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Football fans and 5G: How operators can already start winning with live events

As a long-time football fan, I was very much looking forward to this year’s global football tournament in Russia. The great thing about football is that many of us relate to it and have personal experiences attached to it. While the basic game has remained pretty constant from my early experiences as a football fan, much of the experience for fans has changed over the years – with the key drivers for this being pervasive connectivity and new devices.
Arun Bansal at MTS

As we inevitably think about the next tournament in Qatar in 2022, and beyond, the evolution of the fan experience means that new technologies such as 5G will change the nature of the experience.

This year at the tournament in Russia it was fantastic to partner with Russian operator MTS for one of Europe’s largest deployments of Massive MIMO in 7 of the 11 cities that were staging games in the tournament. This deployment meant we could deliver on consumers’ ever-increasing desire for high-bandwidth connectivity. We saw a massive increase on average data traffic per user, which almost tripled during the tournament. The implementation of 5G technologies on MTS’ network also enabled a five times increase in uplink for video streaming from the event, allowing fans to broadcast high-quality video from smartphones during matches.

The 2018 tournament has been an outstanding event – for football, for fans, and for Russia. But how will technology adapt and transform for the next tournament? While none of us have a crystal ball, there are certainly some areas where we expect to see new behaviours and demands emerging, some of which we are already seeing today:

Firstly, we expect the connected stadium experience to evolve. This will include more application-driven experiences for fans for ordering food, merchandise, and even requesting pictures and ‘reaction cams’ from cameras around the ground to capture their experience during the game.

4K, HDR & 8K streaming: We are seeing 4K streaming today – but numbers are still relatively small. In 2022, our assumption is that audiences will expect 4K HDR streaming as a given, with trials and instances already underway for 8K video.

AR & VR viewing: This will be an area of intense innovation in the coming years. AR and mixed reality is a technology that we expect to see deployed in stadiums, in hotspots, and in the home. We envisage AR to evolve hand-in-hand with IoT and sensor technology, delivering an even greater depth of data and analytics that can be used as ‘overlay’ and complementary visual experiences. A critical area that Ericsson is exploring to support here is optimising bandwidth based on the field of vision of the viewer – ensuring that what they’re looking at and paying attention to is in the highest available quality, while surrounding visuals can be reduced in quality to reduce bandwidth consumption. This is beneficial for taking VR outside of the stadium, for example, using eye tracking technology. Using AR in the stadium however, the focus will be on high-band spectrum to support high bandwidth, low latency and positioning accuracy.

Live synchronized gaming: It’s hard to understate the impact that e-tournaments will have on the next football tournament. With advertising and sponsorship spend on Esports predicted to grow to around USD 800 million by 2019, we can expect much innovation in the direction of converging Esports and online gaming with global events such as the football tournament, incorporating not only UHD video, data and sharing but also haptics to offer fans a truly immersive, synchronised experience. At our press conference in Russia, we had 12 lucky gamers who competed with each other over a live 5G network, enabling them to experience first-hand how ultra-low latency in 5G can enhance the online game experience.

5G outside broadcast: Evolution won’t only be about the fan experience – it will also positively impact wider technology around the game. One such area is outside broadcast. Today, media providers rely heavily on ‘outside broadcast’ or ‘OB’ trucks: highly customised vehicles that utilise dedicated satellite links to transmit images for live broadcast back to studios. With the growth of ultra-high capacity and ultra-high speed technologies such as 5G, broadcasters have the opportunity to explore a fully IP broadcast chain, dispense with expensive, specialized trucks, and leverage 5G connectivity.

These different innovations will all have demanding technical requirements, from latency and throughput, through to availability. Yet the qualities of 5G, including ultra-low latency, high data speeds and capacity, combined with innovation such as network slicing and distributed cloud, are the best way to realise them. With 5G set to soon deliver the next evolution of fan experiences, I can’t wait to see the action from the tournament in Qatar in 2022!

Find out more information about how Ericsson’s connected stadiums can create the perfect event experience here.

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