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Sacramento Kings: Using 5G, VR, and blockchain for the NBA arena of the future

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After experimenting with using Verizon’s 5G and virtual reality to bring NBA closer to its fans, the Sacramento Kings basketball team says it is far from finished with technology projects.

From linking a smart arena to a smart city, to exploring the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency, Sacramento Kings CTO Ryan Montoya says the team is dabbling in whatever it takes to improve the fan experience.

A “21st Century Colosseum” and a hot dog challenge: Pushing tech in the arena

The arena’s mission control room


(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

In designing the $500 million Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the Kings had four goals: To be iconic, as the world’s first indoor-outdoor arena; to be the most sustainable arena, with 100 percent of its power coming from solar panels and 90 percent of food sourced from within 150 miles; to be the most technologically advanced arena; and to use data to personalise fan experiences and remove friction.

With this in mind, the arena was developed to be smart from arrival — with its smart entry points allowing 1,000 people per hour to enter the venue instead of the 300 allowed by traditional turnstiles — all the way to game time, with fans able to use the tie-in app to watch multi-camera replays, upgrade their tickets, pay for parking, order food and drink, buy merchandise, and even adjust the under-seat thermostat vents.

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The Sacramento Kings – Golden 1 Center app


(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

To meet its technological and data-driven goals, the Kings team made hires from Apple and Qualcomm early on. A Disney Imagineer was even signed on to help design the world’s largest indoor 4K scoreboard so that viewers would never have to crane their necks to see the 38 million-pixel screen, no matter what angle they view the game from.

“We wanted to be able to bring in the best perspective, and also we didn’t want to look just at other sporting venues. We looked at everything, and so that’s why we brought in that Disney Imagineer to give us a perspective on that scoreboard … we wanted someone who could understand the UI and UX so that we could deliver the best fan experience,” Montoya explained.

Inside the arena is a 4K broadcast control room, which is responsible for delivering content to more than 800 screens, including the Disney-Imagineered 4K scoreboard.

The arena also houses a mission control centre, which sees 15 staff members monitoring dozens of screens and platforms during gamedays and events. The screens include real-time vision over usage of the app, how many beverages have been purchased, and local weather so as to push out notifications to customers.

It also has vision over how many people have entered the arena, and who.

“If there’s a season ticket holder, for example, who hasn’t been to three of the last four games, we’re able to intercept before they cancel their membership,” Montoya said.

With 1,000 Wi-Fi access points throughout the arena, posting to social media is not an issue for visitors. And with mission control being able to monitor Twitter mentions, it can address any concerns regarding fan experience at the venue.

“If a kid drops a hot dog, for example, in most instances the kid is upset, the parents are upset because they have to go stand in line and buy another hot dog, and there’s a hot dog on the floor — but here, whether we’re catching it on social media or through one of our guest services or a camera or a robot, we are then able to deliver that hot dog within moments,” Montoya said.

Once someone tweeted about how arena staff had swiftly replaced their hot dog within minutes of dropping it on the floor, he said it turned into a challenge on the social media platform.

“It started trending on Twitter, and everyone was dropping hot dogs.”

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(Image: Golden 1 Center/Sacramento Kings)

The mission control team also has the ability to contact Google Maps and Waze to change routes from green to yellow or red to account for real-time gameday traffic.

“But when you come in here during an event, they’re all green — and they’re all green because we’ve totally connected traffic cameras, parking meters, etc,” he added.

How an NBA team is pushing STEM, blockchain, and cryptocurrency

Also in the arena is a tier 4 data centre located right by the smart entry points, used by the Kings to not only handle connectivity — by housing two 100-gigabit pipes thanks to 650 miles of fiber-optic and 300 miles of copper cabling — but also to mine ethereum.

“In 2014, we were the first [sporting venue] to accept bitcoin in the world,” Montoya said.

“This past summer, we started mining cryptocurrency, so we’ve got these cryptocurrency rigs.”

By mining ethereum, the Kings technology team is using it as a way to “give back to the community” via both funding and providing STEM education for schoolkids across cryptocurrency and blockchain.

“We bring in students — some of them may have never heard of blockchain — just to show them that there are these computers in here that sit on a decentralised network, and explaining to them in very simple terms that we are actually creating money, and it’s through these algorithms that we’re able to do this,” Montoya said.

“So to expose fifth graders, eighth graders, ninth graders, tenth graders, that this is a future that they can be a part of, is something pretty exceptional.”

