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Orange takes sporting chance with 5G

The Orange Vélodrome has been turned into a testing ground for 5G services using 26GHz spectrum and AWS edge computing technology.

Anne Morris

October 31, 2022

6 Min Read
Orange takes sporting chance with 5G

The Stade Vélodrome soccer stadium in Marseille, home to the Olympique de Marseille (OM) soccer team, has undergone a number of makeovers over the decades, most recently in 2014 when it was transformed into a stadium capable of hosting international matches during Euro 2016.

Now known as Orange Vélodrome, the stadium has been sponsored by the French telecom group since 2016. Although Orange is reluctant to reveal how much it is spending on the sponsorship deal, French media reports have previously estimated the annual cost at about €2.5 million (US$2.94 million) over ten years.

For Orange, the stadium offers much more than a useful branding opportunity. Indeed, the group has built an Orange Lab close to the top, with sweeping views of the pitch and stands with capacity for 67,000 people.

Figure 1: The Velodrome in Marseille has become a 5G experimentation zone for Orange. (Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading) The Vélodrome in Marseille has become a 5G experimentation zone for Orange.
(Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading)

Since 2019, a public Wi-Fi network with precisely 1,041 Cisco access points has been available for all fans. At the end of the same year, Orange Business Services (OBS) formed a partnership with OM's technology and innovation team to install a private 5G network at the venue.

Today, the Orange Vélodrome is not only a location for displays of footballing skills; it's also used as a live experimentation platform for 5G services and applications. In effect, Orange is operating two 5G networks in Marseille: the main commercial network on the 3.5GHz band and a private, experimental network in the stadium using a test 26GHz license.

Test zones

Orange received an authorization from Arcep at the beginning of 2019 to experiment on the 26GHz band in different locations, since extended to 2023. The operator is currently conducting tests at Orange Gardens in Chatillon, Rennes railway station and Rennes hospital.

Marseille has also been a live site for the 26GHz band since June 2021 and three antennas have been installed in the Orange Vélodrome. The private network covers specific points inside the stadium to enable the development of new fan, media, photography and press experiences as opposed to achieving network coverage throughout the whole stadium. Orange also tests cross-platform compatibility with Nokia and Ericsson.

The private network is not accessible from any devices other than the ones used for the demos at Orange Lab. Orange is also able to test certain applications using the 3.5GHz spectrum, enabling it to gauge performance when 67,000 fans are all crowded into one space.

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Also installed in the stadium is AWS Outpost for edge networking. As noted by Guillaume Chabas, head of business innovation and partnerships at Orange Business Services, the edge networking technology is only being used to test B2B services and applications.

"We are not using edge today on the commercial segment, because we don't have any use cases today," Chabas said. "That's why we are testing everything on the private network," with a focus on B2B.

To be sure, operators are still very much in the early stages in terms of realizing profitable use cases based on 5G.

Paolo Pescatore, a tech, media and telco analyst at PP Foresight, agreed that the industry is "still at an early phase of 5G rollout and the promise of true 5G is yet to be realized. There's been a lot of hype around 5G, with telcos having invested billions in acquiring spectrum and rolling out networks. While the business model among consumers is unproven, there are plentiful revenue opportunities with enterprises."

Apps on show

Meanwhile, visitors to the Orange Lab in the Orange Vélodrome are able to get hands-on experiences with some of the services and apps under development.

For example, with Robot Player, a guest on the terrace can control and guide a 5G robot located in the players' corridor towards the edge of the pitch, enabling interaction with players. The technology used here is commercial 5G in the 3.5GHz band and Sony-specific devices (Alpha 1 camera and Xperia Pro smartphone). The "hack a robot" test, on the other hand, carried out in collaboration with AXYN Robotique and Orange Cyberdefense, aims to train experts and strengthen robot safety.

Figure 2: A 5G robot for interacting with players cleverly disguised as a vacuum cleaner. (Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading) A 5G robot for interacting with players cleverly disguised as a vacuum cleaner.
(Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading)

Other tests include Take a smile, where photographers take pictures of fans from the pitch that are instantly displayed on both giant screens in the stadium. This test uses 5G 26GHz and Sony experimental devices. La Vitre enables guests to speak directly with players, while Shoot a Player enables photos of players taken by a professional photographer on the pitch to be automatically tagged and filtered according to the players and the clothes and brands they are wearing. Here, the technology used is 5G 26GHz with Sony's Alpha 1 and an experimental smartphone, AWS edge computing and artificial intelligence-based technology from Newsbridge.

Finally, Augmented Match allows guests to enjoy a digital and immersive experience while watching the match: player data is captured by cameras and superimposed on a fan's 5G smartphone. This test also uses 5G 26GHz with AWS edge computing, computer vision from StatsPerform and mixed reality from Immersiv.io.

Figure 3: A differentiated 5G smartphone experience after all? (Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading) A differentiated 5G smartphone experience after all?
(Source: Anne Morris/Light Reading)

While the trials are very much in experimentation mode, Pescatore said the "sheer volume going on behind the scenes should not be understated."

"Along with the 5G Labs, the Orange Vélodrome serves as an important testbed for future networks and service delivery of content for other verticals as well as other big sporting events over the coming years," he said.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Anne Morris

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Anne Morris is a freelance journalist, editor and translator. She has been working in the telecommunications sector since 1996, when she joined the London-based team of Communications Week International as copy editor. Over the years she held the editor position at Total Telecom Online and Total Tele-com Magazine, eventually leaving to go freelance in 2010. Now living in France, she writes for a number of titles and also provides research work for analyst companies.

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