It seems like we’ve been here before: Another report extolling the potential of 5G, including new forms of media such as interactive holographic renderings or giant interactive screens inside our home. Well, we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for 5G to fulfil its promise, but a wide range of video applications can expect to benefit as rollout proceeds.
The paper, “Video over 5G: New Networks, New Possibilities,” examined the video innovations and emerging use cases experiences made possible by adoption of 5G services worldwide.
Researched by Futuresource Consulting and commissioned by InterDigital, the study is adamant that 5G networks will become commonplace within the next five years. They can be expected to deliver gigabit speeds, ultra-low latency, higher reliability, and improved density in device connectivity.
Data carried over mobile networks is forecast to rise to 3.4 zettabytes globally by 2027, with every individual smartphone consuming on average 41 gigabytes of data monthly in the same year. Alongside, video traffic is projected to expand to 79% of all data, equivalent to 2.7 zettabytes annually by 2027.
It is conceivable that the number of devices used to consume video and audio content over 5G will expand beyond smartphones and tablets to smartwatches, VR/AR head mounted displays, PCs, TVs and cars.
“In future, 5G will become the foundation of everyone’s mobile experience,” the reports suggests. “In fact, 5G could potentially unlock a route to market for seemingly far off possibilities such as interactive holographic renderings, or Fahrenheit 451-esque parlor walls capable of transporting consumers into fully immersive experiences for business, education and entertainment.”
Before we get to such exotic heights, there’s the business of rollout to overcome. This is most advanced in South Korea where 90% of the country’s mobile subscribers are expected to have access to 5G by 2026. South Korea already has most base stations per head of population, a density 10 times greater than the US, and 13 times that of the EU, with each serving fewer than 320 people. This also means South Korean subscribers are able to access up to 400 Mbps download speeds across the country.
“In future, 5G will become the foundation of everyone’s mobile experience. In fact, 5G could potentially unlock a route to market for seemingly far off possibilities such as interactive holographic renderings, or Fahrenheit 451-esque parlor walls capable of transporting consumers into fully immersive experiences for business, education and entertainment.”— InterDigital
Globally, as of December 2021, 80 countries had commercially available 5G networks online, with another 37 countries either investing in trials or otherwise planning to launch 5G technology. More than 190 mobile network operators now have 5G services available commercially.
In Europe, the EU Commission target stating that all urban areas and primary transport corridors (such as highways) should have uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025 is likely to be met, the report says. The coverage initiative was expanded in 2021, with a new intention of delivering 5G services to all “populated areas” and major transport paths by 2030. This more progressive goal is also on track because at least 50% of households across the region were reached by at least one 5G network, as of January 2022.
Operators in North America are pursuing a different deployment roadmap, with Verizon having concentrated initially on mmWave “hot spots” across US cities, and with AT&T using its assignment of 600 MHz low-band spectrum to deliver wide area coverage. To date, the United States has assigned the most mmWave spectrum across four bands overall — 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz; this contrasts with only one band in the EU, Japan and South Korea, and no mmWave deployments to date in China. There are now around 100,000 5G base stations installed across North America, delivering services to approximately 16 million subscribers as of March 2022.
“However, while North America had a head-start it is now falling behind other regions, with average 5G mobile speeds of 75 Mbps, which is sometimes lower than that available over 4G LTE. This will improve as coverage expands, alongside the move towards standalone 5G network architectures.”
New Video Services
The higher bandwidth available over 5G will “undoubtedly unlock UHD services and new forms of media, such as volumetric content,” the study finds.
In fact, all video applications will be “better on 5G;” businesses must identify applications that happen “only on 5G.”
While 4G could still be afflicted by latency issues, the video industry widely agrees that 5G has what it takes to be a game-changer for live contribution.
“Blending increased reliability with very low latency and the ability to maintain superb video quality, 5G is set to have an especially transformative effect on live sports and news.”
It will, for instance, bring greater simplicity and flexibility to camera signal transportation, which has historically tended to involve complex combinations of wired and wireless technologies. As a result, it also holds the promise of reduced production costs. With broader concerns about interference and public service requirements still to be fully resolved, private 5G networks — in some cases established using network slicing, bringing guaranteed bandwidth for specific news events or sports tournaments — could ultimately prove very popular.
5G for Television Transmission
Trials have discovered that 5G broadcast could be used for DTT. The key advantage is in enabling video content to be delivered to several users simultaneously using multicast, rather than individual streams over unicast, optimizing network bandwidth usage while minimizing distribution costs.
