With 5G presenting broadcasters with the opportunity to expand their video services and offer higher-quality video streaming and immersive AV experiences, Alexandre Arnodin examines the wide range of applications that can benefit from using this technology.
Mobile connectivity continues to evolve at a rapid pace. A little over a decade since the introduction of 4G, 5G is now showing promise as its uptake expands. It brings the potential of increased bandwidth throughput and lower latency, allowing telecom operators, broadcasters and content providers to expand video services, improve viewer experience and diversify product offerings. While higher-quality video streaming and immersive audio are an exciting prospect, understanding the wide range of potential future applications will be crucial to leveraging the opportunities.
Built on better bandwidth
The increased bandwidth capability of this new technology is key to understanding the foundation of what 5G can provide to both mobile operators and broadcasters. With one gigabit per second streaming made possible, organisations are better able to provide 4K streams on top of existing HD streams and even pave the way for 8K resolution, creating an enhanced viewer experience. For audio, new innovations such as MPEG-H and AC4 with Dolby Atmos rendering capabilities become possible, meaning support for multiple simultaneous channels and spatial sound effect rendering, even on stereo sound systems.
The edge opportunity
5G also enables multi-access edge computing (MEC), and this is where the possibilities really expand for video services. Storage and processing capabilities can be pushed further down the network and used in smaller data centres or other infrastructure, spread out closer to the viewers.
For example, MEC enables user-specific content to be inserted just before it reaches viewers, making it possible to distribute different content to different users. One obvious application of this is dynamic ad insertion (DAI), where advertisements are targeted to specific viewers, enhancing their value to advertisers and increasing monetisation opportunities.
Beyond that, and using the same technology, personalised channels can be tailored to specific viewers’ tastes, increasing their value and making them more viable as a premium service.
Making future technology a present reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have so far been underused in the industry, with limited end-user uptake of existing VR technology and the real-time processing capabilities needed for AR. 5G could be transformative in bringing about widespread adoption of this technology, as the subsequent increase in video quality is likely to encourage a greater number of users to invest in headsets.
In the context of AR, imagine that the localised infrastructure in an edge set-up is in a sports stadium, for example. With the high bandwidth and low latency brought about by 5G, sports fans will be able to use their mobile devices to directly view different live camera angles, with AR capabilities allowing real-time player statistics such as passes completed or goals scored in a soccer match. This will serve to enhance the live experience for fans attending events.
And with lower latency, whether you are in the stadium or watching the event from your home, it also opens up possibilities for a much richer user experience, linking the content you watch with social media, retail and your community, and providing the interactivity and responsiveness that viewers are used to in these other platforms.
Elastic CDN, open caching and public cloud
The possibilities brought by 5G and the edge fit in nicely with the opportunities enabled by an elastic content delivery network (CDN), which can expand and shrink as required to meet fluctuating demands. This helps to maintain a high-quality viewing experience even during peak traffic, by quickly adding extra cache nodes to meet the temporary demand and then removing them instantly once that demand is over. This greater flexibility eliminates the need for building overcapacity, helping to achieve cost and energy savings.
Based on a distributed, cloud-native architecture, an elastic CDN also enables orchestration of various functions to use CDN infrastructure for other tasks at off-peak times – for example, for file transcoding of ads or VOD content, to create a library of assets for delivering personalized video experiences. Combining elastic CDN principles with open caching will enable telecom operators to lease their CDN to content providers or broadcasters, resulting in greatly improved quality of experience for video services as the content is cached closer to the viewers.
Public clouds are also pushing their virtualisation environments in the 5G network, taking advantage of the MEC infrastructure. Telecom operators and content providers can benefit from this by using the same software technologies in the cloud and in the 5G network, making it easier to handle global operations and deploy new services quickly.
The benefits of 5G are as much about the technologies it will help to support as the advantages it will bring to the user experience. While it provides promise to the broadcast industry, whether it is used to its full potential will depend on the relationship between broadcasters and telecom operators moving forward, as it’s not yet clear whether a shared broadcast infrastructure can be put in place. As a result, it’s likely that the broadcasters and wider industry will be keeping a close eye on the 5G landscape in the coming months.
Alexandre Arnodin is VP of Video Delivery Solutions at ATEME.