Summer of soccer: How will 5G and IoT change the beautiful game?

Soccer lovers from all over the world will be glued to TV screens this summer. However, as the last summer before increasingly widespread market deployment of 5G, could this be the last time we experience the beautiful game as we know it? In this blog post, we reveal three ways 5G and IoT can change soccer over the coming years.

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Wherever you are spending the summer, it will surely be hard to escape from the conversation of "that penalty call", "that red card" or "that VAR decision". In my soccer-crazy household, this kind of talk will no doubt cause a few heated debates over the coming months with as many as four major tournaments taking place simultaneously.

The soccer party kicked off in style with the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup and, if that's not enough, fans also have the Gold Cup, Copa America and African Cup of Nations to look forward to. But, amid the hype, I can't help but wonder how we will experience the next tournament in four years' time. With 5G sure to be in its prime (and unleashing a whole locker room of exciting IoT technologies) how can we expect this to impact our relationship with the beautiful game?

In fact, there are already many different use cases in development which can already offer us a taste of the future. For the players: intelligent training & analytics, to immersive AR playing experiences. For the fans: high-capacity, low-latency stadium connectivity. Below, I've picked out three of the most exciting developments.

1. Intelligent sports analytics

In elite sports, it's the finest details which make all the difference. The sports science side of the game is already extremely advanced, so it would be difficult to imagine just where we go next. So, how about we test this theory: The internet of things will revolutionize almost every aspect of society and industry, creating all of these wonderful smart factories and sustainable cities. What if that model was adapted to the football pitch? In training, what if complex tactical plays were brought to life in real-time through drones and live analytics? In matches, what if the movements and exertions of opposition players were analysed in real-time so coaches and players could predict what will happen next? As Nadia Nadim of the Danish national team and Paris Saint-Germain says: "[This] is going to be game-changing".

Watch our full interview with Nadia Nadim about the potential of 5G sports analytics.

Cellular IoT connections will skyrocket to 4.1 billion by 2024. Read more in our latest Mobility Report.

2. Immersive soccer experiences

In preparation for crunch matches, it's not unusual for soccer teams to train against teams with similar attributes to the opposition, with players often being asked to imitate the movements and style of key players. This got me to thinking: What if, in four years' time, elite sports teams had the technology to experience real-life set pieces and tactical plays against virtual representatives of the opposition players themselves? With 5G, this idea moves a huge step closer to reality – enabled through artificial intelligence, augmented reality and ultra-low latency connectivity. What if we, as consumers and gamers, also had access to this? Can you imagine your son or daughter training against the likes of Leo Messi? Quite the difference to your old school friends, don't you agree?

Learn more by visiting our what is 5G? page.

Or, read our other blog post exploring how 5G low latency can give elite athletes the edge.

3. Unrivalled stadium connectivity

As anyone that has ever been to a stadium event can testify, it's not always easy to send that video or stream that other game that's happening at the same time. With data traffic growing by as much as 82% year on year (Ericsson Mobility Report), and looking set to skyrocket as consumer 5G rollout intensifies over coming years, we sports fans demand a solution now. The good news: Through connected stadium solutions, Ericsson is already thinking about new, inventive ways to improve connectivity for match-goers. What is more, behind the scenes, they are continuing to find inventive ways to support increasing demand for both multiplied capacity and multi-sensory viewing. With enhanced 5G technology at events, and the expected market-deployment of smart wearables over the coming years, one can only imagine what is possible – for fans, players and officiating teams alike. Intuitive player analytics/interaction, millisecond lag on supporter streaming services, real-time (millimeter precision) offside calls. Whatever happens, the matchday experience will never be the same again.

Get a taste for the future matchday experience on our event experiences page.

Learn more about connected stadiums.

Enjoy the festival of soccer this summer!

Whatever happens to the beautiful game in future, soccer romantics needn't be alarmed. Even with ultra-low latency and immersive technologies, the sport will still remain human (for now, at least). And those things that we love – the passion, the imperfections, the human errors – will continue to rule our weekends. So, expect, in four years' time, to still have those conversations about "that red card", "that VAR decision" or "that penalty call". Whichever team you're supporting this summer, enjoy the festival!

Explore Ericsson IoT to preview other upcoming IoT use cases.

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