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Feb 02 2018

MEC & 5G for smart stadiums -
Changing the sports entertainment game

Guest blog by Intel’s Bryan Madden

There are few things in this world that excite me more than an amazing stadium experience with my favourite football team, Manchester United and of course 5G—except, perhaps, for the prospect of bringing the two of them together. Now that’s something worth writing a blog about. Recently, Intel had the opportunity to participate in a groundbreaking trial with Nokia, China  Unicom and Telcent at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, which shone a light on the myriad ways in which 5G, and smart stadiums, in particular, will transform the live event experience with game-changing new technologies.

Meeting the capacity challenges of mass spectator events, be it a sports event, festival or music has been an ongoing challenge for communications service providers (CSPs), tasked with delivering connectivity to tens, or even hundreds of thousands of users in close proximity—consuming, computing and distributing massive amounts of data both on the downlink, and on the uplink as well. We have all suffered from the dreaded lag when you know 1000s of folks around you are trying to do the similar things on their mobile devices

In February of 2017, at American football’s biggest game in Houston’s NRG Stadium, for example, fans consumed 25.8 terabytes of data from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, up from 15.9 the year before. And that doesn’t include the 11.8 terabytes of data traveling over the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. 49% of the nearly 72K fans at the stadium accessed network services over the course of the game—sharing winning plays, posting Instas, Selfies and Snaps, and live-streaming Lady Gaga and of course Intel’s Shooting Star drones during the Halftime Show.

While CSPs are investing tens of millions of dollars in their networks to prepare for large concerts, festivals, and world sporting events, capacity continues to be a challenge, particularly when it comes to delivering high-bandwidth, high quality services, like live-streamed video. However 5G changes the game. 5G will increase capacity and throughput, allowing devices to connect opportunistically to network resources through an expanded range of access technologies from sub-1GHz all the way through mmWave—with the 5G New Radio specification. Nokia estimates that 5G can provide up to 40 times more capacity in a stadium than 4.5G. That capacity opens up opportunity for fans, stadiums and service providers alike – new services, amazing experiences.

5G will enable new technologies, changing the way services are delivered, while improving the overall user experience. The joint trial at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai with Nokia,utilized 4G technologies coupled with breakthrough network solutions and cloud agility to demonstrate some of the many ways in which 5G will enable the smart stadiums and immersive sports experiences of the future—including the ability to deliver live video at low-latency to thousands of users in real time.

Here’s how it worked. Cameras around the packed 18,000 seat arena were set up to capture a live pop concert in HD, transmitting it via nearby small cells. A new technology called Edge Video Orchestration (EVO), supported by Nokia’s Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) Platform powered by Intel® Xeon® processor family, enabled that video to be stored locally and, therefore, routed straight to attendees instead of traveling across the backhaul network. Attendees were able to stream HD video from four unique camera channels using a mobile application on their device—cutting latency from 30 seconds to a mere 0.5 seconds. Telcent Cloud also enabled some of its online stars to broadcast from the arena on social media, combining camera feeds from the venue with footage from their own devices.

Intelligent network edge services, powered by 5G, will play a pivotal role in delivering exciting new immersive media applications, like 360-degree virtual reality, time-sliced video, omni-view broadcasting, and more. But the ways in which MEC can improve the smart stadium experience aren’t just limited to video. Event-goers at the Shanghai arena were able to exchange social media messages, videos, and text messages with nearby friends in near-real time, with local routing. They were even able to use geolocation services to find one another quickly in the crowded space. The joint solution also supported enhanced security and safety services, created operational efficiencies, and enabled other value-added services. A full case study on the trial can be read here.

It’s not hard to imagine what the smart stadiums of the future could look like with capabilities like this. Smart operations to facilitate parking, event entry, and ticket scanning. Technology-enabled safety services and emergency response. Always updated apps with the latest information on game stats, food and drink order options, and integrated social networking. And mind-blowing media services streamed live, in HD, at gigabit speeds and extreme low-latency, in real time over high-bandwidth, transformed 5G networks.

And let’s not forget the viewers at home, like me—who’ll be supporting the likes of Manchester United in virtual reality using head-mounted displays connected to intelligent, heterogeneous 5G networks. At Intel, we’re excited to be working with industry leaders like Nokia to realize the next generation of possibilities, providing commercially-available solutions today, while innovating to deliver the 5G solutions of tomorrow. This trial between Intel, Nokia, and partners China Unicom and Telcent was a vivid illustration of the many ways in which 5G can help smart stadiums take their events, and their game, to the next level.

To find out more about how Intel and Nokia used MEC to cut live video latency at concerts and sports arenas, click here.

To learn more about how Intel and Nokia are working together, click here.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #5G #IoT

About Bryan Madden

Bryan leads the Intel marketing brigade with strategic programs designed to transform networks and the communications services industry on the path to 5G. When he’s not driving innovation in areas like SDN/NFV, Media, Telco Cloud, Intelligent Edge and 5G—you can find him tweeting about life, music, food, love, and #ManUtd. Follow Bryan @maddsey.