The 5G VISTA project has demonstrated the technical feasibility of using FeMBMS technology to enhance the live sports experience.
Projects looking to capture the best of 5G for specific applications are popping up with increasing regularity. Those of considerable note like 5GRecords and 5G Festival have been added to by a technical gem called VISTA, which teams The Digital Television Group with O2 Telefonica, Digital Catapult, Global Wireless Solutions, and Rohde & Schwarz.
VISTA equates to Video in Stadia Technical Architecture Project. The plan is to provide glass-to-glass enhanced interactive viewing experiences direct to smart devices in sports stadia and other, select locations, using what has become known as 5G Broadcast via the 3GPP contribution FeMBMS (Further enhanced Multi-Media Broadcast Multicast Service).
With DTG strategic technologist Alex Buchan chairing, VISTA was given a global webinar launch via inputs from David Owens, Telefonica head of technical trials, Mohamed Aziz Taga, business development lead for 5G services with Rohde & Schwarz, and Kostas Katsaros, senior 5G technologist with Digital Catapult.
VISTA is constructed of technology, customer, marketing, and financial teams, plus a steering board. It is supported by the UK’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
So what is the problem this group wants to solve? “Live sporting events provide a real challenge for mobile operators. On match days there are large numbers of people in a stadium and that creates a massive demand for data,” said Owens.
“At those key moments (of poor download performance) it is really difficult to stream and post content, and customers are likely to become dissatisfied. This is because the 4G and 5G networks today rely on a TCP-IP service to stream data in a unicast way.
“One source to one customer is just not suited to high demand apps in high demand areas like stadia, and this can cause both perception and physical issues,” he added. “Services that could, would and should generate additional revenue can never be implemented.”
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Enhanced spectrum efficiency
Taga added: “FeMBMS targets broadcasters and mobile operators with new ideas, helping them to deliver one to many, either as a broadcast or multicast mode. It contains two parts – radio access network and core network.”
The system minimises latency, and is highly optimised, and the focus is on modern streaming formats like HLS and DASH.
“In order to monetise this application, encryption can be performed at an application level, so you can read and get the content on the go, wherever you are,” said Taga.
“This technology helps in implementing and enhancing the spectrum efficiency, due to the fact that you use a small amount of frequency to distribute a big data pipe within a small part of the spectrum.”
Owens explained the focus on three customer use cases and one technical use mantra.
“The first aim is to provide a multi-screen experience for fans in live sporting events, from multiple angles via a 1080P video stream. It will be near real-time, and fans will choose from these multi-camera angles via a smart phone app,” said Owens.
“The remote audience is our second use case, fans external to the event location. They too will get the app and multi-screen experience.”
The importance of the MEC
The last use case is providing near real-time video content to very large screens, serving fans in pubs and clubs, and this will be a 4K stream. Technically, VISTA wants to be able to measure capacity improvement, and better understand the experience for the customer.
The demo from Katsaros involved pre-stored content on a server acting like a Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) and connected to an FeMBMS system. The MEC lets you put augmented stats over the top of video streams.
“If we can prove that FeMBMS is a successful technology, it is really possible it could be the future of broadcasting. It could be that big,” David Owens, Telefonica
“The phone in this case is a software-defined radio receiver that allows us to decode the FeMBMS information and then re-broadcast it over Wi-Fi to a hand-held device,” said Taga.
Owens added: “It is about glass-to-glass, the camera to the mobile device. We want to introduce live cameras in phase two, and the MEC acts like a camera head end. It allows us to process the information from the cameras in real-time before delivering it to the FeMBMS service. That will allow us to add different audio streams and infographics over the top of that stream.”
O2 is building a bespoke app to test the likely experiences of future customers. This will be shown in July when VISTA plans to discuss a full end-to-end solution. Testing the remote audience use case will be a key feature of this event.
The Software-designed receiver (SDR) is a big deal. “Here we focus on multiple devices because one infrastructure could be used for both mobile and stationary device reception at the same time. You just need the right app and the right encryption algorithm,” said Owens.
“We are focussed on VISTA because it really is a great application of this technology. If we can prove that FeMBMS is a successful technology, it is really possible it could be the future of broadcasting. It could be that big,” he added.
Scratching the surface
It fell to Taga to look at deeper applications than stadia. “The potential could eventually be theatre, remote or distance learning, and things like e-agriculture. There are apps that should be delivered in one-to-many concepts, like software updates over the air. Multicast, technically speaking, gives you lot of spectrum efficiency benefits,” he said.
“We have built a network in a box, integrating all the elements, and the network consists of two system modules, responsible for modulation encoding of the data and then distributing the content. The SDR receives the signal, demodulates and then transmits the signal over Wi-Fi.
“FeMBMS targets broadcasters and mobile operators with new ideas, helping them to deliver one to many, either as a broadcast or multicast mode,” Mohamed Aziz Taga, Rohde & Schwarz
Summing up, Owens said: “We are focussed on the smart phone glass-to-glass experience. The aim is to be able to deliver video services to packed environments. There is a whole eco system around broadcast and the future of broadcast that FeMBMS can really contribute towards. We are only going to scratch the surface with this project, but we hope we give enough of an insight into all of the components so that people can go away and use that in future apps.
“Millimetre Wave with the extended frequency bands will enable us to deliver a lot faster download speeds, but if you can deliver in a more efficient and effective way, we should really explore that as well,” he added. “We are involved in 5GFestival – the idea of remote festivals with a collaboration platform - and I think VISTA would be really useful there. In the future we will it will improve because we are going to get more spectrum.”
Katsaros pushed the personalisation values. “I do not want to say they are limitless. But you have very different options from different angles. You can select watching language and preferred commentaries, so you have multiple sound and video options with the (four) different streams at the same time.”
Answering a question about how VISTA varies to the BT Sport app, Owens said: “There are lots of other apps out there, but this is about delivering services which are not possible today. VISTA is very much a technical project, and it is going to be one of those technologies that could be absorbed into a BT Sport app, for example.”