As part of the government-backed 5G VISTA programme, Surrey’s 5G/6GIC is devising new ways of connecting to enable enhanced viewing experiences direct to users’ mobile devices.
When thousands of users need to connect to a single source of content – such as to see multi-angle views of the action at a live sporting event – this presents technical challenges in terms of quality of service, network flooding and maintaining security.
The University’s 5G/6G Innovation Centre (5G/6GIC), part of the Institute for Communication Systems (ICS), is bringing its expertise in mobile and satellite communications to develop and test a lightweight security system, DTLS (Datagram Transport Layer Security) within the 5G VISTA project. This technology will not only address the challenge of stadia broadcasts, but also help to gear up for a future in which almost all communications are streamed.
5G VISTA (Video in Stadia Technical Architecture), which runs until March 2022, aims to transform how fans experience live events, using 5G broadcast technology to deliver exciting new ways of engaging with events straight to their mobile device. A major milestone of the project will be a live football match at the MK Dons football stadium on 12 February when the 5G VISTA app will be trialled, allowing fans to view multiple, high quality livestreams of different perspectives of the game.
Along with Surrey (as the only academic partner), the 5G VISTA consortium includes leading broadcast and telecom partners DTG, Virgin Media O2, Rohde & Schwarz Ateme, Digital Catapult, GWS, Imaginary Pictures and Ori Industries.
Surrey’s specific role within 5G VISTA is to enable and test secure connections – between the streaming server/camera and multicast equipment provided by Rohde & Schwarz, and between the content provider and multiple mobile devices – on the 5G testbed. The testbed is now unique in the UK in offering broadcast capability and will provide a vital resource for testing future applications.
Dr Haitham Cruickshank, leading the project within 5G/6GIC, said: “While 5G VISTA focuses on stadia events, secure multicasting and DTLS will have uses at other large-scale events such as Formula 1 races. The technology could also be applied in emergency communications such as when an earthquake occurs and destroys infrastructure, where a secure multicast capability would enable first responders to communicate in a secure and timely way.
“Multicasting could be the future, as normal television disappears. The users will stream everything via the mobile network rather than a separate broadcast network. With our expertise in satellites and the broadcast capability we have introduced to Surrey’s 5G testbed, the ICS is well-placed to help the UK capitalise on this exciting next chapter in communications.”
When a small group of lucky fans sit down to watch MK Dons vs. Ipswich Town on Saturday 12th February 2022, they will not only enjoy the atmosphere within Stadium MK but also a totally new way of experiencing a live match.
As well as the live action, they will be able to watch six different streams, offering different camera angles and behind the scenes footage, all on a mobile handset. Spoilt for choice – maybe, but this live user and technical trial is the culmination of the 5G VISTA project, which the DTG and the rest of our project partners hope will be just the start for 5G broadcast technology and sports fans.
5G VISTA was set up in January 2020 as part of the DCMS’s 5G Create programme, with the aim of testing and demonstrating the consumer benefits, technical feasibility, and business case for using 5G broadcast technology to deliver enhanced experiences at live sporting events. By delivering content from one source to many users, rather than one to one, the technology can deliver a richer live experience that will include: multi-angle views of the action; views from areas that cannot be seen; and additional information about the event.
According to our research, most fans going to live sporting events (77%) already use their smartphones, and many welcomed the idea of what an app based on the VISTA technology could deliver; one concluded: “To be at the heart of the action at a live event is amazing. The app sounds very exciting, and I would definitely use it.” So, after 12 months in development and testing, the technology will now be trialled with those pilot fans at Stadium MK.
The VISTA project team have worked closely with MK Dons to carry out the trial, and deploy this exciting technology at a live sporting event for the first time.
Four new cameras will be positioned around the stadium, to add to the existing live feed, providing different angles and perspectives, allowing the fans to get much closer to the action. In addition, special behind-the-scenes footage will give a unique insight into the players and team, away from the pitch.
The technical side of the trial is paramount, but so is how our group of trailblazing fans react to the experience and help shape project progress. The live trial may be the culmination of many hours of development and testing over the past year, by all the VISTA partners, but is in fact just the beginning of a fantastic innovation that could revolutionise the way fans experience live sport.
Outside of the stadium environment, this technology could be used wherever fans cannot see all the action from their static position – e.g. motor sport, golf, multi-sport events – keeping them right there, where the action is. The opportunities are endless…
We hope it captures the fans’ imaginations, as well as the imagination of rights-owners, venues, broadcasters, and mobile network operators. After all, it is they who will be able to fully develop and apply this technology at scale, redefining the fan experience for millions of their loyal supporters.
In five years’ time it would be great to look back at that Saturday afternoon at Stadium MK knowing it was the moment the live fan experience was changed forever.