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From Contribution to AR, 5G Is the Future

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2019 has been the year of 5G commercial rollout, and it's tracking faster than 4G LTE. A total of 31 5G commercial service launched globally by the end of the second quarter of 2019, according to IHS Markit. This level of deployment was achieved just 10 months after the first commercial 5G launches in the U.S. and South Korea. In contrast, notes IHS Markit, 4G took four years to attain this number of launches.

5G reaches nearly 1 in 20 people across the world - as operators invest nearly $160 billion a year on expanding and upgrading infrastructure, according to GSMA figures. In the U.S., Verizon promises to light up 30 cities by the end of 2019 and in the UK, all four domestic mobile operators are up and running. 5G will account for 15% of global mobile connections in five years, according to GSMA.

Operators seem confident that by investing in 5G now—and continuing to invest in 4G—they can tap potentially huge revenue streams down the line. The focus of this is on enterprise scale and corporate applications and dovetails with the explosion of IoT sensors to drive new applications in remote real-time medical, factory automation, city planning, and urban management over the network.

When it comes to consumer markets operators are more cautious, viewing initial rollout as a way of expanding coexistence with existing infrastructure and enhancing mobile broadband. Video is a prime mover for 5G, with upwardly revised predictions by Ericsson that 5G coverage will reach 45% of the world's population by the end of 2024, and it is in media and entertainment where operators hope to score. Where 60% of all internet traffid is video today, close to three quarters will be video in six years' time, it reckons. Cisco predicts that by 2022, 82 percent of all IP traffic will be video.

For media & entertainment, video over 5G breaks broadly into three overlapping areas of activity: contribution for live event production; widescale delivery of video applications to mobile, including emerging virtual and augmented reality; and augmentation or even replacement of infrastructure for broadcast.

Mobile operators are acutely conscious of their collective failures to capitalize on OTT services traversing their networks from the introduction of 3G starting 2008. Cell operators in Western Europe lost more than a quarter of their service revenues while traffic grew 50-80% a year, according to Ericsson.

The only way to keep pace with demand and not go backwards financially is to serve that traffic more and more efficiently. 5G is a big step in that direction.

5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will deliver a significant reduction in cost per bit compared with 4G mobile broadband (MBB), and costs will continue to go down thanks to increased spectral efficiency, higher network utilization, greater user numbers and higher average speeds. Access to new and wider spectrum also delivers efficiencies.

The telco reality is that they have to provide ever-increasing bandwidth capacity while not ending up as a dumb pipe. The staggered nature of the 5G technical standards by the 3GPP afford them the opportunity to plan ahead.

Early 5G launches are using a "non-standalone" deployment focused on using the combined power of 4G and 5G to deliver eMBB. Operators are addressing urban centres and locations of high footfall (such as travel terminals and stadiums).

Taking UK mobile operator EE as an example, its roadmap targets Phase 2 5G in 2022, when enhanced device chipset capabilities and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum come on stream. New releases of the 3GPP standard will deliver the higher bandwidth and lower latency required to enable truly immersive mobile augmented reality and mobile cloud gaming. Phase 2 is also a crucial step to the convergence of network technologies, as fixed, mobile and wif-fi combines into a seamless customer experience, states EE.

Phase 3, from 2023, will introduce Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), Network Slicing, and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds. This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles and the "tactile internet," where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's look at commercial use cases for video today.

5G Contribution

Remote production is the biggest change sweeping live outside broadcast, and 5G is a massive piece of the puzzle. The advantages of remote production—reduction in cost, better work-life balance for employees, reduced carbon footprint, and the ability to produce more games—are well known but not game changing.

"The real gamechanger is when you combine remote production with producers who understand how to exploit the new technology including the creative flexibility of wireless cameras," says Matt Stagg, director of BT Sport's mobile strategy.

Matt Stagg

Unlike 4G, 5G will be a "rock-solid" service guaranteeing performance for live broadcast producers, says BT's Matt Stagg.

Wireless links over 4G are currently a standard part of the producer's kit, but the congested traffic conditions at venues means they have never been reliable enough as a primary feed.

"5G will be a rock-solid service," says Stagg. "It will guarantee performance."

BT Sport has conducted a number of experiments with 5G remote contribution, the latest of which hooked up three locations in the UK with BT Sport's booth at the IBC Show in Amsterdam for live broadcast. It is looking to 5G as a cheaper connectivity solution than satellite uplinks.

Stagg explained that BT wanted to book a slot on the network just as it would book a satellite transponder. "Provisioning the network for something like breaking news should be as quick and easy as going to a web frontend and entering the postcode, specifying an amount of bandwidth and an amount of time," said Stagg.

This agility is predicated on network slicing that would guarantee broadcasters a minimum standard of speed and throughput with 100Mbps lower latency. The network could be provisioned for multiple dedicated application in stadiums. Alongside broadcast, this could include dedicated spectrum for press or IT support as well as spectators.

As Stagg put it, "I don't want my camera-operators fighting [for bandwidth] with someone uploading a selfie."

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