5G for golf: Intel and Fox Sports work on US Open broadcasts

Intel, Fox Sports, Ericsson, and AT&T discuss how they used a US Open golf broadcast to iron out 5G in media.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Intel, Ericsson, AT&T, and Fox Sports have revealed how transmitting a broadcast during the US Open at Shinnecock in June allowed them to put 5G to the test, with the companies able to both transfer large amounts of data at low latency and remove the cost of running fibre around the golf course.

Fox Sports SVP of Technical and Field Operations Mike Davies said the trial involved the "fairly basic but completely essential" use case transmitting footage from a camera on the ninth hole to a tower that then went back to the broadcast truck via a 5G network.

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"There are really a couple of reasons for why we thought this was valuable; number one was to see the technology and get it to work, but also to get to work with Intel and AT&T and Ericsson to give us a bit of a seat at the table in terms of, 'OK, this is how our business can utilise 5G, and these are the types of things perhaps we would have to get used to,' whether it's integrating the broadcast of cameras with the broadcast production truck, and then also understanding what's mission critical, what are the things that potentially we can do with it," Davies told ZDNet during the Intel 5G Summit in Los Angeles.

"The other interesting thing as well is that obviously latency is a big deal, that your wireless cameras also need to be in time with those cameras that are wired traditionally."

According to Davies, Fox Sports was able to incorporate 5G technology into its legacy architecture, meaning the company did not have to change much in terms of how it used its systems, just in the way that it transported the broadcast.

"It was a tremendous start to sort of understanding how 5G could help us with maybe not running so much fibre around the golf course, without using expensive microwave and other technologies to do these types of things," he explained.

"I like to put all these new technologies through the sports wringer, because if there's anything that I know, it's that if you're going to take a new technology and you put it in the hands of sports broadcast engineers, they're going to figure out a way to break it.

"It is a bit of a high water mark in terms of challenges ... you've got different climates, different areas where you're going to be using these things, and then it's essential, it's mission-critical stuff, so it's got to work."

According to Intel SVP of 5G and Network Platform Group Sandra Rivera, the impact of 5G networks on the media industry will be to drive around $420 billion in annual mobile media revenue by 2028.

In addition, Rivera said there will be around $140 billion in cumulative augmented reality/virtual reality revenue over next 10 years; $178 billion in mobile advertising revenues by 2028 thanks to 5G; and $35 billion in cumulative 5G in-car entertainment revenues over the next 10 years.

Read also: Intel partners with Nokia and Ericsson on 5G worldwide

With AT&T working on the US Open trial, Wireless Network Architecture and Design head Igal Elbaz said the trial was important to the carrier because it "demonstrated a real-world scenario for what 5G is all about".

"We all hear about these multi-gig speeds, ultra-low latency, high availability, but what does it really mean? How [does] this translate to a differentiated experience to our consumers?" Elbaz said at the Intel 5G Summit.

"With the US Open, we actually broadcasted 4K video with the same level of throughput and low latency and reliability as a wired connection. Rather than rolling 30 or 40 miles of temporary fibre to enable all of this, we used a wireless system. Wireless systems could not do this before."

5G brings flexibility to sports broadcasts, ED of Global Business and Tech Strategy for Fox Innovation Lab Robert Powers added.

"Whether it's adding additional camera angles or behind the scenes, these are all new elements that can be incorporated to sports production ... a production the size of the US Open will always have a very large footprint, but we're very interested in aspects of remote production, where 5G enables us to cover sports that previously might not have been economically efficient for us to cover, so sports that are more niche," Powers said.

Working with media companies also means Intel is able to better understand the work involved in more complex use cases beyond just smartphones, Intel VP of Technology, Systems Architecture, and Client Group, and GM of Next Generation and Standards Asha Keddy told ZDNet in an interview.

"Breaking into use cases that never existed, and doing it with a reduced capex and opex -- to me, the three things that really make that a signature [trial] is it was much cheaper than running fibre; it was a use case that was non-conventional, like you wouldn't think about doing this on 4G; and the third one is we could show that the technology with the edge and the millimetre wave and the streaming works, and then you can take this to different areas," Keddy told ZDNet.

"The applicability of it, that's why it's so exciting to me."

Also speaking on reducing the amount of "cumbersome equipment" being lugged around to filming sites was Warner Bros Entertainment CTO Vicky Colf, who said 5G with Intel will "fundamentally" change the company's production and distribution operations on a day-to-day basis.

"If you look at how we work from production, post-production, all the way through our supply chain, we're constantly moving huge files, tons of data around. So any time you can help us do that more quickly, and reduce expensive wait time -- waiting equals money for us -- that's a big win for us," Colf said during the summit.

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"Whether it's moving stuff around for working, for editing, dailies, colour correction, or critical review stuff, so if we can move DCPs [Digital Cinema Packages] around for screenings, that's a big win for us ... sometimes we want to be shooting in really remote locations; if we can avoid having to think about how we're going to get connectivity to those locations, that's another big opportunity."

Colf also revealed that Warner Bros will be partnering with Intel to do some proof of concepts around the connected car, with Keddy telling ZDNet that Intel is working on three aspects: Vehicle-to-vehicle communications, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and vehicle-to-cloud communications, and how to make use cases work in different band combinations and densities.

Once Intel is done working on these, Keddy said the company would bring the concepts to partners such as Warner Bros and Fox Sports.

Davies told ZDNet that golf was just the beginning, and Fox Sports will be looking to utilise 5G across more sports broadcasts.

"I think that golf was just a good start, because what's interesting about golf is that it's a tremendously inefficient sport to produce, especially with the US Open, because you've got to have cameras at every hole -- multiple cameras at every hole," Davies told ZDNet.

"Any place where you require mobile cameras is definitely a possibility, whether you're looking at something that happens within a stadium, like football or baseball, or perhaps something that doesn't require a stadium -- golf, certainly, but auto racing is another one, and I think that this was really just the start."

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to the Intel 5G Summit and Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles as a guest of Intel

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