Of the many up-and-coming technologies discussed today, 5G often tops the list. With 5G networks now in over 378 cites and 34 countries, innovators and technologists are investigating its potential across numerous industries such as medical solutions, gas and electric, automotive, and media and entertainment. Depending on its application and end-user, 5G presents itself both as evolutionary and revolutionary to the markets.
For the media and entertainment industry, the 5G migration relies on three important aspects — the public telecommunication networks global carriers have and continue to build; the M&E industry production equipment and workflows content creators must develop to work within the 5G network; and the business opportunities to take advantage of the capital and operating expenses necessary to leverage the new technology.
The leading 5G technical advantage is more bandwidth — much more bandwidth, with some estimates showing it having ten times more than 4G LTE. A larger bandwidth pipe can mean more — more content, more quality, more users.
“It’s obviously a classic game we all play,” believes Brian Ring, principal analyst of Ring Digital LLC and a television, video, and streaming technology consultant. “Another 10X increase in bandwidth – so what can we do to justify the usage of it? 4K? 8K? Those are some really tough things to be excited about. I’m not sure it’s really the bandwidth piece [of 5G) that is meaningful.”
“It’s not just about bandwidth with 5G,” says Matthew Goldman, senior vice president of technology at MediaKind and former SMPTE president. “In addition to very high-speed, fixed wireless access, 5G is designed for flexible use of the bandwidth including network slicing where different separate virtual networks can use the same physical bandwidth with bandwidth reservation. The ability to have guaranteed bandwidth and to trade off bandwidth for ultra-low latency is interesting for production applications, particularly for live production.”
Because of these strengths, remote and live production will likely be amongst the first wide-spread 5G production applications. While the telecoms continue their expansion across the United States, media companies are already partnering with carriers to experiment with 5G and its remote and live production potential. 5G live sports production proof-of-concepts in the United States been taking place over the last few years with AT&T, Fox Sports, Fox Innovation Lab, Intel and Ericsson’s work at the 2018 U.S Open; and the July 2019 NBA and ESPN 5G live broadcast of a NBA Summer League game. Beyond sports, film productions are also exploring this new technology with Verizon, The Walt Disney StudiosLAB, and ILMxLAB’s two 5G production operations in support of Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” event in December.
“Moving from the higher speed of bonded-cellular 4G to its similar concept with 5G will be evolutionary,” Goldman notes.
Cellular production applications are not new to the media and entertainment industry. Live and remote productions today use bonded-cellular, 4G LTE wireless for sporting, music, and news events. A move from 4G bonded-cellular to 5G looks to be a natural migration with equipment manufacturers already entering the 5G market.
Dejero introduced its 5G-ready EnGo 260 Mobile Transmitter at IBC 2019. In early 2020, TVU Networks, an IP and live video solutions company and maker of cellular production transmitters, began shipping their TVU One Integrated 5G Modem allowing transmission “simultaneously over multiple aggregated connections including cellular 3G/4G LTE and the new 5G.” The product allows for “UHD quality with sub-second latency and the ability to send at 100Mbps over a 5G cellular infrastructure.” Both companies won TV Technology’s 2020 Best in Show for their 5G products.
The opportunity for lower latency is one of the key features in 5G networks and is especially important for live productions. Lower latency than existing wireless services increases the quality of experience both for the content makers as well as the consumer.
“You’ll be able to get better quality and lower latency rather than using bonded cell,” says Tom Sahara, media technologist and former VP of technology operations at Turner Sports. “So rather than having a ten-second delay between the camera and when that signal actually makes it back to the station, that will be cut down to less than a second maybe.”
“With 5G deployments now underway in many parts of the world, sporting events have led the way in utilizing the new mobile technology for productions,” wrote James Pearce wrote in a June 3, 2020 IBC365 article. “The 5G platform has long been touted as a potential key link in the 4K video delivery chain thanks to its multi-gigabit speeds and latencies as low as a millisecond.”
Cristiano Amon, the president of Qualcomm agrees. “With 5G, you’ll get the video 95% faster and watch the video at the resolution it was created. Streaming 4K video will be as easy as streaming music is today. Uploading 4K videos will be as fast as uploading songs today, Amon said in an interview with Forbes published June 22.
5G bandwidth, connectivity and low latency go beyond the signal for teams on the ground at events. Remote production, even with wireless, is an infrastructure-intensive undertaking. Production trucks, private cellular equipment, miles of cabling, and the necessary personnel to service all of it creates a complex and costly endeavor. That necessary equipment also inhibits creative options.
“That’s the advantage that 5G will have to productions — you can put your cameras into the network and not have to roll a satellite truck out,” Sahara notes. “In the past, we’ve always been limited by where you could get a cable to, or in the case of HD and 4K video, where you get a fiber to. Once that limitation is removed, it’s like having freedom.”
In the 2019 case study, “5G at the U.S. Open: Live Streaming Without the Handicap,” Sandra Rivera, senior vice president and general manager, Network Platforms Group, Intel said, “The trial…showed how broadcasters can build new efficiencies for live sports over 5G, reducing cabling and on-site production costs, while bringing viewers a great 4K video experience right from the featured holes on the course,”
In addition to needing a robust network for quality and low-latency, reliability of service has also necessitated a private network for remote productions in the past. There simply is not enough bandwidth on a public 4G LTE network in conjunction with public use. Even in a 5G environment, companies need to ensure they don’t compete with public use while production and broadcast is on-going. 5G offers a likely solution with network slicing — the ability to carve out a private part of the spectrum to guarantee the amount of bandwidth only for that production. Modern architecture also makes that a software-enabled function rather than hardware furthering the flexibility of the network options.
