5G, IoT and Robots Brought Winter Games Into the Future

Pyeongchang (and then MWC) showcased innovative tech that’s changing everything

The world just put itself on display at the Olympics, and not only the sporting world.

This year’s winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, featured the latest technology almost everywhere you looked – from sensor-filled speed-skating suits, to driverless buses, to digital payment gloves. Robots guided people through the airport. A 5G network debuted. When you combine the games with the ongoing Mobile World Congress, it’s like a three-week glimpse into the future.

We took a closer look at some of the coolest tech featured at the games. It was an impressive display of innovation, as well as the power of interconnection.

  • Sensors, skating and speed

A sensor-filled suit designed by Samsung was used by two Dutch short track speed skaters trying to shave milliseconds off their times. The training suits have five integrated sensors that transmitted data to their coach’s smartphone and helped the athletes hone their techniques. For instance, the tailor-made suits knew the upper and lower leg lengths of both Dutch athletes, so they knew the distance between their hips and the ice and whether the athletes were bending enough on turns and straightaways. When they didn’t, their coach triggered a vibration on their wrists that signaled them to get down.


  • VR and race prep

The U.S. ski team also used tech to get faster, but they turned to virtual reality (VR) to do it. The team spent the year prior to Pyeongchang getting familiar with the course at the Joengseon Alpine Centre without actually going there. The U.S. team filmed the course with STRIVR’s 360-degree video during the World Cup in 2016 and 2017. The athletes then paired Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR headsets with balance boards to simulate the feeling of being on the course. The better a skier knows a course, the better he or she can figure out which areas to attack to cut off time.

  • Robots and driverless buses

A team of 85 robots worked during these winter games (though none competed that we know of). These robots included artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machines that spoke Chinese, English, Korean and Japanese and took passengers at Seoul’s Incheon Airport to their gates and offered flight information. Then, at the games themselves, spectators moved between venues on self-driving buses. The buses were one of several features being powered by a 5G mobile network that Intel and Korea Telecom (KT) debuted and demonstrated in Pyeongchang. 

  • HD and 5G offer new angles

Seeing these games in person came with serious viewing advantages, apart from the live action. The Gangneung Ice Arena, for instance, was packed with hundreds of high-definition cameras that enabled spectators to instantly access 360 degrees views of replays, which they could also freeze, rotate or see in slow motion. Meanwhile, on the Alpensia ski slope, Intel and KT demonstrated a real-time 5G video system in which skiers were tracked through GPS receivers they wore, while wireless transceivers transmitted video to spectators from the skier’s point of view. Not a bad angle. The games were like a head start for a flood of 5G news, as 5G was also a big story at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G, and it will be critical to support innovations like driverless cars, smart cities and the next level of VR. (Plus, you’ll be able to download a feature-length film on your phone in four seconds.) Among the 5G announcements at MWC: Huawei introduced a 5G modem with a 2.3 Gigabits per second connection speed, Chinese telecom ZTE presented a prototype 5G phone and T-Mobile announced it would build its initial 5G network in 30 U.S. cities this year.

  • Paying for gloves with gloves

There were some super-cold stretches in South Korea with temperatures dropping into the single digits. But Visa gave spectators a way to pay for a hot drink without even removing their gloves. Their payment-enabled gloves contain a dual interface chip housed with a contactless antenna. People could use them to complete purchases at official Olympic venues or just to avoid frostbite. But Visa didn’t stop with gloves. Commemorative Olympic pins were payment-enabled and so was a special set of wearable Winter Games stickers.

Interconnection makes it happen

These Olympic Games again proved that some of the world’s hottest technologies – Internet of Things, AI, VR, 5G – are much more than just talk and airy promises. But the products and services powered by these trends can’t and won’t work like they should without Interconnection.

Interconnection is the private data exchange between businesses, and Equinix has been delivering it since our founding. Interconnection features direct connectivity, which is essential for the speed and low-latency required to, say, pull off the sensor-to-sensor communication that supports real-time advice to an Olympic skater in training. Interconnection also enables many-to-many connectivity, and that’s critical when bringing together the multiple parties needed for secure digital payments – whether initiated from a smartphone or a glove.

Interconnection also gives proximity to all the ecosystems involved in delivering a real-time product or service (like live, first-person video from a skier to a smartphone). Finally, the globally distributed data exchange points that connected all the smart devices, clouds, wireless and mobile networks involved in transmitting the action had to be as close as possible to everything to reduce performance-killing latency. That kind of close interconnection provides a higher-performing and more reliable alternative to backhauling data over slower, congested legacy networks. By distributing IT among global interconnection hubs, companies can make sure they are close to their users, clouds, partners and markets, wherever they are.

Read the Interconnection Strategy Guide by Equinix to learn how an interconnection-first approach to IT can help companies compete in our fast-moving and ever-evolving digital age.


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