Genk – Football has become an integral element of many people’s lives: our enthusiasm for the team colours, the roar of the crowd, the tension. However, not everyone can enjoy it in the same way. People with a disability often find themselves left out. That’s why Citymesh, KRC Genk and MyCroCast joined up to work on an initial test project for the visually impaired. A sophisticated, lightning fast audio description helps people who can’t see the match nonetheless immerse themselves fully in the live experience.
April sixteenth was a good day for KRC Genk. Not only did the A-team beat Anderlecht 5-2: in the stands, the first tests of a system to give the visually impaired a richer experience of the match were underway. KRC Genk provided the test public, the match, and part of the infrastructure, while MyCroCast were responsible for the platform that streams the audio description. And Citymesh handled seamless connectivity and the fast data link.
Niel Janssen, community coordinator at KRC Genk explains: “We have had a special stand for the blind and visually impaired for a while now. Supporters could already subscribe to audio descriptors by specialised commentators. But the technology (FM) gives some limitations, especially towards synchronisation and range. Thanks to 5G combined with MyCroCast, not only can we reach more people, it's also a lot faster and more efficient. For instance, Genkies with visual impairments no longer have to sit grouped together in the stadium. They can just happily sit with friends or walk to the toilet. Over time, we can extend the service to all supporters, even those who have to miss the match or are watching at home."
Carlo Waelens, one of the general managers at Citymesh, explains in a bit more detail: “Test projects like this one are always exciting for us and we learn a lot every time. We are very keen on R&D here at Citymesh, but our social impact is also important to us, so we were delighted to work on this project. One thing we learnt from the test is that 5G is fast enough for the sound to track live images very closely – there’s less than half a second lag, while we were getting maybe one or two seconds with WiFi or 4G.”
“Another major advantage is that the club doesn’t need to provide any additional hardware. Fans can simply get the audio description via their smartphone. That’s a good financial saving for the club. We can also enhance the descriptions with a range of additional content – replays, extra commentary, or mini-competitions, for example. That means we can reach a broader public.”
This test was a first for Belgium: a stand for the blind was fitted with a 5G link. Naturally, it took place in the Cegeka Arena, Belgium’s very first 5G-capable stadium. At the end of this season, the parties involved will discuss how to move forward from the test project.