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What Will 5G Mean for the Broadcast and OTT Video World?

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Wasn’t 4G/LTE supposed to be the magic bullet for streaming? 

4G/LTE has made a big impact on consumers’ ability to reliably stream their favorite programs from pretty much anywhere. Of course, commuters will attest to this being an exasperating experience—with patchy reception leading to spinning wheels during their journeys. 

In the media production world, delivering content from remote locations to your point of presence/master control Room in order to prep it for broadcast transmission is a considerable logistical challenge. The hardy (and expensive) satellite truck has been a staple for anyone wishing to have a rock-solid uplink to carry their time-critical content. 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE provided a compromise for the roving reporter or niche broadcaster, but this technology is hampered by coverage stability and network contention at cell sites. Data multiplexing solutions in which multiple cellular modems are used—such as the excellent LiveU kit—have helped to alleviate some of these issues by pushing data across multiple outbound channels and recombining it at the receiving PoP. However, there’s a possibility that cellular services will have capacity issues in large crowd situations, such as a stadium event or protest march.

This quickly leads to signal degradation and loss of uplink capability. The fix for this is to push for more capacity at the cellular sites that exist within the radio access networks (RANs) and are supported by a backhaul network with sufficient capacity to deal with large, burstable traffic. On the production side, use of multiple cell SIMs is relatively inexpensive, but the kit used to encode, multiplex, and deliver certainly isn’t.

For UGC/social broadcasters, reliable and uncontended bandwidth is key to a successful broadcast, but budgets are highly constrained. Relying on a single LTE connection when out and about means frame drops and low resolution delivery of your content to end users, and a poor consumer experience. Audiences are picky, and if you are to reach and keep them, you need to provide a quality experience—or you risk losing views to rival broadcasters.

What Makes 5G So Useful?

5G can make use of a frequency spectrum under 6 GHz, and initial test deployments used to augment existing 4G cells did precisely this. Though the bandwidth available in the 6 GHz range is not a huge improvement over 4G, it does provide some flexibility. The mass-scale consumer offerings will make use of the much wider frequency bands available at the high ranges (28–40 GHz), with the ability to fall back to the 6 GHz range where large distances are to be spanned, and also to 4G LTE bands where coverage drops further. 

Given that wavelengths at the higher frequency ranges have a significantly shorter range, density of 5G cells will be key to maintaining reliable connectivity. Thankfully, the equipment manufacturers have made great strides in shrinking the technology required for cell deployment, so the density of unsightly cell towers and poles will not have to increase. Instead, the solution will be a far wider distribution of mini/micro cell sites, creating city-wide mesh networks. 

The higher frequency bands used within the 5G networks allow for significantly faster data rates between the cell site and devices. Theoretical data rates (the ideal conditions scenario) are expected to hit ~10Gbps initially, which is 100 times faster than the best performing 4G LTE networks presently available. Speeds of ~20Gbps will be theoretically possible in the future as 5G technology matures. In practice, once the technology is in the hands of consumers, it’s likely that multiple gigabits per second will be possible. 

Where Will 5G Have the Most Impact?

The increased bandwidth availability and reliability will be a huge change for consumers, and will radically alter how and where we consume content. Can you imagine IP delivery of UHD-2/8K/Super Hi-Vision to your 5G enabled TV, or 4K UHD-1 with HDR on your tablet/phone while on a bus or train? That sounds wonderful!

Consumer messaging will of course concentrate on the higher bandwidth (faster speeds), and lower latency (responsiveness) benefits for streaming data from the multitude of video services available via the internet, but we will also see a democratization of content production and distribution. Anyone with a 5G connection will have the ability to be a content originator—without the huge capital outlay previously required to invest in high bandwidth (fixed, satellite, or multiplexed cellular) communications lines and equipment. Content producers will be able to access their target market with higher reliability and quality than ever before. Can you imagine 4K UHD-1 live streaming from the school or community sports ground to an audience on Twitch or your own website?

The dominant big telcos in each region are allready deploying trial networks, and results from medium-scale deployments are incredibly encouraging. The cellular chip vendors (Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, and Huawei) are well under way in their efforts to produce the highly optimized packages for consumer-grade equipment required to enable use in our phones and tablets, but also for the consumer gateway devices that will extend 5G networks into our businesses and homes. While it is too early to tell whether wireless 5G will replace our traditional fixed line cable/DSL-based internet connectivity, this is certainly the direction the mobile telcos will push.

As with any emerging technology that requires a large in-field infrastructure change, ramping up from trial stages to consumer-scale offerings will take significant funding and time. 

5G will no doubt open up exciting business avenues and amazing possibilities for creativity from content originators, and those seeking to take advantage of this will need to start planning their approach in readiness for services launches in 2020.

[This is a vendor-contributed article from Brightcove. Streaming Media accepts articles from vendors based solely on their value to our readers.] 

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