Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been the catalyst for expanding the country’s digital economy and broadening its ICT ecosystem. One of Qatar’s aspirations was to use the tournament to attract investment in emerging industries and drive innovation in 5G, internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality. These recently developed technological innovations will be deployed during the tournament and are forecast to have an enduring impact on Qatar’s technology industry.
Tournament organisers have been improving the national technology innovation ecosystem and harnessing locally developed solutions to enhance preparations. Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for planning and delivering the required infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, launched the Challenge 22 award in 2015 to foster a culture of technology innovation in the Middle East. The programme attracted entrepreneurs, scientists and business pioneers from the Arab world. It aimed to inspire innovative ideas that translate into practical event solutions to improve sustainability and enhance the overall visitor experience.
To encourage more entrepreneurship, Challenge 22 has provided training, funding and mentoring for concepts that potentially advance World Cup preparations. Beneficiaries include an all-female group of Saudi engineers who used waste from date palm manufacturing processes to make stadia seating; a physics tutor at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar who researched a polystyrene composite that could make insulation materials used in World Cup construction projects more heat resistant; and young entrepreneurs from Doha-based start-up Arvex who built 360-degree VR tours of the Khalifa International Stadium, VR tours of cultural sites and workshops for teachers, and 360-degree live-streaming services for local conferences, events and award ceremonies.
Elsewhere, the Qatar Sports Tech (QST) domain was launched in 2018 by Qatar Development Bank to leverage the country’s role as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and position it as a global centre for sports-tech development. QST offers accelerator and pre-accelerator programmes for global technology start-ups focused on innovations to improve athlete performance, enhance the fan experience and transform the way gamers participate in e-sports.
Meanwhile, organisers are deploying technological innovations to enhance inclusion in the tournament. Information and entertainment will be accessible in Braille, and there will be interactive viewing rooms for autistic youth. On the mobility side, smart solutions are available to aid navigation to stadia and other tourist sites. Qatar Mobility Innovations Centre (QMIC) used its IoT platform to connect sensors across the country that allow visitors to plan the best navigation routes. Individuals will be able to download a personalised smartphone application created by QMIC that facilitates travel to the stadia using real-time information on traffic, taxis and the public transport system, and see on-site entrances and exits.
In preparation for the tournament, Qatar developed technology projects to create a safe environment for fans, coaches, players and other staff members representing the different football federations. Organisers are offering various technical packages and data analysis to coaches and teams. The technology tracks players’ information and offers real-time data on their speed, agility, distancing and more. Each national team will receive a tablet during the match that will provide live updates from each player on the field and on the bench. Coaches can use these tablets to assess which athletes are ready to play, and where to pull back to prevent injuries.
Other innovations are evident in the stadia. They feature advanced district cooling systems designed specifically for the tournament. Qatar experiences extreme heat, which can create a harsh environment for the sport. With the new cooling systems, sensors are strategically placed around the stadia to detect motion and adjust the temperature throughout the matches, keeping the venues comfortable and reducing the risk of injury, heat exhaustion or dehydration. With a control room in each stadium, technical staff can see which sections of the seating area or pitch need to be cooled or warmed. One of the main concerns about this system is the environmental impact resulting from high energy needs; however, solar energy is employed to mitigate risk.
Qatar has made significant strides in expanding 5G infrastructure across the country leading up to the tournament. This next-generation technology offers higher Gbps peak data speeds compared to 4G and ultra-low latency. With 5G capability, telecoms providers can supply consumers with a much broader range of content and services supported by faster and more reliable connections. According to global network intelligence company Ookla, Qatar ended 2021 ranked fifth in the world regarding 5G availability. This statistic measures what percentage of users on 5G-capable devices spent the majority of their time on 5G networks. The same year, Doha ranked sixth in the world for median 5G speeds, which were recorded at 382.51 Mbps.
Telecoms providers in Qatar will use the 2022 FIFA World Cup to showcase their advancements in 5G connectivity and enhance the fan experience through related technology solutions. Ooredoo Qatar and Sweden-headquartered technology giant Ericsson have announced the successful implementation of the world’s first 5G indoor shareable solution in Qatar, achieving speeds of 1.5 Gbps. Called Ericsson Indoor Connect 8855, this solution has been commercially deployed in all stadia across the country to enhance the immersive experiences of the tournament.
The partnership between the two companies also led to the first global implementation of Ericsson’s high-capacity 4+0 MINI-LINK carrier aggregation. It aims to improve the 5G user experience across Qatar during the event, and consequently enhance Ooredoo’s network capacity to handle the expected surge in users and devices connected to it while delivering optimal performance. Designed to deliver multi-gigabit speeds, increased capacity and reliable mobile broadband connectivity, Ericsson’s MINI-LINK carrier aggregation should enable faster and more reliable deployment of 5G with uncompromised user throughput during the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The company states that through reduced power consumption and a smaller equipment footprint, the carrier aggregation software helps reduce carbon emissions and tower load.
The country’s advanced 5G infrastructure facilitates other investments in the digital economy. In November 2021 local ICT firm Meeza inaugurated a new M–Vault 4 data centre to host Microsoft’s Doha Azure Cloud region. This new centre strengthens Qatar’s digital infrastructure and the country’s global competitiveness in cloud services. To support Qatar’s efforts to deliver a sustainable World Cup, Microsoft is enabling smart stadia that run on the cloud to harness the power of AI to reduce emissions and waste.
Reflecting the growing prominence of blockchain-enabled digital assets, FIFA teamed up with blockchain technology company Algorand for a sponsorship and technical partnership deal for the 2022 tournament. The agreement means that Algorand will become FIFA’s blockchain platform and provide the official blockchain-supported wallet solution. The technology will allow non-editable data to be permanently recorded and distributed on digital networks while also facilitating the secure exchange of assets such as non-fungible tokens.
FIFA also signed a deal with Crypto.com to be the official cryptocurrency trading platform of the tournament. As a jurisdiction, Qatar has taken a cautious regulatory approach to cryptocurrencies. It remains to be seen whether the exposure provided by the platform’s tournament sponsorship leads to a softening of this approach.
Qatar has successfully capitalised on the opportunity provided by the preparations for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup to upgrade its digital infrastructure and strengthen its technology ecosystem. As a result, the country should be left with a more competitive, diversified and productive technology sector once the tournament is over. Meanwhile, the event will allow Qatar to showcase itself as a technologically advanced country – which may help attract further international investment in the digital economy. The tournament has also proved to be a catalyst for Qatar to establish a competitive advantage in emerging technology segments. One such example is sports tech, with QST primed to continue generating and commercialising innovative business ideas in the ecosystem for years to come.