Kick-off for 5G

AR takes football to the next level

DFL success story

DFL success story

Augmented reality takes stadium visits to the next level

Vodafone and the DFL are expanding the stadium experience. In the first 5G stadium, fans will not only experience concentrated emotions, but also plenty of background information, analyses and statistics on the action in real time on their 5G mobile phones.

Vodafone 5G technology boosts network capacity at VfL Wolfsburg's Volkswagen Arena

The Challenge

How do you digitise a stadium?

The smartphone has not only radically changed our everyday lives, major events such as concerts and sporting events are also feeling the transformative power of digitalisation. This also applies to the diverse world of football. Both regular spectators and younger generations have growing expectations when visiting the stadium.

Checking the score at half-time or posting souvenir photos from the arena on social networks has long been possible. But there is much more: digital reality enhancement is the order of the day. An innovative app was tested at Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg in 2019: Which player is currently on the ball, how fast is he charging towards goal? Fans can now access this information and additional match data, which was previously only available to TV broadcasters and clubs, in real time via augmented reality on their smartphone.

The live experience in the stadium is thus enhanced with live graphics, statistics and analyses that were previously only available on the screen at home.

The Company

Protagonist of the German sports industry 

The Deutsche Fußball Liga e.V. (DFL) is the association of the teams represented in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 and represents their most important interests vis-à-vis the German Football Association. The DFL is responsible for match operations, licensing and marketing and therefore plays a central role in the German sports industry. The total revenue of the two leagues in the 2021/22 season amounted to €4.48 billion and the number of employees was 48,000.

Vodafone and the DFL entered into a two-year partnership back in the 2019/20 season with the aim of making the new 5G mobile communications standard accessible to stadium visitors. To demonstrate the potential of the technology, the partners have jointly developed an innovative augmented reality app.

5G im ersten Bundesliga Stadion aktiviert
YouTube / Vodafone

The Solution

The networked arena

To realise the project, VfL Wolfsburg's Volkswagen Arena was the first stadium in Germany to be equipped with a 5G mobile antenna from Vodafone. The 5G technology will increase the available network capacity in the stadium by more than 60 per cent - which will also benefit fans who, for example, want to check the scores of matches taking place at the same time or stream videos. DFL Managing Director Christian Seifert notes: "More and more football spectators are using an additional screen to access match data or other information."

There are already 16 cameras in the stadium, from whose video signals the DFL subsidiary Sportec Solutions collects around 3.6 million positional data points and 1,600 match events such as goals, passes and fouls - per match! This data and additional information, such as individual player statistics on the number of Bundesliga matches played or goals scored, was previously provided exclusively to the broadcasting TV station and the clubs by the DFL during the match. They can now also be accessed by fans via the app: The data is forwarded to fans' 5G-enabled smartphones in near real time via a mobile edge cloud. For example, they can tap on a player in the live image on their smartphone to find out their speed.

See more, experience more

The Advantages

At a glance

In addition to key figures on shooting accuracy, passing options and distances covered during the match, the 5G Stadium app also visualises attacking and defensive lines and the most occupied areas of the pitch. To ensure fans don't miss anything, the app provides summarised statistics on all relevant events at all times. Rankings, past matches of the teams and the line-up on the pitch can also be viewed before kick-off.

In-depth analyses
in connection with the live experience in the stadium

Game events in view at all times
thanks to augmented reality

Increase in stadium network capacity
by over 60 per cent

Real-time data transmission
with mobile edge servers

Key technology 5G

Endless possibilities

Endless possibilities

Key technology 5G

The 5G era has long since begun: In Germany, Vodafone put the first transmission mast into operation at its test site in Aldenhoven near Aachen back in November 2018. The network expansion then continued in rapid succession: the first 25 stations with more than 60 5G antennas in 20 cities and municipalities were activated in July 2018. In the meantime, 80 per cent of the German population is connected to the 5G network. To this end, Vodafone has activated the latest mobile communications technology at 12,000 locations with more than 36,000 antennas. 

What does the modern mobile communications standard do - and why are business and politics so electrified by the technology? To understand this, we took a look at some current application examples.

Mobile radio regulates the right of way in air traffic. Every drone needs mobile communications.

Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO Vodafone Germany

Air taxis are coming – thanks to 5G

We realised that 5G is fast - up to ten times faster than its predecessor 4G. Even more important, especially for industrial applications, are the extremely low response times - also known as latency: These are less than 10 milliseconds for 5G-based campus networks, which equates to real-time communication.

