Marseilles, May 2022. The final minutes of the final game of a long, hard season commence in a stadium for which the phrase “cauldron of emotion” is no understatement. A win against a conspicuously uninterested RC Strasbourg will give home team l’Olympique de Marseille (L’OM) a highly coveted and even more highly lucrative place in next year’s Champion’s League, but that depends on rivals Monaco not winning their game 900km away in Lens, and L’OM overturning a four-goal deficit on goal difference.
L’OM lead 2-0, but it is currently 2-1 to the Monégasques, who if all stays the same will be eyeing up potential trips to Anfield, the Santiago Bernabéu, Camp Nou or San Siro in the autumn, leaving L’OM with the unwanted Thursday schedule of the Europa League.
What options exist for (then) L’OM coach Jorge Sampaoli? Does he change his team’s 3-2-4-1 formation and gamble on racking up the goals in the hope of a home goal in Lens? Who could he choose, how would they play? What is their pedigree? So many questions, so much information to consider for the coach, and also for spectators.
And yet for a select number watching at the Stade Orange Vélodrome, all this data and more was available at the touch of a button on a 5G smartphone, transposed, somewhat inconspicuously, upon a TV feed of the game for those using a dedicated app developed and being trialled by the stadium’s sponsor.
Indeed, the football app formed part of a demonstration by Orange as to the power and increasing importance and relevance of 5G networks and the use cases that the next-generation mobile infrastructure can support, both in terms of application for consumers but also for enterprises.
Orange’s relationship with L’OM really began in earnest in the 4G days of June 2016 as part of a grand strategy to create a connected stadium, recalls Guillaume Chabas, head of innovation and partnership at Orange Business Services and head of the 5G Lab at Orange Vélodrome. “The main difference between today and then is that we are leveraging everything in real time off the stadium on innovation, but the first step was to create something with the wireless connection and create some [applications] inside the stadium – how we can purpose new usage, like on the seats, food and beverage command?
“And for this kind of use case, we used Wi-Fi technology. We brought everything for 4G and Wi-Fi or to upgrade the network capacity because 4G on its own was not enough.”
Looking back to 2016 from today, needing Wi-Fi in such applications seems odd, but it’s worth remembering just how nascent the whole field of connected stadiums was at the time. Yet L’OM, with a brand-new stadium up and running for the 2016 Euros football tournament, was an innovator and a club with strong ambitions in communications and the whole – now commonplace – concept of improving fan experiences. It was also transformational for the club, says Chabas, and involved creating two different applications.
“There is a huge difference between 2016 and 2022,” he says. “The stadium [when being built] was not [yet] part of L’OM and the main reason we had two applications – we had the L’OM application and we had the Velodrome stadium app – because at the time, there were two companies. One needed the stadium for sports and football, but also for concerts like we have today. So the deployment was not [exclusively] focused on sports.
“But we changed this in 2019 because the club brought in the non-sports company. The L’OM Club was more like the Airbnb model on each weekend and today it’s a 365-day operation, so they can leverage everything. They can add some projects with us in the long term when we deploy technology. It’s not just that we can use it during the weekend for the soccer game, but more about we can leverage it on the corporate side with hospitality during the week. And they can respond to new technology or we can create new experiences. That’s the main difference since the beginning of the contract – it’s a one-to-one purpose now.”
Chabas began working on the project from the very beginning, designing all the architectures on the technical front end of the contract. This was not a simple task given the nature of the sports stadium, but work evolved so that in 2019 it was possible to add innovation in sponsoring events such as cinema, using the stadium with a giant screen to see a movie.
This also became an opportunity to strike up partnerships whereby the stadium is an asset with corporate and B2B usage, taking advantage of the Orange brand to add innovation and drive an added return on investment of Orange’s naming rights.
A partnership with Cisco has seen the Stade Orange Vélodrome boast 1,150 Wi-Fi access points, said to be the largest stadium in Europe in this respect, with 106 connected turnstiles for access control. The new Orange Vélodrome app can deliver video replay and food and beverage ordering for fans – a significant upgrade on the old 4G/Wi-Fi setup.
Innovation potential is now significantly enhanced, given that the Stade Orange Vélodrome is also France’s first 5G-equipped stadium. The 5G area is based on a non-standalone core network that comprises a 3.5GHz mid-band network complemented by experimental mmWave 5G in the 26GHz range. There is also AWS Edge Capacity connected to the Experimental 5G area and to the cloud/hybrid edge.
Crucially for the development of enterprise 5G applications, the stadium also now has 14 5G labs. Complementing a range of similar facilities across Europe, the labs offer a space where businesses, both local to the Mediterranean port city and throughout France, can discover, experiment and bring future use cases to life over the next generation of 5G networks.
Potential supported technologies and services include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), video analytics based on artificial intelligence (AI), real-time monitoring of resources, critical communications such as PTT/PTV (push to talk, push to video), autonomous mobile robots and drones. It also has a collaboration centre using Cisco Meraki conferring and collaboration technology.
At the stadium, Orange is currently focusing on developing a number of key use cases. Robot Player is a modular and multifunctional telepresence robot adapted to the needs of each sector of activity, such as healthcare, education, home care and the industrial sector. Guests located on the Terrace – the VIP section of the Velodrome – pilot a 5G robot located in the players’ corridor towards the edge of the pitch and can exchange visually and audibly with the players and be close to them during training.
Using the commercial 3.5GHz 5G network, features include reactive piloting with 5G, better image quality and therefore better telepresence experience. Orange also provides support for the integration of 5G natively in the robot.
Take a Smile showcases the ability to share content inside and outside the stadium, thanks to the technology inside the venue. The scenario that was showcased was a professional photographer placed at the edge of the pitch taking photos of the spectators, which are displayed in real time on the two giant screens in the stadium and on the screen on the Terrace. This use case utilises the experimental 26GHz section of the 5G network using 5G Sony Alpha 1 + Xperia Pro devices.
It showcases the very low latency properties of high-band 5G, and is an end-to-end media solution that is said to have particular relevance for pro photographers interested in specific network access for media. The aim is to make the process of sending photographs outside the stadium – to news agencies and the like – much faster and much simpler than it is today.
La Vitre is a large digital “window” that is always on and open, enabling people to connect remotely, supplied by startup La Vitre. At the Velodrome, the product/service ran by using one of the giant screens located at the Terrace booth and another located in the corridor linking the pitch to the changing rooms, so that people were able to interact in real time with the players as they went to and from the match, showcasing its unique properties.
But perhaps the most impressive of the apps under development is Augmented Match, a mixed-reality mobile app that allows sports fans within stadiums to access real-time technical and statistical information about the players on the field. Data on the players is captured via cameras to display them superimposed on the fan’s smartphone. The players’ positions are displayed in real time along with other data, such as shots, dribbles, passes and defence.
The app runs over the experimental 5G (26GHz) network along with edge computing, Augmented Match Immersiv.io application and Computer Vision to detect player position, with 5G ensuring a very high-speed connection, which is necessary for Immersiv.io’s technology to display a large amount of information on the app. It is designed to provide the lowest possible latency to avoid any lag between the actions on the field, the AR data and even digital twins of the players.
This was actually the app under review at the L’OM vs Strasbourg clash and in the closing minutes, Monaco conceded a 96th minute equaliser while L’OM scored twice to bag second place in Ligue 1 and claim a Champions League spot. Maybe Sampaoli made use of it – he wouldn’t be the last if he had.