Broadcasters are clearly looking forward to more freedom and flexibility. In early June 2020, Nevion published a poll highlighting broadcasters’ feelings about 5G. 92% of broadcasters polled anticipate 5G to be utilized in the next two years with 65% of them possibly using remote production 5G applications themselves.
“It’s positive that broadcasters are expecting to move forward at pace with 5G. However, there is still a lot of work to be done before it can be implemented into live environments, and given the current climate worldwide, testing and developments may have slowed down,” Andy Rayner, Nevion’s chief technologist said in Nevion’s press release. “Over the next year or so, it will be a case of broadcasters looking in earnest at the potential of 5G in the value chain and testing the technology’s capabilities within their organizations — something over half of broadcasters are yet to do.”
For a while, potential consumer benefits and increased consumption have been at the forefront and public face of 5G. How they exactly will innovate different types of content is the unknown variable.
“That’s why there’s this huge interest with [carriers] pushing hard on it, because it opens up a whole new world of interactivity with media,” Sahara explains. “And obviously, the huge bandwidth that you need to serve media, that basically ties the consumers into their data plans.”
Many working with augmented and virtual reality solutions have seen this technology as a huge potential facilitator for adoption.
“If you’re an avid consumer of media and you like to interact with it, especially when you talk about augmented reality such as graphics overlays on live video, that type of application would work ideally,” Sahara says. “The next step in the holy grail of technologies is to enable [full interactivity]. So, you can just have that experience of being able to get an immediate response.”
Highly targeted advertising and personalization branding are one of the enticing business opportunities for streaming services, retail businesses, and beyond. 5G offers a richer and faster connection between content creators and distributors and consumers with whom they strive to build lasting relationships.
“It’s that double value of data and personalization that 5G enables that has the media companies and phone companies eager to roll it out,” Sahara explains. “Without 5G, it would be very hard to give you that highly personalized media experience.”
Yet, 5G’s potential extends far beyond consumer-facing applications. By making it easier for individuals and production teams to deploy technologies like VR and AR or advanced resolutions like 8K, it’s not inane to suggest that 5G will hasten the adoption of many of these tools, which itself could change the way the media landscape looks. Already, organizations are looking into endeavors such as 5G-enabled stadiums and facilities, which could use the technology to eliminate refreshment queues, and allow viewers at home to access 360-degree virtual reality views of games and other live events.
At this point, the widespread adoption of 5G is seen as all but inevitable, a natural transformation within the media industry.
“On the mobile side, it’s sort of happening whether we like it or not,” Brian Ring sees. “But it’s going to take years to get here.”
“5G will happen,” states Sahara, “The potential that 5G offers for media distribution and consumption makes it impossible to ignore.”
Beyond this — what the full impact of adoption will actually look like — is more complicated. At the end of the day, beyond the numbers of users and adopters, what will the true footprint of 5G be? Will it be evolutionary or revolutionary? According to Matthew Goldman, both.
“Some cases suggest evolution, like in higher bandwidth or lower latency. In other cases, it could absolutely provide new services,” he explains. “We’re getting to the point where one of the uses of 5G will be machine to machine communication. One example will be every car will communicate with every other car. And that’s how a lot of these things will then grow. That’s one whole revolutionary scenario. In the production area, anything that can be measured will be. Things we haven’t even thought of.”
“5G removes all the limitations we had with the things you have to plug in. Less gear and no limitation on where you can be,” Sahara says. “As long as you’re somewhere in the network, somewhere you can get a signal, you can do what you need to do. And that’s the freedom that 5G will enable.”
That sort of potential certainly seems to speak for itself, and there’s still more on the horizon. 5G will bring noticeable changes to content creation and delivery. Much like the way increased bandwidth in mobile and WIFI devices put the internet in everyone’s pocket, increased bandwidth, quality, and immediacy is likely to augment what is already in place.
“I think 5G will be good, it will be necessary, it’ll be an upgrade, but are we all experiencing bad TV in a mobile environment because it’s not 4K? I don’t think so,” Brian Ring believes. “I’m really cynical about the whole thing, but at the same time there are things coming off of it that are really valuable.”
These predictions don’t yet give a holistic picture of the future. Taking the time to fully understand and adapt to what the 5G future looks like — with questions of security, privacy, accessibility still unanswered — will be essential to harnessing its ultimate power. As both Goldman and Sahara explained, there’s a great deal that can be done if executed properly. There’s also likely a great deal more yet to conceive.
“I think you’ll see the accessibility of 5G is certainly going to improve in the next two years,” Tom Sahara says. “But how quickly we see the full implementations, with the personalization and the customization of media experiences, I think that’s still going to be beyond three years before you see that.”
Still, even with questions and answers yet to be discovered, all corners of the media industry — film, esports, live production, and more — are likely to be impacted by this technology in profound ways. As M&E companies cautiously enter the 5G world and embrace and experiment with its potential, they are just beginning to see the enhanced connectivity which could empower the industry as a whole.