The next generation of mobile technology holds enormous promise, particularly for media and entertainment, but managing consumer and industry expectations of 5G will be key, says Mark Smith.

Mobile World Congress, that behemoth of technology sector trade shows, soon gets under way in again Barcelona with progress toward 5G (as well as immersive content) top of the agenda.

Mark Smith

Mark Smith

More than a decade or so ago the GSMA shifted the focus of the event from a pure technology trade show for the telecoms sector to an event for every sector, with a host of vertical industry leaders in the form of car manufacturers, financial institutions, transport, energy and utility organisations as well as consumer brands, retail and advertising players front and centre of the conference.

But before all that, the media and entertainment sector was one of the first verticals to engage at what was then the 3GSM World Congress during the mid-2000s, as screens got larger, went colour and data-capable amid the hype and overdue promise of 3G.

It took the iPhone in 2007, followed by the gold rush of apps, app stores and eventually, the more stealth-like evolution and roll-out of 4G, plus a multitude of innovative smartphones to make real and elegant the premise of the small screen for entertainment everywhere.

Now, the first of a raft of 5G network launches and the unveiling of devices in various formats will battle for prominence at MWC19.

Convergence with media and entertainment is back in vogue and will be at the forefront of show conversations once again. Fuelled by last year’s flurry of M&A activity and the phenomenal ongoing rise of mobile video, the sector is central to early industry business and use cases flowing from the first phase of the 5G standards; Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB).

As part of this seismic evolutionary shift for mobile, network slicing and edge computing point to huge leaps forward, and with them great promise for the sector.

According to an Ovum-Intel report of late last year ‘5G will transform media business models thanks to new network capabilities… and media companies that are first to embrace those new models will be the winners.’

The report forecasts that media revenues will double in the next 10 years to $420bn in 2028 (up from $170bn in 2018) as a result.

Giggles not gigabytes
The Enhanced Mobile Broadband standard (completed at the end of 2018) is one of three primary 5G New Radio (NR) use cases defined by the 3GPP, and is expected to deliver exceptionally high quality, seamless experiences for film, tv, and music streaming services as well as games and faster, more efficient immersive content experiences.

The lower cost per bit ratio expected (reducing the cost of 1Gb to less than that of 4G, for example) unlocks more affordable and greater scope for unlimited, more creative consumer data packages, together with new business models such as bundling and intelligent analytics-based advertising. Use cases for eMBB, such as higher capacity, enhanced connectivity (enabling wider coverage through new intelligent antenna technologies) and high user mobility, will undoubtedly power a new level of entertainment engagement for consumers.

5G, for example will also open a new path for operators to expand into fixed broadband, to address the home entertainment and TV market. With 100MHz of capacity, an operator can serve both the enhanced mobile and fixed broadband user from a common infrastructure. Operators are then in a better position to offer other services, such as video streaming, either alone or through collaboration and partnerships with content players of all kinds.

Revolution at the network edge
The 5G story, however, is much more than just about consumer access and enhanced, high speed, high quality experiences and applications, it is expected to usher major changes to key elements of the network, bringing powerful capabilities and functionality to the business of entertainment in all its forms. Two major stand-out capabilities built in to the standards, presenting tremendous opportunities for the media and entertainment sector, are mobile edge computing and network virtualization, the latter enabling dedicated ‘sliced’ network bandwidth as a service from operators.

Mobile edge computing is regarded as a key component of the coming 5G era, especially for entertainment services that require vastly lower levels of latency and better distribution of network content.

The ability to take the computational power to the network edge, closer to the user, and executed remotely on the network will require new ecosystems, for example around specialised 360-degree content creation for VR, and for management and distribution on the content side.

Edge computing will allow for local content storage, bringing down the cost of transporting the content and even making it easier for operators and content providers to efficiently provide targeted, localised content. New, live multimedia, immersive content experiences with new business models could be delivered in large public venues such as stadiums, at concerts and festivals for example, where limited capacities severely restrict data traffic flow today.

Dedicated bandwidth
Virtualisation of 5G networks, especially the new 5G network core, will unlock network slicing as a service, which in turn allows mobile networks the ability offer different classes of services across their common infrastructure. Through it, for example an operator can offer one group of subscribers a service with 1Gbps guaranteed download speed and best-effort latency, while offering other groups of subscribers a service with best- effort speeds above a minimum threshold of 10mbps and guaranteed sub-10ms latency. These will both be delivered on exactly the same physical network.

Network slicing will also allow operators to provide media companies with dedicated bandwidth as a service for content distribution. This will make it easier for operators to sell media companies and other content distributors a guaranteed level of performance and reliability. An operator could take a network slice and dedicate it to 4K video streaming or to the delivery of high-profile live events around major sports or music events, for example.

The 5G era presents unprecedented opportunities for live events, especially sports and e-sports, as new streaming horizons open to the global media eco-system. Live broadcast over 5G and its use in remote production workflows (with various capabilities demonstrated by KT at the Winter Olympics in Korea, by BT Sport at Wembley and Fox Sports and AT&T at the US Open in 2018) are not far away from moving toward the mainstream. The prospects for a 5G showcase on the global stage at the Summer Olympics of 2020 in Japan, are a scintillating prospect.

While beyond exciting, the mobile operator community will be keen to ensure that the hype doesn’t get ahead of reality in terms of roll-out, user experience and service quality, as it did back in the days of 3G. During 2019 we will start to see real deployments and devices, clarity of business models rising from these new capabilities - especially for the media and entertainment sector - have yet to be revealed in detail. This is sure to be a big topic of conversation at MWC 2019.

Mark Smith is hosting the session ‘Tips & Tricks for 5G and the Network Edge’, in the conference at MWC on Thursday 28 February (11.15-12.15).