T-Mobile looks to sport for 5G salvation

Throw enough use cases at the wall and surely one of them is bound to stick eventually.

Nick Wood

April 27, 2023

5 Min Read
T-Mobile US Fans XR app

Throw enough use cases at the wall and surely one of them is bound to stick eventually.

This pretty much sums up T-Mobile US’s announcement that it has chosen nine budding companies to participate in its annual Accelerator Programme, which this year is focused on innovative 5G experiences relating to sports and live events.

They include companies like App Cats, which has various offerings including a 5G live streaming platform, audience surveying tools and fan engagement rewards. Another one, Cue Audio, harnesses venue speakers and spectators’ devices to choreograph fan activities, like mass selfies or cell phone light shows.

Extended reality (XR) specialist FansXR (pictured) distributes 360-degree video footage and provides augmented reality (AR) overlays of performance stats and game data. PixelFly meanwhile specialises in first-person view (FPV) drone coverage of broadcast events. See below for the full list of selected start-ups.

By being part of the Accelerator Programme, these companies will benefit from T-Mobile’s 5G assets and expertise, helping them to refine and scale their offerings.

“For decades, people have gone to matches, concerts and other events with little innovation to enhance the experience beyond simply watching,” said a statement from T-Mobile US, which seemed to overlook the storied contribution of drugs and alcohol to live events, not that Telecoms.com condones that sort of thing.

“Imagine a stadium filled with 5G-enabled drones capturing never-before-seen camera angles, first-person cameras letting thousands of fans experience what athletes are seeing in real-time, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences or 5G connected robots delivering concessions throughout a venue,” the telco said.

The problem with a lot of these examples though, is that by trying to enhance the live experience, they actually detract from it. That may sound counter-intuitive, but the reason people attend live events is to be part of an audience that is united by the visceral experience of witnessing the drama unfold. Placing a screen, device or control interface between the attendee and what’s happening adds a degree of separation, both from the event and the other spectators.

Stop-start sports like baseball, cricket, or American football might see some benefit from giving fans access to AR overlays of player stats during a timeout or between overs, for example. Or – and this might sound like a radical concept – fans could just talk to each other about what they’re enjoying while they wait for play to resume, or for the racing cars to come zipping past again. Replays meanwhile are already shown on jumbo-sized big screens, and there is something to be said for being part of a collective cheer – or groan – when something controversial appears on them.

Furthermore, when it comes to real-time value-added experiences, there only needs to be the merest hint of lag between something happening on the field and the footage arriving at spectators’ devices for the experience to be rendered more or less pointless.

Use cases like first-person camera feeds and drone’s-eye view are much better suited to spectators not fortunate enough to attend in person. This actually lends itself quite well to high-speed connectivity, since we’re talking about real-time live video streaming.

Nonetheless, as questionable as some of these use cases appear, T-Mobile – along with the rest of the telecoms industry – is so desperate for 5G to offer more than just a faster Internet connection that if there is any chance one or more of these catches on, then the sports-themed Accelerator Programme will be considered a success.

Here are the nine selected companies, as described by TMUS:

APP CATS LLC — APP CATS’ CrowdSOLUTIONS creates unique opportunities to interact with fans through its 5G enabled live streaming platform, audience surveying tools and fan engagement rewards, which are all available as turn-key plug-ins or as a custom standalone platform.

CUE Audio — CUE Audio develops fan-first technology that uses in-venue speakers and fans’ mobile devices to routinely synchronize crowds of all sizes to capture the world’s largest simultaneous selfies, choreograph spectacular cell phone light shows, host multiplayer trivia games and more.

FansXR — FansXR delivers an Xtended reality (XR) streaming platform using augmented AR, XR, and 360-degree video distributed to any digital device or Metaverse portal powered by 5G and edge compute technology. For sports and events, FansXR geolocates athletes in stadiums offering an augmented reality overview of performance stats, game data and more.

ForwARdgame — Since 2017 forwARdgame leverages the newest technologies to infuse the real world with virtual experiences and let people freely play in AR by physical activity.

Immersal — Immersal’s Visual Positioning (VPS) technology can convert any city, venue or area into a spatial map that can support a variety of AR experiences, commercial functions and can be used by autonomous vehicles and robots servicing the area.

MeetMo — MeetMo is a cloud-native platform connecting devices, people and ideas to facilitate real-time collaboration.

Mindfly — MindFly is a fully automated First-Person-View (FPV) solution that lets fans see, hear and feel exactly what pro sports players and referees do during official games, exhibition games and behind-the-scenes training. Mindfly also captures, processes and distributes post-game highlights to social platforms and replays for live TV.

PixelFly — PixelFly specializes in live FPV drone coverage for broadcast events and marketing activations leveraging custom drones developed in partnership with brands featuring the latest technology to deliver footage and experiences that aren’t possible with traditional, existing drone platforms.

Ydrive — Ydrive empowers everyone to capture the world in photorealistic 3D with just a few smartphone images. Its AI platform generates lifelike digital twins and 3D maps, complete with stunning visuals, semantic understanding, and rich metadata. Compatible with popular 3D applications, Ydrive is perfect for content creation, immersive gaming, movie production, architectural preservation, real estate, robotics, and more.


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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