The State of Mobile Video 2019
Analyst Paolo Pescatore, SVP of consumer services at MiDIA Research, called this hugely significant. "There are plentiful opportunities for BT Sport to be more creative with its editorial and production output as well as gain additional benefits from cost transformation," he says in a November 2018 post (go2sm.com/midia). "[R]emote production and live contribution ... means lower costs with few cameramen needed to cover an event onsite. Other broadcasters, media and content owners should be looking at seeing how 5G could be used in their own productions especially news agencies."
According to ZDNet, EE has begun upgrading hundreds of towers to 10Gbps transmission in city centres, including Birmingham, Cardiff, and Belfast, as it preps for a nationwide 2019 commercial launch. The network is being focussed on densely populated hot spots such as London’s Hyde Park and Manchester Arena, which it says carry 25% of all data across the whole network, despite only covering 15% of the UK population.
5G smartphones from multiple (unnamed) partners are expected to be available this year. EE also plans to make a 5G Home router available.
Rival Vodafone UK plans to switch on 1,000 5G sites by 2020, including commercial launches later this year in rural parts of Britain like Cornwall and the Lake District, according to Telecoms.com.
It grabbed attention by claiming the nation’s first holographic call using 5G in autumn when England women’s football captain Steph Houghton appeared live from Manchester as a hologram in Newbury near London.
Vodafone in Italy spent €2.4 billion to acquire the spectrum that will underpin its national 5G network. This spectrum became available in January, with Milan earmarked by the operator as "Europe’s 5G capital," with near blanket coverage expected soon.
In December, Vodafone and Sky Italia partnered on a claimed first live new broadcast via 5G in Italy, according to TVB Europe. Rival Telecom Italia (TIM) is also investing heavily in its 5G network build and has undertaken a number of high-profile trials, to showcase its efforts, including lighting up "Europe’s first 5G state" when it turned on 5G base stations in the principality of San Marino and operating drones over Turin using 5G, according to Telecoms.com.
A major 5G field trial continues in Munich to investigate large-scale TV broadcasts over 5G. The project is supported by Telefónica Germany and Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Bavarian state broadcaster.
The auction in Germany this spring of the 2GHz and 3.6GHz radio spectrum is being keenly watched by those concerned that Telekom Deutschland, Telefónica Deutschland, and Vodafone will monopolise the bidding according to an August 2018 post by industry body MVNO Europe.
MVNO Europe (MVNO stands for mobile video network operator) claims German operators are holding back innovation and disrupting competition by not giving other operators adequate access to the spectrum.
According to the same August 2018 post, "MVNO Europe believes that the behaviour of incumbent German operators runs counter to enabling competition and innovation." Chairman Jacques Bonifay adds that "such a market evolution may prevent the emergence of pan-European and global 5G-based services delivered by European companies, given that it will be impossible to ‘scale-up’ in Europe if Germany cannot adequately be served."
Betting on Short-Form Content
Looking to capitalise on the mobile explosion, funding is being pumped into short-form content.
The biggest bet is by Quibi ("Quick Bites"), the $1 billion network spearheaded by Jeffrey Katzenberg with investment backing from Disney, Fox, NBC Universal, and Alibaba. It will hope to succeed where the likes of mobile content ventures Studio+ from Vivendi and go90 from Verizon failed.
BBC Studios, which launched a high-end, short-form fund with Anton Capital, and Viacom Digital Studios are among big media attempts to capture new audiences with premium-produced short-form content.
Their target is social media channels Facebook Watch, Snapchat Discover, YouTube, and Instagram (with its new video app IGTV).
"There is an increasing realisation that the days of trying to build your own network and website then acquire and monetise an audience is hard and incredibly expensive," Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios (VDS), told trade event attendees at IBC. "On the other hand, our ability to scale up by distributing across the social landscape is such an enormous opportunity that it is worth revenue sharing with those platforms. If you do the math, it works out [in] your favour."
Viacom is busy reversioning its show brands like Spongebob and The Daily Show for social media.
