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In Five Years the Problem won’t be Bandwidth but Knowing what to do with it

07 Nov 2016

While IP dominated discussion at IBC, there is an equally transformative technology developing in parallel with profound implications for media communication.

“Mobile is the biggest revolution broadcasters have faced. It is happening now, and we still do not see a huge, pressing desire to take advantage of this revolution among the broadcast industry,” declared Ben Faes, Managing Director of Partner Business Solutions for Google, at IBC2016.

Video over mobile is forecast to multiply exponentially in the next five years and represent 80% of all internet traffic by 2021. Not just limited to TV and film content, video is transforming social media too. Some 300 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute, half of which is viewed on mobile devices. In addition, 75% of Facebook video browsing is performed on smartphones.

Facebook Live, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and gaming platforms such as Amazon-owned Twitch are all investing significant resources in live video delivery.

Such demand means that at a certain point, the existing 4G mobile network technology will be unsustainable. A new infrastructure is needed and it is being developed rapidly.

The broad outlines for 5G mobile communications have been agreed by organisations like EU 5G Public Private Partnership, initiated by the European Commission with manufacturers, telcos, service providers and researchers. A standard is expected by 2018.

Base specifications include regular mobile data speeds clocking 1Gbps, peaks of 10Gbps, a latency below 1 millisecond and very low power consumption that could see devices last a decade - spurring internet growth in emerging markets.

It’s a combination that will make high resolution, live, personalised media a reality. Applications like Virtual Reality (VR), which rely on real-time data tracking and communication, will be opened up by 5G. Real time 4K broadcasting and instant VOD downloads will also be enabled.

Beyond this, real-time holographic video is anticipated. Several operators demonstrated holography at Mobile World Congress last February, including South Korea’s SK Telecom.

“5G will be transformational,” Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO of Ericsson told the IBC Conference. “It means we can change the production of content, change the way we distribute things. We will be able to create new content such as combining 8K with AR. This is not so far away.”

Whether there’s any benefit to viewing 8K on a mobile device is moot. The point is that bandwidth speeds will increase so dramatically that an unprecedented wealth of data will be available to mix and match applications like AR, VR, 3D, 4K, 8K in real time.

At IBC, Discovery Communications CTO John Honeycutt said the broadcaster will be studying VR and AR as it heads towards Eurosport’s coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“We had access to an early Microsoft Hololens, and when you put it on you can start to imagine walking up the street with a map in front of you, with restaurant menus and personal reminders all while you’re having a Facebook chat,” Honeycutt said. “From a content consumption and a utility perspective 5G is a big deal.”

A clutch of European telcos, including Deutsche Telekom, Nokia, Telefonica and Vodafone, say they will begin conducting large-scale tests by 2018, with a launch in at least one city in each EU country by 2020. Before then, 5G will be demonstrated to the public at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia and 2018 Glasgow-Berlin European Athletics Championships.

“Bandwidth drives content and content drives bandwidth,” Spencer Stephens, CTO, Sony Pictures Entertainment told IBC. “As we get more bandwidth we can do more things with it, but if people want to do more things with it there becomes a greater demand for bandwidth. For example, can you substitute point to point, the Netflix model of delivery to the consumer, with broadcast? Obviously point to point takes a lot of bandwidth but if we can get enough bandwidth to the consumer then we can change fundamentally how we deliver content.”

More profoundly, the technology is expected to allow the growing number of sensors to communicate with one another. Intel expects this number to hit 50 billion by 2020. This will drive the digitisation of every industry, from healthcare to manufacturing. Applied to the automotive sector, for example, 5G opens up the car as a mobile venue for content consumption.

“The promise of 5G is fantastic – huge capacity, available everywhere, at low cost,” David Wood, Deputy Director of EBU Technology and Development and Chair of the World Broadcasting Unions’ Technical Committee told Broadcast magazine. “It could precipitate social change on the scale of the web itself.”

The underlying technologies of faster bandwidth, higher-resolution sensors, greater storage capacities and incoming internet protocols will present a whole range of opportunities for media organisations. The question is how to take advantage of them and blend them into the media creation process.

"The industry is going through a period of experimentation," summed up John Ive, Consultant & Chief Technologist for the IABM. "Nobody has all the answers but we need to scale up what works well and turn off what doesn't. Having IT, TV, and telco people in one place at IBC is creating a very important dialogue about the sorts of creative applications we need to go to market."


Click here to watch the full CTO Roadmap session from the IBC2016 Conference on IBCTV.

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