UK-first 5G broadcast trials at MK Dons football stadium set to revolutionise fan experience

A landmark project using 5G broadcast technology to supercharge the way fans interact with live sport has been piloted at a major sporting event.

The group behind 5G VISTA - a government-backed consortium using 5G technologies to deepen audience engagement, broaden content for fans and create valuable new commercial opportunities - completed a successful trial at a live football match at the 30,400-seat MK Dons football stadium.

A group of lucky fans at the match between MK Dons and Ipswich Town on 12th February were able to try out a prototype of the 5G VISTA app. This allowed them to view six, high-quality live streams of different perspectives of the game - including behind the scenes footage - with the tap of a screen.

Not only does 5G broadcast technology allow spectators to get even closer to the action at live events; it has the potential to offer solutions to a number of pain points experienced by broadcasters and TV crews at events venues and stadiums.

This includes overcoming challenges associated with cabling and network complexity, and unstable 4G networks during events with a large number of attendees.

In-stadia mobile connectivity for fans is notoriously weak, with challenges for large sporting venues in providing enough capacity to deliver enhanced spectator experiences at a reasonable cost. 5G broadcast allows these experiences at a cost advantage compared with more traditional cellular solutions.

Alex Buchan, Strategic Technologist, DTG and Project Lead said:

“DTG, through the VISTA project, is proud to be leading the TV industry into a new phase of interactive, personalised and live content driven by 5G for access anywhere, anytime. The trial at MK Dons shows the technology developed during the project has the potential to transform the way we consume content, and experience live events, over the coming decade.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said:

"5G has the power to further fans' enjoyment of live sports in stadiums while helping broadcasters to improve their live output.

"I'm delighted that this trial is the latest in a long list of cutting-edge tests we've funded through our £200 million programme to use 5G to drive economic growth and improve people's lives."

The completion of the technical trial was followed by a final showcase of the project on 14th February as part of the MK5G Create event in the Marshall Arena, also at Stadium MK.

5G VISTA partners including Virgin Media O2, Rohde and Schwarz, DTG, GWS, Digital Catapult, Ori Industries, Imaginary Pictures, Ateme and the University of Surrey’s 5G/6G Innovation Centre joined sporting, tech and broadcast giants such as Microsoft, MK Dons, MK5G and the Open University to discuss business cases for live events solutions powered by 5G Broadcast.

MK5G showcased several groundbreaking applications illustrating how major venues can harness 5G to operate in the future, including autonomous vehicles for transporting fans to and from the stadium, and AI-enabled traffic control onsite.

These demonstrations included an exhilarating drone race around the MK Dons football pitch - filmed from multiple perspectives using the 5G VISTA app, as the final milestone of the 5G VISTA project. This constituted the world’s first drone race broadcast in high definition, sponsored by Virgin Media O2 and organised by the British Drone Racing Association.

Both 5G VISTA and MK5G had received funding from the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport to boost live events using 5G.  5G VISTA was backed by £1.3 million, with a further £1 million contributed by partners.

David Owens, Head of Technical Trials at Virgin Media O2:

“This event marks the culmination of a lot of hard but very rewarding work with some fantastic partners. We're thrilled to bring 5G VISTA to life at a MK Dons game, showcasing the technologies to real fans and watching their reactions was fantastic. We're excited about the future possibilities of this 5G-powered technology for fan experiences in-stadium and at home.”

Kostas Katsaros, Lead 5G Technologist, Digital Catapult said:

“Working on 5G VISTA has been a fantastic journey – from early tests in our 5G labs, to a preliminary showcase at the O2 Blueroom in September, and now streaming a football match and drone racing at a real sports stadium.

“The project shows that taking spectator experiences to the next level using 5G Broadcast is a very real possibility, and I can’t wait to see what exciting developments are ahead for audiences, events venues, marketers, artists and sports teams.”

Dr Haitham Cruickshank from the University of Surrey's 5G/6G Innovation Centre said:

"This landmark pilot is just a glimpse of how 5G will transform how we all consume live events such as football matches. For the 5G/6G Innovation Centre, it was an opportunity to showcase our end-to-end security capabilities that are the foundations that could allow thousands of people to share live experiences in unique ways.

"We will soon add this multicast/broadcast security into our world-leading testbed in Guildford."

Douglas Mancini, CCO, Ori Industries:

“The 5G VISTA project has highlighted the transformative opportunities for edge computing deployments and future network capabilities in real-time commercial settings. This new technology is changing the way people experience live events and we’re pleased to have been involved in this transformation.”

Stadium MK is just the start for 5G VISTA and sports fans

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.