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From Contribution to AR, 5G Is the Future

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Network slicing is still being worked through, and it's not straightforward. In the UK, for instance, public broadcasters like the BBC are fighting to prevent spectrum being yielded to mobile operators.

"Traditional broadcasters are under an immense amount of pressure," says analyst Paolo Pescatore at PP Foresight. "Valuable spectrum has and will continue to be taken away for reuse of rolling out mobile networks."

There are other issues too, though they are not insurmountable. 5G will not become the main connectivity solution for live events overnight. BT Sport says it will use fibre if the venue is connected and 4G as a best effort in some scenarios.

Switching between multiple cameras over 5G needs to be genlocked to avoid sync issues; cutting with non-5G feeds will cause similar issues. Contributing 5G between different operator networks (in different countries) needs consideration. The 5G broadcast ecosystem needs developing too, although companies like LiveU have already brought out a 5G-capable cellular bonding unit.

A consortium including Nevion, LOGIC Media Solutions, and Germany's Institute for Broadcasting Technology has embarked on an EBU-funded project to explore scalable software-defined network architectures for live media production. In practical terms, this means demonstrating how 5G can be combined with virtualisation concepts to enable broadcasters to produce live content more efficiently.

5G Video Applications

Among early consumer video applications enabled by 5G will be enhanced coverage for those attending live events.

"Broadcasters have underserved fans in the stadia," said Stagg at IBC. "Broadcasters are in prime position to change this. We have the content and the technology that can enable fans to participate even more deeply in the experience."

Examples range from AR seat-finding apps to instant playback of a penalty goal. High-bandwidth connectivity even for sharing video on social from the event should be the baseline.

More exotic consumer applications are being lined up as the full next-gen 5G core network arrives from 2022.

Telcos are also trialling virtual reality harnessed with 8K live streamed over the network. Deutsche Telekom made a world first broadcast of live 8K mobile 360° streams of a basketball event in tandem with MediaKind earlier this year. Orange and France Télévisions, along with Harmonic, tested the same over two weeks at the French Open, mostly to devices spread over the stadium. Both used tiling technology to encode and send over the network just the parts of the image the viewer is looking at.

Orange and France Televisions French Open

Orange and France Télévisions, along with Harmonic, tested 8K live streaming over 5G at the French Open in 2019.

BT Sport has also made several trials of an 8K captured live sport to enable pinch and zoom applications on mobile and Chinese telco device maker ZTE also has a "5G+8K" solution and helped to deliver one of China's first 5G sports events, the National Youth Games, in August

The rollout of 5G has big implications for mixed reality, or as GSMA calls it 'X Reality' or XR—the umbrella term for AR, VR, MR and other digital "realities." 5G's 1Gbps+ speeds and 1ms latency is ideal for network-assisted VR, and not only detaches it from a PC or a games console but also removes the need for local wi-fi connectivity.

It seems inevitable that gaming will join other forms of entertainment as streaming-first when networks can cope with the demands. Over the next 12 months, 5G's integration with the cloud makes widespread "thin client" gaming possible, where the burden of processing and storage is relocated from user's hardware device to the edge.

HTC, Facebook-owned Oculus, Magic Leap, and Microsoft's HoloLens will all debut 5G-enabled headset models over the next few years. According to the GSMA, 70% of the 20 million people registered with China's largest Cloud gaming platform, are mobile users (per GSMA). Huawei predicts the market volume for cloud VR will be worth $292 billion by 2025. Unsurprisingly, several of the major operators are preparing for this upcoming boom: Verizon has made a number of VR/AR acquisitions – notably immersive media and 360° video company RYOT, while AT&T and Ericsson have collaborated with HTC to deliver six-degrees-of-freedom interactive content over 5G. The demo sampled 2880x1600 resolution frames at 75 frames per second and transported them over Ericsson's mmWave 5G to an HTC Focus headset.

Another potential growth area is social VR (SVR), with platforms allowing people to meet up in virtual environments, either for collaborative working or for pleasure. Facebook signalled its intent early by acquiring Oculus, but other developers in SVR include Against Gravity and VRChat, and China's giant social network Tencent is seriously considering a VR version of WeChat.

2025 could be the tipping point for 5G in entertainment and media, predict Ovum and Intel. By then, 57% of wireless revenue globally will be driven by the capabilities of 5G networks and devices, rising to 80% by 2028.

Between 2021 and 2028, AR and VR will deliver cumulative revenues of $140 billion, predicts Intel. Immersive and new media applications, some of which don't even exist today, could generate $67 billion a year in less than a next decade.

Toward 5G Broadcast

The published release 14 of 3GPP specs provide most of the feature relevant for broadcasters. These include, for example, increased guard intervals that enable bigger single frequency networks and a receive-only mode for devices without a SIM.

Potential additions to release 16, on which 3GPP is currently working, will go even further and provide a full technical solution for digital terrestrial TV (DTT) broadcast over 5G. Could this be enough for broadcasters to switch from classic DTT to 5G?

"Probably not," is the DVB's answer. Its head of technology Peter Siebert, says DTT technologies for fixed reception like DVB-T2 and ATSC 3.0 are more spectrum efficient than 5G broadcast technology. "With cost pressure in the broadcast industry, only the most efficient solutions will be commercially viable. Therefore, it cannot be expected that 5G broadcast will replace DVB-T2 in countries that still rely heavily on DTT distribution."

However, the standards body has set up a study group to explore it. “The starting point is to define collaboration scenarios describing ecosystem opportunities that will benefit DVB members as well as the 5G community,” explains Siebert.

Such scenarios might deliver a dynamically adaptable 5G network architecture that will enable switching between unicast, multicast, and broadcast.

"While many 5G supporters will say that 5G is building out for all unicast transmission—like every 'G' before it, or even wired networks—we have always had to add adaptive bitrate technology and encoding to cater for any capacity problems," says Charles Cheevers, CTO, Customer Premises Equipment at CommScope. "Because of this dilemma for live events, 3GPP is actively looking to extend eMBMS to 5G, and even solutions based on OTA/FTA ATSC3.0 are being considered for augmenting 5G devices for much more efficient broadcast and live services."

An EBU-backed project 5G-Xcast, which also has support of the BBC, Nokia, Sony, Samsung, BT, and NHK has examined point-to-multipoint scenarios and the convergence of mobile broadband and broadcast networks. There's also a possibility that 5G can complement DVB-T2 transmission by adding extra features such as mobile reception or providing an interactive return channel.

The BBC also views 5G as a key to developing object-based broadcasting (OBB), where programmes are stored as sets of component parts (audio, video, subtitles, caption, and metadata). Commonly used and bandwidth-heavy objects are delivered over multicast, using a Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over IP Multicast (DASM) system, while personalised and bandwidth-light objects are delivered over unicast.

"This approach (developed under 5G-Xcast) shows how object-based media experiences could be delivered at scale over future fixed and 5G networks, while improving the user experience and conserving network resources," according to a BBC blog post.

The 5G-Xcast effort has now transmuted into a wider project called 5G Media Action Group (5G-MAG) which is intended to go far beyond pure EBU membership of public broadcasters.

"People are keen to open a new offer to the market which is not just 5G as it is realized by the telcos," EBU director of technology and innovation Antonio Arcidiacono said at the group's launch at IBC. "We want to develop a multicast layer network where we combine unicast services plus multicast services and possibly even a satellite overlay network.

"We need to federate all global interests including national regulators into a common effort to determine a single standard so that all 5G services can be available to any citizen."

By the Winter Olympics 2024, we could see 5G broadcast services delivering all the action to smartphones.

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