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How Chinese advances in technology, from 5G and cloud computing to the e-yuan, power Beijing Winter Paralympic Games

As the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games gets under way, the athletes, international contingents, members of media and viewers around the world will find that the Chinese hi-tech infrastructure behind last month's Winter Olympics remains in place for the sporting events from March 4 to 13.

The most prominent of these hi-tech advances are 5G mobile communications technology, China's digital currency and cloud infrastructure services, which form part of Beijing's efforts to promote the country's tech-savvy image through the Olympic Games.

That followed a years-long campaign by China's Ministry of Science and Technology to promote a "technological Olympics", as it supported the development and launch of 212 relevant hi-tech advances - involving more than 10,000 researchers across 500 institutions - for the recent Winter Olympic Games and this month's Paralympics.

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These have become some of the bright spots for China's latest Olympic hosting duties, which have been marred by difficulties. These include a draconian closed-loop management to keep athletes away from the Chinese public, Western government boycott on China's human rights record in Xinjiang and the latest controversy over the International Paralympic Committee's decision to ban Russian and Belarussian athletes for their countries' roles in the war in Ukraine.

Fireworks go off above China's National Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 20, 2022. Photo: DPA alt=Fireworks go off above China's National Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 20, 2022. Photo: DPA>

The roll-out of 5G mobile network services across China, with the world's biggest internet user population and largest smartphone market, was forecast to spur new growth in the country's information technology industry by 3.3 trillion yuan (US$522 billion) in the five years to 2024.

That infrastructure expansion has paid off for the Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, as all 87 sporting venues in host cities Beijing and Zhangjiakou, in northwestern Hebei province, have 5G connectivity.

That "makes game data transmission fast and stable", the nation's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in late February. Compared with 4G, new 5G networks are designed to provide faster data rates, ultra-low latency, energy savings, cost reductions, higher system capacity and massive device connectivity.

China Unicom, one of the country's major telecommunications carriers, introduced a 5G-powered remote interview platform that is optimised to process a very high volume of data. That has enabled journalists, who must sit in different sections at a venue for social distancing, to talk to athletes on camera just like they do in a face-to-face meeting.

China's sovereign digital currency, known as e-CNY, caught the world's attention at the Winter Olympics last month, when it racked up "a couple of million" yuan of payments made each day, according to a senior official with the People's Bank of China (PBOC).

While there was no breakdown of use among international attendees last month, Mu Changchun, head of the PBOC's digital currency research institute, said it seemed "all the foreign users are using hardware wallets", while Chinese were using software wallets.

The Winter Olympics marks the first time visitors from overseas have been free to use the e-yuan, which is available via smartphones and wearable payment devices such as gloves, badges and wristbands.

All the merchants within the Olympic venues, designated hotels and hospitals accept the digital currency as payment. Worldwide Olympic partner Visa is another payment option at those locations, while popular Chinese mobile payment apps WeChat Pay and Alipay are not available.

An employee shows how to buy coffee with e-CNY at the coffee shop inside the New Actuation Fintech Centre and the National Fintech Demonstration Zone in Beijing on February 17, 2022. Photo: Simon Song alt=An employee shows how to buy coffee with e-CNY at the coffee shop inside the New Actuation Fintech Centre and the National Fintech Demonstration Zone in Beijing on February 17, 2022. Photo: Simon Song>

The Winter Olympics and Paralympics have become ideal test environments for the e-CNY because the sporting events are held in a closed-loop system, in which athletes and visitors are separated from the public.

The e-CNY app allows users to register with phone numbers of "nearly a hundred participating countries".

Two Nikkei Asia reporters from Japan recently tried to open up a digital yuan wallet, but found that the app could only be installed in a smartphone that uses a Chinese mobile carrier. So they bought instead a prepaid e-CNY card, which can be used to pay by swiping the card on a point-of-sale device that supports the digital currency.

At the end of December, the e-CNY had 261 million unique users, accepted by more than 8 million merchants and used in transactions totalling 87.6 billion yuan.

Alibaba Cloud tech powers broadcasters' live-streaming of Winter Olympics

Worldwide Olympic partner Alibaba Group Holding, meanwhile, continues to provide its Live Cloud transmission system to the Winter Paralympic Games, following its initial broad deployment with the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) as a standard service to licensed broadcasters. OBS was established by the International Olympic Committee in 2001 to serve as the host broadcaster for all Olympic sporting events.

Powered by Alibaba Cloud, the system enables licensed broadcasters to receive live footage of the games through the public cloud infrastructure. This represents a more agile option, with only a fraction of the cost compared to other transmission methods, according to e-commerce giant Alibaba, parent of the South China Morning Post.

Cloud computing services enable companies to buy, sell, lease or distribute over the internet a range of software and other digital resources as an on-demand service, just like electricity from a power grid.

More than 20 broadcast organisations receive ultra high-definition or high-definition signals via Live Cloud, according to Alibaba. The system also embeds a multi-camera replay system for freeze-frame slow motion replays.

Before the Winter Olympic Games opened, an underwater torch relay between two robots was completed and a self-driving car developed by tech giant Baidu took part on an 800-metre-long relay. For the Paralympics, smart power stations have been deployed to charge electric wheelchairs.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.