Wang says 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris gives the company a unique platform to showcase its cloud-based technologies
For the first time, cloud-based broadcasting will replace the traditional satellite-based broadcasting infrastructure ‘on a full scale’
The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris will present huge opportunities and challenges for Alibaba Cloud, which is the event organiser’s chosen partner to provide next-generation broadcasting, logistics planning and sensorless tracking services, according to founder Wang Jian.
The event gives the Chinese tech company a unique platform to showcase its cloud-based technologies to the world, at a time when rising geopolitical tension between China and the West is putting its tech companies under greater pressure and scrutiny.
Alibaba Cloud won the exclusive deal to become the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) official cloud services partner after beating Amazon Web Services in 2017. The deal, including the provision of cloud-based broadcasting, big data analytics, logistics support and sensorless tracking of athletes’ performance on the field, will run until 2028 at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Wang said.
Alibaba Cloud is a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding, which also owns the South China Morning Post.
While the Chinese company has already provided cloud-based support for both the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, next year’s event in Paris will be much more significant, Wang said.
For the first time, cloud-based broadcasting will replace the traditional satellite-based broadcasting infrastructure “on a full scale”, he said.
“We hope this could be a catalytic moment to make cloud technology mainstream, just as [Nikola] Tesla did for [alternating current] electricity at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893,” he said, referring to the use of electricity to light the fair, which heralded the age of modern power.
Wang acknowledged that rising geopolitical rivalry between the West and China has further complicated the situation. French media earlier reported that the host country’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) had expressed concern and tried to push back on the IOC’s decision to make Alibaba Could its worldwide partner, fearing it could give the Chinese company access to sensitive data.
Wang said by working closely with the IOC, Alibaba Cloud will “definitely” be the exclusive cloud services provider for next summer’s Olympics, adding that the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics would present an even greater challenge politically. But Wang hopes that success in Paris will help to dispel any data security concerns.
All licensed broadcasters for the 2024 Paris Games will receive live footage exclusively through a cloud infrastructure built by Alibaba and the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS).
Alibaba Cloud will also provide other technologies to help the host city optimise logistics planning and streamline backstage operations. For example, they are working with the IOC to build a cloud-based simulation model that can help Paris authorities see how the selection of different venues and traffic arrangements could affect local communities and businesses. The host city will then be able to choose the most cost-effective option and reduce operating costs.
Another example is using 3DAT (3D Athlete Tracking) technology jointly developed by US chip giant Intel and Alibaba Cloud to gather biomechanical data on athletes via cameras powered by artificial intelligence. This will allow sensorless tracking of the athletes on the field, improving efficiency and cost.
“This represents a major paradigm shift,” Wang said. “It will be a historical moment for me.”
Wang is widely seen as the man who laid the technological foundations for Alibaba’s emergence as an e-commerce giant. When Wang joined Alibaba in 2008 from Microsoft Research Asia, the concept of cloud computing was still in its infancy. He built up the group’s cloud business from scratch despite repeated internal questioning.
In his 2016 book Being Online, Wang details his experiences developing the cloud business with the trust of co-founder Jack Ma. Ma wrote in a forward for the book that “when I first met Dr Wang, I was mesmerised by his understanding of the internet and hated the fact that I could not have met him earlier”.
Alibaba Cloud is now the biggest cloud provider in China, despite seeing its market share fall to 32.6 per cent in the second half of 2022 from 34.5 per cent in the first half, according to an April report by research firm IDC.
Pulling off the job at next year’s Paris games will not be an easy task, as it requires major operational changes from the IOC and broadcasters, Wang said. Geopolitical tensions and local regulations pose additional difficulties, he said, adding that compliance challenges include completing security tests and putting in place local support.
“It takes time to figure [all this] out,” Wang said.
Alibaba is currently in the midst of a sweeping reorganisation, which will see the cloud unit spun off into an independent business. Cloud, one of the company’s most important growth engines, will be listed in 12 months, with Alibaba’s Group chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang Yong, relinquishing those roles in September to focus solely on the cloud business, which he already heads.