Verizon Preps 5G Edge for 8K Live with AWS and Zixi

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Hot on the heels of AWS' play for live and uncompressed end-to-end video production in the cloud comes news that another of its technologies is being used to test broadcast distribution over 5G.

An unnamed "major global broadcaster" is testing live and live linear 4K and 8K broadcast workflows from Verizon's 5G edge and using technology from Zixi and AWS.

"The goal of AWS, Verizon, and Zixi is to address the three main elements of live streaming success: latency, overhead, and uptime," said Eric Bolten, VP of business development at Zixi, in a statement. "The industry has evolved from science experiments to real-world production deployments today, not next year."

Video Is 5G's Killer App—But 8K?

5G network operators view video as the killer app for 5G in its early phase rollout as they can take immediate advantage of the standard's 10Gbps+ speeds and service latency of less than 1ms to deliver more and higher quality content with real-time interactivity.

Most previous 5G media tests have focussed on the contribution part of the process. Using the network to broadcast live events is the logical next step but is planned for in 3GPP release 16, which introduces enhanced ultra-reliable low latency communication (eURLLC) to deliver millisecond latency, time-sensitive networking and improvements to "high power, high tower" transmissions to support higher mobility and better coverage of terrestrial TV.

This would offer content owners such as sports franchises and pay TV broadcasters the chance to monetize new video-centric applications such as 8K VR, interactive viewer-selectable angles of a sports match, sports betting, and real-time augmented reality content.

The 8K live broadcast landscape is rarified but growing. BT Sport, arguably the world's most progressive of broadcaster, had already earmarked the start of the 2020/21 soccer season in the UK to begin live broadcasts in 8K. It already delivers the world's first regular 4K UHD matchdays. Restrictions on getting technicians into stadiums and shipping delays on Sony 8K cameras from Japan as a result of Coronavirus have delayed but not cancelled its ambition.

In January, Verizon made a behind-closed-doors 8K over 5G test of a Pro Bowl viewing event in Miami. It's a part of a long-term partnership the operator made with the NFL to outfit NFL stadiums with 5G networking to showcase the tech's potential to give fans an even more immersive experience.  

The San Francisco 49ers installed five 8K cameras inside the Levi's Stadium earlier this month which are being used, initially at least, for zoom views of both end zones.

The biggest use case in 2021 by far will be the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which promises to be a showcase for 8K applications ranging from broadcast to VR.

One of Verizon Media's priorities for 2021 is to address emerging use cases that it sees broadcasters investing in. According to the operator's Darren Lepke, head of video product management, these include "realtime video and interactivity, wagering and gamification.  We're developing new video protocols that deliver real-time video at scale and integrating things like gamification engines or video chat features so you can watch a football match with your mates."

He points out that for Verizon Media, real-time interactive video at scale is not dependent on 5G but certainly improves the experience. "Where you have a high-speed network and users consuming content on the go the reliability and performance of your video will increase and gets you a much more solid experience than today."

Lepke added, that he thought it unlikely we'd see 8K streaming any time soon. "My personal opinion is that we are still in early adoption of 4K video. You do need giant TVs in people's homes to see the benefit of 8K but on a mobile device there's barely a reason to stream 8K since you can't tell the difference (between the image quality of a 4K signal). That said, there is an ecosystem of device manufacturers and encoding partners working to build out 8K media."

AWS, Zixi, and Verizon Test

The test announced today is from Zixi, whose live streaming protocol is being used to secure the UHD stream

"Today the business of live events is cumbersome, infrastructure intensive, and high cost," said Gordon Brooks, executive chairman and CEO for Zixi in a statement. "What we're doing with Verizon 5G and AWS Wavelength Zones is streamlining that process. We're changing the economics; we're changing how you go about doing it and how you go about experiencing it."

AWS Wavelength is described as AWS infrastructure deployments that embed AWS compute and storage services within communications service providers' data centers at the edge of the 5G network. Application traffic from 5G devices can reach application servers running in Wavelength Zones without leaving the telecommunications network. This avoids the latency that would result from application traffic having to traverse multiple hops across the internet to reach their destination, enabling customers to take full advantage of the latency and bandwidth benefits offered by 5G.

To help content providers deliver what Zixi calls "new kinds of live streamed sports and entertainment experiences," it is using AWS Wavelength to power its Software Defined Video Platform (SDVP). The SDVP, says Zixi, leverages ultra-low latency access to AWS compute and storage services enabled at the Verizon 5G Edge to process huge amounts of UHD video and compress it for delivery to mobile devices.

"Wavelength allows us to move video processing to the edge and to deliver additional performance at every part of the content delivery chain," said Bolten.

Zixi also has designed the SDVP to support remote and distributed production scenarios.

"In order to scale, to go from hundreds of streams to tens of thousands of streams and clients, you need the ability to have views across the organization, between organizations, and easily manage both," said Bolton. "5G better optimizes overhead, so you can maximize traffic spectrum and reduce latency. Now with Wavelength available at the 5G network edge, this combined mobile edge compute (MEC) solution foretells the future of mobile broadcast workflows."

More broadly on the benefits of MEC for broadcast and OTT delivery to the consumer, Bolton says it has very high potential for disruption in a number of ways for organizations who are acquiring or distributing a signal.

Ongoing field testing are shows promising results with latency below 10 ms over an 80Mbps to 100Mbps pipe. Zixi says tests of linear video broadcast via an MEC solution are promising. It is looking to streamline the process for using termination devices, like 4K 200Mbps decoders, and Wi-Fi networks in a hybrid infrastructure for video file delivery.

"The technology makes virtual control rooms possible, where a production team can order 10 or 20 camera sets and have curated subsets that are available to the general public," Bolten said. "That's when sponsorship and customization begin to support real business models. There's no question that mobile edge computing is the future of live production and contribution. We are migrating what we have already been doing with AWS using Amazon S3, and now making a connection to Wavelength Zones at the edge of 5G networks. These kinds of gateways on the 5G network open up everything."

Image above: Zixi's Zenmaster

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