Author(s): Paolo Pescatore
Orange has been a partner of the Roland-Garros tennis championship in France for 17 years. As part of this relationship, the telecom provider has been working very closely with the French Tennis Federation to bring novel features and services to one of the sport's most prestigious Grand Slam tournaments. This year was no exception, and I had the privilege to go behind the scenes at the event to experience some of the innovative services that Orange was showcasing.
One of its most impressive initiatives was a virtual reality experience called Holotennis. This allowed me to play a game of tennis against a holographic opponent, Jamie Davies from telecoms.com, who was in a different location, connected to the application through Orange's fibre network. We were equipped with a HTC Vive headset and hand controllers to be able to interact with each other on a virtual model of the Philippe-Chatrier court. The battle then begun and we took turns to serve and win a point.
Although I lost the match, the virtual reality experience made up for my disappointment. It was one of the most immersive applications I've seen so far, and I was also impressed by how well it performed in real time. The use of this technology highlights the needs for robust networks, be they fibre or wireless as we move toward 5G. Importantly, the game allows users to play with others remotely on some of the most famous courts in the world. Of course this could be extended to other sports and other areas.
The experience gave me a sense of what the future holds for live broadcasting. By integrating live game statistics into the feed, such as service speed, it somewhat builds on the popularity of e-sports — an area that has shown tremendous potential and sparked a lot of interest.
In addition to offering virtual reality and 360-degree video, Orange also allowed visitors a different view of Roland-Garros, taking them behind the scenes to show how the venue has changed over the years, and how it will look in the future when the roof over its main court is completed.
Finally, Orange is also working with the French Tennis Federation to analyse crowd movement during the tournament. The operator developed a system that uses live cameras and processes images on its network in real time to capture visitor attendance, with the aim of optimising spectators' journeys, reduce waiting times and offer better navigation around the site.
These initiatives, along with Orange's close involvement with the Tour de France, underline the value that it and other telecom companies can deliver to a global audience through connectivity as well as new services. Unlike some rivals, Orange is certainly not spending huge sums on content, but it's taking a smart approach to partnerships to demonstrate its technical expertise.
I look forward to hearing more about the operator's plans for the forthcoming Tour de France, as it looks to top its 2017 efforts (see Orange's Tour de Force). It's also hoping to explore ways of deploying technologies like virtual reality and 5G to broadcast action from remote parts of the country. Fifth-generation wireless services pose an opportunity for telecom operators to partner with broadcasters to provide video contribution link to complement their satellite feeds. And let's not forget the opportunities for viewers to interact with the Tour de France through augmented reality. Exciting times lie ahead for sure!
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