Networks enable an up-close Vendée Globe experience

On 8 November 2020, the 33 skippers who took part in the 2020–2021 edition of the Vendée Globe launched out to sea for a non-stop round-the-world race lasting several months. Although they went alone, millions of people were able to enjoy the on-board experience, almost as if they were there themselves.

"Reimagining and enriching fans’ approach to outdoor events with immersive experiences, transforming the relationship between spectators and sport."

While the Vendée Globe is above all the most prestigious solo round-the-world sailing race and an exceptional adventure for the skippers taking part, it is also a tremendous occasion for innovation and an opportunity to reinvent the way large-scale outdoor sporting events are experienced by the general public.

Planning under extraordinary circumstances

Orange Events, the Group’s entity that is specialised in putting on connected events—not only in the area of sports, but also cultural and institutional events, etc.—was the partner of the 2020–2021 edition. The race, which draws many fans to the docks before and at the start of the event, took on an even more exceptional aspect due to the context of the health crisis. It had a ‘socially distanced’ starting line, giving unique publicity to the tools and solutions designed by Orange Events for the event. “We provide, in sum, all the connectivity services, including image transmission”, explains Pierre-Louis de Guillebon, CEO of Orange Events. “This type of project of course requires planning several months in advance, and we began under difficult circumstances at the start of 2020. We sent a team of around ten people to the site, overseen by a global project manager and a production manager, to supervise the installation of all the necessary equipment — fibre, Wi-Fi, routers, antennas etc. With the tightening of the health restrictions, we set up an ad hoc team to continue the work and reinforce the Wi-Fi coverage of the starting line and mobile coverage on the ocean, for which we carried out a specific radio study.”

From connectivity to immersion

In addition to connectivity, the system designed by Orange Events was used to provide image services, based on two innovations outlined by Bertrand Rojat, Chief Marketing & Innovation Director: “The first is the immersive and interactive coverage of the event in Twitch mode, to film the race from the inside and interact with the skippers: the Immersiv Race solution. The boats of Samantha Davies, Romain Attanasio and Armel Tripon were equipped with mini-cameras (durable smartphones) for live broadcasting on social networks. The broadcast is supported by 4G mobile connectivity, via a Cloud TV production platform allowing viewers to select cameras, add comments and so on. This unprecedented production method opens up a world of possibilities, as it can be adapted to all outdoor sports environments and even more situations, thanks to the minor resources required in terms of cost and implementation. The second solution, the Virtual Tour, allows people to virtually visit the key event areas, for example the pontoons. Through a dedicated app, they can connect with someone on site, equipped with a 360° camera with duplex audio system. The spectator can rotate the image from their device simply by dragging their finger.”

From internal synergies to gems from the ecosystem

These new experiences, which have already attracted more than a million spectators, were created with the help of partners within the Orange Group and in the broader ecosystem. For example, the technical players at Orange France and the local intervention unit helped to deploy the connectivity system. For the immersive aspect, the Group’s Innovation teams brought their know-how by testing the livestreaming solution and adapting one of their applications, called Livecall 360, to the events organisation context. Several start-ups also shared their expertise, such as DAZZL with its Cloud platform-control room dedicated to live TV production using lightweight capture capabilities, and Idviu for the virtual visit app. The durable mobiles were designed by the French company Crosscall.

A more ambitious tomorrow

The success met by these solutions, in addition to that of the virtual race, highlights the general public’s appetite for new experiences and new ways to watch major events. “Our offer is reimagining and enriching fans’ approach to outdoor events in general, compared to traditional means and media”, conclude Pierre-Louis de Guillebon and Bertrand Rojat. “The relationship between spectators and sport is changing. And with 5G, we will be able to further refine the experience and extend the offer to the mass market to apply it to other types of events beyond the sporting world, such as music and concerts.” Music lovers will be able to have a front seat to the show, but remotely!

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With 5G, XR experiences increasingly inclusive and accessible to all

Live streaming has become increasingly widespread. With the addition of 5G, this service can be dramatically improved at all levels, including image quality, download times, interruptions and lag. Faced with today’s generations’ enthusiasm for live feeds, researchers are now working to adapt live streaming TV so it can be done on the go. The Goal: Lag-Free Live Streams Getting closer to what’s happening live is one of the main challenges in the field of live streaming. Yet, streaming over the Internet using Wi-Fi or 4G still results in a lag of 30, 40 or even 50 seconds on tablets or smartphones. This lag will particularly hit home for any soccer fans who have ever heard their neighbor watching TV and cheering for a goal they haven’t seen yet. It also affects participants in time-limited interactive TV game shows and televised broadcasts by figures of authority in relation to announcements, alerts or disasters, for example. Ensuring service continuity, particularly when faced with high demand, is another challenge of live streaming. At Orange Innovation, researchers are therefore thinking about how they can make improvements in the field of TV streaming on the go, using a combination of 5G, video streaming technologies (multicast, low latency), network bandwidth allocation (network slicing) and edge computing. Their work has primarily focused on mutualizing streams; a key way of saving bandwidth. Dominique Thômé, Product Manager Innovation Data TV, explains that “Unlike unicast technology, which broadcasts streams as many times as there are simultaneous connections, multicast should allow a single stream to be broadcast to thousands of people connected to a large 5G zone. This mutualization prevents bandwidth loss and, consequently, service interruptions from network congestion. Another advantage, which is of great importance to Orange, is that it consumes less energy and therefore contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recognizing the Know-How of Carriers Experiments carried out in the Orange laboratory have yielded interesting results. A real-time readjustment of video quality to prevent network saturation resulted in each customer being able to watch TV with only five seconds of lag, confirming the feasibility of 5G live streaming on the go. In fact, faced with ever-increasing volumes, some broadcasters are beginning to turn to carriers to broadcast their TV streams. They need players that are able to transmit this huge amount of data while ensuring optimal quality, in order to avoid any latency problems. Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Innovation for Interactive & Multiscreen Services at Orange says that “Our pioneering approach toward 5G live streaming highlights the valuable role that network carriers play, right at the heart of the system, compared to OTT players (“over the top,” such as the Tech Giants), both in terms of technology and business. We will be able to get involved in data transmission, with optimal mutualization technology that will save money and energy.” These technologies are consistent with Orange’s CSR commitment, both in terms of carbon footprint (lower energy consumption) and inclusion (broadcasting the right information at the right time). More than Just Entertainment The challenge goes far beyond the traditional TV broadcasting market itself. In the context of the health crisis, brands have been quick to understand the value of live streams to generate sales and are starting to venture into “Live Shopping.” Originating from China, this large-scale approach to teleshopping consists of an online event where presenters, influencers or personalities showcase products live to a digital audience who are able to order products or ask questions. Live Shopping is attracting more and more brands around the world. “With hundreds of thousands of people connected at the same time, its large scale will certainly create capacity issues” says Thômé. “This is another case where mutualization will ensure quality of service.”

How 5G Is Revolutionizing Live Streaming