It’s been just over a year since I moved to London full time. In honour of the occasion, I decided to take what I felt was a thoroughly English summer holiday earlier this month. So, I loaded the Corgi in the car, drove over to the continent (taking a train through the Chunnel), bought some wine, and got a little sunburned. It’s pretty much exactly what my wife expected when we kicked off this adventure. And, somewhere in the middle of all that, the 2019 edition of summer vacation saw the Jarich household take in a stage of the Tour De France, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, and Switzerland’s Fete des Vignerons.
While it wasn’t part of the plan, I also spent some time thinking about the wireless industry and 5G a little during these spectacles. Each lent insight into why special events (including sporting events) are often cited as a key 5G use case.
FIFA Women’s World Cup. I can’t say that I wasn’t somewhat disappointed in the US versus Netherlands final. The gameplay was great and the Dutch fans were impressive in their coordination and congeniality. But from a fan experience standpoint, things were lacking…and that included constrained network capacity (particularly on the uplink). Network capacity might help to explain why we weren’t pushed to apps for real-time match or player stats. Regardless, it was a wasted opportunity. Where it’s increasingly easy to take in an event at a distance (in the rain, on a train, with a goat, on a boat…on a tablet, with a phablet), venue owners and event organisers need to give people a reason to come to the live event: the experience of “being there” only goes so far in justifying ticket costs. Seamless, in-venue connectivity (5G, 4G, Wi-Fi) is a start. Integration with venue operations and the event itself is a necessary follow-on. So is the will to tie this all together into something cohesive.
Tour de France. Network connectivity 3km out from the end of Le Tour’s Stage seven was about on par with the connectivity down at the Stade de Lyon. Not bad. Not great. The missed opportunity to engage with fans, however, was even greater. For those who’ve never been to see the race, let me paint the picture. Each day, riders tackle courses which can run more than 200km. An hour or so before they hit the road, the “caravan” (a promotional parade of vehicles handing out trinkets) travels the day’s route. More than 10 million fans line up all along the route to see the caravan and then the riders across the entire race. Do the math and you quickly realise this means a lot of people spending a lot of time standing around. I think the dictionary has a picture of them alongside the definition for “captive audience.” But, as much as it was great to see people enjoying the great outdoors, reading books and playing with their kids, I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more who were glued to their phones watching a livestream or otherwise engaging with the race. Was it the connectivity issue? A lack of app promotion? Will 5G change that? Would it be different with something like an AR/VR caravan?
Fete des Vignerons. If you’re not familiar with the Fete des Vignerons, you shouldn’t feel too bad. It’s not an annual affair. It doesn’t even come around every decade, much less every four years like the Olympics or World Cup. Nope, it’s a once in every 20 years celebration of Swiss wine that takes place over several weeks on the banks of Lac Leman. Mobile apps weren’t quite a thing at the last one in 1999, but event organisers made sure to have one in place for this edition. And, thanks to solid connectivity in Switzerland (a small country where operators are already hashing out international 5G roaming agreements), using the official FeVi app shouldn’t have been a problem. But it was. Early on, just as everything was getting underway, error messages suggested that the servers were going down. When back up, the app wasn’t always serving up accurate info or anything super-compelling. It was a reminder that connectivity (3G, 4G, 5G, take your pick) is only one ingredient of engaging with people. Solid experiences delivered over that connectivity are more important.
It’s no great insight to note that event organisers need to ensure engagement with fans and attendees. It’s equally obvious that mobile devices are a prime (if not the primary) tool for driving that engagement.
But, given the plethora of potential 5G use cases and applications, it’s easy to ignore some of them or underestimate their value without direct experience: promises of opportunity around every corner are likely to seem more like 5G hype (hope?) than viable businesses. For me, getting out to a few first-class events this summer helped underscore the value of leveraging 5G and improved connectivity (teamed with the right content) to drive fan engagement along with the increasing importance of engagement. Beyond the special event use case, however, this also points to the need to educate stakeholders across all vertical industries around new wireless capabilities while developing a fuller understanding of their needs and operations.
Planning for summer 2020 maybe that means I should start looking at remote, robotic surgery options?
– Peter Jarich – head of GSMA Intelligence
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.