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2018 Winter Olympic Games may medal in technology

The PyeongChang Olympic Village (Courtesy IOC Media)

I’m thousands of miles away from the Winter Olympic Games action in PyeongChang, South Korea, and, yet I feel somehow close to the action.

It could be the non-stop promotion on NBC or, perhaps, it’s all…that..technology.

These Olympic Games, which run from February 8 through the 25th, will features everything from virtual reality and drones to cloud-based technology and apps, and, yes, 5G.

The sponsors are, to an extent, the who’s who of the tech: Intel, Samsung, Panasonic, Toyota, Atos. Okay, maybe not Atos, but the IT company is pulling off a singular feat at the Olympics: managing all the sprawling event’s IT needs through the cloud. Sexy? No. Cool? Extremely. Especially when you consider the scale and scope of the Winter Olympic Games. There are dozens of countries competing in over 100 events held across more than a dozen different venues, the largest of which, PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, holds 35,000 people. All of it will be broadcast around the world and on myriad platforms and forms.

Attendees and Winter Olympics enthusiasts around the world will be using the Olympic App (built by Samsung, which also introduced a special-edition Galaxy Note 8 for the Olympics) to track the schedule, results, medal standings and social media from the games. It will also let users customize the app to track just the sports and events you care about.

Drones from Intel will be used to both entertain during the opening ceremonies on Friday (expect to see at least 500 sub-one-pound, intelligent fliers in the sky at once, likely creating dazzling in-the-air animations and recreating the Olympic rings, similar to what Intel pulled off at the 2017 Super Bowl) and to capture and share some of the action. The Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) plans to use specially-equipped Intel Falcon 8+ System Drone to capture aerial footage of the games.

Intel’s Falcon 8+ System Drone (Courtesy of Intel)

Earlier this year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) execs assured me that, when using drones during Winter Olympic Games, safety will remain “a number one priority,” and they only plan to use drones if the athletes are comfortable with them flying overhead.

This will also be the first Olympic Games that will use virtual reality to put fans inside the action in real time. Intel is deploying its True VR system so those with supporting VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Daydream can watch up to 30 events live or on-demand in VR, including Men’s Snowboarding Half-pipe, Women’s Ice Hockey, and Curling (for those who can’t quite handle the in-your-face intensity of, say, the giant slalom). Many of the VR viewing options will be video on demand, like Friday’s Men’s Ski Jump.

Of all these tech integrations, none will be as closely watched as the 5G network. Backed by South Korea’s KT mobile network and integrated by, among others, Intel, it may be the first time much of the world sees a 5G network function at scale.

If you don’t think 5G is important, then you’re not paying attention. The 4G networks we and our smartphones currently enjoy operate at, if you’re lucky, max speeds of one gigabit per second. 5G (for fifth Generation) tops out at 10 gigabits per second. It also significantly cuts down on latency.

Not only is 5G expected to transform the mobile landscape, it will help connect our ever-expanding array of smart devices. And the reality of The Winter Olympics’ 5G integration is that it will not be floating between dozens of towers and thousands of 5G-enabled handsets. Virtually no one has 5G phones.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy explained that the Winter Olympics 5G will be used to beam high-bandwidth data around the venue. It will stand in for fiber where that kind of cable is impractical. So, it will be the spectacle that no one can see, until they see the data show up on the other end of a virtual pipe (on a screen somewhere).

“In the real, non-event world, point-to-point 5G will be used to replace fiber to the home and businesses. It will connect data between smart city light poles, too,” Moorhead wrote me in an email.

Intel will do its best to make 5G real for attendees by hosting a live demonstration of the wireless technology in specially-equipped cars (it’s part of the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform they launched late last year) situated around the Olympic Village, but that will be for the handful of people lucky enough to attend the Winter Olympic Gamess in person.

The Winter Olympic Games are “about excellence,” said IOC President Thomas Bach a few months ago, “but also about connecting people and having people sharing this common experience and people making of this experience of what it means to feel the Olympic spirit.”

And what better way to connect people to that Olympic spirit than through lots and lots of technology. Let the tech…er…games begin.

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