Ericsson says sports broadcasters are set to get innovative with 5G from 2020

Ericsson has released the latest edition of its Mobility Report, which shows that North America is expected to lead the 5G uptake, with all major US operators planning to roll out 5G between late 2018 and mid-2019.

Globally, major 5G deployments are expected from 2020. Mobile data traffic is estimated to surge by eight times during the forecast period to reach close to 107 exabytes (EB) per month, a figure that is equal to every mobile subscriber in the world streaming full HD video for 10 hours. By 2023, more than 20% of mobile data traffic worldwide is expected to be carried by 5G networks. This is 1.5 times more than the total 4G, 3G, and 2G traffic today.

Ericsson forecasts over one billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2023, accounting for around 12% of all mobile subscriptions.

Kris Hardiman, head of strategic and portfolio marketing, Europe and Latin America, at Ericsson, spoke to SVG Europe about how the growth of 5G will change sport broadcasting today.

Broadcasters taking advantage of 5G

On when Hardiman sees broadcasters taking advantage of 5G networks, and what he thinks they will use it for initially, he commented: “According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report we’ll start to see high scale rollout of 5G for smartphones across 2019 (with use cases such as 5G fixed wireless access arriving later this year).  It’s more than likely that some broadcasters will seek to take advantage as early adopters in this timeframe, but more general rollout and availability of 5G based services will certainly continue into 2020 and beyond.”

The use cases that broadcasters will focus on with 5G will vary, continued Hardiman. “In the first instance, it will depend on the network coverage that has gone before, for instance, if the broadcaster has largely been offering services over 3G or limited availability 4G, they will likely focus on general availability of HD or 4K video. For service providers that already offer these types of services today, they will likely focus on a more ‘transformational experience’ that’s enabled by 5G.”

BT Sport showcased an HD HDR live broadcast direct to mobile at a UEFA Champions League game at Wembley earlier this year

As to what those experiences could be, Hardiman noted: “5G itself offers a range of qualities, but in essence they boil down to higher speed (upload and download); greater capacity (so an overall improved experience in high traffic areas for less buffering); but also vastly reduced network latency, which essentially means that owing to a range of improvements in the network core, distributed cloud and edge computing, 5G can process much more, much faster. So what does this mean coming back to the point about ‘transformational experiences’?  At a basic level it means that 4K and HDR smooth streaming will be a reality, irrespective of where you are. But more broadly it will allow broadcasters to add more into the mix, in a much more seamless, less ‘bolted on’ and ‘clunky’ fashion.” BT Sport showcased an HD HDR live broadcast direct to mobile at a UEFA Champions League game at Wembley earlier this year.

“Today when a video stream is enhanced with, say, augmented reality (AR), either the bitrate drops to accommodate, or the experience can slow to a point whereby it’s impact is reduced to an interesting gimmick,” continued Hardiman. “The promise of 5G is that speed and capacity will be such that broadcasters can not only delivery ‘high fidelity’ 4K AR and virtual reality (VR) experiences, but owing to capacity and latency gains, also add other components, including areas like haptics and real time interaction.”

Getting innovative with sports

Across its global innovation network today, Ericsson is developing experiences such as VR viewing of live concerts, enabled by haptics which allow users to physically sense the playing styles of musicians. The immersion of such approaches, when full synchronised with UHD HDR video, is a step beyond what is available today, and the application to areas like sport (eg, football or motor racing) and premium entertainment are exciting and differentiating.  “It’s not about feeling what the sportsperson or musician feels.  It’s about more ‘content’ being available to programme makers to curate and edit an experience that goes beyond video,” said Hardiman.  

Broadcasters and operators, such as BT Sport and EE, talk about 5G creating a panacea for outside broadcasting, saying it will revolutionise the way broadcasters send live content. Hardiman commented on what he feels is going to happen: “The upload speeds, latency and capacity benefits of 5G are an interesting prospect for those involved in outside broadcast. Clearly, this is an area that requires specialist and guaranteed connectivity (especially for use cases involving live distribution). To accommodate this, mobile network providers are today investing in network function virtualisation and ‘network slicing’; essentially creating dedicated ‘slices’ of their networks that can be tailored to support the specific speed, capacity, and latency requirements of different industry segments. With network slicing and the inherent benefits of 5G, there’s a strong basis to explore whether this technology could be used as an alternative to high cost, highly bespoke satellite uplink and distribution.”

Concluding on which regions will turn to 5G for broadcast purposes first, Hardiman added that it will be the US and Asia, with Western Europe dragging its heels: “According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, we will see one billion 5G subscriptions by 2023. North America and Asia are leaders in terms of volume of subscriptions, followed by Western Europe. North America are aiming for first deployment of 5G services this year. A key factor in determining the availability of 5G services is the government and regulatory environment.  Both North America and Asia have investment friendly policies. In contrast, Europe has been slower to ‘harmonise’ on spectrum deployment and allocation, and has a very uneven approach to the investment and risk required by operators in different countries. The net result is that Europe as a whole will follow later with the deployment of 5G services.”

By end of 2023, close to 50% of all mobile subscriptions in North America are forecast to be for 5G, followed by North East Asia at 34%, and Western Europe at 21%.  

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