The Tour De France is the world’s most well-known cycling race and a monumental challenge for broadcasters. The TM Forum, through its Catalyst programme, set out to examine how 5G technology could be used to cover the event. 

This year, tthe Tour De France generated 105 hours of live coverage with 190 countries broadcasting the race between 176 riders who covered a total of 3,351 kilometres in front of approximately 12 million spectators along the route. The race had 21 stages across different terrain and conditions with 60 kilometres of AV cable for media coverage at the finish of each stage.

Tour de France 18 Radu Razvan-Shutterstockcom

Tour de France 2018

As such, the technical challenges of delivering lives feeds, streaming, telemetry and drones for broadcasting the race live meant there was appetite for examining how 5G technology could be used to meet the demands of coverage with intelligent service planning and optimisation.

The Tour de France was an ideal case study for the TM Forum and its partners, which set out to illustrate how 5G technology could be leveraged to enhance the viewing and fan experience of the world famous cycle race.

TM Forum
The TM Forum is a global communication industry association driving digital business transformation through collaboration and innovation. It was started 30 years ago by technology architects from newly privatised telecommunication companies including AT&T, British Telecom and Telecom Canada.

They identified common requirements for business and operational support systems as a neutral not-for-profit body to support software vendors and systems integrators. Today, the Forum has more than 850 members and works to deliver collective work programmes that unite global organisations to address current issues from 5G, open APIs, AI and cloud management.

At the heart of the collaborative R&D, the Catalyst programmes aim to demonstrate digital transformation to the benefit of a business and how this can be achieved by implementing standards-base solutions in real-world scenarios.

A Catalyst team consists of a minimum of four vendors (participants) who are willing to work together to create and demonstrate a multi-party solution to an industry problem. In addition, the team needs at least one end users (champion) to provide requirements and validate findings.

Enhancing the Tour de France with 5G
The Tour de France was the ideal case study because of the unique challenges in connectivity and coverage across live linear and OTT broadcasts. The technical features of 5G provided a means of having immersive experiences through 4K and HD TV with real-time feeds and updates.

The Tour de France Catalyst brought together software vendors and telecos including Orange, Telecom Italia, AT&T, Telenor, NTT, KDDI and Vodafone who participated in providing the use case which was aligned with the same objective.

Speaking during the IBC365 webinar on accelerating innovation across media and entertainment, Mycom Osi Senior Director Product Management Yoann Foucher outlined the aim of the Catalyst for the Tour de France 5G project.

Partnering to foster innovation
IBC has partnered with the TM Forum to give media and telco convergence projects prominence as the union of the two sectors accelerates.

TM Forum Chief Executive Nik Willetts said: ”Today, the media industry faces many of the same challenges as established telecoms companies, as OTT internet companies take more and more of the available revenue. The increasing need to innovate quickly has seen engagement in the Forum’s Catalyst programme accelerate fast.”

The Media-Telecom Catalyst innovation programme was a designed solution targeted to accelerate innovation across media and entertainment and pursue the opportunities and address the challenges new technologies including 5G, IoT, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) have on immersive viewing experience to sports fans.

A catalyst is a short project around three months in duration set up by a group of companies designing proof of concepts to address industry challenges and showcasing success stories to the wider industry.

The Media-Telecom Catalyst programme established with IBC will typically see broadcasters play the champion role in a Catalyst to get the proof of concept developed for key business challenges in a timely and cost effective manner.

TM Forum EVP Collaboration and Innovation Dr Andy Tiller said: “Catalyst projects pull resources, skills and insight from multiple companies working collaboratively which offers several advantages compared to typical inhouse research and development efforts.”

The ability to pool together resources is not only cost effective but produces results faster, he explains: “The solutions tend to be more innovative because they build on ideas from many different perspectives from the companies involved.”

Foucher said: “5G technology is by-design for the industry which allows the ability for certain industry verticals like the media industry to control how the network is sliced and used.

“That will be a key enabler for industries to monetise and get the benefits of the digital transformation.”

The Tour de France made use of the 5G network slicing concept which created logical slices of the network with dedicated traffic constraints and resources.

“In the Catalyst the slices for specific types were automatically created and maintained to guarantee the quality of the service on three main application types,” Foucher explained.

These include:

  • 4K HD TV coverage to motorbike cameras and drone delivered content. Guaranteed quality through constant tuning of the allocated resources and position of the drone as well as some other pieces
  • Collecting and distributing real time telemetric feeds coming from the race riders, proving race statistics inserted into live video streaming content and social feeds
  • The final slice was dedicated to 5G phone users which were located on the side of the road so they could consume live streaming content

IBC2018: TM Forum Chief Executive Nik Willetts talks to IBC TV

The project used cutting edge technology, had multiple participants, employed drones to work across one of the most complicated live sporting events and has been attributed as one of the most successful Catalyst programmes.

Explaining the challenges, Foucher said the time differences and project management buy-in from those involved across the technical and operational areas was one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.

Foucher concluded: “The Catalyst was realised through multiple systems which were involved in order to orchestrate the deployment and monitoring of constant tuning of the slices to maintain the agreed quality of service on the customer experience.”

Access to data was another challenging aspect.

He said: “Access to real data or simulated data in order to illustrate the use cases was an interesting challenge and the technical integration across many different platforms and systems in different environments including the cloud.”

The programme saw two key outcomes.

Foucher elaborated: “First we illustrated and provided a use case based approach as to how digital spectrum experiences can benefit from 5G features and we found that is a great way to engage with the users and 5G will be user driven given its flexibility and programmability.

“The second was the fact we demonstrated business agility using orchestration and automation across multiple IT network systems across the TM Forum assets, specifically information models and APIs.”

The benefit here is this model can be reused across many verticals which do not necessarily have the same structure for systems integration.

“The Catalyst was important to improve this specific vertical integration,” Foucher added.

“The last key outcome was the fact we demonstrated and explored further levels of integration and collaboration between open source and closed sourced communication service providers.

“It showed collaboration is a key success factor to managing flexible systems.”