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How 5G Could Evolve Mobile Streaming and Video Delivery

Learn how 5G mobile streaming could help service providers scale to meet the demands of consumers in the most cost-effective distribution options available.
April 8, 2021
9-Minute Read
Vice President, Video Strategy

While 5G is slated to bring new technological advancements that aid in business development, broadcasters and service providers want to know if 5G capabilities will live up to expectations for video delivery. Consumers are expecting high-quality, glitch-free streaming experiences on mobile screens. Is that too much to ask?

In situations where service providers underestimate the size of the audience, in relation to the network’s capacity, the quality of experience often suffers. Past experiences have created a negative stigma surrounding major fails during sporting events, and those lingering fears from the consumer may result in lost revenue and brand trust.

But a solid network architecture alone may not be enough to handle the fluctuating demand for live and VOD content delivered to multiple screens, and video performance can suffer in terms of latency, congestion, and packet loss. The key to success is recognizing and addressing the importance of quality of experience when considering 5G distribution.

Below, we take a closer look at how 5G can help service providers scale their content delivery to meet the demands of consumers with the most cost-effective distribution options available.

How 5G Could Help Scale Video Delivery

Video delivery has significantly benefited from 4G, mainly by offering a bandwidth range of 10 Mbps to 20 Mbps. 4G thus enables an SD to HD video experience. However, this approach is limited when it comes to scaling the delivery of your content, especially in the stadium situation where 100000 people want to use their personal smartphone to stream video simultaneously in the same general location.

Video on mobile devices, for example, is most often delivered in standard-definition (SD) resolutions. SD using MPEG AVC codec is around 1.5M/s, is more often used when there is a high concentration of intensive, simultaneous content consumption, like at a stadium or concert hall or on festival grounds, or simply when the economics require it like in U.S. with zero ratings (unlimited data quota for content to which limited bandwidth is applied by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)).

Transmitting 4K images and full HD clips, in a context where there is massive concurrent consumption, makes media delivery more challenging. An expensive Wi-Fi mesh network must be built to cover the quality of experience requirements if you really want to succeed.


5G May Have a Critical Role to Play in Scaling Access

Will you Be Able To Do What 4G Can’t?

The roll-out of 5G networks will be the game changer for distributing bandwidth-intensive, high-quality and high-demand video to mobile devices.

5G is designed to deliver up to 1 Gbps connectivity. In mid-band deployments (3.5 GHz spectrum), we are seeing speeds between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps, which is roughly 10 times the speed currently available on 4G.


Faster Speeds Make a Difference for Your Content Delivery

Faster speeds are available in the high band (26 GHz in Europe and 28 GHz in the U.S.) but the reach is limited, which may require building a very dense network of base stations. Unfortunately, the high-frequency band can be impacted by deflecting obstacles, resulting in lower propagation.

With 5G, you can now stream UHD at scale. That being said, zero-rating can still be practiced on HD video in congested areas and depending on the time of day. 3GPP has defined a standard way to do zero-rating in 5G, so you can expect a more flexible use of zero-rating with smarter rules applied.


How Does 5G Impact Scaling Your Video Delivery?

As for the scalability, 5G has the potential to offer about 10 times more bandwidth per base station. In addition, 5G can accommodate a much denser network of base stations, meaning more bandwidth is available in the hot spots, like sports arenas and concert venues.

Let’s say you are in a soccer or football arena that hosts 100,000 people where there’s a high consumer demand to replay critical moments of the game on mobile devices. If we assume a concurrency rate of 10%, we will have to stream 10K sessions simultaneously. For an HD HEVC stream, at 3M/s, this will require a total access network capacity of 10E3x3E6=30E9. If we now assume a mid-band base station will serve around 3G/s sustained bandwidth, then we will need 10 base stations to support that use case. On a 4G network, with say 10x less capacity, we would need 100 base stations. This is where 5G shines.


Leveraging Mobile Edge Computing to Scale Delivery

Along with scalability, it’s also important to look at the core network capacity. Trunking 30 Gbps across the core network requires a very expensive network infrastructure. Until a full-IP infrastructure is made available on 5G networks it won’t be possible to do better.

