One day, in the not-too-distant future, you may buy tickets to see your favorite NFL team compete. You'll make your way to a state-of-the-art stadium, load up on pricy snacks and drinks, find your uncomfortable seats, and shortly before the National Anthem, you'll put on a pair of glasses that will stream stats, replays, audio commentary, and, inevitably, ads in a language of your choice.

How will this be possible? 5G, the fifth-generation wireless network.

An augmented reality simulcast of a live sporting event is just one of the ways franchise owners, stadium operators, and their technology partners hope to utilize 5G's super-fast data delivery and low latency, or delays in processing, to create a viewing experience like never before. With the ability to stream high resolution, 3-D seeming video in real time with almost no lags or gaps, every part of the spectator experience can be achieved using 5G. 

Another scenario: Every phone in the stadium is also broadcasting the game with a director (or some form of AI) cutting between literally tens of thousands of angles to capture the game in an infinite number of ways for viewers at home.

Or you can experience the action from the center of it. "Imagine the players all have a camera in their helmets--or 8 cameras in their helmets," muses Ben Brillat, global chief architect of IBM Sports & Entertainment Services, which helps design the technology for stadiums including Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. "How am I going to consume the video from those eight helmets? Maybe my box seating at the stadium needs a transparent wall that's really a TV and I can see from the quarterback's cam?" 

Another scenario Brillat can imagine: watching a live match in your home stadium even when your team is away. 

Peter Linder, head of 5G marketing for Ericsson, imagines a live experience that's "better than live" thanks to AR and VR. "What if you could invite fans to look at any angle they want? You could overlay audio in different languages or graphics, providing more data and stats. Imagine the possibilities of this multi-language 5G broadcast for international competitions like the World Cup or events where several events run simultaneously like the Olympics.

These and other scenarios are being imagined and in some cases pursued as 5G rolls out across the country. Telecom owners and team owners are just now beginning to demonstrate its power with in-stadium demos.

It makes sense that sporting events would be the test cases for 5G: In a stadium, you've got thousands of people in one location. With the right tech infrastructure, you can create an extremely powerful 5G network that delivers an experience they can all enjoy--and troubleshoot--together.

So, how does 5G in sports look today? Well, sort of gimmicky: In March 2019, Korea's SK Telecom beamed an AR dragon to breathe fire above a baseball game, visible on both the JumboTron and fans' 5G-enabled devices. In September, AT&T Stadium was outfitted with Pose with the Pros kiosks that enabled fans to take pictures of themselves standing amid five virtual members of the Dallas Cowboys using Samsung 5G phones.

Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer of AT&T business, calls this kind of experience "phygital," because it blends the physical environment with digital elements. "We were able to create experiences that let people know how fundamentally different 5G is from LTE."

Also at AT&T Stadium, fans can look through Samsung devices and see 36-foot tall photo realistic holograms of players looming over the stadium (in some cases, eating parts of it). Luke Ritchie, head of XR and interactive arts for Nexus Studios, the makers of those giant Cowboys, says that project represents "the highest-end render of any holograms ever used before." To get AT&T Stadium ready to deliver such massive amounts of data took about two years

"We can a see a time when 5G is everywhere," adds Nexus Studios co-founder Chris O'Reilly.  "AR cloud ubiquity is on its way. The place it will be first is high-value venues: stadiums, theme parks, museums because we can go in and map them first. This is a journey but this is the first step."

Published on: Nov 8, 2019