Unlike previous generations of wireless standards, 5G’s impact goes way beyond simply increasing the speed of connectivity. However, the complexities of realizing 5G’s promise at scale—for example, across a city—are substantial.
So rather than wait for the possibilities of 5G to be brought to life in the smart city, there is a growing interest in a set of venues that offers a more immediate opportunity: sports stadiums. Some of the innovations that 5G are already enabling—and plenty more that are coming down the line—are set to transform the experience of live sports.
As a contained environment, a sports stadium makes it easier and faster to deploy a 5G network that can support all of the possibilities that 5G offers for creating new experiences and capabilities. These can be usefully grouped into three dimensions. The first is the possibility of connecting many thousands of sensors and devices to generate and collect data on an unprecedented scale. The second is the step-change in mobile broadband that will make experiences such as real-time 4K and 360-degree video a reality. And lastly is the low latency that pushes computing power to the edge of the network, opening up a whole world of real-time experiences.
Municipalities need to overcome the challenges of regulation, best practice and cost to create the pervasive 5G coverage required to enable all the new services and interactivity that the smart city concept promises. That is likely to take considerable time.
In contrast, a sports stadium offers the chance to deploy a 5G network relatively quickly, opening the possibility of giving fans a whole range of services that will enhance their experience before, during and after the game. Virtual ticketing, for instance, will enable real-time seat upgrades when the stadium is not at full capacity. It’s something that the NBA’s Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center in San Francisco have already realized, with a 69% increase in seat upgrade revenue booked via their app. The ability to easily navigate the stadium, find concessions and order merchandise and catering are all enhanced, too.
But viewing and interacting with what happens on the field is where 5G could really change the game to immerse spectators into the heart of the action. Harnessing edge computing could enable fans to see the game from any angle by linking directly to any of the multiple cameras installed around the stadium. They could choose to focus on one player, call up a personalized instant replay or highlight reel on-demand or even recreate an alternative play to see how their game strategy matches up.
AR could give novice fans explanations of the rules to overlay the action they are seeing, while more expert spectators could view player and performance data in real-time. 5G will also enable experiences that get fans closer to their sporting heroes. Interactive posters go beyond live-action to deliver interactivity, with fans able to pose with their favorite players responding to fans’ actions and facial cues.
All these have major implications for sponsors and advertisers as they open up entirely new ways to engage fans with relevant, real-time content and services. That could start before the game, for example, with a ride-sharing business integrating content on their app or a commerce provider offering fans the ability to order and pay from within the same app, all connected to the stadium experience. Sensors throughout the stadium will be able to track visitor interactions and behavior, creating the analytics that will enable advertisers and sponsors to target live content at the optimal times and places to grab fans’ attention.
There’s no doubt that 5G will change how we experience and interact with the world around us. Sports stadiums may be the first place to really experience just how profound those changes could be.