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📡 🏈 How 5G will Change the Game of Sports
What if fans could go to a live sports game and wear a pair of hybrid AR/VR headsets or contact lenses and bet in real time on the players’ next play, compete with their friends, or interact with live holograms at a stadium? This is the type of new use cases that 5G will enable in the future. This will change the game of sports as we know it today. It will enhance the fans experience, make injury prevention even more real time and predictable and help teams and leagues further drive their top line.
Before we get into the killer 5G use cases for sports, let’s define what 5G actually is:
So what is 5G?
5G technology is a breakthrough. The next-generation of telecom networks (fifth generation or 5G) have started hitting the market end of 2018 and will continue to expand worldwide. Beyond speed improvement, 5G is expected to unleash a massive IoT (Internet of Things) ecosystem where networks can serve communication needs for billions of connected devices, with the right trade-offs between speed, latency, and cost.
5G technology is driven by 8 specification requirements:
Up to 10Gbps data rate - > 10 to 100x improvement over 4G and 4.5G networks
1000x bandwidth per unit area
Up to 100x number of connected devices per unit area (compared with 4G LTE)
90% reduction in network energy usage
Up to 10-year battery life for low power IoT device
How fast is 5G compared to 4G?
5G tops out at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). 5G is 10 to x100 faster than what you can get with 4G.
When will 5G become omnipresent?
Generally speaking, successful new technologies and platforms get adopted faster than they used to. That was true of 4G, compared to 3G take rates. What happens in the 5G era seems unclear.
Some expect 5G adoption faster than 4G, others expect 5G adoption on about the same pattern as 4G, while others believe 5G might take longer.
Specifically, the issue is the timing to reach 10% of users, or 25% of users. Virtually every observer expects 5G to displace 4G as 4G displaced use of 3G, but the adoption rate is the issue in the mid-term (three to five years out).
Everybody expects low adoption rates in the early years, and high adoption after 10 years. What is unclear is the rate in the middle years.
If the 3G pattern holds, then 5G adoption by consumers might be slower than 4G. Enterprise and business adoption might be different, especially if 5G used to support internet of things and edge computing use cases is robust.
Adoption rates in the middle of the cycle could also be faster than 4G if some new proposed consumer use cases, perhaps virtual reality, gaming or augmented reality gain traction.
What kind of impact will 5G have on the world of elite sports? What will be the 5G killer use cases for sports?
When it comes to 5G the one billion dollars question is: What will be the 5G killer use cases? It is a tough question to answer and many people have different opinions. Here is what we believe will be among the killer 5G use cases for the world of elite sports in the coming years:
—5G AR/Mixed Reality experiences with live players’ biometric and statistical data and live betting capabilities:
In the future, in the 5G era, we expect to see the emergence of 5G AR/Mixed Reality experiences with live players’ biometric and statistical data and live betting capabilities.
Nowadays we are already seeing glimpse of what this type of fans experience could look like. ShotTracker currently has an AR app which allows fans at a stadium to hold their phone and look at a player on the field and see their statistical and biometric data just as an AR overlay simply by looking at them at a live sports event. You can see below the ShotTracker AR app and watch the video of this AR app here.
We also think that live betting will become a key part of the augmented video experience. The idea here again is to allow fans to watch augmented video replays and bet on the next play, and compete with their friends in real-time during live games. Companies such as WSC Sports, a leading player in the AI based video highlights space, are set to play a key role there. Ultimately this will enhance the fans experience, increase fans engagement, drive ticket sales, and teams’ top line.
— MR/AR + projection mapping experience:
In the world of 5G, AR/VR will also become a big part of the projection mapping experience moving forward. Key players such as Quince Imaging are already taking the lead there.
“The real next play for projection mapping will be the connectivity with Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. This is what we did with the Ravens in the NFL (...) You saw the fans experience on the board which was a virtual Raven, the Baltimore Ravens mascot, as an MR overlay coming off the screen at the Ravens stadium…”, said Mr Davis at Quince Imaging, during a recent interview with The Upside.
Here is the video of the MR experience built by Quince Imaging for the Ravens (NFL).
Video: Quince Imaging, Ravens (NFL)
Here is the behind the scene video from Quince Imaging which explains how they created the MR experience for the Ravens.
