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5G for media and entertainment: from theory to practical use cases

By Baruch Altman, AVP Technologies and Projects, LiveU and Chair, 5G-IA Trials & Pilots Working Group International Stream

Wed 23, 09 2020

In recent years 5G has very much been the talk of the technological town in general and increasingly in the media industry. People expect it to play a significant role in live production and contribution as well as distribution to consumers. There are trials and real-world 5G deployments and testing of media use cases going on behind the scenes. In this COVID-19 era, the role of 5G in remote production becomes even more relevant to cut production costs while complying with strict social distancing guidelines.

LiveU’s successful live 5G field broadcasts with leading US, APAC and European cellular providers, including AT&T, NTT DOCOMO and Korea Telecom (KT), together with our three-year participation in EU 5G collaborative research and validation projects, have put us at the forefront of 5G-based field production. It’s strengthened our 5G understanding and expertise, resulting in enhanced 5G-native algorithms and implementation across our cellular bonding technology.

We have been actively involved in the EU collaborative research and validation projects, partnering in five 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G-PPP) projects funded by Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation program. The projects’ goals are to provide the broadcast community and other verticals with insights into 5G performance in real-world scenarios, both in production and in consumption/distribution. LiveU’s bonding technology has been an enabler in several important use cases.

As a result of this commercial and research exposure, I can say on the production side, these are the key media and entertainment use cases (and variations upon them) as benefitting from 5G.

The first is remote production, sending compressed real-time, in-synch multi-camera feeds (including 4K) from the field (venues, events sites, outdoor sports locations…) into the cloud or to the production facility, rather than sending out an OB unit with all the equipment and staff. This is a complete remote production scenario, including in extreme cases multi-room distributed production, such as multiple production staff operating remotely from one another working collaboratively on the same live content. We see strong demand from customers due to the economic and operational benefits and we’ve responded with our LU800 multi-cam and remote production software solution.

Secondly, there’s remote production in the field using private 5G networks (i.e. Non-Public-Networks – NPNs), with uncompressed, or slightly compressed, feeds from cameras sent to the on-site production truck: cableless, non-line-of-sight, high-quality field production.

Then there’s wireless studios: a vision where an all-IP, 5G NPN cableless wireless studio(s) is used, with all A/V devices connected over a 5G network, all IP-based etc.

Lastly, enhanced news gathering for live and recorded coverage and much faster pre-edited file uploading (LiveU FTP), benefiting from the additional uplink capacity and enhanced user density support.

On the distribution side, we see mass HD content distribution for consumer consumption, both live and non-live. More users, watching more content, at higher quality, with no buffering etc. For live content, 5G broadcast and multicast have the important potential to reduce network load, enhance the viewer experience and reduce operators’ costs.

Then there’s AR/VR viewing: consumers on mobile devices experiencing AR/VR, either passively watching or with gaming or other collaborative experiences. The AR/VR content may be live or pre-arranged. The requirement for high bandwidth at very low latency (otherwise physiological phenomena will inhibit usage) is expected to be resolved by 5G.

eGaming and eSports is similar to AR/VR but also requires multi-player synching with very low latency.

In addition, we see possible use cases in other verticals, where video or other media is required, making very good use of 5G. These include telemedicine – high-quality, remote access to medical experts, home treatments etc. We’re also taking about remotely operated, or assisted, medical robots and machinery. Very low latency, high uplink bandwidth and very high reliability are key to this remote point-to-point telemedicine use. COVID is expected to further boost the exploration of these use cases, including remote patient monitoring in ambulances or other out-of-hospital locations.

There are also AI-driven media uses cases where back-office AI is used to analyse and work on high-quality video coming in from mobile field devices for various outputs.

5G offers a range of key technologies to enable and support these cases. The main ones are higher bandwidth, both downlink (mainly) but also uplink; edge computing that enables latency reduction in some uses; support for increased user density – to reduce congestion both for production and consumption; slicing and orchestrated virtualised services using 5G Core to enable QoS “guarantees” for paying customers in stand-alone (SA) networks; NPN networks and NPN-PN roaming and collaboration models; and broadcast/multicast support.

The issue is to close the huge gaps between the promised performance and the current or imminent 5G network deployments, if and when all these 5G “goodies” are enabled and fully deployed. This requires a lot of research and validation – technological, operational and economic (return on investment). Then there’s the capital investment, including spectrum, basic infrastructure, optional advanced infrastructure and more expensive end-user technologies; we all need to understand the possibilities versus the limitations. Then there’s the issue of how widely networks are deployed and network resources allocated. It depends on investment priorities and ROI analysis, which are in competition with other verticals/use cases/markets/businesses such as IoT, smart logistics, autonomous vehicles, smart cities etc. Such full 5G deployments are some way off, though in some countries that see 5G as an engine to drive their economy, rollouts will be earlier than in others.

Being at the heart of the testing and validation of these innovative use cases, especially in production, we can assess the advantages, limitations and market viability of these advanced 5G technologies. We see, and experience in our work, bonding multiple links is required to fully enable these cases. It simply ensures the maximum effective use of current and future 5G capabilities. On the one hand there’s fluctuations in service levels, limited consistent uploading for any single modem, partial deployments, sub 6GHz spectrum penetration and propagation issues, and NSA (Non-Standalone) deployments are the standard (using 4G cores and sometimes jumping between 4G to NR (New Radio) in the middle of transmission). On the other hand, there’s increasing demand for 4K production, multiple-cameras, remote production in news and across top sporting events. LiveU multilink combining any 5G connection, with or without additional 4G or Wi-Fi, is essential in satisfying the strict requirements of these use cases.

As an aside, I am proud to have become 5G-IA Tests and Pilots International Stream Chair, where I will be trying to promote global collaboration around trials.

LiveU is a proud partner in these EU 5G collaborative research and validation projects: 5G-Solutions (#856691), 5G-Tours (#856950), 5G-RECORDS (#957102), COPA EUROPE (#957059) and 5G-Xcast (#761498).

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