From the photo finish, to global sports broadcasts, to sensors that track an athlete’s performance, sports and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. The introduction of new wireless communication 5G technology is set to bring about a series of changes that will define the future of sports.
What is 5G?
Many people, including sports betting fans, will have heard about the term 5G, but for those of you who haven’t, here’s a quick explanation on what it is.
5G stands for 5th Generation, and is the 5th Generation of wireless cellular communication networks. Starting at 1G, each generation of this new technology brought with it new capabilities, such as sending text messages, images, and internet connectivity at ever-increasing speeds. The fifth generation network does all this and much, much more.
Where 4G had a theoretical maximum of 300Mbps under perfect conditions, 5G blows that out of the water with a download limit of 10Gbps (if the stars are aligned). The other important factor is latency. In a nutshell, latency is the amount of time it takes data to be transmitted to your device, a crucial factor for real-time services. 4G theoretically offers a latency of around 30ms, while the latest generation network is expected to have a maximum latency of 10ms at most, with 1ms speeds being the norm.
How will this new wireless technology impact the future of sport?
The improved bandwidth and latency of the 5G network will help sports unlock a number of new features for fans, as well as athletes themselves. Here’s a few of the benefits you can expect to see.
A more exciting and detailed stadium experience
5G will help bring an additional level of depth to sports fans at stadiums in a number of ways. One of the first major breakthroughs will be the introduction of real-time augmented reality (AR) services.
One way AR is set to change the stadium experience is with even more exciting pre-game events. One example of this is how the SK Wyverns, a Korean baseball team, had a virtual wyvern (dragon-like creature) amaze the fans with a pre-game appearance in 2019. Fans could see the wyvern on the stadium’s main screen, or follow it live on their phones. Fans at home weren’t left out either, as the mythical monster was part of the show on their TVs.
But what if you’re a sports stats junkie and you’re interested in how your favorite basketball player is performing during a game? Simply pull out your phone, turn on an app, and point it at the player and watch as his stats appear on screen, as well as past highlights or other key information about the current game.
Want to get different perspectives on the action without having to leave your seat? Load up multiple viewpoints from the extensive fifth generation-enabled camera network on your phone so you can enjoy the game from every angle.
Better broadcasting and streaming
Most of us are familiar with the massive cameras fixed on stands on the side of a court or field in sports. But what if you didn’t need those massive cameras with dozens of feet of cables? What if you could transmit high resolution video footage from drones that are free to move above and around the field?
5G makes this possible and, just like we mentioned earlier, people will be able to select multiple viewpoints so that they never miss a moment of the action. Eventually this will not only mean more cameras to choose from, but the possibility to view the action from any angle with augmented reality and virtual reality devices. Esports have already begun experimenting with this approach, and it’s only a matter of time before live sporting events can take advantage of it as well.
Players will also have access to perspectives they never had before, such as sitting with the players who are on the sidelines, or enjoying the athlete’s perspective as they leave the player’s tunnel and run onto the field.
Improved decision-making by referees, coaches, and athletes
We’ve already seen how technology has helped referees make more accurate calls, and even coaches have taken to using video clips of games during breaks in the game to help players get a better understanding of their play. With greater bandwidth and better latency, sensors and other internet-enabled tools could take this to the next level.
For example, referees could refer to data from smart balls in basketball to verify who last touched a ball when it leaves play. Games like volleyball or tennis could use similar technology to clarify if a ball is in or out if it hits a line at the edge of the court.
Off the field, coaches could track player performance in real-time, relying on data from devices, like heart rate monitors and other internet-enabled sensors, to determine when a player is running out of steam and needs a timeout in order to recharge. Perhaps in the future they’d even be able to see the game from the player’s perspective and offer them even more advice on how to improve their in-game performance.
Athletes themselves could also benefit from this new technology in many ways, including training. We’ve already seen F1 drivers take advantage of simulators and VR to improve their skills when they can’t get out on the track, but this type of training could be offered to other athletes with more advanced wireless VR devices. For example, golfers could wear a 5G wireless VR headset and play on a digital version of a golf course in preparation for an upcoming tournament.
Real-time sports betting
The introduction of this new high-speed cellular technology will improve the growth of in-play (real-time) sports betting in the US. Currently, many sports bettors in the US finalize wagers before an event begins, or update the odds for a game during a timeout or commercial break if players are allowed to bet during a game.
However, sports fans around the world know that something can happen at any point during a game to drastically affect its outcome, and if internet connections were able to consistently deliver data in real-time, sportsbooks could offer more real-time options to their betting services.
This new technology could also help boost betting at stadiums as well. Many of us will have gone to a packed game, only to discover our data connectivity is barely functional, if it even works at all. This is because current cellular technologies struggle to handle large amounts of people in a single area. However, this fifth generation network has much greater bandwidth and can handle many more connections, eliminating this problem.
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