Video: Quince Imaging
— 5G digital photo booths with AR capabilities:
Another great use case for 5G is going to be 5G enabled digital photo booths. This is what the Dallas Cowboys did with the “Pose With The Pros”activation, during their home opener in Week 1 of the 2019 season against the New York Giants. Fans attending the game at AT&T Stadium were able to participate in a unique augmented reality experience which allowed them to take photos with their favorite Cowboys players simultaneously, as they were playing a football game on the field, far away from where the fans were buying the souvenir photos.
Picture: Dallas Cowboys, 2019
A Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone used the AR technology to superimpose the players’ images into the shot. Then a camera snaps a photo of the fan with the players.
“We’re combining the physical and digital worlds to create a world-class experience for fans, and sports provide a perfect example of how our business-first 5G strategy will bring value to consumers," said AT&T Chief Marketing Officer Mo Katibeh in a statement.
— 5G location based AR sports + eCommerce experiences:
eCommerce is set to be another key component of this type of 5G AR experience moving forward. Based on our sources, we’ve had demos of sports mixed-reality experiences from a major mixed-reality startup where a sports fan wearing the pair of AR glasses was able to purchase associated content (jerseys, tickets) while watching multiple games via mixed-reality (MR) from the comforts of their living room. We found this type of MR experience very compelling. This is also a great way for MR vendors to monetize the experience beyond the hardware.
In the next 10 years we expect smart glasses to make smartphones obsolete. In other words, most sports fans will be wearing location-based smart glasses at stadiums. As you can see in the chart below, these smart glasses will enable them to get turn-by-turn directions as an AR overlay, obtain free discounts on local items, or see if their team’s new jersey has a smooth fit.
Source: Sports Tech Advisors
— 5G hybrid AR/VR glasses to AR/VR contact lenses:
Speaking of AR glasses, we also expect to see the emergence of 5G hybrid AR/VR glasses that will enable fans to switch from a AR experience to a VR experience in real time. Basically in AR, fans will be able to receive contextual information (players’ stats, biometric data, location based coupons..) at a stadium, while in VR they could enjoy VR experiences such as virtual training from their favorite player. Here is a video of Lynx’s new hybrid AR/VR headset.
Video: Lynx’s hybrid AR/VR headset
— Case study: Sacramento King: 5G AR/VR headsets with real-time players’ stats
The Sacramento Kings (NBA) is one of the most tech savvy team in the world. They were the first NBA team to adopt Blockchain a few years ago. When it comes to offering a true 5G VR experience, the team is taking the lead as well.
Picture: Kings (NBA)'s mission control room
In November, Verizon and the Kings invited a group of 20 students to watch the Kings-Los Angeles Lakers game at the arena, but via 5G-connected VR headsets in the Esports lounge that streamed footage in real time from courtside seats.
"We set up this 360-degree camera on the scores table, and what it allowed us to do was have the kids see the game as if they were sitting in a rare spot, and be able to put on the VR goggles ... they would be able to watch the game courtside," Verizon VP of Network Engineering Brian Mecum told ZDNet.
Mecum said the latency on the 5G network was low enough to watch the game in real time, with 5G providing immediate availability to connect, 1,000 times more bandwidth, and 20 times the speeds available on 4G LTE today.
Picture: The Golden 1 Center's tier 4 datacentre, Kings (NBA)
"Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, often talks about how we have millions of fans throughout the world, and of those millions of fans only 1 percent have actually attended a game, and then only a very small fraction have actually sat courtside," Former Kings CTO Ryan Montoya said.
Picture: Verizon, Fans experience an NBA live stream via 5G and VR goggles
"So to give these kids the perspective from essentially our owner sitting courtside is an amazing experience."
The next step will be to bring in more people to experience games in this way, Montoya said.
5G will also enable real-time access to stats such as how fast players are running, how high they jump, how hard somebody dunks the ball, and whether the team speeds up or slows down in the final moments, which he said will be valuable for both fans and sports betting.
"You're going to be able to see in real-time a lot more stats, a lot more context, and beyond betting you're also going to be able to see in real-time eventually player stats," he explained.
