5G networks debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics, changing how we experience sport

Events, entertainment, and transportation are literally being transformed during this year’s Olympics.

Big lightup 5G sign.
Credit: Getty Images.

South Korea has the fastest internet in the world. But this tiny, tech-obsessed republic isn’t satisfied with that. What was just a few decades ago considered a flyspeck, rice republic is today a global tech hub and economic powerhouse. Much like post-war Japan, exports have become its bread and butter. And so, South Korea sees the 2018 Olympic Winter Games as a stage to exhibit its innovative spirit and technological prowess. The specific focus is its progress on 5th generation wireless telecommunications (5G).


KT Corporation, one of South Korea’s largest Telecoms, is offering 2018 Olympic spectators a 5G experience, allowing them to watch events in HD video, either on a 5G equipped tablet or VR headset. Events are streamed live nearly in real time. The delay is one millisecond, much too short for a human to notice. That means you could watch a bobsled zoom down its track at 125 mph through an athlete’s head cam and feel as if you’re in it. Some snowboarders will wear 5G headcams as well.

Four Olympic stadiums and an exhibition area are now equipped with 5G, as of Feb 13. Visitors are able to stream speed skating, figure skating, and ice hockey, and can even pick the viewpoint from which they watch. One can also follow the progress of a cross-country skier and check out different vantage points due to multiple 5G cameras mounted along the track.

Another cool option is TimeSlice, which utilizes 100 cameras set up around Gangeung Ice Arena. This allows for a 360º look at, say, an ice skater performing a pirouette. You can also pause the action and look at what the athlete is doing from one of any number of different vantage points. Olympic spectators can also visit the Gangneung 5G promotional space, where they can carry the Olympic torch or play ice hockey through a VR headset. Selected guests will even be able to take a ride on a 5G enabled, self-driving bus.

A dove made of handheld LED lights used by performers in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games, meant to symbolize peace. Credit: Getty Images.

5G already impressed the world when, during the opening ceremony, 1,200 LED candles held by performers formed an enormous dove. “Brightness and flickering of the candles had to be synchronized with the music and performers’ movements,” a KT official told The Korea Herald. “This could be possible because of 5G’s super low latency and seamless connectivity in controlling the candles.”

KT Corp., formerly Korea Telecom, is striving ahead of rivals SK Telecom and LG U+, who have also put forth 5G plans. Their visions haven’t been as clearly focused and concrete, however. During a joint ceremony on Jan. 31, KT Chairman Hwang, Chang-gyu announced, “We are showcasing the world’s first ‘5G Olympics,’ running the first large-scale 5G network system in PyeongChang two years before the expected timeline.” South Korea plans to see a massive rollout of 5G a year before the rest of the world, in 2019 rather than 2020.

How 5G was first used, however, was not as impressive. The streaming technology helped to scare away wild boar from the Olympic site, using tiger sounds, strategically released gases, and beams of light. Wild boar have apparently become quite a nuisance to farmers in this rural province.

Virtual reality (VR) is also becoming a big deal at this year’s Winter Games. 5G cameras capture footage of dozens of events and stream them directly to VR headsets. Intel and Samsung helped to provide the 5G Olympic spectators are enjoying. While Intel and NBC are helping with the app used with VR.

A 5G equipped VR headset allows spectators to experience Olympic ice hockey as if they were on the ice. Credit: Getty Images.

With 5G, you can download a movie in HD in just two seconds. It promises speeds of at least 20 gigabits per second, if not faster. Experts say fifth generation wireless is at least ten times faster than its predecessor and has a response time of less than 0.001 seconds.  But 5G isn’t just set to change events and entertainment. It will produce an interconnected web of smart devices that will offer never-before-seen options and capabilities.

Known as the “internet of things,” all of our devices and home appliances—from the fridge and coffee maker to the car, our dog’s collar and our smartphone—will be interconnected and communicate with one another on our behalf. Public infrastructure like stoplights will be connected to a 5G network, too, going on and off when it makes sense rather than at uniform intervals. Drones, self-driving car, robots, wireless sensors, and A.I. will all help find ways to better manage work, education, transportation, healthcare, and offer new options never dreamed of.

In fact, engineers are having a hard time predicting all the changes that’ll come, as is often the case with a paradigm shift caused by disruptive technology. One good thing for companies which is bad for consumers is that 5G will need a whole new generation of tablets, smartphones, and computers in order to access it. Around one billion people worldwide are expected to embrace 5G within the next five years.

The internet of things will operate on what’s known as “network slicing.” Using bespoke networks, each device can receive the exact kind of connectivity it needs. Some current drawbacks include that telecoms aren’t sure what vulnerabilities 5G networks may have, a serious concern in a world where hacking is becoming an increasingly serious threat. Also, it’ll cost consumers more and telecoms will need to set up more antennae and other equipment, which may mean a slower roll-out than with 4G.

Want to know exactly how 5G works? Click here

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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