The future role of 5G in remote production
In the world of broadcasting, mobile technology has played a key role for many years, with consumers now increasingly watching TV on the go via streaming over the internet and cellular networks. 55 % of adults now watch video on devices such as tablets and mobile phones every day, which is an increase of 22% since 2015. However, as demand continues to grow, broadcasters are looking towards future technologies to help serve their customer base.
In der Rundfunk-Welt spielt die Mobilfunktechnologie seit vielen Jahren eine Schlüsselrolle. Die Verbraucher nutzen nun zunehmend auch unterwegs Fernsehen per Streaming über das Internet und via Mobilfunknetze. 55 Prozent der Erwachsenen sehen sich heute täglich Videos auf Geräten wie Tablets und Mobiltelefonen an, das entspricht einem Anstieg von 22 Prozent seit 2015. Da die Nachfrage jedoch weiter zunimmt, setzen die Rundfunkanstalten auf Zukunftstechnologien, um ihre Zuschauer zu bedienen.
5G offers huge potential, with benefits including greater bandwidth, lower latency, and, most importantly, a defined quality of service all on the horizon for broadcasters. The potential of this technology is understandably creating a buzz in the industry, not just for OTT delivery, but also production and indeed terrestrial distribution. According to research by Nevion, a staggering 82% of broadcasters believe that 5G will ultimately replace traditional broadcasting methods once it is widely adopted, and the majority are optimistic about the timeframes for it to be utilized, with 92% expecting to do so within two years. With 65% considering adopting the technology for remote production purposes, what needs to be considered to make the 5G future a reality?
A need for dedicated bandwidth
There’s commercial pressure on broadcasters to create more content with fewer resources. One way of achieving that goal is to become more light-weight and nimble in the process of acquisition, and to centralize production to make optimum use of equipment and production staff.IP-based remote production can help to make the difference. With cellular technology, acquisition becomes even more portable and more mobile, thanks to the fact that fewer cables are required, for example. With breaking news stories, this technology allows broadcasters to quickly and cost-effectively set up from almost anywhere.
For events that take place over some distance, such as running, cycling or country skiing, cellular connectivity allows for them to be covered more easily. This is not just about 5G connected cameras though; there is also the potential for “pop-up” production facilities using 5G to deliver multiple camera signals back to a central production facility.
One aspect that broadcasters do need to take into account however is the competition for bandwidth in areas where this kind of mobile technology would be most suited. Crowds of spectators during a major sporting event are likely to using their cellphones, which could have an impact on the quality of the media transport due to the contention for bandwidth. But this problem could be overcome should dedicated bandwidth, which is part of the 5G promise, come to fruition.
Conventional remote production can also be complemented by mobile technology being used as a back-up link to the main connection between the location and the central facility, providing a more economical and versatile solution than the traditional method of diverse routing over fixed connectivity. In fact, a recent Nevion research study discovered that 42% of broadcasters thought the biggest benefit of 5G will be providing a cost-effective back-up for contribution links.
While 4G technology has already been used for the transmission of a small number of feeds, the extra bandwidth provided by 5G offers the prospect of using the technology to provide more back-up feeds, of higher a quality. Some in the industry are even considering 5G providing the main link for remote production. However, this is a substantial leap in requirement, especially in the level of reliability and Quality of Service (QoS) expected, therefore unlikely to be a viable option for the foreseeable future.
The 5G game-changer for production
When it comes to live broadcast production, the combination of network requirements are rarely found in other industries, such as very high volumes (video signals), ultra-low latency, and absolute reliability. While 5G promises higher bandwidth and lower latency than 4G, the typical enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) service is still inherently best-efforts connectivity and by design is often oversubscribed with significant contention.
For some broadcast productions, mobile connectivity is not that suitable due to its asymmetry (it’s optimized for download speeds, while many applications require upload performance) and best-efforts behavior of eMBB. However, as mentioned above, in some applications, such as where 5G is used as a backup connection for contribution, using eMBB may well be good enough. This can be compared to the way in which the Internet, with its fluctuating bandwidth, can still provide good enough connectivity as a backup.
What is potentially a real game-changer with 5G is the ability to reserve bandwidth for a particular application, providing the performance and QoS required for real-time production. However, this bandwidth slicing capability is not yet deployed by mobile network operators, and it remains to be seen whether they main 5G carriers could be persuaded to provide “custom slices” of bandwidth for broadcasting purposes, with other non-broadcasting applications seeming more commercially lucrative.
Broadcast contribution or remote production alone are unlikely to offer service providers a sufficiently large potential market to make it worthwhile for them dedicate valuable bandwidth to broadcasters. This approach could be made more viable however by combining forces with other areas such as military applications, emergency services, or more generic dynamic event-based data requirements. Ultimately, the decision over broadcasts obtaining their own “custom slice” is likely to come down to pricing.
The importance of timing and security
The broadcasting world requires signals to be synchronized with very accurate timing. In the IP world, the industry has standardized this by using precision time protocol (PTP). The great benefit of 5G is that its specifications include time-synch and timing accuracy information which should potentially be accurate enough to meet the timing requirements of broadcast production. However, work still needs to be done to establish whether that timing information can be extracted and made available in a manner that is suitable for consuming within production devices.
EU-funded projects such as 5G-VIRTUOSA and 5G-VINNI are leading the way in investigating how to handle timing in 5G, and we expect to see further updates from these in the near future. This is also true of security where the key focus areas are authentication of devices, encryption of content and secure control channels. There are both existing and emerging standards that can be applied to this area, but it remains to be seen which will come out on top.
5G’s place in the broadcast value chain
5G is still in its early stages, and we are only at the edge of what the technology can achieve in the broadcast value chain. The true potential of 5G in live production will be unveiled with the help of initiatives like 5G-VINNI and 5G-VURTUOSA. Until this happens, it’s pivotal for broadcasters to continue to test new technologies in the broadcast environment and ensure that they are ready to utilize these advancements once they are ready, in whatever form that may take.