Facebook’s decision to move to mid-roll, non-skippable ads has also fuelled an appetite for mid-form content between 10–25 minutes.
Amazon Prime Video’s acclaimed Julia Roberts’ thriller Homecoming was made as a 10-part, 22-minute series with mobile on-demand viewing in mind.
In her talk at IBC, Day continued, "In the early days of online video platforms there was a perception that digital short form was all cats on skateboards. We’ve evolved to a place where you are no longer at the mercy of the linear clock. How long your content is, is dictated by the story, by the platform, and your budget."
Prioritising customer satisfaction and preventing churn are the cornerstones of telco operator (fixed and mobile, or increasingly converged) strategy. Consequently, the more grounded take on 5G is that it won’t be a big bang in which we are all switched onto blazing fast speeds but a gradual uplift in which winning applications will only become apparent over several years, perhaps a decade, of evolution.
What is most notable is that there is no one-size-fits-all technology approach, no magic bullet to next-gen networks. The huge increases in capacity, performance levels and increased speeds must be supported by an efficient fixed infrastructure. This includes installing millions of small cells for network densification as well as buying spectrum licences. Almost all applications require getting a fixed (wireline or optical) network close to the user. Operators are weighing the merits of a wide toolkit of solutions to achieve this, often in combination, including the cable technologies of DOCSIS 3.0 (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0), G.fast, NG-PON (Next-Generation Passive Optical Network), and fibre to the home/premise/building, as well as 5G wireless. And satellite can’t be dismissed either as a valuable backhaul channel to carry the sheer load of data or its continued unmatched ability to broadcast to digital outcasts.
Although market research firm Ovum expects adoption of 4K video and other such bandwidth-intensive applications to grow quickly, it will remain difficult to convince the mass-market consumer to pay a premium for 10Gbps over lower-speed tiers such 1Gbps. Consumers do want higher quality, especially for video, says the research firm, but most consumers will not even need a 1Gbps pipe within the next 5 years, since a 50–100Mbps throughput will be sufficient for most consumers’ internet apps to work and work well.
It seems that, in Europe at least, market competition and regulation, rather than consumer demand, are driving the trend toward gigabit services. For all operators, a gigabit upgrade offers the opportunity to appeal to the tech-savvy, high-spending customer, perhaps with new VR/AR game streaming, but Europe-wide connectivity objectives are also jump-starting national governments into action.
By 2025 all European households in EU member states need to have access to at least 100Mbps connectivity (upgradable to Gbps). In addition, major terrestrial transport paths should have uninterrupted 5G coverage.
Where’s the Return?
To make their 5G services viable and profitable, Europe’s operators are looking beyond their core telco business in order to unlock new revenue streams. By far the biggest use-case is enhanced mobile broadband, including 4K streaming.
On the enterprise side, the shift in workloads from centralised cloud to a distributed mobile workforce, as well as new workloads at the edge, is eyed as an immense opportunity for service providers. These applications include smart sensors, autonomous vehicles, and real-time VR/AR—this despite VR and AR headsets and glasses sales declining last year, according to a CCS Insight report. The research firm does expect sales to pick up in 2019 and to accelerate as more standalone or wireless mixed reality gear comes to market (go2sm.com/ccsinsight, registration required).
5G will need to provide the foundation for comprehensive services that solve major challenges for applications like self-driving vehicles, drones, public safety systems, and smart grids. Network slicing will virtualise a single network to support a wide array of new services that are not possible with today’s best-effort mobile networks.
While the new 5G "killer app" may not yet be defined, mobile operators will likely treat the network itself as a new revenue resource, perhaps selling a slice of their 5G network to another provider to deploy different services and offer a service level agreement to guarantee a minimum speed and low latency.
Despite the excitement surrounding 5G, initial consumer uptake will be limited, MiDIA Research’s Pescatore says. "Telcos need to generate revenue in order to recoup the investment in 5G with the acquisition of spectrum and rolling out a network. Therefore, expect other converged telcos [like BT and including Deutsche Telekom and Orange] to focus on specific verticals such as broadcast and media."