Emerging Tech, Data & Media , Future Stadiums & Venues

5G stadium upgrades ‘will take longer’ to benefit broadcasters

OBS chief warns of military impact on creating standard for technology.

by Steven Impey

5G stadium upgrades ‘will take longer’ to benefit broadcasters

Industry broadcasters have been told they are in for a long wait before the benefits of 5G will be felt at stadia, while it has also been suggested that military intervention could present a barrier to a universal standard for the technology.

Matthew Stagg, director of BT Sport’s mobile strategy, moved to lower expectations around a quick use of 5G for broadcasters, with the network upgrade currently being trialled by BT Sport around its remote production.

Meanwhile, Yiannis Exarchos, chief executive of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), has fired a warning that the technology may not evolve universally, stating that nations with a large military focus could move to create inconsistent “territorial” grades for the capability.

Speaking at the International Broadcasting Conference (IBC) in Amsterdam, Stagg said that, though some stadium infrastructure has already had 5G technology installed, it is likely to benefit fans first and foremost before advancing to media and venue operations 

“It is there, and it is in the coverage,” he continued, pointing to an opportunity for broadcasters to help select the stadia that should adopt the technology.

“As an operator, I want my customers who pay for data to be able to use it, but there is an interesting piece there because, while as an operator you don’t care who else [other than our customers] has 5G, the stadiums want everyone to be able to have it.

“It won’t be like 4G, in that it won’t be switched on [immediately] and, while it is still going to be underpinned by 4G, we still need to understand it, and serve fans.”

BT Sport became the first broadcaster to complete a 5G-enabled remote production from multiple top-flight English soccer grounds over the weekend.

The demonstration included live broadcasts from Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, with a transmission delivered to BT Sport’s stand at the IBC event.

Of the top-flight teams who have committed to installing the technology at their home stadiums, La Liga and Bundesliga champions Barcelona and Bayern Munich have teamed up with respective telecoms operators to enable 5G at the Nou Camp and Allianz Arena.

Meanwhile, Premier League club Manchester United were reportedly in talks with Vodafone earlier with a view of adopting the technology at Old Trafford.

Stagg said the next step will be the introduction of “high-end” operations, for which he predicts a “broadcast-grade” 5G network will come at a substantial cost when its earliest intervention eventually comes to fruition. 

“That will take longer, so first of all you will get the great experience of being able to use the internet at half-time for the customers,” he continued. “Then we will start to have different drops across the different verticals in the stadium as well as the fans, [including] broadcasters, event operations, and press.”

Adding to the discussion, Exarchos was also optimistic about the future of 5G within sports stadia, though served the industry a caution that other powers could fragment the technology’s potential.  

“Due to the strategic importance and nature of 5G, there are things to think about,” Exarchos said. “For example, within geopolitics, we have already started to see that around territorial 5G and, depending on the countries, there may have a natural advantage for those [who use it] and, for example, do not have a huge army.

“We may find out that some countries where a very big amount of the spectrum [is  used] for intense military operations will actually be at a big disadvantage against other countries in implementing 5G.

“Those are areas beyond our industry and beyond technology – due to the importance of 5G technology – where we find hinderances. If we end up not having an international standard on 5G, but rather two or three universes, I will not be shocked.”