IBC: 5G Live Broadcast Demo Shows Work Needs To Be Done
5G is likely to make its earliest impact in broadcasting as a means of supercharging remote production, but the most recent live demonstration showed theres a long way to go before 5G is ready for primetime.
The latest live demonstration, organized as part of the virtual IBC2020, aimed to show proof of concept (PoC) of 5G-enabled remote broadcast production. Participating were broadcasters including the BBC, Al Jazeera, ITV, and the EBU with network operators EE and VodafoneZiggo and multiple tech vendors.
The demo had many moving parts but was deliberately and ambitiously designed to get competitor manufacturers collaborating and broadcasters working with network operators.
However, without being under control of a single organization and with a skeleton crew working under COVID-19 travel and work restrictions, the attempt demonstrated just how much work is still required for 5G to become a rock-solid part of broadcast production.
"It's really easy to do 5G on paper but hard to make it work in practice," said Ian Wagdin, project lead and BBC senior technology transfer manager. "What we've done together in this experiment is go deep into the art of the possible to understand what capabilities are here and what's needed for the future."
Arguably, it was the collaborative nature of the enterprise which delivered most value, according to those taking part.
"We already had a good idea [prior to this test] of use cases and requirements for broadcast ,including controlled latency and dedicated bandwidth under a quality of service wrap, but we didn't realise how many different ways there were going to be of cutting the cake," said BT Sport director of mobile strategy Matt Stagg. "It was really good to work this through."
Potential use cases tested by the demo include enabling news reporters to use a 5G-enabled phone to respond quickly to breaking stories, using AI to remote control cameras, and to cover larger scale events using drones to give wide beauty shots. The BBC's technology transfer and partnerships manager, Purminder Ghandu, instanced coverage of sports team victory parades from airport to city centre without any physical connectivity.
"In future we will have full cloud-based production with lighting, tally, and editing all controlled in the cloud," she said.
The demo, six months in development, tested live 5G links from the RAI (which would have been home to IBC this week), a boat on a canal in Amsterdam, and the IBC office in London.
From the RAI, Sony FX9 camera feeds were uplinked via LiveU LU800 cellular bonding terminals over the VodafoneZiggo network to ViacomCBS London HQ and decoded, then mixed in a NewTek Tricaster Elite production server.
From a boat, a live performance by MTV artist Emma Heester was captured with a Mobile Viewpoint supplied AI-controlled camera system, MVP Xcam, and also covered with a 5G remote lighting and a drone. All of which ran over the VodafoneZiggo network.
From outside ViacomCBS Amsterdam HQ Sony XDCAMs feeds streaming at 9Mbps were taken into the Sony virtual production cloud with transitions, mix effects and lower third graphics controlled remotely (which could be anywhere but in this case was from the Viacom site). The output was fed to ViacomCBS London.
"This was the area we struggled with the most," said Wagdin. "We really wanted to look at working with non-public networks, but we couldn't get the kit in the right place at the right time and get the spectrum to marry up. We've done lots of lab tests. We know it works. But getting it to work in Amsterdam was a step too far during lockdown, and we had to revert to Wi-Fi."
In London, IBC chief exec Mike Crimp addressed the demo live via Sony Xperia 5G phone.
The demo was, inevitably, not without its faults. It was delayed several minutes, and when it did go live there was an issue with audio such that viewers couldn't initially hear the presenter. This was put down to a local error rather than anything related to the 5G link.
Another glitch occurred just as Heester began her live performance, to which the feed returned successfully a few moments later.
"We used a number of different techniques and solutions," said Wagdin. "Some worked, and some we had to scale down our ambition a little bit."
Among the learnings: Ray Williamson, director of product management at Huawei, pointed out that "5G can deliver very high data rates and very low and very predictable latency and high reliability, but can't necessarily do all those things in all use cases. We definitely need to prioritise and do trade-offs. We need to dig into this in more detail."
A second learning is around the operational model. Network slicing is required to optimize the network for uplink (contribution) as well as downlink (distribution) of video. Broadcasters need to be sure that the network won't be congested as it currently can be with 4G, particularly at typically crowded sites like sports stadiums.
"Because of software virtualisation we can put a separate signal path from device to production studio over the network and that is going to change the way we do things," Stagg explained. "When we put a service wrapper around it, we will move to a broadcast grade network. When you say ‘broadcast to mobile operators' they think eMBMS (one to many) rather than broadcast-grade contribution. We want it to be as simple as typing in a postcode, an amount of bandwidth, and a latency. We want to be able to buy a managed service."
A key next step is work out with mobile operators how to commercialize 5G broadcast-grade slices, including service wrap guarantees of performance.
Williamson also suggested further work was needed on the vendor side to build equipment that would function within specific spectrum slices for verticals like broadcast.
Mario Reis, director of telecommunications at Olympic Broadcasting Services, warned that broadcasters will not achieve all the benefits of 5G, "which is a complex technology," without the cooperation of mobile and network operators and without knowledge sharing among all the stakeholders.
"Broadcast workflows have a big impact on the network and we need to be mindful of that," he said.
Anticipation is mounting for this year's IBC. After a reasonable-size crowd at the April 2022 NAB event in Las Vegas (by most estimates, about half of normal attendee count), we've had smaller events take place—including our own Streaming Media East 2022, held in Boston—from May onward that seem to have returned to normal.
Project supported by The Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport as part of 5G Create programme to develop new use cases and 5G technical capabilities
The international focus of events like IBC generate a sense of excitement and a critical mass of activity that drives the whole industry forward. That momentum has been noticeably lacking in 2021, and it's time to get the ball rolling again.
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