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The Golden 1 Center’s tier 4 datacentre


(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The Kings team is itself also exploring the use of blockchain to improve the fan experience leading up to and on gameday.

“We don’t know exactly where blockchain is going to take us, but we’re experimenting with blockchain every day. We’re experimenting because we know it’s going to revolutionalise a lot of things,” Montoya said.

“We’re looking to various aspects, from ticketing to payments, with blockchain.”

Other tech companies are also using the arena to trial their own innovation projects, including for blockchain applications.

“Because of the connectivity and because people from around the world hear that we’re working with great partners on 5G, we actually have a lot of the smart companies — I can’t disclose a lot of them — come here and are actually testing the next version of their apps,” he said.

“So on every front from AR to mixed reality to blockchain, we are running on all cylinders to be able to deliver the next best fan experience.”

Using 5G with Verizon

One of the companies partnering with the Sacramento Kings is Verizon, which trialled its 5G Home network at the arena just one month after launching the service.

In November, Verizon and the Kings invited a group of 20 students to watch the Kings-Los Angeles Lakers game at the arena, but via 5G-connected VR headsets in the Esports lounge that streamed footage in real time from courtside seats.

“We set up this 360-degree camera on the scores table, and what it allowed us to do was have the kids see the game as if they were sitting in a rare spot, and be able to put on the VR goggles … they would be able to watch the game courtside,” Verizon VP of Network Engineering Brian Mecum told ZDNet.

Mecum said the latency on the 5G network was low enough to watch the game in real time, with 5G providing immediate availability to connect, 1,000 times more bandwidth, and 20 times the speeds available on 4G LTE today.

“Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, often talks about how we have millions of fans throughout the world, and of those millions of fans only 1 percent have actually attended a game, and then only a very small fraction have actually sat courtside,” Montoya said.

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Fans experience an NBA live stream via 5G and VR goggles


(Image: Verizon)

“So to give these kids the perspective from essentially our owner sitting courtside is an amazing experience.”

The next step will be to bring in more people to experience games in this way, Montoya said.

Read more: Verizon showcases the potential of 5G with drones, Disney and more at CES 2019

5G will also enable real-time access to stats such as how fast players are running, how high they jump, how hard somebody dunks the ball, and whether the team speeds up or slows down in the final moments, which he said will be valuable for both fans and sports betting.

“You’re going to be able to see in real-time a lot more stats, a lot more context, and beyond betting you’re also going to be able to see in real-time eventually player stats,” he explained.

“Whether its AR, VR, or some version of mixed reality, you’re going to be able to look at those players and you’re going to be able to look at different data points on those players, and so it’s definitely going to bring fans closer to the game, closer to the players, and to give them more context and a better experience.”

The “stadium experience” will also be improved with 5G, Mecum said, including offering real-time information on the best way to get to allocated seats, wait times at restrooms and food stands, custom content, and interviews with coaches and players.

Verizon also sees 5G providing players with more access to analytics and insights for improving their performance, making stadiums a great use case for both consumer and business 5G.

Sacramento’s partnership with Verizon on smart cities and 5G

As the capital of California — the world’s fifth-largest economy — Sacramento’s political environment is also favourable towards technology, with Verizon striking a public-private partnership (PPP) with the city back in June 2017.

Sacramento’s city council had voted unanimously for the PPP with Verizon, which aimed to offer free Wi-Fi across public parks, fund STEM education, and increase public safety and city efficiency.

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(Image: Golden 1 Center/Sacramento Kings)

Under the partnership, Verizon connected cameras, lighting, and traffic control. This included installing advanced signal controls at major intersections to manage the flow of vehicles, reduce congestion, and improve public transport as part of Sacramento’s Vision Zero initiative to decrease traffic fatalities and severe injuries, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Digital kiosks are also set to supply Wi-Fi, security, wayfinding, and notice boards, with the PPP also covering the provision of security and privacy management across the real-time data being collected by the city.

“This partnership will serve as a critical step in upgrading our city’s infrastructure to support the newest and best technology and the economic growth that comes with that technology,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at the time.

“It will also ensure that everyone who lives here or spends time here can experience the benefits of a safer, more mobile, and more sustainable city.”

Lastly, the partnership enabled the deployment of Verizon’s 5G network in Sacramento, with the PPP ensuring “streamlined permitting processes to install this technology efficiently”.

