer attention, there’s something unique and special about a big sporting event. Think about it. People used to gather together in their millions for the climax of a popular TV show or the newest blockbuster movie. Today, we don’t have to. We can choose when we watch. Or not watch at all, and just scroll TikTok or YouTube instead.
But the big sporting fixture? It’s only going to be live once: we either tune in or miss out.
This is why events like the World Cup, The Superbowl, F1 and so on are getting bigger and bigger. They command huge TV audiences and make vast revenues. And, because of this, they often provide a showcase for the newest technological innovations.
In fact, they always have. Take the Olympics. 100 years ago, the Paris games of 1924 became the first to transmit live radio broadcasts. In 2024, the event will return to the French capital, and this time the key technological revolution will be 5G private networking.
Private mobile networks promise to transform the viewing experience ¬for millions of TV viewers. Their high bandwidth will allow HD video to be sent in near real-time, creating camera angles that are inconceivable with a limited number of cabled TV cameras. Meanwhile, for those lucky enough to be watching live, there will be a much better stadium experience. Spectators will be able to film and watch hi-res content on their phones with no risk of network overload.
The organisers of the Paris Olympics are committed to private 5G, and are now busy building out the network ready for next July’s opening ceremony. Uniquely, this will take place entirely on the Seine River, with cameras on each boat transmitting the footage using private 5G.
Bertrand Rojat, CTIO at Orange Events and Paris Olympics 2024, says: “People (want) to be as close as possible to what is happening. To do that, you need more cameras that are close to the athletes. Private 5G can enable that. You can use a very small camera and still get very high quality for broadcasting.”
Without doubt, the Olympics will provide the mobile industry and broadcasters with the chance to test what’s possible with 5G private networking in sports. But it’s not alone. There’s experimentation taking place all over the world, across many different disciplines. So let’s explore the tech and the possible applications.
What is a private mobile network?
A mobile private network does exactly what it says: it allows an organisation to manage its own connectivity entirely on-site – with no (or limited) connection to the public mobile network.
So what are the advantages? Well, there are many. They include:
Speed and latency: In a private network the breakout point is located at local network infrastructure, allowing the data to be processed immediately. This improves speed and reduces lag.
Reliability: A closed local network is reliable and is not susceptible to external disturbances in the public network.
Security: There’s a reduced risk of cyberattacks because the private network is closed off from public infrastructure.
Access and flexibility: Private mobile networks are wireless, so they can support connectivity in areas that would be hard to reach for equipment with cables and wiring.
The 3 types of private mobile network
The term ‘private mobile network’ is used generically. But there are actually three main models.
• Dedicated private network
• Network slice
• Hybrid network
The dedicated private network is entirely separate from public infrastructure. It can be based on 4G LTE or 5G, and comprises dedicated hardware, software and operating functions (radio, core, etc) that are located within the customer premises.
Network slicing is possible thanks to new standalone (SA) 5G infrastructure. SA networks are largely software based and give operators the ability to create discrete slices. These slices offer the functionality of a complete network, with their own SLAs.
Meanwhile hybrid private 5G networks let a business own or lease their own on-premises equipment but use public cellular infrastructure to host parts of the network. The approach can be more efficient, and quick to set up. It also requires less management and expertise.
What is the current status of private mobile networking?
The latest data from GSA (for Q2 2023) suggests 1,212 organisations are now using mobile private networks. It says LTE is used in 899 use cases, with 5G deployed in 537. Manufacturing, education and mining are the top three sectors for these customer references.
A 2023 study from Juniper Research projects that enterprise spend on private networks will hit $10 billion by 2028, up from $1 billion in 2023.
Why private networks and sports are such a good fit
In 1992, the top clubs in English football formed the Premier League. Thanks to new satellite technology, they assumed they could sell TV rights for much more than before. They were right. They did a five year deal with Sky for £304 million.
But this deal was just the start of a dramatic rise in football-related money. In 2023, the Premier League announced a three-year deal worth £6.7 billion.
As we stated at the introduction of this article, sport is unique in its ability to draw an audience. You can choose whether to pay for TV, cinema or games. But when it’s your favourite sports team, well, many fans don’t really have a choice. They are almost compelled to subscribe.