This opens up completely new market opportunities. Take "urban air mobility", for example: the rapid advancement of drone technology has led to several companies and start-ups currently battling for air supremacy over the world's metropolises. Demand is being driven by the megatrend of urbanisation and the growing urge for mobility.

In October 2019, the global tech company EHang and Vodafone announced their intention to work together in Europe to conquer this promising market. At the public presentation of the partnership, it became clear why 5G is an indispensable key technology for the young industry. "Mobile communications determine the right of way in air traffic," explained Vodafone CEO Hannes Ametsreiter: "Every drone needs mobile communications. Fast networks control the right of way in air traffic. They become the traffic control system for air taxis and drone mail. And they make drones identifiable. Similar to number plates on our cars."

Driverless trains in the Ore Mountains

The next application example demonstrates the strategic importance of 5G for the mobility of the future: In September 2019, an entire Thales train was controlled remotely at the Smart Rail Connectivity Campus in the Ore Mountains - a global first. The signal was transmitted by camera from the driving carriage to a vehicle from the German Aerospace Centre, where a train driver was able to control the journey like a model railway thanks to a remote driver's cab - a kind of sophisticated remote control. 

"If the network transmits in real time, as here on the test track, then the home office for train drivers could become a reality in the future," commented Vodafone Business Managing Director Alexander Saul on the premiere. The breakthrough was made possible by the use of 5G network slicing technology, in which several virtual networks share the same physical network structure. Vodafone also provided a customised 5G network for the test field in order to be able to guarantee optimal mobile network capacities for remote control of the train at all times. Data was processed directly on site in a Mobile Edge Cloud (MEC), i.e. a small data centre in the immediate vicinity of the mobile radio station.

Much more than reality

AR for e-mobility

Not only trains, but even construction cranes can be controlled remotely thanks to the minimal latency times of 5G. The advantage: crane operators are globally sought-after skilled workers who could therefore be deployed more efficiently - and at lower cost. Visitors to CeBIT 2018 were able to test the technology for themselves by controlling a prototype from Hanover that was steering a 4.4-tonne container in Aldenhoven, 350 km away. This opens up completely new perspectives for hazardous or labour-intensive areas of application: Mine and road construction could be automated in the medium term, production facilities monitored more efficiently and general costs minimised.

The problem: there are still not enough experienced mechanics for the relatively new electric mobility technology. Troubleshooting defective or damaged vehicles can therefore be lengthy and cumbersome, with the mechanic having to constantly switch between the car and the manual - and this can take several hours. The solution: augmented reality allows the mechanic to see all the components of the car at a glance on their device, while a self-learning AI suggests the correct steps and memorises recurring defects. Thanks to 5G, the required data streams can be handled with ease.

5G thrives on the variety of possibilities.

Gerhard Mack, Head of Technology at Vodafone Germany

A future full of opportunities

The examples given here show only a fraction of the potential areas of application for 5G. "There is not just one 5G application. 5G thrives on the variety of possibilities. In industry and in everyday life. In large cities and in smaller regions," confirms Gerhard Mack, Head of Technology at Vodafone Germany.

And it doesn't always have to be science fiction scenarios: The new mobile communications standard is ideal as a fast replacement for slow DSL lines, for example. This is demonstrated by the Wasserschloss Mellenthin hotel on Usedom, which can now offer its guests speeds of 500 megabits per second thanks to the installation of the new GigaCube 5G - the first commercial 5G router in Germany. Simple and uncomplicated via mobile communications.

Whether smart cities, telemedicine or mobility - the fields of application for 5G are as diverse as the human need for communication. Especially in times of major social upheaval and far-reaching transformations, this is becoming clear: Thanks to advancing networking, you don't have to be a dreamer to be optimistic about the future.

5 questions for Michael Albrecht

5 questions for Michael Albrecht

5 questions for Michael Albrecht, Managing Director at A4VR

"5G is the game changer for AR and VR applications"

The smartphone has long since become the standard digital companion for both private and business use. It is now rumoured that augmented reality and virtual reality glasses could replace it in a few years' time. And augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are already starting to change our lives and the world of work. We talk about this with Michael Albrecht - co-founder and CTO at A4VR. The company specialises in the production of VR/AR content and has already implemented exciting applications in collaboration with Vodafone. Our topic: The current status quo in AR and VR, how these technologies are likely to develop and the relevance of 5G.

The short latencies and the high bandwidth are very important factors in being able to provide AR/VR content in high quality.

Michael Albrecht 
Managing Director at A4VR

Michael Albrecht is Co-Founder und Virtual-Reality-Evangelist seit dem ersten Tag, sowie CTO und Experte in interdisziplinären technischen Lösungen für immersive VR-Experiences. 

