What 5G Means For News BroadcastingAll of the ongoing promotion and hype surrounding 5G builds it up as the next big thing—and it is in many respects.
But to understand how it will impact television broadcasting requires a bit of dissection to determine what exactly is 5G, how it differs from what came before, what shape it will take and where it’s beginning to show up.
A breakdown of what 5G actually is
The term “5G” refers to “fifth generation,” a designation in telecommunications that describes the fifth generation of technology in broadband cellular and satellite networks.
Down on earth, 5G cellular networks come in different flavors – although consumers for the most part are insulated from knowing the difference. T-Mobile spent $8 billion dollars over the past few years to buy 1,500 wireless licenses in the U.S. to roll out 5G in the 600 MHz band (frequently referred to as “low-band” spectrum) formerly used for UHF TV broadcasting.
The company’s acquisition of Sprint this year has given it access to 2.5GHz spectrum (often called “mid-band” spectrum), which T-Mobile is repurposing to enhance its 5G network.
The other two U.S. wireless carriers are using millimeter wave (mmWave) bands—with Verizon’s 5G deployment relying on 28GHz and 39GHz bands and AT&T deploying in the 39GHz band and 24GHz bands.
However, that’s not the whole story. AT&T initially rolled out a 5G service using the 850MHz band and fuelled its nationwide deployment of 5G using the sub-6GHz band. The company calls its high-band service 5G+ and at least for now is targeting high-traffic areas like malls and stadiums for its use. AT&T has dubbed its sub-6GHz residential service fifth generation cellular network service 5G.
Verizon, too, is relying on the sub-6GHz band for its nationwide deployment. Like AT&T, Verizon currently is focusing its mmWave deployment efforts on amusement parks, stadiums and other high-traffic areas.
Up in the sky, things are getting interesting. SpaceX plans to launch tens of thousands of low-Earth-orbit satellites to provide 5G broadband service. OneWeb, Amazon and Facebook also have cast their gaze to the skies for 5G.
Why does this matter to news broadcasters?
Different frequency bands have different signal propagation characteristics. For instance, low-band 600MHz service covers wide swaths of area from a single tower and does exceptionally well at penetrating structures like homes and office buildings with signals; however, it carries far less data (30 to 250Mbps) than mid- and high-band 5G services.
Conversely mid- and high-band 5G offer higher data throughput (100 to 900Mbps for the former and 1 to 3Gbps for the latter) but cover smaller areas than low band. Several articles address these differences in greater detail, including those from VentureBeat.com, future*ithmic.com and HowToGeek.com.
For broadcasters who increasingly will rely on 5G wireless service to contribute live and edited reports from the field, this mix of capabilities and limitations means that for the foreseeable future, they will likely continue to rely on a mix of modems in their transmitters just as they do today.
However, rather than simply protecting against a lack of service by one carrier or another in a given geographic region, the modem mix now will also protect against service differences—i.e. throughput vs. structure penetration.
Especially for broadcasters required to work in remote, rural areas, having access to future 5G satellite service will ensure they can reliably file live news reports and edited packages from the field.
How 5G Is Different
There are four areas in which 5G wireless service outpaces earlier wireless networks: speed, bandwidth, latency and network management.
A lot of the hype surrounding 5G has been focused on download speeds. It’s not uncommon to read that 5G will make it possible to download an HD movie in mere seconds.
What’s left unsaid is that statement is predicated on using mmWave (24 and 39GHz bands) to move that much data so quickly. But there’s a problem with mmWave 5G service related to coverage. To blanket a city, for example, will require 5G antennas to be spaced remarkably close to one another. For instance, on every few street lights, meaning thousands upon thousands of antennas and supporting infrastructure will be needed. Now consider those demands on a nationwide basis.
As a result, Verizon is deploying its 5G service using an approach it calls Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which leverages its existing 4G LTE network infrastructure and frequencies. As ZDNet.com put it, “…here’s the bad news— [Verizon’s 5G DSS will deliver the] speed and throughput of the Verizon 4G LTE you’re already getting.”
Similarly, AT&T actually delivers 5G with slower speeds than its 4G service due to its initial deployment strategy that leverages a portion of its 850 MHz band.
However, none of this is meant to say that 5G service won’t be fast, offer ultra-low latency and massive data throughput someday. That day just isn’t today.
In the near term, what this means for broadcasters isn’t much with respect to those benefits. Longer term, however, as mmWave networks get built out, broadcasters relying on 5G to support live contribution will reap the benefits.
But when it comes to network management, 5G’s support for network slicing should be able to help broadcasters nearer term. Network slicing makes it possible for wireless companies to allocate portions of their wireless bandwidth in any given area to specific tasks.
Broadcasters covering political conventions or big sporting events, should benefit from this capability. Rather than having to compete with the public for bandwidth, broadcasters can reserve a portion of the carrier’s 5G capacity to transport their contributions from these heavily attended events.
5G in TV today
While these are early days, 5G is beginning to be used in television for specific production demands and contribution. For example, as relates to contribution TVU Networks now offers its TVU One with an embedded Quectel 5G module.
When it comes to production, Fox Sports is among the pioneers. It looked to 5G mmWave transport as an alternative to long fiber optic cable runs to move signals around Shinnecock Hills (N.Y.) Golf Club in June 2018 for the 118th U.S. Open. The broadcaster partnered with Ericsson, Intel and AT&T on the test to evaluate the performance of 5G for reliable wireless transport of 4K UHD from cameras to the production vehicle.
A little farther down the road, 5G satellite service promises to play an important role in contribution from remote areas with limited cellular network service.
Will 5G ultimately live up to all of the promises made about it? Probably. But for the moment, it’s just getting started and holds the promise of delivering much more for broadcasters in the future.