Building on years of mobile communications innovation and billions of dollars of investment by Australian telcos, 5G mmWave technology is finally being put in the field as Telstra debuts an augmented reality (AR) app that will solve an age-old problem: helping you find the toilets with the shortest queue.

The new app – built in partnership with AR development firm tagSpace – also has a range of other uses, including directing fans at Marvel Stadium and the Sydney Opera House to their seats, helping them navigate the massive and often disorienting venues to find merchandise stands and food kiosks, and overlaying details about the timing and spare capacity of trains servicing the venue.

By combining multiple data feeds, the AR overlays provide real-time information about the physical locations around you: just point your phone, and the app picks out landmarks or service points within your field of view and provides relevant information.

The AR environment supports video, too – loads of it, according to tagSpace founder Paul Martin, who noted that the high capacity and low latency of 5G mobile services allows the app to display “dozens of simultaneous, live-streaming videos and real-time information, whilst seamlessly blending the real world with the virtual.”

There’s no word on how the application can meaningfully juxtapose dozens of simultaneous videos onto a small mobile phone screen, but the most valuable use cases will no doubt float to the top over time as the technology partners tweak their use of high-speed 5G mmWave technology, which became a reality in Australia after April’s $647.6m spectrum auction.

Long the purview of scientific trials in isolated test sites and duelling press releases between Telstra and Optus, mmWave is a shot in the arm for standard 5G – boosting speeds many times over compared with conventional broadband.

The catch: its high speed only works over a limited area, limiting its usefulness for general usage but making it ideal for connecting specific areas such as sports or entertainment venues.

Marvel Stadium and the Sydney Opera House are just two of the 65 mmWave sites Telstra is now operating in five major cities, with ongoing expansion expected to push this number to 166 by year’s end.

Things that make you go hmmWave

For years, stadiums in Australia and around the world have been rolling out hundreds of Wi-Fi access points to improve online fan engagement in venues such as the Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium, the Sydney Cricket Ground, Marvel Stadium and its former identity Etihad Stadium, and Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

Optus, for its part, has been working with Nokia to deploy 5G services at Perth’s Optus Stadium, providing access at claimed speeds of over 1Gbps.

Yet as Opensignal testing confirms that 5G mmWave services are around 30 times faster than public WiFi services with similar range, Telstra’s rollout is the latest step in its ongoing work to make Marvel Stadium what the company calls “one of the most advanced in the world”, reflected in the telco’s partnership with the AFL and work to enhance the fan experience.

In-stadium video streaming, for example, will allow spectators to tap live video feeds from other parts of the venue to get new angles on the action – including, potentially, body-worn cameras that share the view from the field.

Movement sensors already track the distance and speed run by players, potentially providing rich new data sources to improve the experience from the stands – overlaying each player’s name, number, and vitals based on where each fan is pointing their phone.

The investment “builds on a long and proud history of blending sport and technology together to bring the game, and all the peripheral aspects of it, to fans in new and better ways,” Telstra noted in outlining its vision to tap 5G mmWave’s high speed, low latency, and ability to deliver content to large numbers of devices simultaneously.

In ideal conditions, mmWave is delivering extremely fast sustained mobile data speeds – with a recent Opensignal analysis finding that US carrier Verizon was delivering 692.9Mbps, on average, over its 5G mmWave services.

Yet despite “extremely fast download and upload speeds,” Opensignal noted, “it is still rare for users to experience the blisteringly fast 5G mmWave speeds.”

AR is rapidly becoming table stakes for major sporting events, with the technology used successfully at the recent Tokyo Olympics 2020 to overlay event video with data such as split times during swimming and running races.