Getting Ready for Video Over 5G: How Should the Industry Prepare?

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U.S. chip maker Qualcomm feels the technology is at a point where there’s sufficient common ground to advance even these timeframes. It is working with a number of other companies including Nokia, AT&T, NTT DOCOMO, Vodafone, Ericsson, BT, Telstra, Korea Telecom, Intel, LG and Swisscom, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Sprint, Vivo, and Deutsche Telekom to support the acceleration of the 3GPP 5G NR standard.

Its proposal is to use “non-standalone” 5G NR signalling as part of 3GPP Release 15. This would adopt existing 4G LTE radio and core network technologies to advance large-scale trials and deployments from 2019, therefore making it less expensive, it is claimed, for operators to make the transition to 5G NR.

Huawei, which received the Outstanding Contribution for LTE Evolution to 5G award at Mobile World Congress in March, has made large-scale 5G NR field tests and 5G high- and low-frequency hybrid field tests. These apparently show that continuous coverage and super-ultra-large capacity can be satisfied simultaneously, and that a single-user peak of 25Gbps can be achieved. In addition, Huawei teamed with Deutsche Telekom to perform a millimeter-wave high-frequency test procedure and achieved a peak rate of 70Gbps—an industry first.

The 5G hype was strong at the 2017 Mobile World Congress, where Huawei received an award for Outstanding Contribution for LTE Evolution to 5G. 

Fixed Wireless Cable Substitute

Qualcomm’s announcement coincides with its own development of a modem capable of supporting 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G on a single chip.

Rival chip maker Intel is also making a big play for the 5G market after missing the boat on 4G LTE. Its new 5G modem incorporates 3GPP 5G NR—including low-latency frame structures, advanced channel coding, and massive MIMO. It says its goal is to support early trials “and to lay a foundation enabling accelerated development of products that will support the 3GPP NR specification and help drive global adoption of the 3GPP 5G standard.”

The idea is that 5G will be transmitted first to fixed wireless access in trial venues and households as a replacement for cable and fibre optic services.

“This will be extremely interesting for providing next-generation, two-way, IP-based TV services to a wider range of consumers whilst minimising capital spend/acquisition costs for the operators,” says Ericsson’s Giles Wilson (right).

After all, as Veale points out, “consumers of broadband data care little how the internet is connected to them but only that they get speed and reliability of service.”

Cable giant Liberty Global is dismissive. Keynoting Cable Congress, CTO Balan Nair said the idea made “no sense” and that the use of higher frequencies was challenging and that significant investment would be required to make the technology viable.

Predications for Rollout

Cisco’s latest Mobile Visual Networking Index forecasts that by 2021, 5G will account for 0.2 percent of connections (25 million), but 1.5 percent of total traffic. Cisco also estimates that by 2021, a 5G connection will generate nearly 30GB per month, which is 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection and 10.7 times more traffic than the average 3G connection.

According to analysts Ovum, more than 50 operators will be offering 5G services in close to 30 countries by the end of 2021. The majority of 5G subscriptions will be concentrated in a handful of markets, including the U.S., China, Japan, and South Korea.

The GSMA expects 5G to have 1.1 billion connections by 2025. Futuresource believes early rollouts will occur from 2019 (possibly late 2018). The pre-5G upgrades paving the way for 5G’s introduction will advance network bandwidth, flexibility, and capacity, and will see MNOs and OTT players able to provide faster services to more people and devices. Futuresource expects this to be particularly relevant in two ways: first, for the ways in which we access content on the go, and second, for the way connectivity will switch between devices, access technologies, and channels. “We’ll have a better indication of how services are planning when we see these implemented,” says Veale.

AT&T is rolling out 5G this summer beginning in Austin and Indianapolis. These will showcase peak speeds of 400Mbps, which is still someway short of the target 5G speed of 1Gbps.

Verizon is planning to get 5G to households in 11 U.S. markets by the summer, again as a trial. Five of these networks are being built with Ericsson to demonstrate the feasibility of fixed wireless access.

In Belgium, service provider Proximus has apparently reached 70Gbps speeds—some 100x faster than 4G—in partnership with Huawei.

“The question is how a theoretical maximum measures up in practice,” cautions Declan Lonergan of 451 Research. “Tests in a controlled environment are one thing, but when you have multiple users using the same network with interference and high demand, you can expect bottlenecks in 5G as much as 4G.”

Arguably, it is extreme low latency rather than greater speed which is the headline feature of 5G. “That could be become a key marketing tool of promoting 5G,” says Mann.

The first operators to launch are likely to be those in mature Asian markets—principally South Korea and Japan—and the U.S., finds CC Insight. “Certainly providers in these territories are showing a greater urgency to be first-to-market and lead on 5G deployment,” says Kester Mann. “In Europe, Germany and the U.K. are probably at the forefront of 5G. Deutsche Telekom comes across as the most upbeat and bullish about the technology. BT will seek to draw on its significant R&D, EE’s strong 4G investment, and its role in the academic research consortium linked to the University of Surrey.”

The U.K. government has voiced ambitions for the country ”to be a world leader in 5G” and set aside £1 billion to trial 5G networks.

“If you follow the logic of converged networks, then anywhere with a greater installed fibre base will have a time-to-market advantage,” says Stagg. “South Korea will not lose its mobile leadership in a 5G world.” The country’s SK Telecom plans major 5G public trials for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Pipe Dream?

In Europe, EE points to planning and policy (rather than spectrum) as the main obstacles to 5G growth. “It cannot remain this difficult to build the infrastructure. We need planning and policy at EU government level to recognise the flexibility which network operators require.”

While some efforts to launch early or ahead of standardisation are commendable, the lack of genuine use-cases leads CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann to question if the technology will be economically viable.

5G is the centrepiece of technology demos for companies like Ericsson, here showing off a 5G trial at Mobile World Congress.

“Operators appear little closer to identifying solid business models that will justify the huge investment required to purchase spectrum and deploy networks,” he argues. “Indeed, we are beginning to see a consensus that the ‘build it and they will come’ approach will ultimately prevail. Discussion that applications such as remote surgery could be a reason to deploy early networks suggests that the industry is getting worryingly ahead of itself.”

5G can be used to pipe video to connected cars—and Futuresource expects media services to cars to “bloom”—but the move to mass scale autonomous cars which also require 5G connectivity (but with far larger bandwidth requirements) is a decade or more distant.

“Initially, personal devices will move beyond smartphones, wearables will become more prominent,” says Veale. “Networks will adapt to demand and capacity which will introduce new business models for consumers, B2B, and mission critical offerings. Throw quantum computing into the mix and the speeds of command and control and data processing that could make possible and it is not just devices that will dramatically change but human behaviour also.”

[This article appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine European Edition as "Getting Ready for Video Over 5G."]

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