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Nokia Explores MEC Applications for In-venue Mobile Services


Recent Nokia MEC Test at University of Notre Dame’s Hockey Rink Included AR

Smartphones are already an integral part of the fan experience at large sporting and entertainment events: snapping selfies and pictures of the action, sharing those photos on social media, tweeting their play-by-plays. Venue owners are looking to enhance that experience even more, through better mobile integration of way-finding and venue information, special access to content and augmented and virtual reality experiences.

Nokia tested those concepts recently in a trial of applications for multi-access edge computing at the University of Notre Dame Compton family Ice Arena with Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute. The tests relied on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks to provide high-capacity, low-latency wireless coverage: Nokia small cells and Wi-Fi access points, with Nokia’s MEC platform and its AirFrame server hosting the applications.

The amount of data being handled by large venues such as stadiums continues to rise quickly. At this year’s Super Bowl 51 in Houston, Tex., carriers reported usage ranging from 5 terabytes in and around the stadium during the game (Sprint) to 11 terabytes (AT&T). Each year, carriers boost their infrastructure at the Super Bowl stadium ahead of the game in order to handle the strain. Nokia’s MEC platform and its AirFrame server hosting the applications.

Joe Hammer, global alliances director for Nokia, said that Nokia is taking the approach that the venue itself is a platform for services. However, he said, large venues pose unique challenges because of the extreme density of users as well as the fact that traffic is often upload-heavy, and venue owners also need ways to monetize the network. In the Nokia test, the company was exploring how MEC could enable value-added services within the ice arena, which has about 5,000 seats and two rinks. The test also utilized both the arena’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

One feature that Nokia tested was video with Edge Video Orchestration: four streams, two high-definition, and two standard-definition, which were shown with less than 500 milliseconds of delay — fast enough, Hammer said, that fans at one end of the arena could get video shots of the other end in real-time and not notice a delay compared to the live-action. The proof-of-concept also included augmented reality with images were overlaid on devices via streamed video.

While this was tested in the ice arena, Hammer noted, Nokia was doing it with an eye toward how it could be used at, say, Notre Dame’s football stadium, or other venues such as Formula One races.

“It could create a new way for people to experience the game,” Hammer said. It could also create new sponsorship opportunities for those video streams, he added — and the content would need to be kept locally and not broadcast outside the stadium due to video rights issues. Similarly, he said, augmented reality could provide image overlays, video or audio clips for venue points of interest such as statues of famous players.

“You can make the stadium, or the venue, come alive,” said Hammer. “It’s pretty exciting, because it opens up the doors in many different areas to really monetize the network and to enhance the user experience — through way-finding, through making it more fun and engaging and getting the fans to go to the stadium.”

Hammer said that the approach could also be used for large factories with private LTE networks or Wi-Fi.

Jane Rygaard, head of advanced mobile network solutions marketing for Nokia, said that the conversation around mobile edge computing has evolved over recent years: from a concept that was considered “a little bit exotic” for putting extra computing power in single base stations, to a Taiwanese museum experimenting with AR and localized services that were meant to ease the strain on backhaul networks.

“The low-latency services have become more and more the discussion point and the trend,” said Rygaard, as well as the desire to keep some information local rather than in the cloud for security and privacy purposes. Hammer noted that even within a stadium, different video rights may be at play in the venue at large versus in the “red zone”, and in a health care context or due to international regulations, information may need to stay local rather than flow to the cloud. Meanwhile, in factory use cases, safety and control information may need to fuel fast reaction times that a low-latency MEC implementation could provide.

“MEC really offers 5G thinking, but we can do a lot of it today, and start building the right use cases to know what we’re aiming for with the 5G business cases as well,” Rygaard said.

— Kelly Hill for RCRWireless News

Originally published: RCRWireless News (June 28, 2017)