Read also: Verizon connects smartphone to 5G network 

As a result, Verizon in late 2017 announced its plans to launch 5G in Sacramento by the end of 2018, later adding Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis, and Panama City, Florida to its launch list.

Verizon’s 5G Home service then launched in October 2018.

The Kings are “a big part” of the push for technology innovation in Sacramento, Mecum said, with Verizon utilising its partnership with the NBA team to push through its 5G and smart cities deployments with council.

“That [5G deal] we brokered on our own with the City of Sacramento, but it doesn’t hurt that the Kings are so tied to the politics so closely and pushing for all of these initiatives,” Mecum said.

“We found favourability also in Los Angeles … but Sacramento moved along faster and moved along further. Sacramento is doing really well with 5G Home, and it’s also the only NBA venue we have connected in the United States.

“So you see 5G just blossom across the board in Sacramento.”

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The Easiest Way To Back Up Your Android Phone’s Data

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Google’s service for saving and restoring photos and videos is called “Backup & Sync.” It works across all platforms. But the tool is pre-integrated into the Google Photos app for Android.

  1. To create a backup for your photo and video gallery, download and install Google Photos from the Play Store (if you haven’t already).
  2. You’ll be asked to sign in with a Google Account of your choice.
  3. After signing in, tap your profile picture in the corner to pull up the preferences.
  4. Next, navigate to Photos Settings > Backup & Sync and toggle the switch.
  5. Backup & Sync will automatically start saving your photos and videos to the cloud. Once the process is completed successfully, you will see a green accent and a checkmark around your profile picture.

Unless you’re on a Pixel phone, the storage isn’t unlimited. From June 1, 2021, Google only offers 15GB of free storage. But you can always buy extra storage or adjust the upload size to save space. To change the Upload size, scroll down the Backup & Sync menu and select Upload size. And pick from Storage saver or Original quality modes (via Google).

Also, you can specify individual folders if you don’t need to back up your entire gallery. Go to Backup and Sync > backup device folders and toggle your chosen folders from the list.

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Why Your Android Phone Goes Straight To Voicemail And How To Fix It

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If you need periods blocked off in your day to focus or relax, the Do Not Disturb Mode is a handy feature to have. You can either block all phone calls or only accept calls or messages from the contacts you want to hear from. If this setting is enabled, it also blocks app notifications, text messages, and alarms. But what if you forget to turn it off? Or switch it on by accident? Depending on who calls, you probably won’t hear your phone ring, and their calls will most likely go to voicemail.

Here’s how you can turn it off in three simple steps.

  1. Swipe down from the top of your screen to pull down your phone’s notification menu.

  2. Check if the Do Not Disturb button is enabled at the bottom right.

  3. If it’s on (the button will be lit). Tap once to turn it off.

Another way to turn off the Do Not Disturb function is to go through the settings menu on your phone.

  1. Go to the Settings app on your phone

  2. Hit Sound & vibration > Do not disturb > Turn on/off now.

  3. If you own a phone that is Android 8.1 and below, press Sound > Do not disturb. Toggle the switch on/off

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The Galaxy Note Is Dead, But Its Spirit Will Live On Every Year

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According to notorious tipster @Ice universe, Samsung mobile division head TM Roh was quoted as saying that the Galaxy Note will appear in the form of the Galaxy S Ultra every year. The direct implication here is that there will no longer be a Galaxy Note model moving forward. It also suggests that the Galaxy S Ultra models will retain the same form and features as the Galaxy Note, just like the Galaxy S22 Ultra released in 2022.

In terms of features, that basically means that the Galaxy S Ultra model will continue carrying an S-Pen inside its body. That design change started with the Galaxy S22 Ultra this year, in contrast to the previous Galaxy S21 Ultra generation, which had no room for the stylus inside. That same ultra-large phone distinguished itself from the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22+ with its boxier design, similar to that of the latest Galaxy Note models. Whether that design will remain going forward is still unknown, but the exact appearance of the Galaxy Note was never its defining feature anyway.

This news, if confirmed to be official, will probably send mixed feelings to Galaxy Note fans. On the one hand, they will be relieved that the S Pen isn’t going anywhere, at least not yet. On the other hand, the brand beloved by professionals and creatives is finally being retired after almost a decade of service. The move will at least help consolidate Samsung’s Galaxy S brand and even make the S-Pen a staple of its flagship — and hopefully, it will at least stay that way for more years to come.

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