Multiple areas of production and content services are already benefiting from 5G, but further exciting opportunities lie ahead with developments such as Open RAN, writes David Davies.

The emergence of 5G as a potentially significant asset to broadcast & media could hardly have been better timed given the challenges of the past few years. With a dramatically increased need to support high-quality off-site broadcasting – for example, from home or other remote locations – it’s unsurprising that 5G broadcast has become a talking point among broadcasters and service providers, potentially offering versatility, low latency and high bandwidth capability.

The Switch 5G pic 2

The Switch: 5G in broadcast has become an increasingly popular talking point

Newer, more flexible workflows – perhaps conceived as short-term fixes – are being evaluated and renewed for the longer-term. There’s no doubt that day-to-day electronic news gathering (ENG) and location reporting will remain a big part of 5G’s broadcast narrative. But increasingly, there is excitement about its potential for use with private networks and ability to provide content to spectators at sports events, among other applications.

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David Cohen, Head of Global Marketing – 5G Solutions at network services provider NEC, remarks: “The greatest opportunity is for media organisations to use 5G for targeted delivery of enhanced user experiences, such as at live events or in public spaces. As 5G networks become more virtualised and operators are better able to automate and gather data about behaviour in their networks, it’s likely that new business models will be revealed for targeted advertising and content using 5G.”

Bonded cellular & private networks

As a global leader in live video production and distribution, The Switch – which became a member of the Tata group of companies as of 1 May 2023 – is well-placed to pinpoint the long-term outlook for 5G in media. To this end, SVP Engineering and Product Management Robert Szabo-Rowe identifies a couple of specific growth applications.

“The biggest 5G use case we’re currently seeing in the production space is bonded cellular,” he said.

“This includes ENG applications, where we use bonded cellular modems that support 4G and 5G networks. It adds to the capability of the bonded cellular encoders we use, and that’s mostly for remote contribution and ENG applications.”

The use of private 5G networks in venues is also something that’s starting to pick up, but it’s not as widespread yet. It’s certainly going to become more interesting because of the potentially higher bandwidths you can have for contribution applications and the ease of deployment of cameras to cover events.”

The ability to employ private 5G infrastructure is likely to be critical if several of the more ambitious venue-based applications are to be successfully realised. “The use of slicing on 5G public networks hasn’t really taken hold yet for broadcast applications. It may not if we can use private 5G infrastructure,” said Szabo-Rowe, adding: “The use of private 5G networks at venues for broadcasters will make it much easier to use cameras and other types of transmission feeds without having to deal with all the complexities of cabling. It allows you to deploy more cameras and at a lower cost because you’re not running miles of cables or using lower bandwidth radio techniques. Private 5G networks at venues mean you have virtually no bandwidth restrictions.”

David Cohen

David Cohen, NEC

There is particular enthusiasm for the potential of 5G to deliver enhanced user experiences to people who are inside the sports venue. For example, The Switch recently worked with a customer to provide low latency game feeds, via 5G, to spectators – delivering mobile gaming, volumetric video streaming and augmented reality. “Because 5G is such high bandwidth, we were able to select different cameras and deliver creative applications to a large number of customers at a venue that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.

Whilst 5G has been standardised for a while now, Szabo-Rowe does think there might be scope for “more agreements on making 5G slices available from the 5G public providers. [For instance] there might be areas in 5G slicing where there could be a broadcast slice available at venues, which would be useful. However, making bandwidth available for broadcast operations on the public 5G networks is quite a tricky discussion to have with carriers. But that’s where private 5G networks come into their own.”

‘Enabling workflow flexibility’

As a provider of infrastructure solutions and services, NEC has a focus on “empowering operators to use 5G and benefit from its flexibility, low latency and high throughput speed to deliver production capabilities to users,” said Cohen.

Robert Szabo-Rowe - The Switch

Robert Szabo-Rowe, The Switch

Like Szabo-Rowe, Cohen highlights the rapidly growing interest around using 5G in production and contribution for live news and sporting events. “The ability for more journalists and organisations to capture content and send it back to their broadcast headquarters using cellular technology has enabled workflow flexibility and increased the number of local events and stories that can be captured,” he said. “There also continues to be a growing number of applications that enable near-broadcast quality capture using consumer cellular phones that then use 5G to transmit content.”

Paul Shen is CEO of TVU Networks, which provides professional live video solutions for sports, news and events. The company has commented extensively about the scope for 5G-oriented applications, including a recent analysis of how it’s set to be applied to news broadcasting.

“The industry is changing very fast, and audiences are too,” said Shen. “With 3G, for example, people still had questions about [dependability for production applications], but with 5G now there are a lot of improvements in terms of speed, latency and bandwidth. Performance has improved a lot. As a result, everything we can take as granted in the wider infrastructure can be done via 5G as well. So that’s why you see a lot of interest [for news gathering and sports].”

Shen implies that for many broadcasters, 5G will become a production asset like the technique of remote production itself. At the moment, “some companies are fully aware of the possibilities of 5G, and others haven’t fully understand what it means to them yet.” One specific application that he thinks will benefit is inexpensive multi-camera capture of smaller sports – something for which there is a growing demand as broadcasters take steps to create more content by covering “more second- and third-tier sports events”.

Open RAN and ‘5G from space’

Looking ahead, Cohen is not alone in pinpointing the significance of Open RAN (Radio Access Networks) 5G, which will enable the use of open standards throughout the 5G ecosystem – a development that is set to lead to a more competitive landscape in the future. “This competition will drive innovation and enable operators to explore new applications for cellular technologies,” said Cohen.

TVU Paul Shen

Paul Shen, TVU Networks

As an inherently cloud-native technology, Open RAN 5G will also support the virtualisation of many parts of the wireless infrastructure ecosystem. Not only does this herald significant flexibility for operators in how they use their networks, it also “introduces further opportunities for efficiency such as automation and AI-enabled network monitoring and optimisation.”

There is also much discussion across the industry about the possibilities of integrating 5G with low earth orbit (LEO) satellite segments, which will enable cellular 5G networks to be extended to air, sea and other remote areas not covered by small cell networks. As Szabo-Rowe noted: “5G-capable modems integrated with LEO systems like Starlink and One Web will be a fascinating area to watch. At the moment, 5G is great, but it’s not deployed in too many places on the public side. That’s why private networks are so useful, and with satellite capability for modest data rates we can use that for contribution from anywhere on the globe.”

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