"Whether its AR, VR, or some version of mixed reality, you're going to be able to look at those players and you're going to be able to look at different data points on those players, and so it's definitely going to bring fans closer to the game, closer to the players, and to give them more context and a better experience."
The "stadium experience" will also be improved with 5G, Mecum said, including offering real-time information on the best way to get to allocated seats, wait times at restrooms and food stands, custom content, and interviews with coaches and players.
Verizon also sees 5G providing players with more access to analytics and insights for improving their performance, making stadiums a great use case for both consumer and business 5G.
— Case study: Innovega: 5G AR/VR contact lenses:
We also expect to see the emergence of new form factors with 5G such as 5G AR/VR contact lenses from companies like Innovega, for example, which will drive faster mass adoption of AR sports fan experiences in the coming years.Many startups have tried to crack the code of AR contact lenses, but failed. The mistake was trying to put LEDs on the contact lenses. What Innovega, a Seattle based startup has done instead, is to break the problem into two part. First, as you can see in the picture below, it added megapixel OLED micro displays into the frame on both sides of the frame close to the eyes.
Picture: Innovega’s AR / VR contact lenses, 2019
Then Innovega re-engineered regular contact lenses using nanotechnology so that sports fans would be able to see up close and clearly through the macro displays and bring in focus.
Photo: Innovega’s AR contact lenses.
This could become a new 5G killer use cases in the coming years. Again, the point here is that sports fans will be able to be immersed into a virtual environment (e.g. VR training system) then switch into an AR environment (e.g. seeing live stats of players as an AR overlay) on the fly. This is the type of innovative hybrid 5G AR/VR products that we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.
— 5G holograms:
In the 5G era we also expect 5G holograms to be a hot topic and a great use case. There are currently a wide variety of players in this space. 5G holograms are set to become a key part of the sports fans experience. There are also various companies in the space such as Leia Inc, VNTANA, Quince Imaging, among others.
—- Stadiums’ live holograms for brand activations:
What is fans could interact in real time with holographic versions of their favorite players? This is exactly what VNTANA, an holographic startup, has built. They developed a V-3 Hologram System which consists of hardware and software to project holograms without wearables. Their device also includes the ability for users to manipulate the holograms with gestures. As seen in the video below, during the 2015 ATP US Open, Mercedes-Benz sponsored a VNTANA hologram of tennis player Roger Federer, to which fans could serve tennis balls. The company has also worked with Pepsi on its marketing campaigns. In 2016 VNTANA produced the first hologram karaoke device, which was featured on a summer concert tour by Rob Thomas where fans could sing alongside a hologram of Thomas. During Super Bowl LI events, VNTANA also provided a SpongeBob SquarePants interactive exhibit for children. The Pro Football Hall of Fame also uses VNTANA life-size holograms of its inductees.
Video: VNTANA, Roger Federer’s hologram.
Here is a picture below which showcases Nike’s hologram built by VNTANA.
We believe that this type of holographic experience will enable fans to enhance the fans experience, drive brands activations, attract new sponsors and help teams drive their top line over time.
—- 5G Holographic smartphones:
In the context of 5G, we also expect holograms to become part of the 5G smartphone experience. For example, camera company RED teamed up with holographic display company Leia Inc. and US carrier Verizon back and launched a 5G holographic smartphone. Leia describes itself as “the leading provider of lightfield holographic display solutions for mobile,” and was founded in 2014 as a spin-off from HP’s research labs. RED has made an undisclosed strategic investment in Leia as part of the partnership.
So, how does the tech work? It’s impossible to show it off on a regular screen, of course, so here’s Leia’s description:
Leia leverages recent breakthroughs in Nano-Photonic design and manufacturing to provide a complete lightfield “holographic” display solution for mobile devices, through proprietary hardware and software. The Silicon Valley firm commercializes LCD-based mobile screens able to synthesize lightfield holographic content while preserving the normal operation of the display.
Picture: RED holographic smartphone, powered by Leia and Verizon
The idea is that the screen projects 3D objects that you can view from different angles based on your physical position. For example, a mapping application could theoretically look like a little model of a city with buildings poking out of the screen. You’d then be able to interact with the objects “above” the display through hover gestures enabled by Leia’s partnership with Synaptics.
