It is amazing how much innovation has taken place within TV and broadcasting in just the past few years — from analog to digital cable to satellite delivery and hundreds of unique channels delivering focused content. Now, TV is ready to take another transformative turn with 5G — the technology associated with mobile connectivity — that is ready to transform digital TV.
Cellular technology is the single largest platform in human history and it is accessible to billions of users daily. For TV broadcasters and content providers, it creates an opportunity to broaden their reach; for mobile network operators, it expands their service portfolio by leveraging existing networks and resources; and for consumers, it gives them access to even richer content on their mobile or fixed devices. Moreover, cellular has evolved rapidly in recent years and can deliver much higher efficiencies than other standalone TV broadcast technologies. And this is where LTE enTV comes in — it is designed to make delivering digital TV over the existing mobile networks a reality, addressing the needs of broadcasters, content providers, mobile operators, and consumers.
LTE eMBMS/enTV – the foundation of 5G broadcast
3GPP has the vision to support digital TV delivery in the 5G era, and it has defined a set of 5G requirements for multimedia broadcast services. Today, Release 14 LTE enTV already meets most of the 5G requirements and it is expected to meet all of them with its continued evolution in Release 16 and beyond. The future of broadcast technologies is evolving in two distinct paths. The first is terrestrial broadcast that enables a dedicated broadcasting network leveraging cellular technology to provide a common delivery platform for different content and services (live/linear TV). The second is mixed-mode broadcast that allows for dynamic mode switching between unicast and broadcast to more efficiently deliver identical content (device firmware).
Terrestrial broadcast fuels the future of digital TV delivery
While the concept of broadcast is nothing new in 3GPP (in fact, it was part of the original LTE specifications in Release 8), what may be the most significant enhancement in the LTE broadcast evolution is the introduction of enTV in Release 14. For the first time, 3GPP took on a system approach to define how cellular broadcast should work for digital TV.
Release 14 enTV brings several radio access layer enhancements, including the support for a longer inter-site distance, rooftop reception, higher broadcast capacity, and more deployment flexibility for both mobile and fixed devices. On the system side, enhancements enable receive-only devices such as TVs that do not require SIM or service subscription, a transport-only option that allows content providers to deliver media in native format, and shared broadcast that allows multiple operators to utilize a common broadcast carrier.
enTV is especially interesting for Europe, as there is an immediate deployment opportunity using the re-farmed 700 MHz spectrum band. The Release 14 enTV specifications already meet all EU digital TV broadcast requirements, and it is ~2x more efficient than DVB-T, allowing spectrum to be freed up for new use cases such as with the new 5G NR deployments in 700 MHz.
Mixed-mode broadcast brings network efficiency
The second evolution path is mixed-mode broadcast, which enables dynamic switching of unicast and broadcast services, and it has a wide reach into many different use cases.
LTE IoT. One key challenge for the IoT is when identical content needs to be distributed to a massive number of devices. It is inefficient to use unicast, but ideal for broadcast. It can make over-the-air (OTA) firmware upgrades and group messaging much more efficient.
Cellular V2X. Next-generation vehicles will support enhanced safety and more autonomous driving, and C-V2X allows vehicles to efficiently communicate with the network and its surroundings. With broadcast, it allows the network to more efficiently deliver real-time information, such as traffic, to vehicles.
Public safety. Government and public service entities are looking for ways to communicate with citizens, and broadcast (or MCPTT — mission-critical push to talk) is being adopted to more efficiently deliver real-time emergency notifications to a wide variety of devices.
5G and broadcasting of live sports events
Sports broadcasters are set to get innovative with 5G from 2020 as globally major deployments are expected globally. 5G will be necessary to connect the hundreds of thousands of devices to fans, employees, and the applications that surround the stadium.
Mobile data traffic is estimated to surge by 8x to reach close to 107 exabytes (EB) per month, a figure that is equal to every mobile subscriber in the world streaming full HD video for 10 hours. By 2023, more than 20 percent of mobile data traffic worldwide is expected to be carried by 5G networks. This is 1.5x more than the total 4G, 3G, and 2G traffic today. One billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2023, accounting for around 12 percent of all mobile subscriptions. The rapid growth of 5G will change sports broadcasting.
