When you think of 5G, it’s easy to think about mobile phones; quicker streaming; incredibly high-level technology that will affect everything from AR to industry. What you probably don’t think about? Basketball matches.

Which, it turns out, is a big mistake. Huge. Because we’re now seeing exactly what impact AR overlays can have on your viewing experience thanks to the stadium sports app that Deutsche Telekom x ForwardGame x SmartMobileLabs have brought out for use at leading German basketball team Telekom Baskets Bonn’s games. This is now available for general release, so you can download your own version — but the app is designed to be used in a specific location and at specific times, which, in practice, means you can only use all the features if you’re at the Telekom Dome during the home games played there.

The AR overlay within the App, as seen by the spectator (Copyright: DTAG, Telekom Baskets)

While there are other apps in Germany which offer users information about different sports leagues and clubs, there are no other German sports apps which provide augmented reality gaming or which offer real-time streaming of different camera perspectives, including constantly updating data about the players. Even if you schlep across the Atlantic and download the NBA’s live sports app, even this doesn’t allow for streaming in real-time (according to Geekwire, the app offers a stream which is currently delayed by two minutes which given the speed of most basketball games, feels like a considerable lag).

Bereits während der Saisonvorbereitung testeten Charles Jackson und Co. das VR-Konzept der Telekom
Even during seasons preparations Baskets player Charles Jackson is testing the VR concept of Deutsche Telekom (Picture by: DTAG)

Both non-Telekom companies, Smart Mobile Labs and Forward Game, first got involved in producing the app thanks to the Low Latency Prototyping program run at hubraum. The immediate streaming is thanks to Smart Mobile Labs, whose video solution provides (hyper) low latency. According to Smart Mobile Labs’ Jakob von Moers, if a delay between the game and a second screen application is over 300 milliseconds long (for reference, approximately three times as long as it takes to blink), then this delay becomes noticeable — and presumably irritating. As such, it’s only thanks to low latency that the app goes from something helpful to undiluted magic: fans are able to watch the action live from 360 degree angles, no matter where their seat in the stadium is.

But it’s not just about angles. Forward Game, the company who created the app, had one goal: “to create a digital layer of entertainment and use the abilities of mobile phones to transform each visit to the arena into a game.” This meant building added fun into the stadium experience with additional features. One such add-on lets fans embark on an art-inspired treasure hunt, where audiences would look for artworks based around the arena and, once they locate the specific artworks, triggering different virtual challenges, like AR games, quiz questions about Telekom Baskets and even a quiz duel. The app also allows fans to play Augmented Reality basketball – shooting digital basketballs into real basketball hoops in their environment by shaking their phones. You can even battle other fans about sport trivia. Why so much competition? Because when Forward Games interviewed young teenagers (13-15 years old) about what was important to them, their answers emphasized how vital both competition and innovation was.

Statistics also form part of the fun, allowing sports nerds to get really technical about their favourite players. You can use the app to find out what speed a player is moving at and even how many calories they’ve used in the duration of the game, something von Moers explains is made possible by sensors in wearables from Kinexon the athletes sport during the game. You can also find further supplementary data in the app like age and points per season. These statistics tracked by Kinexon are displayed as AR overlays over the livestream, transforming the experience of watching live sport into something aesthetically closer to a video game.”

Smart Mobile Labs’ Head of Business Development explains that reaching a decision about which statistics were relevant for fans and which might be overwhelming was a tricky one. The technology exists to record sports data on a level that’s incredibly helpful to coaches – for example, how players should adapt the direction they’re running in according to who has the ball. This sort of decision sounds logical but during a high-speed basketball game have to become decisions that players have been so deeply-trained in that they operate at the level of muscle memory, rather than making the decision consciously — there wouldn’t be time to reach the decision otherwise. However, in the end, it was decided that the app should keep things simple: it’s more important that the fan can use the app simultaneously with the game than that they get distracted by minutiae.

“This kind of app becoming increasingly essential, both to watching sport live but also watching from home.”

So what’s it like watching a basketball game in tandem with the app? Michael Paschek (who, full disclosure, works for T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom) was one of the first people to use it. He explained that while it took him a second to get used to the experience, he imagines that you’d get more and more used to using it in parallel to watching the game and believes that we’re only years away from “this kind of app becoming increasingly essential, both to watching sport live but also watching from home.” This is thanks to the sensation the app gave him of “being closer to the game – and more entertained and informed.”

Tim Friedland of Forward Game thinks integrating apps into the viewing experience is an intuitive choice: “Since stadium are mainly used for sports, we believe that the fans coming to those stadiums should be involved in physical activity and should have fun doing so.”

We couldn’t agree more. So if you’re at the Telekom Dome in Bonn this year, treat yourself to a new immersive viewing experience. Let the app transform your smartphone into virtual opera glasses that let you see the game better, understand the players at a deeper level and which will let you totally destroy the person in the seat next to you — if only when it comes to how good they are at shooting virtual basketballs in real hoops.

Are you working for a startup with an interest in 5G and low-latency? Reach out to hubraum or bring your prototype to one of their meetups.