Can 5G release the burden on increasingly congested networks delivering content to a proliferation of connected devices? – Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

5G: Bridging mobile broadband and broadcast networks

While perhaps not designed entirely for broadcast applications, a number of industry projects and initiatives have highlighted the role 5G can potentially play in delivering broadcast services. Shawn Liew finds out more …

The efficient and cost-effective broadcasting of TV programmes to smartphones and tablets has taken another step closer to reality, declares the 5G Media Initiative at its third conference in Munich, Germany in August this year.

Pointing to the June 2017 finalisation of Release 14 by the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) international standardisation body, the 5G Media Initiative says Release 14 supports critical pre-requisites for broadcast content delivery in large-cell 4G and 5G networks, and offers characteristics that approximate those enjoyed with classical terrestrial broadcast methods.

Launched on May 18 this year, one of 5G Media Initiative’s key goals is to leverage the potential of 5G for the media sector by promoting collaborative research and development. Members of the grouping include Kathrein-Werke, Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz, Telefónica, MUGLER, the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation, the Southwest German Broadcasting Corporation, the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg FAU, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, the Institute for Communications Technology (IfN) of the Technical University of Braunschweig, the Institute for Broadcast Technology (IRT), and the Munich-based startup Cadami.

With Release 14, implementation in devices, services and networks can be started, as the extensions to the 3GPP standard include numerous improvements to the existing evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast System (eMBMS). These improvements, according to the 5G Media Initiative, provide the framework for economical programme delivery and “unrestricted access” to TV programmes.

5G could be a possible technological development enabling Programme Making Special Events (PMSE) for contribution purposes such as wireless microphones or cordless cameras, says Jochen Mezger, general manager, network technologies at IRT.

He tells APB: “This could be particularly relevant in ad-hoc situations where it is necessary to transmit audiovisual media content quickly to the studio without the need to set up electronic newsgathering (ENG) networks. Nevertheless, sufficient network capacity for 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) cameras and short transmission latencies are indispensible.

“On the other hand, to use 5G technology for ‘planned’ production scenarios such as TV shows, broadcasters need the flexibility to set up local, flexible and standalone production networks independently of existing mobile network operators.”

The new specification from the 3GPP also includes features such as reception without a SIM card and without authentication, as well as the option of using up to 100% of the available transmission capacity for broadcast applications. “Significantly larger” transmitter spacings permit the use of broadcast transmitter stations for more economical area coverage, while a receive-only mode that does not require a return channel has also been established.

Network operators will be able to combine various TV content delivery methods along with interactivity. Mobile network operators do not need to transmit TV programmes in all of their networks simultaneously, which yields a high degree of efficiency.

Transmission via a separate broadcast transmitter network would also be possible, allowing all wireless devices to receive TV programmes, whether or not a contract is in place. The standard also specifies that transport and coding formats currently employed in broadcasting shall also be available for use in 4G and 5G networks.
The first version of a new 5G standard is expected to be available by next year, after which it will be continually enhanced to become a universal standard for high-bandwidth data applications. Starting in 2020, additional enhancements for broadcast appli­cations are expected as part of 5G — these could be available by 2025 as popular broadcast services for the mass market, predicts the 5G Media Initiative.

However, the ‘defined path’ for broadcasters where mobile networks and devices is concerned relates to their own business models. For the 5G Media Initiative, while supporting the technology, its intention is to be as non-dogmatic as possible.

Mezger explains: “It might be possible that a future 5G broadcast media network can be operated by either a traditional mobile network operator (MNO), an independent broadcast network operator (BNO), or by the broadcaster itself as a standalone network.

“Of course, the distinct free-to-air media services need to be accessible in all networks and on all devices — without the need of a SIM card.” 5G should not be seen merely as the next generation of a traditional mobile network with faster data rates; instead, 5G is a holistic new communications system for a vast variety of applications serving multiple verticals, including the media and entertainment industries.

“The latter one is particularly interesting for public service broadcasters as they consider smartphone and tablet devices as being of growing importance,” Mezger says. “Beyond that, 5G could potentially facilitate the convergence of linear and non-linear media services, and provide the possibility to offer new and appealing media services in the years to come.”

5G can be the next disruptor to the media and entertainment industries – by enabling flexible and efficient delivery content through Xcast, suggests Dr Simone Redana, head of mobile network architecture and systems, Bell Labs Research, Nokia.

He explains to APB: “Here, Xcast means delivering the content over the access network, using an efficient mix of uni-cast, multi-cast and broadcast. This would enable mobile network operators to deliver media content in the most spectrally efficient manner. For fixed and converged network operators, Xcast would lead to significant gains in the transport netword load, thereby enabling cost-efficiencies.”

Besides being a founding member of the aforementioned 5G Media Initiative, Nokia is also a driving member and technical coordinator of the 5G-Xcast consortium, a 5GPPP phase-2 project started on June 1 this year. (5GPPP is a joint initiative between the European Commission and the European ICT industry, and aims to deliver 5G solutions, architectures, technologies and standards.)

Calling the 5G-Xcast Consortium “a balanced combination of telecom and media entities covering the complete media and entertainment chain”, Dr Redana explains: “While, in LTE eMBMS, a lot of broadcast functionalities have been developed with a strong focus on broadcasters’ requirements, the 5G-Xcast project targets to change the paradigm compared to 4G.

“In 5G multicast, broadcast and caching will be treated in a holistic way as built-in internal network delivery optimisations, which will be implemented and operated in a flexible and dynamic way. The technology will be flexible enough to efficiently distribute content over fixed, mobile and broadcast-only networks.”

5G, Dr Redana adds, represents an “unprecedented opportunity” for the convergence of mobile broadband and broadcast networks. The converged media delivery architecture of 5G-Xcast, he highlights, allows users to enjoy uninterrupted services as they move, using a combination of any of the aforementioned networks.
“In the context of the 5G-Xcast project, Nokia is working with broadcasters and mobile network operators to develop 5G solutions tailored for the media and broadcast industries,” Dr Redana continues. For instance, another use case for 5G is when hybrid broadcast services are offered. This consists of a combination of linear and non-linear programming, as well as social media using broadcast, multicast and unicast technologies.

Other areas the 5G-Xcast Consortium are looking at include converged networks, which enable wider delivery of media content to a wide variety of users; and the development of enablers for the efficient transport and mass delivery of new media types, including immersive media content such as augmented and virtual reality.
And in a bid to further enhance and complete the network architecture for 5G mobile wireless networks, Nokia is continuing its work on the 5G Mobile Network Architecture (MoNArch) research project it launched in August last year. A cornerstone of the project thus is network slicing, Dr Redana reveals. “That is, service-, application- or vertical industry-specific logical networks sharing a common physical/virtual infrastructure.

“With the approach of network slicing, media, entertainment and broadcast services for end-users can share the mobile infrastructure with other services having different quality and performance requirements, such as smart city, industry, transportation, healthcare or public safety.”

The methods and techniques applied for network slicing, he details, will allow the quality and performance requirements for all simultaneously active slices to be achieved. Broadcast services thus can be ensured of a “decent performance”, irrespective of whether other services are using the same network resources.
Dr Redana elaborates: “The benefit for broadcast and media industries is the options and opportunities to define new services for mobile networks. Through providing dedicated network slices to these services, the required customer experience can be guaranteed.”

A further technical innovation 5G MoNArch will develop and implement, he added, is resource elasticity, which aims to improve the utilisation efficiency of computational resources in the virtualised mobile network. “Particularly, media and entertainment services having high throughput requirements, but frequently change the load on the network will benefit from this innovation,” Dr Redana concludes.

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