Vodafone 5G puts football fans in the VAR hot seat

The next generation mobile network allowed fans to influence refereeing decisions in real-time

Vodafone FAR

Vodafone's push to connect rural areas of the UK with 5G has provided the platform to connect fans to a football match, allowing them to be a very literal armchair referee.

The Isles of Scilly plays host to the world's smallest football league, with the only two teams playing each other around 20 times per season. For the first time, a match was live streamed over Vodafone's 5G network which allowed fans to tune in and have their say on contentious moments in the match.

Just like the Premier League's divisive video assistant referee (VAR), fans could review incidents and then send their decision on a possible penalty kick, for example, to the on-pitch referee Paul Charnock who was equipped with a Samsung S10 5G.

The fan-assistant referee (FAR) was used numerous times throughout the match played between Garrison Gunners and Woolpack Wanderers, weighing in on several fouls, a disputed goal and two contested penalty kicks.

"I have never seen the referee so happy after a game," said Anthony Gibbons, chairman of the Isles of Scilly Football League. "He was empowered by the other islanders to make bold decisions - and not always in my team's favour. Vodafone's involvement with the league has got everyone excited."

Vodafone became the first carrier to deliver 5G to the Isles of Scilly in July, deploying just one mast on the main island of St Mary's. The single mast serves the island's administrative centre in Hugh Town and was able to provide the connectivity to the match played two kilometres away.

"This was great fun for the fans, and we're very happy to have been the first network operator to take 5G to the Isles of Scilly," said Nick Jeffery, CEO at Vodafone UK. "Our commitment to rolling out our network to non-urban locations is very strong, as our recent Shared Rural Network agreement with the Government and other network operators proves. I'm very proud that Vodafone is travelling those extra miles to connect rural and isolated communities."

IT Pro was invited to experience a live demo of 5G in another sporting context earlier this year, with Orange Business Services showing how 5G-controlled cameras that fly above players in football stadiums could provide new viewing experiences for live sport.

5G, the next generation of mobile networking, is widely considered to be a viable solution to the rural connectivity issue the UK faces.

According to government figures, approximately only two-thirds of the UK can access "decent signal" and that's one of the reasons why the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) released 30m in funds to boost rural connectivity earlier this year.

The government has already played a role in deploying a 5G network in the Orkney Islands, one of the UK's most remote and under-connected locations, and has already helped its tourism as well as its wind and salmon farming.

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