The Olympics’ 2020 tech sponsors plan to turn Tokyo into a 5G “smart city”

Already prepping for Tokyo.
Already prepping for Tokyo.
Image: Intel
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Barcelona, Spain

The Winter Olympics closing ceremony was in full swing in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 25—but the major technology sponsors of the 2020 games were already looking ahead.

Intel, carrier NTT Docomo, and automaker Toyota announced their partnerships for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo on the eve of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. They wasted no time in announcing their ambitions to market their 5G tech capabilities at that mega event.

For Intel, it’s just the next stop on a sponsorship deal with the Olympics that cost well over $100 million that started in Pyeongchang. The chip-maker is keen to establish its mobile bona fides after losing out on the smartphone boom to rivals like Qualcomm. “We’re very, very, proud of our heritage as a PC-centric company, but moving forward, we’re data-centric,” Aicha Evans, Intel’s chief strategy officer told about 200 journalists and corporate partners at a briefing on Montjuïc, the hill overlooking Barcelona that’s home to the city’s Olympics stadium, built for the 1992 games.

If the mountains of Pyeongchang were a chance to demonstrate live-streams and virtual reality, Intel has bigger ambitions for Tokyo. It’s promising to blanket the city in 5G, turning it into a “smart city” with even more video streams everywhere, including 4K video in moving cars, and more significantly, “pervasive facial recognition” for stadium access and security.

Toyota will play a key role in this “smart city” plan, although Kenichi Murata, general manager of the carmaker’s “connected strategy” department, kept mum over precise plans. “I can’t disclose details,” he told the room, but he suggested gleaning clues from a talk he gave earlier. He had described 5G’s potential for traffic management by tracking whether stationery cars are parked, waiting in traffic, or otherwise when deployed across multiple cities. “Tokyo 2020 will be crazy,”said one member of Murata’s department at the event, who wasn’t authorized to speak about the firm’s Olympics plans.

While 5G looks exciting from afar, few know it better than KT Corp, the telco that worked with Intel to build the network in Pyeongchang. And there’s lingering skepticism over 5G’s future appeal to consumers, and its ability to repay the infrastructure costs that carriers must shell out to deploy it. “The big issue is whether 5G can make money? It is not a technology only issue, it is a business issue,” said Jeon Hong-Beom, the head of KT’s infrastructure lab. The hope, Jeon said, was that KT could use its Winter Olympics experience to figure out a “killer application” for 5G. Once that’s found, “then you make money,” he said.