This magnetic pull has made sports TV rights extremely valuable. And now, prices look set to go even higher. Why? Because of all the new tech firms entering the space. It’s worth noting that the 2021 Premier League rights went to three parties: Sky, BT and Amazon. But, thanks to the rise of streaming platforms, companies such as Netflix, Apple and Disney could easily join them soon.
Indeed, according to SportBusiness’ Global Media Report 2023, the value of global sports media rights will hit a record high of almost $56 billion in 2023 and is set to exceed $60 billion for the first time in 2024.
It’s clear from these numbers that digital technology is fuelling demand for TV sports. It is bringing sport to more viewers in more regions on more devices. But it is also transforming the experience of watching – both at home and in the stadium.
And now private mobile network technology is unleashing a new set of innovations such as:
• The stadium experience: fans
New ‘smart stadiums’ are using 5G to deliver exceptional experiences for fans, retailers, staff and team members. Using private networks, stadium owners can be assured of reliable, high speed connectivity that doesn’t degrade when thousands connect at the same time. Because of this it can support:
5G video streaming
Fans can review the action on their own devices with multiple camera angles in high definition and with low latency.
Vendors can serve more customers with digital ticketing, concessions and merchandise ordering from the seat.
Spectators can use AR-overlaid graphics to access extra interactive content such as real-time analysis, video playback and goal-line technology.
Fans can stream audio commentary in multiple languages.
• The stadium experience: broadcasters
Deploying a private 5G network development in a sporting context boosts the quality of video broadcasts – and slashes production costs. There’s no need for an outside broadcast (OB) van on site, and teams can be much smaller. Mobile connectivity also democratises broadcasting, making it easier for newspapers, enterprises, influencers and vloggers to send HD video via web-based channels.
Meanwhile Tier 1 broadcasters also benefit. While stadiums do have permanent fixed cabling in place, broadcasters still need to lay huge quantities for every new event. This cabling limits the flexibility of cameras and shots. Mobile private networking solves this problem. 5G-enabled cameras allow more flexibility for TV cameras, and 5G-enabled smartphones can be used to augment traditional TV cameras.
It's reliable too. Broadcasters can use a sliced ‘sub-network’ that shares the physical infrastructure of the stadium but is protected from interference from thousands of smartphones simultaneously using the network.
Of course, fast private networks don’t just connect people. They also connect things. For example, connected IoT sensors can help fans find free parking spaces, and enable contactless payments from vendors. They can also reduce maintenance costs by automating heating and cooling, orchestrating lights based on occupancy, and sending proactive alerts when systems (lighting, heating, air con etc) experience problems.
Examples are out there already. In 2022, the BBC used a 5G standalone non-public network to film the Commonwealth Games. In Marseille, the Orange Velodrome has been proclaimed as the first 5G stadium in France. On site, photographers can send HD content from anywhere. No need to hunt for an Ethernet cable. Meanwhile video producers can send all camera streams almost instantaneously to a control room – even when located hundreds of miles away.
• Athletes and support staff
Over the past decade, the use of analytics has transformed sports. The ‘moneyball’ era has changed how talent is identified and assessed, how athletes are trained and how games are played.
Virtually all major professional sports teams employ analytics experts. A big driver now is to discover real-time performance insights, and to combine them with environmental data. It’s an arms race. And teams have to compete while protecting athletes’ rights, and ensuring fair play.
Many organisations are already testing the application of private network tech to player data. The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) used 5G Standalone private network technology to film hi-res video streams captured by multiple cameras and drones. They used the footage to assess the performance of players via a 5G Connected Van at the 2023 World Cup.
And now, sports fans’ attention is turning to Paris Olympics 2024. Thanks to mobile private networking it promises to deliver experiences that have never been dreamed of before.
This is the opinion of Bruno Marie-Rose, Chief Information and Technology Officer for Paris 2024. He should know. Marie-Rose is not just a fan, and an organiser. He is also a three-time Olympian, Olympic medallist and world record holder in the 4x100 meter relay.
He says: “For Paris 2024, We want technology to have a direct benefit on the event. Private 5G will allow us to broadcast mobile TV images, where wired cabling would be too unwieldy. We’re also working on real-time broadcasting of press photos and OTT (over the top) broadcasting to stream images from each competition venue. We want to massively enhance the spectator experience (so they can) ‘communicate’ with the athletes on the field… We’re working to open the Paris 2024 Games to as many people as possible.”