Today, we’re looking at a 2023-2034 time frame with the deployment of 5G NR. In a centralized architecture, high-speed interconnection used as trunks over a long distance could require some specific quality-of-service and resiliency requirements to ensure video streaming is delivered. At the end of the day, this too can be quite costly.

One way to solve the problem is to cache the content locally using Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) in a 5G environment. In the stadium example, cloud resource caching can be used on-demand.

If you have a 10 Gbps connection serving a 3 Mbps session, you have a concurrency of 3330 sessions. In a stadium with 100,000 people, with a 10% peak usage of the service, you will need three servers, which is very affordable. If you want to deliver 4K resolution at say 20 Mbps, you will need 21 servers. And that is still quite affordable.


A Business Model for 5G Edge Cloud – What Makes Sense?

The Streaming Video Alliance released a white paper on 5G Edge Cloud that goes through all of the possible architectures for edge cloud in a 5G environment. Right now, there are agreements being made between large MNOs and cloud companies to integrate cloud technology at the edge of the network. From a technology and business model standpoint, we think these types of partnerships will continue to develop.

However, it’s hard not to have some reservations about moving certain services to the edge when you think about the business model and market demand. If you move too much of the processing to the edge, then you increase the cost per subscriber. That could put pressure on your business model.

There is a trade-off required, and it needs to take into consideration the economic and technical constraints involved with scaling video distribution services. Finding the right location to host the video streaming or CDN servers is essential. Today, we see it being located at customer or network edge points.


Could 5G Give a Boost to Broadcast Dynamic?

One question we often get is about whether or not mobile video is scalable for live applications. 5G broadcast could be a good way to scale live, but let’s look at where we come from and what’s lying ahead. In the 4G environment, eMBMS had limited success. That’s because the devices were not supported by the proper silicon, and the base stations did not have the right software.

Operators in Korea, the U.S. and Australia conducted trials, and the results were all positive. eMBMS in 4G was never a success for many reasons, including lack of device support, restricted spectrum capacity and the reluctance of broadcasters and MNOs.

Now with 5G, we see the dynamic changing. 5G is being taken seriously by broadcasters, including the EBU. The EBU recently released a report on 5G broadcast and became a co-founding member of 5G MAG, an action group that provides a framework for stakeholders to collaborate on a market-driven implementation of next-generation technologies for media content distribution, production and contribution. Given that it didn’t work for 4G, why would it be successful with 5G?

First of all, it’s highly likely that the network and the devices will support this feature at launch - which was not the case for 4G. Secondly, there is more network capacity with 5G (basically 10x more), which would enable this type of service.

In Release 16, 3GPP defined the use of 5G broadcast, which is called enTV. Trials are taking place for mobile reception, and we expect to see the first deployment at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

If that event proves to be successful for 5G video distribution, 5G could be deployed for broadcast to mobile devices as early as 2025. Concerning broadcast to TVs, we believe very high-speed networks like Fiber and Docsis (when available) are the best way to address the TVs. The biggest factor would be broadcasters like EBU believing that, in order to stay connected with their mobile audience, they need this type of technology to scale video delivery for peak events like the Olympics or other major championship games in countries around the world.


How 5G Might Shape the Future of Video Content

5G offers massive network capacity, giving operators an opportunity to provide more bandwidth (>100Mbps) per user and serve more sessions at scale (in the hundreds of millions of subscribers). Today on a 4G network, you can only achieve this level of performance when the cell is nearly unoccupied.

What does this mean for the future of mobile video? This means that high-quality full HD (1080p60) is now within reach. You can say goodbye to the poor SD experiences provided at scale today when zero-rating is activated by MNOs. It also means you can start dreaming about launching UHD services on 5G, but this will require a higher resolution on the terminal side, for the record both Samsung galaxy S20 and the iPhone 12 considered at the top end are only 1440p capable.


5G and 8K Streaming: Are the Technologies Complementary?

5G is expected to play a major role in the delivery of mobile video content. And 8K, on the medium-term horizon, promises to deliver premium content at a resolution that is four to eight times the pixel count of full HD at 8,192 x 4,320 x 60/120.

Questions still remain! Have these technologies ever been deployed together? Are they complementary? What benefits stand to be gained by leveraging 5G networks for 8K video delivery?

