How 5G will transform live events

Group of young adult friends are taking a group selfie on a smartphone while they are at a festival.

Imagine going to a hockey game and watching instant replays from multiple angles on your smartphone. Or being at a fashion show with a mixed reality (MR) headset, watching a model walk down the catwalk and seeing superimposed information and images in real-time. 

5G – with speeds 1,000 times faster than 4G – is set to transform live events and usher in a new era of immersive technologies, experiences, and revenue opportunities. From music festivals, sports, and fashion – live events of the future will capitalize on the speed and potential 5G networks have to offer. 

Let’s examine some specific use-cases on how 5G will impact live events: 

Safety at the Super Bowl

In an era of social media and live streaming, having a fast, reliable connection at major events is a must-have to share experiences with others. 

Super Bowl LIII in 2019 – one of the largest sporting events in the world – had 70,081 attendees inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and more than 1 million out-of-town fans who traveled into Atlanta. A record 24 terabytes of data was transferred within the stadium alone. That’s a 47 percent increase from the previous Super Bowl and 7 times more than Super Bowl XLV111 in 2014. Data network spiked considerably during the half-time show with 13.06 Gbps of data transferred from over 30,000 mobile devices. 

With major events, mobile networks become congested and overloaded which puts serious strain on the abilities of security personnel and first responders (i.e. law enforcement and medical staff) to deal with emergencies quickly. Unlike previous generations, 5G networks are designed to accommodate more connections and support millimeter-wave frequencies that allow consistent data rates up to 10 Gbps per device. 

Inside a stadium, you could foresee 5G giving fans more capacities on a portable device to check game stats and replays in near real-time.

To increase the safety and security of attendees, carriers are making significant investments in 5G hardware around sports stadiums and other public venues.  Ahead of the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Sprint upgraded its cell towers with its Massive MIMO beam-forming technology, and AT&T – with its $43 million network upgrade – became the first carrier to make standards-based mobile 5G available in Atlanta. This helps manage heavy traffic during live events like the Super Bowl, and gives first responders a fast, reliable communication network for other large events.

5G mobile network speeds allow venues new services through dedicated event apps. “We have to see what the 5G promise is for sports,” said Joris Evers, Chief Communication Officer at La Liga – the men’s top football division in Spain. “Inside a stadium, you could foresee 5G giving fans more capacities on a portable device to check game stats and replays in near real-time.” Instead of jumbotrons, 5G’s gigabit speeds will allow fans instantaneous replays from their smartphones, with different camera angles from a simple tap on their screen.  

With tens of thousands of attendees at music concerts, trade shows, and sporting events, venues are also exploring how 5G and AI can mitigate long lines at kiosks. Aramark, an American food service business, installed AI-powered self-service checkout kiosks at all of its Major League Baseball stadiums. According to Aramark self-service kiosks delivered 40 percent faster transaction and a 25 percent sales boost

VR streaming and virtual seating

Virtually all live events have a finite capacity, and ticket prices reflect demand, preferred seating, and availability. For example, at the Superbowl, tickets at the 50-yard line have the best view, and seating cost varies based on proximity to the field. With limited, fixed amount seating at big events, 5G could enable an infinite amount of virtual seating. “It is still pretty early days,” says Evers about 5G’s promise for sports. “Away from the stadium it may enable VR experiences to happen in a more live fashion.”

Broadcasters could soon offer VR streaming services that allow people to purchase “virtual tickets” to attend championship games from the comfort of their living room. By offering seating within a “virtual stadium” event organizers and broadcasters can still vary virtual ticket prices based on seating arrangements, but not be limited from physical seating availability. From physical attendees to virtual fans, VR streaming with 360-degree views could capture demand for people looking for the ultimate fan experience at home. 

Mixed reality live shows

Mixed reality merges the real and virtual worlds through head-mounted displays that produce new environments where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time. MR combines augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create immersive experiences powered by extraordinary levels of computing resources on site. Requiring high-end computing hardware at events has thus far prevented the mass-adoption of MR applications, and limited its scope and potential. 

5G could open a multi-billion dollar MR industry by harnessing the power of cloud computing and offloading computationally-intensive processing to powerful remote servers. 5G’s ability to offer immersive MR experiences was recently demonstrated at the world’s first 5G Mixed Reality Fashion Show.  

The world’s first mixed reality fashion show, produced by Three UK, Magic Leap, and Rewind, showcases the designs of Gerrit Jacob.

At the 2019 London Fashion Week, telecommunication provider Three UK partnered with Magic Leap and immersive content studio Rewind to produce the first MR fashion runway show delivered over a 5G network at Central Saint Martins art school. Through Magic Leap headsets, celebrities in attendance witnessed a series of explosive animations as the models walked down the catwalk. 5G connectivity and low latency were essential in allowing a multi-user experience where every headset and event screen were synced and timed to each model’s catwalk movement in real-time.  

Jeremy Till, head of Central Saint Martins College, said, “It is an enormously exciting collaboration for both parties, and one which will allow our students to speculate on yet unheard possibilities in the creative use of 5G.”

Getting close to the action

Since the dawn of civilization, people have shared collective experiences at events, big and small. 5G connectivity allows a richer viewing experience with fast, reliable wireless connections for attendees, and through new immersive technologies like mixed reality. New services, such as in-app instant replays and concession orders, add new revenue streams for service providers and extra conveniences for attendees looking to leverage 5G connectivity at live events.

As venues migrate to 5G hardware and connectivity, broadcasters may soon offer VR streaming and virtual seating options for major live events like the Superbowl or music concerts. For years to come, 5G will open new possibilities and experiences for attendees and performers, as well as new revenue streams for venues, telecommunications providers, and other stakeholders for some of the biggest live events around the world.

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