5G – the next generation of mobile technology and a key industry buzz word from the last few years. Some regard it as the panacea for mobile video consumption. Would I go that far? Well, 5G certainly has the potential to transform the media and entertainment sector, offering greater functionality from the network infrastructure and, therefore, exciting new opportunities for broadcasters and content providers.
The 5G network, which is defined by a set of global wireless standards, has been specifically designed to connect everyone and everything at higher speeds and higher quality than ever possible before. It’s just starting to be deployed at scale; according to Ericsson’s June 2020 Mobility Report, 45 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be carried by 5G networks by 2025. With this comes the potential to change the entire media supply chain from production, management, delivery and monetization.
5G: Insync and interoperable
The roll out of 5G not only promises higher-speed connections – providing speeds of 10 to 20 times faster than current 4G LTE networks – but also enables more users to simultaneously interact, which in turn empowers better user experiences, such as the reception of higher quality video, even in remote locations. This opens up a number of new pathways, not least in terms of personalized services to individual viewers, as well as superior outdoor event coverage.
We will see an array of new and enhanced media applications come to the fore, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer. Better video quality on mobile devices is one obvious example, of course – both in terms of higher resolution and the types of experiences we can enable. 5G can support data-intensive resolutions such as 4K Ultra-High Definition (UHD) TV (and eventually 8K UHDTV), as well as address the unique challenges of more immersive technologies such as 360-degree live video, and virtual and augmented reality viewing. Guaranteed bandwidth, high data speeds, low latency, and delivery reliability are just some of the customizable features available with 5G.
Indeed, 5G’s network slicing capability allows communication service providers (including mobile network operators) to set aside a portion of network resources exclusively for real-time video, which is extremely valuable for live video production, such as for sports, concerts, and other premium entertainment. This provides broadcasters and content providers with the guaranteed throughput and low network latency that they need to deliver outstanding event coverage, in real-time. Although 5G networks have been rolling out since 2019, the critical mass of full-featured 5G capabilities won’t be established for several more years. The challenge for us, as application providers, is not only to take advantage of the maturing of 5G networks, but also to leverage the transformation of all media processing functions to cloud-native, thereby syncing workflows of both technological advances for the successful integration and interoperability of new media applications of which we can only dream about today.
Untethered live video capture
5G can solve several challenges in current-day content creation and enables new types of experiences that are set to delight audiences. When applied correctly, its benefits allow producers to have greater flexibility in the way content is made. For instance, 5G allows omnidirectional cameras to be untethered, giving producers the freedom to deploy them anywhere within the venue, regardless of where wired connections are available (think inside every race car for NASCAR or Formula 1, or remote areas on a golf links). 5G networks allow much more processing to be done in the cloud and at the mobile network edge, enabling – for example – the delivery of live 4K UHD and High Dynamic Range (HDR) video content, reliably and with stability.
Beyond untethering of cameras, enhanced live production capabilities and multi-streaming options, 5G has the potential to unlock even more remote or offsite production (also known as “at-home” production) for live broadcasts, something with which the industry has been migrating toward for the past few years but we have seen accelerate during the last few months of lockdown due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This could have a tremendous impact on the future of live broadcasting, particularly at high profile events, where traditionally, broadcasters and content providers have had large numbers of people and equipment sent on site. Now, it’s an absolute necessity to reduce those numbers, not just in terms of costs, but also for the health and safety of everyone involved.
Enabling 4K HDR video streaming over 5G
One of the central use cases for 5G live programming is in providing a high-capacity wireless link in areas where wired infrastructure is unavailable. Today, the coverage of live sports that occur over large or remote areas (such as cycling, marathons and golf) is problematic. Camera placement is often determined by the availability of (or the ability to install rapidly) wired connections that provide the reliable connections necessary for broadcast. This greatly restricts the number of options available and hinders a producer’s ability to create a high-quality broadcast.
5G offers significantly greater flexibility for high-quality broadcasts. Placement of broadcast cameras can be determined by optimal viewing rather than accessibility, providing producers with greater coverage and more options for effective storytelling.
This was demonstrated in 2018, when FOX Sports, in cooperation with the Fox Innovation Lab and Ericsson, Intel and AT&T, successfully used 5G technology to stream 4K video over 5G for broadcast nationwide at the 118th US Open Championship. MediaKind (formerly Ericsson Media Solutions) provided 4K video encoders and decoders for this groundbreaking trial – the first broadcast to use 5G technology from a premier US golf event.
Through this demonstration, we were able to show how 5G technology works in a live environment. Previously it had only been tested in closed lab tests without the unpredictability of an outside broadcast. All the technology elements worked as expected with extremely low latency and no packet loss – a powerful use case for reducing live production costs and enabling UHD broadcasting to scale.
Raising the revenue bar
So how can communication service providers monetize the capabilities of 5G? Well, by packaging and selling partitioned slices of throughput – as service offerings with specific service level agreements (SLAs) – to broadcasters or other content producers, there is an immediate pathway to commercializing data access in a way that is not possible in current 4G networks. As full functionality becomes available, 5G networks will be able to dynamically provision these virtual network slices, increasing the scalability and usability of such service offerings. Combining these services with the use of distributed cloud computing and mobile edge computing, low latency is assured while core network traffic is reduced.
The holy grail of 5G is to realize the power of personalization to the masses – a true catalyst for consumers and content owners alike. Again, distributed cloud computing technology means service providers can maximize this potential through solutions such as MediaKind’s PRISMA, which enable the delivery of more personalized and relevant advertising services to every viewer, while fully complying with distribution rights and local regulations.
First, of course, 5G networks have to be successfully rolled out. However, once the issue of maturity has been overcome, the ability for content to be created directly from stadiums and large venues to deliver unique primary and second-screen experiences to 5G smartphone users is a tantalizing proposition. A game changer for video experiences!
I am looking forward to expanding on the opportunities 5G enables for media and entertainment at the upcoming North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) webinar. I am joining a strong line up of speakers from Bell Mobility, Verizon Media, Univision, 5G Media Action Group, Nokia, and Rohde & Schwarz. Together, we are all set to discuss 5G applications, infrastructure and networks. If you’re a member, join us on Wednesday August 26!