5G – Beyond the Hype

Who’s fed up with the 5G sensationalism and clich├ęs? You only have to dig a little below the headlines to start understanding what 5G really is and actually delivers. In fact, that’s exactly what we’ll do right now:

There’s a whole showing list of things that 5G will ‘enable’, but many of these are already enabled. 5G will simply enable them ‘better’. For instance, self-driving cars are ‘enabled by 5G’ but they are already working with 4G. So it’s really the newer features of 5G which will make things work better and more reliably. Oh, and if we trust the operators, faster.

Subscriber numbers. This is a major advance with 5G technology. Being able to have vastly more people connected to a single node will help stop people being turned away from having even a slow connection simply because they are next to an unexpectedly large number of people. Stations, stadia and so many other places will benefit from not hitting a cap on the simple number of people around. This plays into the idea of stability, for your self-driving car, this means it’s much more likely to be able to get a connection wherever it drives. For a broadcast workflow, then at least you should be connected…your next challenge is bandwidth.

Bandwidth slicing. This is what broadcasters have been really interested in whereby the telco can split off part of the spectrum and dedicate it to you. Gone are the days where you turn up to a match and you can’t do a live piece to camera because there’s not enough bandwidth left. You’ll now have your own. But as Nevion’s Andy Rayner recently said in this webinar, this is simply a feature of the technology. We have heard nothing yet of whether this will be a service offered as 5G continues its roll-out.

Bandwidth Capacity. 5G will work at any frequency. A quick refresher: low wavelengths go further and get through walls easier, but higher frequencies can carry higher-bandwidth data. In Sweden, the government gave Ericsson 600Mhz so they have deployed 5G there. In other countries, 700-800 Mhz are the typical ‘low’ frequencies in use. There are many other bands up to around 6 to 8 Ghz which vary from country to country. None of these channels are ‘millimetre wavelengths’. That designation is saved for the high frequencies such as 27Ghz (in reality 24.25-27.5GHz) which is an agreed band throughout Europe. More capacity above that, such as 30 and 60Ghz is likely to available in some countries. All of this makes life complicated for phone manufacturers who have to find a way of sticking antennae sensitive to 600Mhz to 60000Mhz and accommodate the multi-path ‘Massive MIMO’ and beamforming into a sensibly-shaped phone. But the benefit of the complexity of more data, so higher bandwidths are possible to the phone.

Bandwidth availability. You can have all the bandwidth you want between your phone and the local cell, but if that cell’s not on the internet, you’re going to have a tough time loading Google. So, again the benefit of all the extra capacity is in the hands of the telcos to actually deliver enough bandwidth to each cell site. Some times that will be difficult for technological reasons to get enough data into a high-demand cell, sometimes there will be logistical reasons that delivering more than, say 1Gbe, won’t be possible. But most of the time, where this doesn’t happen, it’s going to be a business decision and who can predict if this will come out in favour of the user and the broadcaster?

Simple Setup. Golf broadcasters are one of many types of events company hoping that 5G will allow them to have reliable connectivity and cut down on cables. With the requirement to keep the golf course looking beautiful, it’s tough to get the cameras were you need them without miles of black and yellow cabling all around. The costs of simply turning up and filming are so much better than having a multi-day cable rig.

For an overview of 5G from an operator’s and broadcaster’s point of view, check out this on-demand webinar (free registration). Another future-looking talk from Red Bee Media and Sky VR is this IBC365 video. To actually get to grips with what’s under the hood of 5G, however, we can lean on this article and video from SMTPE’s Toronto section which digs deep below the hype to explore the reality of implementation issues.

5G’s certainly here to stay, but what it will be capable of in real life, is yet to be seen. We all hope that broadcast workflows are improved by 5G…as much as we hope our phone loads videos quicker. But until this happens, let’s keep the pressure on the telco operators and keep our fingers firmly crossed.