The move from 3G to 4G changed the world – now 5G is going to change it again. Maria Cuevas, Head of Mobile Core Networks Research at BT and Matt Stagg, Head of Mobile Video & Content at BT Sport explain how
4G opened-up a new world of options for how consumers could access information, allowing them to stream live sport, music, and entertainment on the go. It also brought much needed improvement when it came to downloading content.
For the first time it became feasible to put an album directly onto a mobile device through the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. In return networks also benefited, monetising the opportunities by offering enhanced data packages which created further incentives for consumers to demand more content, a move which in turn benefited the rest of the media and broadcasting industry.
Further transformation to come
Over time, consumers can expect the shift to 5G to bring a further step-change in how content is made available to them – as the sheer scale of increases in bandwidth, paired with a reduction in latency, is set to fundamentally revolutionise how the public engages with and consumes media.
While 5G networks are very much in their infancy and new transformational capabilities such as network slicing or edge cloud computing are some years away, in order to realise the full potential of the 5G era media and broadcasting providers – and indeed all those involved in the content production, distribution and delivery chain – need to start planning now. These are not overnight technology changes and deploying the infrastructure that can deliver transformation will need careful consideration as well as progressive thinking.
To monetise new emerging opportunities effectively those within the media and broadcasting sectors need to be thinking seriously about what they want to deliver for customers in the longer term and get underway now. Of course, the movement to the 5G era will happen in increments rather than through one moment of wholesale transformation, with 4G and 5G process sitting alongside one another for many years.
But with a long road ahead, businesses that stick doggedly to a 4G-only approach not only risk being left behind by competitors but also by the public who will start to demand the latest technologies and expect new service experiences that utilise the capabilities of 5G as soon as they become available.
And it’s rarely been so important for the industry pioneers to bring the customer on the journey with them; expectations need to be managed. The industry can’t create listlessness amongst consumers before products are fully deliverable, and they certainly can’t underwhelm. First impressions count for everything when it comes to spreading word-of-mouth amongst the public.
What can 5G deliver?
Over time the 5G infrastructure will give the media and broadcast industry increased scope to be more creative when thinking about how content can be delivered to their customers, looking at new opportunities across the full spectrum of end-to-end content production, distribution and delivery chain. They need to ask themselves what immediacy can bring to not just live, on-demand, and archive services, but also the surrounding interactive, participatory, social and gaming services that enhance the core viewing experience. In order to answer these questions, there needs to be a discussion around the key technological improvements which underpin the 5G opportunity; ultra-low latency, and ultra-high bandwidth.
The latency reduction can offer immediacy, and the increased bandwidth can offer volume; both are important alone but when merged together we have the potential for a whole new delivery model that can provide rich experiences in real-time.
A sporting chance
If we look at sport, we can see this in action.
Currently, 4G does a very good job in terms of live-streaming matches direct to mobiles with the appropriate app, or on laptops with the 4G connection that minimises buffering. And although the impending arrival of 5G will further reduce buffering, the headline news will instead focus on the opportunity to shift towards immersive and interactive experiences (including full 360 video experiences) where the customer can select, in real-time, what content and meta-content they want to see.
In some cases, they will even be able to interact with it, enabled by the increased bandwidth – and to a certain extent the negligible levels of latency – provided by the 5G system.
Additionally, with 5G broadcasters will find their camera untethered from RF and cabling, allowing more creative freedom for production teams in how they deliver a total field of view – controlling an array of cameras –everywhere from pitch-side to the tunnels and changing rooms.
BT Sport is already making waves in this area, with plans to allow 5G consumers to go beyond the expected experience. With 5G, for example, instead of just switching between different cameras (in a typical live content production environment), end users will eventually be able to select which camera view they want to see in real-time as well as creating an immersive experience through multi-angle replays.
Interacting with the content, viewers could call up augmented reality overlays to see the latest stats or commentary. Positioned as “the best seat in the house”, this is a concept which could be offered as a premium at big ticket or pay-per-view events – boxing, cup finals, green-side at the US Open. The VR approach would work equally well for live music.
This service could command a significant premium – the “best seat in house” is no longer sold once but thousands of times.
Looking at how the 5G opportunity might change broadcast set-ups, and we see that it has the potential to fundamentally switch control between viewer and network. For the first time we can see a widespread model where instead of having the broadcast dictated to them, the viewer can dictate the experience for themselves by controlling cameras and stitching in real-time.
Of course, we’re only at the start of our journey with 5G in developing the technology to enable us to fully bring these services to life. But this shift in control is a huge monetisation opportunity for everyone in the media and broadcast industry and has the potential to provide consumers with fresh content and experiences – all through the power of 5G.