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How 5G edge computing will transform the fan experience—at home and in the stadium

With limitless options at the viewer’s fingertips, live sports will never be the same

How 5G edge computing will transform the fan experience—at home and in the stadium

As millions of television viewers cut the cord on their cable bills, live sports has become TV’s main attraction. In addition to the sheer suspense, global events such as the World Cup, Super Bowl, and Olympics are communal experiences tailor-made for second screens. With such competition from home viewing, leagues and teams are exploring new ways to heighten the in-stadium experience.

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For this reason, stadiums have become eager testbeds for 5G, which offer fast download speeds and will eventually handle tens of thousands of connections easily. Fans attending this year’s Super Bowl received a glimpse of this future through the latest 5G smartphones, with seven unique camera angles available and real-time stats overlaid on their screens. That’s just the beginning of a hybrid live experience that combines the immediacy of watching in-person with the more immersive experiences available at home—a combination teams and their media partners hope will keep the live stadium/arena experience vital over the long haul.

FULL SPEED AHEAD

It’s not just sheer bandwidth enabling this shift, but rather the combination of 5G with new multi-access edge computing (MEC) infrastructure that can help take full advantage of such speeds. Verizon and AWS have partnered to introduce Verizon 5G Edge with AWS Wavelength to scale up and fulfill the promise of initiatives such as the aforementioned Super Bowl initiative. From a technical perspective, two features in particular stand out.

One is the very high data-rate potential (on the order of hundreds of megabits per second) available for each subscriber, thereby easily accommodating downloading and uploading bandwidth-intensive video streams. Another is 5G’s extremely low latency combined with cloud infrastructure embedded within 5G networks.  This allows for new content—such as footage of a touchdown from a dozen different cameras—to be ingested into the cloud infrastructure in near real-time, enabling easy editing and repackaging of that content for producers. Together, these improvements promise to replace decades-old technology that required on-site broadcasts with production trucks and satellite uplinks to produce a single video feed. Instead, teams, venues, marketers, and even the fans will be able to access, edit, and stream footage from anywhere they can connect to the 5G network.

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For example, Zixi is already testing how its software-defined video platform (SDVP) can deliver live streams of 4K and 8K ultra-high-definition video without the need for satellites. “Today, the business of live events is very cumbersome, very infrastructure-intensive, and high-cost,” says Zixi CEO Gordon Brooks. “What we’re doing with Verizon 5G and AWS Wavelength is streamlining that process. We’re changing the economics. We’re changing how you go about doing it and how you change the fan experience, as well.”

EVERYONE CAN BE A DIRECTOR

The Super Bowl was just the start. Watching live feeds from a handful of cameras around a stadium is one thing; watching from any camera at any time is an entirely different experience. And as both augmented reality and AI evolve, MEC will help enable real-time video stitching and analytics to replicate and display the mechanics of a game-winning shot or quarterback’s throwing motion. Once too costly and time-consuming, teams will be able to recreate the experience immediately for on-site fans, while repackaging the content as a premium experience for fans watching at home.

Over time, the lines between in-person and at-home and broadcasters and teams will start to blur. Franchises are striving to become media companies to diversify their revenue streams. Through a combination of advancements in Verizon’s 5G network, edge computing, AR/VR, and social media, fans in attendance could someday be able to watch alongside—and interact with—friends and family at home. New hybrid experiences will evolve from and replace traditional pay-per-view, bringing viewers and spectators together in time.

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And that opens the door to a truly transformative experience. With AWS Wavelength Zones, you can get the video into the cloud in near real-time, process it, and then send it back to the fans in attendance over the 5G network. This allows them to watch from any fan’s phone from anywhere in the venue. And more immersion is what every fan wants—in the stands, at home, or both.

Learn what Verizon and AWS, together, can do for your business.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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