The study explains that broadcast over 5G is especially interesting for Europe, as there is a deployment opportunity using the 700 MHz spectrum band previously occupied by terrestrial television services. Technical studies conclude this is approximately twice as efficient as Digital Video Broadcasting — Terrestrial (DVB-T) which would create spare capacity in the spectrum for alternative use cases.
Beyond 2030, there is potential for the remaining terrestrial television frequencies to be reallocated to 5G, with TV broadcasts migrating from DVB to 5G LTE broadcast, although this is far from being a guaranteed outcome when cable, satellite and broadband offer feasible alternatives. The opportunity to utilize 5G services reignites the debate over whether 5G LTE broadcast could, or indeed should, replace digital TV broadcasting standards such as DVB-T2 or ATSC 3.0, especially now that UHD, and even HD, broadcast is becoming challenging over diminished terrestrial spectrum.
Additionally, Cband spectrum utilized by satellite operators in the US is also reallocated to mid-band 5G services, further increasing the pressure on traditional broadcast TV services. The overall picture on 5G broadcast is yet to fully develop. Wide support on devices remains a crucial consideration, as this drives the business models that govern when 5G broadcast becomes commercially viable.
Meanwhile, there is ongoing debate and questions as to why multiple and largely disparate satellite, cable and terrestrial broadcast networks must be run concurrently, especially when further innovation will certainly utilise 5G for other multi-media rich services, ultimately allowing television, radio and mobile data to share a common infrastructure.
5G for Live Mixed-Reality Production
A UK government backed test project, 5G Edge-XR, has illustrated the possibility for viewers to experience live sports using mixed reality (XR) via televisions, smartphones and VR headsets.
For live sports events, project participant BT Sport revealed a mixed reality stadium experience for 5G enabled smartphones that presents spectators with augmented graphics on a live rugby game.
Another application illustrates full volumetric video capture, which essentially records the sports action in real time and converts the data into point clouds. The visuals are then broadcast or streamed to present viewers with a VR rendering or, in future, a holographic projection of the live action. The technology is being trialed in stadia and includes team games and wider applications in motorsports.
“There are many outcomes that will distinguish the success of the 5G Edge-XR program, one of which is to define the future of streaming content and XR entertainment delivered across 5G networks internationally. Ultimately this could prove revolutionary for hundreds of thousands of sports fans by streaming XR media. Furthermore, this technology is being tested in areas such as healthcare and education, the success of which could facilitate virtual learning environments for students across the world.”
Impact on Streamers
The most obvious result of ubiquitous 5G coverage and 5G smartphones in everyone’s hands is to extend the reach of SVOD services — and enable them to diversify into adjacent markets.
In the white paper’s formula, “As international SVOD services near saturation in mature markets in the coming years, it is expected they will leverage new features such as immersive video formats and increased interactive functionality as a method to justify increasing ASPs to continue encouraging revenue growth.”
One line of attack is cloud gaming into which Amazon (with Luna) and Google (Stadia) have already launched. Current technology is not equipped to deal with the latency demands of gamers seeking a real-time and smooth gaming experience but 5G could change this.
“While uptake of this new wave of cloud gaming services has not been overwhelming … it could become an incredibly lucrative segment commercially. 5G is viewed as a key enabler of cloud processing, facilitating low latency transfer of game rendering at high frame rates.”
Another opportunity is streaming 8K content, which the report suggests could be on the horizon. According to the 8K Association, Netflix and other streamers have used a technique called “per-title encoding” or “content aware encoding,” which assigns encoding parameters on a scene-by-scene basis. This allows larger packets of data to be split into more manageable parcels to reduce the loss of information during heavy-usage periods. 5G may aid in reducing this strain on data transfers, particularly as 8K content becomes more commonplace, given that 8K data files are over four times larger than 4K.
Media Made for the Metaverse
So-called next-generation 360-degree video — stereoscopic 8K, HDR, 90+ frames per second — will require up to 200 Mbps — and that’s what 5G can deliver.
With an installed base of only 35 million units globally, VR is yet to revolutionize the way consumers enjoy content partly because of the clunky form factor of the headgear.
However, linking devices to cloud-based GPUs via a 5G connection could aid in reducing the hardware costs, improving the device capability for consumers, and helping encourage mass market adoption.
“Combining VR with 5G should produce lightweight headsets, reduce costs and encourage mass market adoption.”
Companies are evaluating the opportunity for 5G broadcast, not just for television services, but also locally for live events in stadia, and even for powering new AR and VR experiences.
“Unquestionably, all existing video applications will be ‘better on 5G,’” says Simon Forrest, principal technology analyst at Futuresource. “The focus today is in distinguishing how all these advances combined will inspire companies to conceive new applications, products and services that were not possible before… those that can happen ‘only on 5G.’”