Olympic Speed Trials

For Tech Fans, the 2018 Winter Games Should Be Spectacular

With the slogan “Passion. Connected.” the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be full of ceremony and impressive accomplishments for speed and style. In addition to hosting sports like skating, skiing and shooting, the event will be the first major public showing for fifth-generation wireless technologies. As luck will have it, the coming Olympics are being held in countries with a talent for technology development, commercialisation and adoption, giving 5G the world’s most fantastic stage.

To be clear, when the Winter Olympics open in February 2018, there won’t be official 5G. The first specifications for the technology aren’t released by the 3GPP until June 2018, so the many technical demonstrations will be pre-standard, but this doesn’t mean sub-standard. There will be an impressive show of technical force by South Korean wireless operators.

KT, formerly Korea Telecom, is an official sponsor of the PyeongChang Olympics and has been working hard to develop and promote this status. Its wireless rivals LG Uplus and SK Telecom aren’t event sponsors and won’t be strutting their stuff at the games, but they’ll be running their own 5G technology demonstrations in other parts of the country, taking advantage of the Olympic press pull.

The event will allow KT and its compatriot companies to impress the world with their technical talent as a matter of national pride and economic development: there’s a 5G winners’ podium here that will be about patent royalties and technology adoption.

The 2018 Winter Games, being called the first-ever 5G Olympics, will also be filled with 360-degree cameras. This includes very small connected cameras attached to heads and sleds, providing the audience with video in 360 degrees — something that Formula 1 teams have been experimenting with recently. For example, this would enable those watching a bobsled run using a virtual reality headset to view the event as if they were on the track, and broadcasters to easily choose the angle viewers see, switching from the faces of the bobsled team to the run ahead. KT will also offer self-driving buses equipped with 5G connectivity to people visiting the Olympic village. The vehicles will offer displays providing 360-degree views of ongoing events.

Although PyeongChang will showcase some potential uses of 5G, they will be pre-commercial services. The Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 will be on the other side of standardisation, using approved specifications. If PyeongChang will be a pre-game show for the connectivity technology, Tokyo will be the first lap of the race. DoCoMo will be working its 5G magic at the 2020 games.

There’s a history of demonstrating new technologies at Olympic Games, which then become mainstream consumer products. The 1936 games in Berlin were broadcast for TV and the 1964 event in Tokyo was shown in live colour. In both cases, there was a limited number of devices in use to support these advances. Nevertheless, the Olympics have become a major venue, not only for sports, but also for emerging technologies.

South Korea and Japan aren’t alone in the race to 5G and associated technology. China, Europe and the US among other nations are also keeping pace, but for people who follow the mobile industry closely, February 2018 will be the start of the fun, no matter where they’re from. Stay tuned.