These are some of the questions that the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT), France Télévisions, Orange and technology partners including Harmonic and other partners wanted to address when they recently joined forces to deliver the first-ever live 8K streaming and broadcast through satellite on 5G networks for a premium sports event. It all took place at the international French tennis tournament in Paris.

During this event, RG Labs visitors had access to never-before-seen 8K live sports streaming and broadcast. The content was produced live and encoded in 8K thanks to a wide range of solutions including 8K cameras, live encoders, cloud origin servers and file transcoder for the media processing part. Live content was delivered to 8K TVs and mobile devices leveraging new 5G capabilities on Orange’s network.


What’s Unique About the 5G and 8K Trial?

This trial marks a huge technology breakthrough, exploiting the opportunities that 5G networks can provide in terms of delivering enhanced video quality. For more details, check out the press release issued by FTV.

Beyond improving video resolution, this project also gave us an opportunity to create catch-up TV and VOD content for a variety of 5G connected devices: TV and mobile. What we were able to achieve during the French tennis tournament was innovative, in the sense, it was done in a very short time period of less than a week to set up the systems onsite and 2 months to plan. Equally impressive is the fact that 16 companies from around the world came together to collaborate. You can find all of the nitty-gritty, technical details on the system deployed and the services delivered in FTV’s blog post.

Proof That Channel Origination Is Scalable

During the trial, Harmonic’s VOS®360 solution was used to perform:

  • Live packaging and streaming in DASH
  • Packaging live broadcasts into catch-up TV content
  • File-based transcoding from catch-up TV content in order to create ABR in SDR or HDR formats
  • File-based transcoding from VOD sources in order to create ABR in SDR or HDR formats
  • File export in TS for DTH and tiling

The experimentation at the French tennis tournament is proof that the VOS media is capable of scaling up to not only support UHD-1 (4K) but also UHD-2 (8K).

Lessons Learned From 8K Streaming

What did we learn from this demonstration? It’s possible to deliver live, catch-up TV and VOD content in pristine 8K to TVs and mobile devices using 5G networks. This is just the beginning of the 5G and 8K journey and a stepping stone to delivering live coverage of future sports events like the Paris 2024 Olympics. By then, these technologies will be mature enough to be deployed at a mass scale.

5G and the Possible Impact for High-Demand Video Delivery

5G brings not only dramatically faster access network speed but also the network infrastructure to enable mobile edge cloud. Caching has the potential to transform certain applications, such as in-stadium video experiences, and broadcast technology will be useful to scale large sports events.

How Video Service Providers Can Prepare for 5G Roll Out

So What Can an MNO Do With 5G Right Now?

Looking at Verizon, a company that brings 300Mbps to homes in the US for $50 a month bundled with YouTube TV, the writing is on the wall. 5G will first be a possible substitution for fiber in remote areas. This move will mainly help MNOs regain the 10 to 15 million broadband subscribers they’ve lost to cable operators in rural U.S. areas. Over the long term, it will also be used to enable MNOs to offer an alternative to the cable MSOs for the mainstream fixed broadband market.

In the near future, expect to see more fixed broadband deployments for 5G, with Mi-Fi-type devices that will bring very fast and reliable internet to the homes where there is coverage. You can anticipate other applications, such as fast broadband to phones, or immersive use cases (i.e., FoV, free viewport, VR).

At Harmonic, we believe that  5G and mobile video will provide new opportunities for video and cable providers to grow their reach. Harmonic has already deployed its VOS® Media Software and media processing as a service for 4G with companies like Telkomsel in Indonesia, LMT in Lithuania and Drei in Austria. The solution can be adapted to 5G by scaling the resolution and the number of sessions.

Cloud-native platforms enable the support of an event-based approach and the porting of functionalities to the edge of the network in the MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) architecture.

Contact Harmonic right now to learn more about how to best prepare your business for 5G deployment. You can extend your network capacity to handle fluctuating bandwidth demands and deliver premium video quality to every screen.

*Harmonic would like to thank the contributing Project Manager from Orange (UPR-IDF Paris) for providing content in the section on 5G dimensioning. 

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