To win the next Cup, says Dan Bernasconi, Emirates Team New Zealand’s (ETNZ) Head of Design, we first need to win the innovation race.
“The America’s Cup is as much a technology race as it is a yacht race. We know the scope for 5G technology to help make the boat go faster is significant.”
Bernasconi’s comments came at the November launching of New Zealand’s first interactive 5G test lab in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. Created by Spark, the lab has a dual purpose. It’s designed as a collaboration space for New Zealand innovators, entrepreneurs and companies – like ETNZ – to have early access to 5G, “to test and develop products and experiences that will define the future.”
Spark aims to have the country’s first 5G network live on the Auckland Harbour by July 1, 2020 for ETNZ to use as part of its preparation to defend the America’s Cup.
The lab will also host technologies that showcase some of the possibilities and benefits of 5G – robotics, virtual reality, facial recognition, Internet of
Things (loT), smart cities, emergency services drones and driverless cars.
“We believe that most of the amazing things you can do with 5G are yet to be invented,” says Spark managing director, Simon Moutter, “so it is crucial we collaborate with businesses like ETNZ to start co-creating the future of 5G.”
A 5G network operates in the 3.6GHz radio spectrum/band, different to the current 4G network (typically 700MHz or 1800 MHz). Crucially, though, it runs 10 times faster. In addition, it offers minimal ‘latency’ – the data is available in real-time. This is unlike the latency (delayed transmission) that affects existing wireless networks. It is this speed and reduced latency advantage that ETNZ hopes to use to as a tool to help optimise boat performance.
Bernasconi says these two factors will be particularly useful during the yacht’s on-water testing stage, because ETNZ designers back at base will have access to data – and be able to run analytics – in real-time.
“In Bermuda our designers had to spend hundreds of hours out on the water on chase boats close to the yacht to get data and then upload and analyse it once they were back on shore. From there, they would look at what needed to be done for the next test day.
“With 5G, our design-thinking can evolve faster, allowing us to explore more design options and buy us more of one of the most precious commodities in the America’s Cup – time. This could be a game changer for us.”
There is an enormous volume of data that needs to be analysed on the new foiling monohull. The boat carries scores of load and pressure sensors as well as strain gauges – and these parameters are monitored at a frequency of up to 1000 times a second. In addition, there are inputs of the more obvious streams of data such as boat and wind speed – as well as high-resolution video.
With the data transmitted directly to ETNZ’s shore-based station for immediate analysis, changes can be introduced ‘on-the-fly’ while the boat is out on the water, and the impact of such changes will be monitored instantaneously. Moutter says Spark’s preliminary tests with the 5G technology have recorded operating speeds of around 18 gigabits/second.
The advantages of the 5G technology is particularly significant, says Bernasconi, given the tight time-line and restrictions surrounding the development and test sailing of the boats. He points out that, with a number of regattas scheduled around the world for the AC boats, the opportunities for testing and fine-tuning are limited because the vessels will be travelling between the different venues for much of the time.
Spark, adds Moutter, “is fully committed to helping ETNZ innovate, test and push the boundaries of technology in their quest to defend the cup. We’ll be aiming to support real-time analytics via the 5G network to help make the boat go faster.”
Fans watching the racing in 2021 are also likely to benefit from the 5G network. Tina Symmans, the Chair of America’s Cup Event Ltd, says 5G will help provide a spectator experience that New Zealand has never seen before.
“Imagine being able to sit on your sofa and experience being ‘on the boat’ through virtual reality or live streaming the online race data while you are standing on North Head with thousands of the other spectators – watching the boats in action.
“We could have driverless cars taking people around the cup village, ensure traffic management and safety is catered for through smart city connectivity, even down to sensors telling us when rubbish bins are full and where to park.”
There is, however, one small detail which needs to be addressed before the 5G network can become a reality – the Government needs to come on board.
The 5G spectrum is not yet available to telcos like Spark – and will only become so once the Government ‘auctions’ the spectrum some time in 2019.
No one is entirely sure when that might happen. From Moutter’s perspective, the sooner the better, given that it will take time to build the new network and test it.
And, he says, there is an added urgency to introducing 5G. “It’s estimated that by 2020 every human on the planet will be connected to at least four devices via the internet. Current bandwidth will be totally saturated – we need to move quickly on 5G technology.”
So far only a few countries operate 5G networks – among them the USA and South Korea. As this issue was going to press, the Australian government was preparing its auction of the country’s 5G spectrum.