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5G and the Future of Live Streaming

5G marks a new era of cellular network connectivity. Teradek's Jon Landman describes how 5G will make a difference for live streaming by optimizing your connectivity for more reliable broadcasts.

When we talk about 5G and video, those of us who are producing live streams are talking about using the bonded abilities of a device to get a stream out. For us at Teradek, bonding began years ago with 3G signals, which gave us 500 Kilobits per second. Today, with 4G, we're getting 30 Megabits per second sustained. Sustained is the key word there; whenever someone tells you that they’re getting 100Mbps at home, that’s never sustained throughput. So, I always recommend that if you’re in the business of streaming, that you do look at what your sustained bit rate would be.

With 4G bonding, we’ve been doing well with 1080p streaming, but everyone is really excited about the possibility of streaming 4K with bonded 5G. One of the biggest problems we have at this point is that one 5G network’s connectivity is not comparable to another 5G. I’ve seen different rates from a Verizon 5G connection than I have with an AT&T 5G connection. I’ve even seen better 4G bitrates than I have 5G. My fear is that 5G is becoming a marketing ploy from a lot of the carriers that is not serving our industry well, when what we’re expecting is verifiable increases in throughput based on 5G connectivity.

Until recently, I haven’t been excited about the idea of 4K driving our industry, but just this morning I pulled a 4K stream to VLC on my phone over a 5G connection outside, and it looked absolutely incredible. For us, that’s a game changer. The ability to get the bandwidth that we need in order to send a reliable 4K stream will be heavily dependent on a 5G connection.


One of the main applications we’re seeing for 5G bonding is police forces using video and bonded cellular to get video feeds to officers in the field. When fires were spreading in Southern California, we worked with responders who were using bonded signals inside the helicopters. We were using external 5G antennas to connect to the towers and we were sending those feeds down to an app that we have to the firefighters fighting the fires.

There was a big push for this in 2019 because in 2018, there was a fire in Ventura County where they had a helicopter filming the fire coming over a big hill, but they weren't able to show the firefighters what was coming as they moved up the hill because they didn't have a way to get the video to them. The fire came over the hill and within eight seconds, eight guys were burned to death because they didn't see what was coming. Now we are utilizing 5G for this, and we’ve deployed an app that allows us to invite people to view everything securely.  


For 5G bonded streaming at Teradek, we use 5G-compatible Nodes. We insert a 5G SIM and connect to the 5G networks that are available.

In terms of latency, what we’re seeing is very good. With bandwidth, we’re not seeing massive jumps. Compared to 3-4 Mbps sustained per SIM on a 4G connection, we’re seeing about 9-10 over 5G. Is this enough to get a stream out? Absolutely. I think we'll also get to that point where we won't need to use bonding--we actually will just use single cell. The advantage of using single cell and not bonding is that the latency is much, much lower.

Why does using single cell reduce latency? Bonding signals from different carriers allows us to aggregate bandwidth. I typically carry an AT&T, a T-Mobile, a Sprint, and a Verizon SIM in my backpack. When I bond all those four together, I’m sending them up into the cloud where I then have to have a program that waits for all the bits to come in. In video, we’re dealing with frame one, frame two, frame three, frame four, etc. I have to wait until all those frames come in, sequence them in the right order, and then send them out to the CDN or streaming platform. This leaves me at the beck and call of the slowest SIM, right? Typically, 4 seconds is acceptable here in California.

If I'm not bonding signals because I'm getting higher throughput on a single 5G connection, then my latency can be a lot lower because I don't have to wait for that slowest connection. This will decrease latency by about half a second and in some environments, a half a second is quite important.

If you're streaming to Facebook, is low latency really important? No. But if you're streaming to firefighters, or if you're streaming in security operations, such as a SWAT team that’s launched a camera inside a location with a cell modem in order to get that feed out of that location, latency is the difference between a successful operation and not.

Teradek owns a monitor manufacturer called Small HD. One of the projects that we’re working on is building a decoder with a 5G SIM inside. That means that you can actually view a feed from anywhere in the world--not just on an iPad, but also on a proper monitor, and thus be on-set anywhere and view a feed from a camera. Latency is going to be critical in that environment, so that’s why we are closely looking at 5G, and closely working with the vendors.

5G is going to provide a lot of improvement in what we do in live streaming, possibly moving into using some different protocols as well, like a WebRTC protocol to do ultra-low latency over cellular, and bringing it down to something more like 400 milliseconds. For these types of applications, lowering latency with 5G single-cell streaming is going to make a big difference. We're still at the very early stages of 5G deployments, but I'm optimistic that we'll get there.