5G provides opportunities to operate more efficiently in terms of setting up equipment with tetherless cameras, requiring fewer camera people. 5G trumps previous technologies, such as fiber and 4G for remote production, and gives the flexibility for crews to get to places easier. It will allow broadcasters to cover more live matches from more leagues and competitions. Although it is possible to broadcast via 4G, it is anticipated that 5G with its network slicing technology will provide better latency, bandwidth, and quality for broadcasting live. The technology allows broadcasters to send footage back to base within minutes and is better for larger arenas. 4G has been used before and broadcasters have done remote production with it, but it has always been a last resort.
There will be a high scale rollout of 5G for smartphones across 2019. It is more than likely that some broadcasters will seek to take advantage as early adopters in this timeframe, but more general rollout and availability of 5G based services will certainly continue into 2020 and beyond. The use cases that broadcasters will focus on with 5G will vary. In the first instance, it will depend on the network coverage that has gone before. If broadcasters have largely been offering services over 3G or limited availability 4G, they will likely focus on general availability of HD or 4K video. For service providers that already offer these types of services today, they will likely focus on a more transformational experience that is enabled by 5G.
The passion of sports fans to get close to the action has long been a driver of innovation in the television industry. This was underlined throughout the day at Broadcast’s Sports Tech Innovation Forum, held at BT Sport Studios at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on November 22, 2018. BT Sports used EE’s 5G network at Wembley Stadium to showcase how 5G network slicing can be used to reserve network space and guarantee latency, bandwidth, and streaming quality. The broadcaster and telco team’s first demo of 5G remote production was a live, two-way broadcast from Wembley Stadium to London’s ExCel Centre, during the Global Mobile Broadband Forum. The broadcast was carried over EE’s test 5G network in Wembley Stadium to BT Sport’s production hub in Stratford, East London, where it was vision mixed and broadcast live to ExCel. There was noticeable latency during the live broadcast, with a short but evident delay between a question being asked from the stage at ExCel and it being heard by the crew at Wembley Stadium. However, the live images broadcast to a series of huge screens at ExCel were consistently high quality throughout the demo.
5G itself offers a range of qualities, but in essence they boil down to higher speed (upload and download); greater capacity (so an overall improved experience in high traffic areas for less buffering); but also vastly reduced network latency, which essentially means that owing to a range of improvements in the network core, distributed cloud, and edge computing, 5G can process much more, much faster. So what does this mean coming back to the point about transformational experiences? At a basic level it means that 4K and HDR smooth streaming will be a reality, irrespective of where one is. But more broadly it will allow broadcasters to add more into the mix, in a much more seamless and less bolted on and clunky fashion.
Broadcasters and operators talk about 5G creating a panacea for outside broadcasting, saying it will revolutionize the way broadcasters send live content. The upload speeds, latency, and capacity benefits of 5G are an interesting prospect for those involved in outside broadcast. Clearly, this is an area that requires specialist and guaranteed connectivity (especially for use cases involving live distribution). To accommodate this, mobile network providers today are investing in network function virtualisation and network slicing; essentially creating dedicated slices of their networks that can be tailored to support the specific speed, capacity, and latency requirements of different industry segments. With network slicing and the inherent benefits of 5G, there is a strong basis to explore whether this technology could be used as an alternative to high cost, highly bespoke satellite uplink and distribution.
Concluding on which regions will turn to 5G for broadcast purposes first, it will be the U.S. and Asia, while Western Europe may drag. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, there will be one billion 5G subscriptions by 2023. North America and Asia are leaders in terms of volume of subscriptions, followed by Western Europe. Both North America and Asia have investment friendly policies. In contrast, Europe has been slower to harmonize on spectrum deployment and allocation, and has a very uneven approach to the investment and risk required by operators in different countries. The net result is that Europe as a whole will follow later with the deployment of 5G services. By the end of 2023, close to 50 percent of all mobile subscriptions in North America are forecast to be for 5G, followed by North East Asia at 34 percent, and Western Europe at 21 percent.
Where 5G technology gets really interesting for broadcasters is in live contribution networks for news and sports applications. With today’s limited bandwidths available on 4G LTE systems, video signals need to be heavily compressed and then spread across multiple channels using cellular bonding. As new 5G infrastructure becomes available, wider bandwidths will be supported allowing higher bit rate video signals to be sent over fewer radio channels. Less video compression will also mean less delay, allowing these signals to be more user-friendly for two-way interviews and other time sensitive applications.
Overall, 5G deployments should be positive for content providers, that are prodigious consumers of bandwidth. The impact of 5G on delivering content to viewers will be similar in nature to the ongoing upgrades of fiber-optic connections to households today. More bandwidth at a lower price will mean that higher quality signals can be delivered to a larger population of viewers.