A development team at the University of Strathclyde have successfully pioneered next generation mobile connectivity technology in a ‘world first’ for the field of motorsport.

Engineers helped bring live segments to a worldwide audience using a 5G handheld camera at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix, MotoGP, at the iconic Silverstone circuit.

The researchers, at the university’s software defined radio (SDR) lab, worked with BT Sport, Dorna and Vislink on the technology, which is set to transform sports broadcasting into a more immersive experience.

Using the same technology trialled in the test bed in partnership with Scotland 5G, the team re-created a standalone 5G shared spectrum network at Silverstone. 

This network covered the pit lane, paddock and starting grid, and technology partner Vislink supplied a 5G wireless camera and on-board motorcycle uplink to the 5G network.

Viewers saw the broadcast courtesy of Dorna Sports’ production and BT Sport, delivered via the world’s first stand-alone private network for sports broadcasting using shared spectrum in the 3.8 to 4.2 GHz.

The successful demonstration paves the way to create more use cases for live sport. Using a private 5G network for regional football teams, for example, could transform the fan experience by bringing them closer to the action, and offer spectator angle camera interaction. Ultimately on-field and even on-player camera positions will be used.

The technology demonstrator also opens up ideas and future opportunities for use by event organisers in remote and rural communities.  

Paul Coffey, chief executive, Scotland 5G Centre, said: “This collaboration between academia and industry partners is one of the enablers to help drive the adoption of 5G. This use case demonstrates a network that was first trialled in a lab based test bed and then taken into the field for demonstration and showcase.”

“5G private networks have the potential to revolutionise how we cover live sports in the future. Remote production using 5G will be a more efficient method of producing live sports and events, and perhaps by adding some customer interaction this can improve the live experience at the venue. Another possibility, already trialled in the US, is the ability to get the view of the best seat in the house alongside your allocated seat.  

“The most exciting part for Scotland and the Centre’s work is perhaps the remote and rural opportunity. Private and shared spectrum 5G has the potential to make the event coverage process accessible for smaller sports clubs, teams and rural hosted events like mountain-biking and bring spectators closer to the live-action, whether they are at the event, in the town or part of the diaspora watching from somewhere else in the world.” 

Malcolm Brew, the 5G projects team least at StrathSDR, University of Strathclyde, said: “We have been working on 5G private network design for remote media production alongside broadcast partners. At Silverstone, we operated on Ofcom’s shared spectrum band, which are radio frequencies set aside for public use, and were able to demonstrate this expertise and capability in a high pressure and real situation.  

“5G can enhance the viewer experience, while the new camera angles can bring fans closer to the action. The availability of spectrum can also transform how all fans watch and interact with each live game and can bring control of 5G networks to local communities.  

“We’re particularly excited about the transformational opportunities 5G offers to live action from international to grassroots sports in rural communities.” 

Radio frequency engineering manager Noemi Lacasa from Dorna Sports, S.L, said: “It was really exciting to be part of the world’s first stand-alone 5G network thanks to the collaboration between BT Sport, Vislink, the University of Strathclyde and Dorna. 

“This case study allowed us to learn a lot and gain a better understanding of the future possibilities for 5G private networks in live sports broadcasting.”

Strathclyde’s participation in this world first 5G live production came about through the acclaimed IBC Accelerator Media Innovation Programme, a collaboration of 15 global broadcast leaders to experiment with and understand oncoming 5G capabilities.