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Digital Catapult suggests way forward for widespread 5G adoption at live events

Report from partner in UK government’s 5G testbed scheme explores potential of 5G Broadcast to transform spectator experience at live events such as football and motor racing

A “breakthrough” report examining 5G’s potential to revolutionise the way fans interact with content at live sporting events, including football and motor racing, has been published by UK digital technology innovation centre Digital Catapult.

The report, 5G Vista: bringing new dimensions to in-stadia sporting events, examines considerations for 5G Broadcast technology’s widespread roll-out at sporting events, pinpointing current challenges and opportunities associated with its adoption.

In-stadia mobile connectivity for fans is notoriously weak, according to the consortium. The challenge for large sporting venues is to provide enough capacity to deliver enhanced spectator experiences at a reasonable cost.

Digital Catapult produced the report as the latest milestone in 5G Vista (video in stadia technical architecture), a government-backed consortium using 5G technologies to deepen audience engagement, broaden content for fans and create valuable new commercial opportunities. The project takes full advantage of 5G New Radio, enhanced mobile broadband and 5G Broadcast services, trialled with LTE feMBMS, to showcase in-stadia digital experiences. 

5G Broadcast is regarded as having the potential to provide in-stadia sports fans with live, high-quality content streams, and offers a viable and cost-effective alternative to unstable networks during events with a large number of attendees.

The 5G Vista consortium includes companies such as Virgin Media O2, Rohde & Schwarz, DTG, GWS, Ori Industries, Imaginary Pictures and Ateme, as well as Digital Catapult. It aims to offer solutions to a number of pain points experienced by broadcasters and TV crews at event venues.

The report also assesses how the 5G Vista project can achieve a commercially viable product to take to market, and deliver innovative, high-quality and reliable 5G services to customers. 

“5G Vista has made really critical strides towards a future where connectivity woes at large-scale events are a thing of the past,” said Kostas Katsaros, lead 5G technologist at Digital Catapult. “Thanks to hard work across the consortium, we have proved that 5G Broadcast offers an efficient and cost-effective alternative to other cellular solutions being deployed at sporting events – existing options that can really break the bank for a network provider.

“This report highlights the commercial viability of using a 5G Broadcast-enabled solution like 5G Vista to take spectator experiences to a new level at football or motor racing events. It marks a leap towards this kind of solution being rolled out on a mass scale, and I can’t wait to see where learnings from 5G Vista take us next.”

As part of the 5G Vista project, a prototype app was developed that enables spectators to switch between high-quality live streams of an event – allowing them to get up close to the action with multi-angle camera views, whether in-stadia or behind the scenes – with the tap of a device. 

The new report follows a trial of the app at a live football match on 12 February at the MK Dons football stadium in Milton Keynes, where a group of fans at a game against Ipswich Town were able to try out a prototype of the 5G Vista app. It allowed them to view six high-quality live streams of different perspectives of the game, including behind-the-scenes footage.

The triallists’ consensus was that the app provided an enhancement to match experience, allowing users to find a natural balance between watching the pitch and screen – rather than detracting from the event.

The report concludes that there are clear benefits to 5G Broadcast technology, such as enabling broadcast servicing to operate on a cellular network, supporting the delivery of multi-angle HD video streams to thousands of viewers, and generating revenue through partnership deals and additional sales channels.

It says 5G Broadcast/Multicast is an efficient and environmentally low-impact system that augments the capability of heavily congested cellular and Wi-Fi networks such as those found in sports events and music concerts. While it has potential for use at many different sporting events, 5G Vista is concluded to be commercially viable in two markets in particular – football and motor racing – provided a clear business plan is in place. The report outlines these commercial opportunities and identifies steps for further exploration.

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