Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium plans suggest the full potential of 5G

Soccer players on a field in a full stadium.

One of the most exciting facets of 5G — around which conversation has recently exploded — is the sheer range of applications that it presents. Industries as diverse as healthcare, automotive manufacturing, and retail have waxed prophetic about the ways in which they’ll be able to deploy 5G and the new technologies that it might usher in.

Of course, the question for many — especially in media and entertainment — has frequently been the extent to which 5G will truly change our industry. Its ability to expedite file movement and empower remote production teams is undeniable, but does that promise something truly revolutionary? In other words, is 5G actually going to transform how media organizations work and the experiences they offer, or will it simply make it easier for teams to overcome pre-existing challenges? 

For those who sincerely believe in the transformative potential of 5G in media production and sports broadcasting, one of the most exciting announcements was that surrounding the initiative to transform Barcelona’s Nou Camp arena into Europe’s first 5G stadium. Though the initial plans were revealed back in 2019, the promises made at the Mobile World Conference feel ambitious even today. They also, fittingly, feel dynamically in step with many of the technologies and concerns that have come to the fore in recent months.

What would Nou Camp look like as a 5G stadium?

The primary feature of the Nou Camp transformation, as it was announced, feels especially close to home in the current moment, as it is specifically interested in how we watch sports broadcasts. With conversations around the efficacy of virtual reality and augmented reality outside of the field of gaming, telecommunications organization Telefonica and mobile operator ecosystem GSMA found a fascinating application for the technology in sports broadcasting.

As these innovators envisioned, Nou Camp would have a wide range of 360-degree cameras installed all throughout the stadium, capturing footage from nearly every possible vantage, including the team bench. Viewers at home who invested in VR headsets would then be able to watch the game from any position they chose, selecting angles and views on their own (an idea which sounds incredibly prescient given recent discussion of virtual fans and inserting at-home spectators into empty stadiums). Because of the massive amount of content this plan would generate (as well as the size of the files necessitated for high-quality VR experience), the operation would be entirely unfeasible without 5G facilitating file movement.

5G would also be the engine behind a number of other game-day experiences. For those not at home, all ordering would be done through consoles within the seats, the information transmitted on the Nou Camp 5G network. The plan also proposed the use of tracking devices on the ball and the players themselves, ensuring a hyper-accuracy for those trying to follow a single player and their performance.

5G — the ultimate facilitator?

The breadth of innovations proposed for Nou Camp don’t just speak to the ambition of the project itself, but to what so many have been predicting for years: that 5G will provide a massive leap across the board for other technologies. While the basic utility of 5G — speed — is obvious, it’s not the only utility that media organizations could leverage. With the bandwidth-maximizing potential of 5G, enterprises might become more willing to invest in things like higher resolutions for streaming or new virtual reality experiences. The example of the latter from the Barcelona plan would, then, potentially have an impact on how broadcasters produce live sports and what the final content beaming into fans’ homes would look like.

In short, 5G has the potential to inspire and support projects which themselves have larger impacts in their own corners of the M&E industry. Even if 5G itself does not magically push enterprises into the future, the domino effect it could have on gradually more innovative endeavors should not be overlooked.

Although we find ourselves in a unique and strange moment for media — as fixated on returning to the status quo as we are on speeding ahead — the excitement around 5G remains palpable. What the execution of these massive ideas will look like remains to be seen, but it’s clear from the conversations among our peers that 5G could wield tremendous influence if properly deployed.

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