UK MNO EE and BT have ‘re-imagined’ watching sports, dance, music and theatre via some new VR and AR novelties.

In its latest pitch to sell the benefits of 5G to consumers, EE in collaboration with BT Sport has unveiled a series of prototype AR and VR ‘experiences’ mainly around sport. The actual specifics of what it is they are planning to make available to customers is left fuzzy, and instead the firm seems to be trying to describe some VR and AR concepts as a loose proxy for building demand for 5G.

This was apparently done via a series of demonstrations of ‘experiences’ at Saracen’s Rugby club in London, some elements of which the firm says are being further developed by BT Sport for launch in the future. The prototypes are apparently the first produce of an EE and BT Sport-led project called 5G Edge-XR , which is described as a vehicle to demonstrate ‘how the potential of EE’s 5G network, paired with cloud graphics processing units, can enable consumers to view events in a range of new, highly immersive ways.’

Rugby fans are promised ‘never-before-seen match insight and companion experiences’ via an app that provides mixed reality overlays on mobile devices and through AR headsets. These features include game data overlaid onto the players, ball trajectories, gain-line visuals, kick distances, possession data and alternative camera viewpoints.

BT/EE also promises to bring live boxing matches ‘from the ring into your living room’ – hyperbole which amounts to holographic representation of the boxers via volumetric video, which the firm suggest could take place on your coffee table as an accompaniment to the broadcast on screen. Something called ‘Hype Mode’ promises ‘fun, action-themed on-screen descriptions’ for key moments and ‘punch tracers’ lined with graphics, such as blazes of fire. Probably not one for the purists.

For MotoGP, a prototype of an immersive race is described, using a virtual multi-screen viewing suite with 17 different video panels which would show the race helicopter view, bike-cams on up to seven different bikes, replays, leader-boards, and other such info. And moving from sport to the arts, the firm explained ‘5G and AR can be used to transform the way we watch live and recorded performances of dance, music and theatre’. This apparently takes the form of live-streamed AR dance classes (pictured), led by a remote dancer presented as another volumetric hologram projected into your living room.

“Our work at Adastral Park alongside world-class innovators including BT Sport and our 5G Edge-XR partners demonstrates how EE’s 5G network can support services that deliver uncompromised audio and visuals,” said Lisa Perkins, Research Realisation Director at BT. “We’re excited to be unveiling experiences that could transform sports, culture, and the arts as well as demonstrating the benefits 5G can bring to people and businesses.”

Jamie Hindhaugh, CEO of BT Sport added: “EE and BT are again demonstrating the powerful creative and operational benefits that 5G technology can bring to sports and broadcast. These new experiences, which capitalise on the breadth of broadcast and mobile expertise across BT and EE, re-affirm the important role that 5G will play in re-imagining how sport is watched both at stadia and via television.”

While it’s probably a bit tricky doing things like this justice in the written form, it’s sometimes hard to imagine holographic dancers and AR headsets displaying 100 different elements of a race catching on in a meaningful way, and you have to ask how intrinsic 5G really is to such home-based viewing experiences even if they were desirable.

It’s not the first time EE has used such concepts to talk about 5G, and they’re certainly not alone in doing so. One of the things you noticed when walking around the halls of Mobile World Congress last week was lots of VR headsets. There were VR rollercoasters, VR dancing arenas, VR car driving experiences, and more besides – all served up not by gaming hardware firms looking to show off the cutting edge of the video games industry, but by telcos looking to demonstrate what 5G can do.

Until some killer app or type of service that intrinsically uses 5G to provide something that otherwise couldn’t be done presents itself, it looks VR and AR will continue to be the go to use cases the telco industry leans on to drum up consumer demand for 5G. We have sympathy, because right now the alternative would be to talk about stats and speeds. But you could be forgiven for being sceptical as to whether any of this stuff is actually something many people will end up using 5G for.

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