The technology works through diffraction, producing a lightfield illumination with a layer of nanostructures added to a conventional LCD. Leia claims this “diffractive lightfield backlighting” layer doesn’t significantly compromise the display’s quality, battery consumption, or thickness for non-holographic use.
Here is how Leia Inc holographic technology works:
Video: Leia Inc
Here is a video showcasing leia Inc CEO where he further explains how the holographic display works and what is vision is for the coming years.
Video: Leia Inc
— 5G esports training facility:
5G will also play a key role in the world of esports as it will help improve the video streaming experience, real time analytics and esports’ player recovery. This is what US carrier Verizon and esports company Dignitas announced earlier this year. They teamed up to launch the nation's first 5G esports training facility, the 5,500-square-foot Verizon 5G Gaming Center at Verizon's 5G Lab in Los Angeles.
The facility serves as Dignitas' west coast headquarters and home to its League of Legends esports teams. Dignitas' 2019 World Championship-qualifying team trains exclusively at this facility and compete in the League Championship Series.
The gaming center includes one stage that holds 20 people, said Christian Guirnalda, director of Verizon's 5G labs.
"It allows players to optimize and fine tune their strategy with real time analytics to provide guidance on how to make decisions to win the match. Also, when it comes to player recovery, there are a lot of wearables and fitness devices 5G can supercharge and that can potentially help with player health and recovery."
Verizon and Dignitas use the Verizon 5G lab to identify and develop ways Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband network can enhance player performance, improve recovery, and enable players to connect with fans in new innovative ways.
"With 5G's fast speeds, high bandwidth and low latency, players will be able to do things like stream high-quality gameplay essentially in real-time, stay connected with fans on-the-go, and experience console quality multi-player gaming on their phones," said Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer at Verizon, in a release.
Video: Verizon, Dignitas, 5G esport training facility
The new facility marks the latest in Verizon's 5G push for fan connectivity. Fans want to use their mobile phones during games to upload images to social media, stream video, and watch instant replays.
"We feel 5G will improve the ability for players to connect with fans through live-streaming gameplay in the studio and on the go," Guirnalda said. "Fans can stay better connected to their favorite players through new forms of engagement and interactivity; 5G will enable both amateur and professional players to experience console quality multiplayer games on their smartphones."
5G and mobile-edge computing promise low-latency networks for connected devices while improving security, reliability, power efficiency, and data transmittance, according to the release.
"With 5G's low latency players can have near real-time interactions on social media with fans and stay connected with live streaming so fans feel closer to the players," he added. "Think 3D instead of 2D ... think interactive instead of lean back. The community comes together even more with 5G."
— 5G stadiums as part of smart cities projects:
In the future, we also expect stadiums and teams to leverage the power of 5G and build stadiums that are part of smart cities projects with connected cameras, smart lighting, and traffic control systems.
Once again the Sacramento Kings, in association with Verizon, is another example of this. In fact, Sacramento's city council voted unanimously for the PPP with Verizon, which aimed to offer free Wi-Fi across public parks, fund STEM education, and increase public safety and city efficiency.
Picture: Golden 1 Center/Sacramento Kings
Under the partnership, Verizon connected cameras, lighting, and traffic control. This included installing advanced signal controls at major intersections to manage the flow of vehicles, reduce congestion, and improve public transport as part of Sacramento's Vision Zero initiative to decrease traffic fatalities and severe injuries, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Digital kiosks are also set to supply Wi-Fi, security, wayfinding, and notice boards, with the PPP also covering the provision of security and privacy management across the real-time data being collected by the city.
"This partnership will serve as a critical step in upgrading our city's infrastructure to support the newest and best technology and the economic growth that comes with that technology," Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at the time.
"It will also ensure that everyone who lives here or spends time here can experience the benefits of a safer, more mobile, and more sustainable city."
Outlook: In the coming years, we expect many teams and leagues to adopt 5G in a big way. It is already happening in certain parts of the world. Ultimately 5G enabled experiences (AR/VR, holograms..) will help enhance the fans experience, and injury prevention systems will become better and more real time. We also expect WiFi 6 to play a key role as well and be used to increase capacity as needed during major events (e.g. playoffs). At the end of the day, it will be a win win situation between fans and teams.
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