Dr Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions examines how 5G is going to be key to delivering the next generation of customer experiences, and it will be cutting its teeth in live events
The UK’s live events industry has gone through something of a resurgence since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. What many of us missed so much during our time in lockdown was the human-to-human contact, anticipation and emotion that can usually be found in sports stadiums and music arenas up and down the country.
Now, producers and stadium owners are looking to capitalise on this renewed thirst for live entertainment and offer more value to enthusiastic fans – who have shown an increasing willingness to spend on new digital technologies in the past couple of years and are now more receptive than ever to new technology-led experiences.
Unfortunately, in-stadium mobile technology has been inadequate for many years. Live events currently provide a real service challenge for mobile network operators, with demand for data vs. available capacity being particularly problematic at key moments, meaning that consumers cannot stream and post content in a reliable way. The investment required to overcome this issue by increasing bandwidth does not always stack up financially, for stadiums (by their very nature) are not in permanent use.
However, cutting edge mobile technologies – and in particular, the ongoing rollout of 5G in the UK – present a valuable opportunity for event producers to revolutionise the way we experience live sports and music in venues and address existing pain points.
This is why GWS, along with other innovators in the telecommunications space (Ateme, Digital Catapult, Digital TV Group, Imaginary Pictures, Ori Industries, Rohde & Schwarz, University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, and Virgin Media O2), joined Project Vista: a government-backed initiative designed to demonstrate 5G’s potential to deliver new and exciting digital experiences for consumers in live event spaces. Project VISTA aims to highlight the commercial opportunities of 5G broadcast technology (using FeMBMS) in sports and music venues. Our end goal is to demonstrate the extent of consumer demand and deliver the business case to enable 5G-powered events in the future.
This is one of the first significant applications in the UK where low-cost 5G FeMBMS broadcast technology is being employed to deliver real-time content to mobile handsets, demonstrating that the technology now exists to empower content providers to offer multi-angle views of live action as well as up-to-date information about events, direct to hundreds or even thousands of devices at a time with no quality issues.
This innovation allows us to re-imagine what is possible through experience-enhancing technology in venues, delivering a broader range of immersive content to sports and music fans. For example, the project is exploring viewers being able to access an unprecedented amount of content instantaneously – including a choice of multiple camera angles to in-depth background info on their team. For music events, the possibilities are equally expansive. Multi-angle viewing is one aspect, important in increasingly large arenas, but also the ability to turn the venue into part of the experience with up-to-date information about queuing or other backstage content.
Whilst the technological challenge has been met, which has been by no means an easy feat, the question of whether (and how) consumers will buy into this kind of technology remains.
The sceptic might suggest that people do not, nor should not, want to use their mobile phones at live events. This ignores the reality that for many consumers, mobile phones have become life’s remote control meaning that people are already using their phones to enhance the live experience.
According to our research, 76% of live music goers and 77% of sports fans typically use their smartphones when attending events, with taking photos and videos, messaging, and voice calls the most popular functions. Whilst some respondents predictably express reservations about phone usage during events, over a third of sports and music fans who regularly attend live shows say they would be interested in using a mobile app that helped to enhance their enjoyment of live events.
Consumers have already signalled their desire to have the best possible experiences at live events. We know that fans already spend thousands each year on food and drink, merchandise and other in stadium perks: technology of this kind could become an important addition to that roster, and a potentially very affordable one. As the live events industry comes back to life after a very difficult couple of years, 5G broadcast technology promises exciting new opportunities for industry and consumers alike.
Dr Paul Carter is CEO, Global Wireless Solutions