As part of the DCMS 5G Testbed and Trials programme, the Connected Cowes project set out to build a new 5G network covering the waters of the Solent and - using the world-famous Cowes Week sailing regatta as a testbed - evaluate ways in which 5G-based technologies could significantly enhance the delivery of spectator experiences at non-stadium sporting events, build new revenue streams and support the creation of innovative education resources.
Among the project’s successes having measurable benefit were:
- Completion of the initial phase of a Solent-area 5G network, providing the basis for further development to support the world-famous Cowes Week regatta and deliver lasting value to the wider Solent maritime sector.
- New Cowes Week App and TV production assets developed which leveraged the power of 5G to bring ground-breaking facilities such as remote cameras, onboard 360° cameras and sensors and virtual reality viewing to the Cowes Week regatta, significantly improving the event experience for both local and remote spectators and generating a high level of interest among potential sponsors and commercial partners.
- Development of a novel 5G-enabled 360° camera solution, which has considerable commercial potential beyond the project for both sailing and other non-stadium sports and all-weather activities.
- New national-curriculum-aligned STEM education resources for Key Stages 3 and 4 (11- 16 years) delivered to bring alive the science of sailing through unique content enabled by the project’s 5G technologies.
Key lessons learnt from the project included:
- The difficulties encountered by Connected Cowes with the deployment of UK-sourced 5G equipment suggests that there is work still to be done on realising the targets of the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy and reducing dependence on established telecoms suppliers such as Nokia and Ericsson.
- Ofcom spectrum licenses and wayleaves for mast installations took far longer to acquire than anticipated.
- VR headsets coupled with 5G-enabled 360° cameras have significant potential to dramatically change the way spectators and fans consume sporting content, particularly for non-stadium events. However, current consumer and prosumer camera devices are largely unsuitable for all-day, all-weather, autonomous operation, while the unforgiving nature of VR headsets demands a high-quality, high-bandwidth source. These factors together mean that a custom solution is required to realise the full potential of this immersive content - especially in a live environment.