With the Winter Olympics 2018 slogan of “Passion. Connected.”, it is clear that there will be more than sport on show in PyeongChang. The Games will feature the world’s best in communications technologies to date. Here’s what to watch for.

What do the Olympic Games showcase? The first thought, and rightly so, would be that it showcases the very best in sporting talent. Athletes, from all corners of the earth, come together to compete on the largest stage. For some, it’s to be recognised as the best, for others, it’s the chance to represent their country, and for those watching, it’s a true spectacle. What many don’t realise is that the Olympic Games is also a spectacle of technological innovation.

Every time the Olympics come around, innovators showcase the latest achievements in technology. Why? Well, this most likely comes down to three factors: reach (the last Games, Rio de Janiero 2016 has an estimated 3.6Bn TV viewers worldwide), marketing (there are 73 official sponsors of the Games) and the tradition of showcasing the best. The Olympics has been a catalyst for innovation for years and has provided a platform for a dynamic communications evolution that has strived to continuously improve the customer experience. With PyeongChang 2018 around the corner, it has a lot to live up to.

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What’s On: PYEONGCHANG 2018

Since the 1960s, South Korea has transformed itself into a technological giant, a theme that has not been forgotten when promoting this year’s event. The slogan for this year’s Winter Olympics is “Passion. Connected”. This shows the intent from South Korea about the type of legacy it wants the Games to leave. The headline and supporting technology this year illustrates just how the Games will be connected, both for those at live events and those watching from home all over the world.

Faster, Stronger, Agile Networks: 5G & LTE-R

What has the communications world excited is 5G. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will launch the first broad-scale 5G network services. Intel and KT take a leading role at this year’s Games having collaborated to deliver the 5G network services, available to visitors at the Games, connecting them at speeds 40-50 times faster than 4G. It’s not just the athletes competing though as SK Telecom, a rival of KT, is also expected to demo 5G equipment, while a partnership involving the South Korean government and the EU will be funding a further 5G trial, peaking international interest. The headline 5G network service is expected to deliver optimised high-speed video distribution and live streamed immersive content. Visitors will be able to experience and connect with live events in new ways as 5G will be able to cater to the massive data demand required for enabling broadcasting experiences such as 360-degree Virtual Reality. KT have chosen the 28 GHz band, the leading high-frequency spectrum band for 5G, to run their services – we will be watching to see how the services perform during this 5G debut.

To make the Games more “connected” and not in just the broadcasting sense, Samsung launched its LTE-Railway network (LTE-R) of wireless broadband internet on a high-speed train that connects the capital, Seoul, with the Games. The network will connect visitors with the Games both virtually and physically much sooner than previously expected as they leave the capital.

Immersive Experiences: Virtual Reality, 4K, 8K & Translation

New communication technologies are only recognised as innovative by the quality of the experiences they enable. Up until now, Virtual Reality has been considered over-hyped compared to Augmented Reality. Could the Winter Games change that?

PyeongChang 2018 is expected to be the largest scale Virtual Reality event to date as Intel will capture a record 30 Olympic events thanks to 5G technology. Viewers at home will also have access to this broadcasting experience, in the US, NBC Sports is offering live and on-demand content for VR users via VR headsets and mobile devices. In terms of the action, “Time-Slice” will be used for figure skating and will capture athletes from various angles in a standstill view. “Sync-View” will be available in the Bobsleigh, broadcasting the event as if seen through the athlete’s eyes.

Complimenting 5G in creating this immersive experience is Artificial Intelligence technology. When competitors and visitors arrive from around world, “Genie-Talk” will be the official interpretation and translation application available. The application supports around 30 languages to truly connect everyone at the Games. For those not at Games, 4K and 8K broadcasting has been promised. Sharper images of the Games will enhance the viewers experience as Ceremonies and selected sports will be produced in Ultra High-Definition (4K). Perhaps as a hint of things to come for Tokyo 2020, some 90 hours will be produced in 8K Super High Vision (SHV) High Dynamic Range (HDR) and will be made available in Japan.

Next up: TOKYO 2020

From a technology point of view, PyeongChang 2018 could be a tough act to follow, however, the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, it marked the first-time that images had been broadcast in colour via satellite, a huge landmark. As a nation with a rich history of pioneering new technology, known as a champion of innovation and after teasing 8K broadcasting at PyeongChang 2018, Japan will be sure to showcase the very best. For example, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp have been trialling new immersive 3D tele-presence technology that transmits life-size images of athletes from the live event right to the user in a hologram-like experience, creating the illusion of being in front of the action. It will be exciting to see what the Tokyo Games has to offer when the time comes.

Sources: International Olympic Committee, Royal Television Society, Intel, KT Corporation, Samsung, Japan Times, Korea Times, Forbes, Statista, SK Telecom, IBC