Most of us know AR and VR primarily from the gaming sector. But are there also potential applications for companies?

Michael Albrecht:
 Absolutely! Augmented reality is very often used when you need to keep your hands free to work, but need to keep an eye on current information, for example. For example, to support maintenance technicians or order pickers. The possibilities of virtual reality are even more exciting. Successful applications can be found in the training sector or in marketing.

VR glasses as an "empathy machine"?
This application is particularly interesting for NGOs and social projects, says Michael Albrecht.

What use cases are you primarily thinking of? Do you have any specific examples?

Michael Albrecht: For example, we have developed a VR application for a large German car manufacturer that supports the training of fire safety assistants. The employees train with VR glasses and adapted fire extinguishers in which we have installed sensors and VR controllers. This has a whole range of advantages: The employees really have the fire extinguisher, which weighs several kilos, in their hands and operate it realistically.

The learning effect that can be achieved in this way is many times greater than if you just watch a training video or a presentation. The training system can be set up in fifteen minutes and also simulates the heat of a fire and the smell of burning. Such multi-immersive experiences are anchored in the brain in a completely different way; touching and operating them forms what is known as "muscle memory". The training is much more realistic and learning is more fun with this modern technology. At the same time, many more people can be trained, especially as the fire extinguishers do not have to be refilled after the exercise and the extinguishing foam does not have to be cleaned up. This use case paid for itself after just two months.

Another example from the marketing sector is the use at trade fairs. For example, we realised a VR presentation for a major manufacturer of construction machinery, which presents solutions for supporting excavation pits. Previously, the company had really dug holes several metres deep into the ground at trade fairs - but that has narrow limits on an exhibition site. Virtual reality can also be used to simulate realistic excavation pits that are tens of metres wide. The sales staff at the trade fair were able to see on their tablets where the visitors were looking and were thus able to present different solutions from their product portfolio.

You mentioned that such presentations and training sessions also work well because they offer a certain experiential value.

Michael Albrecht: Definitely. And also more emotion. We know from learning research that content conveyed in this way "sticks" much better. The fact that the whole thing is fun also helps. This is known as "gamification", i.e. the incorporation of computer game elements into serious applications. Another successful example shows how important it is to convey content in a more emotional way: we built a small VR presentation for SOS Children's Villages and Kindernothilfe. Their employees, who collect donations on the street, offer to put on the VR glasses for a minute or two. We then show them what the aid projects in Nairobi, for example, actually look like. Viewers can literally immerse themselves in this unfamiliar world. I call this application an "empathy machine". Because the willingness of those who take part in this experience to donate increases dramatically compared to handing out flyers or putting up charts.

The more digital the business, the greater the benefits of AR/VR.

Michael Albrecht, Co-Founder and CTO, A4VR

Does the technology already offer enough power for useful applications? 

Michael Albrecht: Looking at today's useful applications, you almost have to say that the benefits are being realised despite limited resolutions and bulky glasses. The examples mentioned show why this is the case. It is already possible to simulate environments well enough to realistically represent requirements for employees, for example. For example, there is a training programme for nursery school teachers in which the children run around the person doing the training. Something like this can hardly be simulated in any other way, at least not with reasonable effort. 

There are also very exciting applications in the medical field, for example to train surgeons or for actual operations. Doctors can already move into CT scans or MRI images and look around in order to plan operations, for example. During training sessions, the simulation can be combined with haptic feedback, for example to feel the tissue when making a surgical incision. The fact that the graphics are not yet hyper-realistic does not detract from the added value. 

But if we imagine that in a few years' time, these and other applications will be so high-resolution that the pixels of the virtual graphics will no longer be recognisable, and that technologies such as artificial intelligence will then be added to these applications, then this shows the potential of this technology.

AR and VR are also frequently mentioned as important applications for 5G. Is the LTE successor really a game changer in this area?

Michael Albrecht: One hundred per cent. The short latencies and high bandwidth are very important factors in being able to provide AR/VR content in high quality. There is also another factor: in order to be accepted, AR/VR glasses will have to be very compact in the future. They should hardly look any different from normal sunglasses. They won't fit a computer with high computing and graphics power. Edge computing, which is increasing with 5G, is the ideal solution for this. Smaller, lighter, thinner glasses are then thin clients, so to speak, and the computing power is in the network. I always like to say that 5G will be the backbone of the holodeck. Star Trek fans will understand what I mean. I am convinced that 5G will open up this market across the board. And the quality that can be achieved with it will make a huge difference.