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The State of Mobile Video 2017
Mobile video traffic keeps rising at a rapid rate, leaving operators struggling to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the U.K. is falling behind on broadband connectivity.

Three has called for BT/EE to be completely stopped from bidding for the sale of the spectrum. The watchdog, however, says the spectrum for 5G was not “immediately useable” and that it is “important that operators are given an opportunity to acquire this spectrum so they are able to consider early development of 5G services,” according to a report in London business daily City A.M. Ofcom has set reserve prices of £1 million for a 5MHz block in the 3.4GHz band.

U.K. Plays Broadband Catch-Up

Acutely aware of the importance of connectivity for the digital economy post-Brexit, in November the government pledged to spend more than £1 billion over the next 5 years to deliver broadband speeds up to 1Gbps to 2 million more homes and businesses.

Britain already has one of the most comprehensive digital networks among developed world economies, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but it also ranks as one of the most expensive for consumers and businesses to use.

At the same time, Britain is falling behind on the rollout of full fiber, and only 2 percent of premises have access to it. By contrast, Turkey already has double the U.K.’s coverage, while Latvia boasts 20 percent. More businesses are connected in Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Germany than the U.K., according to OECD figures.

“We’re already on the back foot,” comments Ewan Taylor-Gibson, broadband expert at uSwitch.com. “The U.K. has fallen far behind most EU countries, where ultrafast-capable fiber-to-the-home services are common, and, meanwhile, the take-up of existing fiber services is still fairly low.

“Superfast fiber broadband is available to 90 percent of the U.K., yet 20 of the U.K.’s 42 biggest cities are registering actual average speeds of below 24Mbps. And 3 in 10 broadband users register actual speeds of less than 5Mbps, while just 10 percent log speeds of above 50Mbps.”

Full fiber-to-the-property (FTTP) is already offered by some independent providers such as Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and B4RN, but to a few thousand customers. In October, BT completed a European first trial of an FTTP technology that it claimed can deliver 40Gbps and 10Gbps connections on the same fiber cable. Virgin Media is also bringing these speeds to 2 million homes.

Virgin Media released its own branded “TellyTablet,” allowing for portable TV viewing anywhere in the home and syncing with a Virgin set-top box. 

BT has pledged £6 billion to connect 12 million homes to at least 300Mbps by 2020 mostly using “G.fast”—a technology that speeds up copper cables, rather than using FTTP.

The U.K. government is also offering local authorities the chance to bid for a slice of a £740 million fund to trial 5G networks, linking them to the fiber-optic rollout to provide greater wireless capacity.

Speaking in October at the Broadband World Forum, Matt Hancock, minister of state for digital and culture, said the U.K. had (alongside the U.S.) led the world when it came to the installation of a fixed and mobile network, but he admitted the U.K.’s rollout of 3G and 4G “should have happened sooner.”

“By 2020, the volume of global internet traffic is expected to be 95 times its volume in 2005. In the U.K., fixed internet traffic is set to double every 2 years,” said Hancock at the Broadband World Forum. “We need the digital infrastructure that can support this; providing ubiquitous coverage so no one is left out, and with sufficient capacity to ensure data can flow at the volume, speed and reliability required to meet the demands of modern life.”

5G Gains Momentum

4G traffic exceeded 3G traffic for the first time in 2015 (according to Cisco) and continued its upward trajectory in 2016, when 4G represented more than half of total mobile traffic.

By 2020, 4G will account for 40.5 percent of connections, but 72 percent of total traffic. By then, a 4G connection will generate 3.3 times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection. We can expect three-fourths of the world’s mobile data traffic to be video by 2020 too.

LTE networks can’t cope. “At a certain point, the existing 4G LTE technology will not be sustainable to cope with the massive growth in video data,” says Volker Held, head of innovation marketing at Nokia. “We need a new structure. This is the kernel of the 5G business case. Using it means we won’t need to talk about bandwidth constraints for the foreseeable future.”

5G will raise the bar by providing data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of people. In addition to handling high bandwidth applications, the Internet of Things, and billions of video-enabled devices, it will—according to Ericsson—“drive seamless, borderless coverage, allowing media companies to go beyond the geographical restrictions of fiber and become true global players.”

While the broad parameters are agreed upon, standards aren’t expected before 2020. That won’t stop operators from launching “prestandard” 5G networks. Indeed, Ericsson forecasts that there will be 550 million 5G subscriptions by 2022.

Last year, South Korea claimed it would lead the world in 5G, making it a destination for business investment and digital businesses. In September, China asked telecom providers to bid to install 5G networks in major cities after a yearlong trial.

Europe’s governments formed the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the hope it will reinforce the European industry’s ability to compete on the global stage. Launched by the European Commission, the PPP has assorted manufacturers, telcos, service providers, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), and researchers on board.

Separately, telcos including BT, Nokia, Hutchison, Telefónica, Orange, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom signed a manifesto pledging to launch a 5G network in every country within the EU by 2020.

There are so many claims being made for 5G—from live 4K virtual reality to coordinating self-driving cars— they can’t all be true from Day 1.

“5G is an aspiration,” says George Robertson, chief technologist at U.K. digital TV promoter DTG in an interview with Streaming Media in August. “Probably what will happen is that LTE will dovetail into 5G. There won’t be an overnight switch on.”

“The rollout of 2G, 3G, and 4G took 10–15 years, which is the time frame for 5G,” adds Peter Siebert, executive director of European digital TV consortium DVB.

Partly this is because 5G is complex to deliver. Most research is concentrating on Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), a technology that uses antennas located at both the transmitter and receiver and incorporated into wireless standards including 802.11ac (Wi-Fi), HSPA+, WiMAX, and LTE. Massive MIMO scales up to hundreds or even thousands of antennas and terminals and boosts efficiency by focusing the signal into a more precise set of layers. Vodafone UK claimed the first in Europe in the 2.6GHz TDD band.

The PPP calculates that “very dense deployments” of antennas will be necessary if the billions of wireless devices are to be linked worldwide. The DVB’s Siebert suggests this means a base station every 150 meters, plus the investment in backhauling on top putting the question of the business case firmly on the agenda.

This article was published in the Spring 2017 European edition of Streaming Media magazine. 

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