Addressing the future needs of media distribution with 5G
Delivering television, radio services and new formats to all sort of devices including smartphones, tablets, connected cars or smart TVs is becoming more and more important. Users, in particular young audiences, make an increasing use of such devices both at home and on-the-move.
The delivery of content over the internet is currently based on over-the-top (OTT) platforms where media traffic is not treated in any particular way, therefore similar to other data downloads. These platforms suffer, however, from the lack of scalability as content, delivered using unicast connections, cannot easily be offered to large audiences without suffering some kind of degradation.
This way of delivering content is trivial for on-demand content as every user can make a selection of the desired programme at the specific time they want to consume it. Multiple independent connections are unavoidable although some efficiency might be possible by means of caching mechanisms. However, when it comes to live or linear content, where users connect and receive exactly the same programme at the same time, possibilities for improving delivery efficiency are worth to be considered.
The situation becomes challenging in mobile networks given the scarcity of radio resources, which need to be shared by many users, additional issues such as interferences from other cells or the need to guarantee mobility among them. At the same time consumption habits are changing with OTT platforms not only being used for on-demand consumption but also becoming reference platforms for the consumption of live events such as sports.
3GPP, the global mobile technologies standardisation organization, is working on solutions under the umbrella of 5G with different technical solutions to address the future needs in terms of media distribution. Among them, Terrestrial Broadcast using 5G Broadcast, multicast as a network optimisation tool or the media streaming architecture to enable different collaboration scenarios between different stakeholders are alternatives being developed.
5G technologies will therefore be able to support the distribution of media services as a combination of linear (e.g. current TV and radio services) and non-linear (e.g. on-demand, podcasts,…) components. In particular, tools may enable these services to reach the final users with a higher degree of control and ensuring and end-to-end guarantee of the quality of service.
An insight into LTE-based 5G Terrestrial Broadcast
LTE-based 5G Terrestrial Broadcast, commonly referred to as 5G Broadcast, was specified to fulfill requirements for TV and radio broadcasting. The system grants service providers control on linear content delivery, in enables to configure radio carriers with almost 100% capacity for broadcast services and also enables large area Single Frequency Networks (SFN) with topologies beyond cellular networks. All this is accompanied with a significant change as uplink capabilities nor registration to the provisioning network are required to consume broadcast content. This eliminates the need of a SIM card and effectively enables free-to-air reception.
As this broadcast system is part of the 3GPP family of standards, it can be fully integrated into 3GPP equipment, with the same chipset architecture and even complemented by mobile broadband data.
LTE-based 5G Terrestrial Broadcast includes features to support: Receive-only mode / Supporting free to air services as well as encrypted services incl. authentication mechanisms; Dedicated HPHT, MPMT and LPLT broadcast networks; Single-Frequency Networks (SFNs); Fixed, portable and mobile reception; Quality of service (QoS) defined by service providers; Standard APIs for easy design and integration of media services in applications in devices.
LTE-based 5G Terrestrial Broadcast could be used to distribute public and commercial linear TV and radio services, encrypted and unencrypted (free-to-air), to 3GPP compatible devices such as smartphones, smart TVs, or car infotainment systems. It also enables hybrid TV / radio offers by delivering linear broadcast content alongside catch-up and on-demand as well as addressable TV services, using the same family of standards. The system can integrate broadcast distribution of linear TV and radio services into existing media applications with 3GPP-defined APIs.
5G Broadcast represents a pragmatic approach to broadcasting based on 3GPP technologies in order to reach portable and mobile devices.
An insight into the 5G Media Streaming Architecture
Leveraging the high potential of 5G enhanced mobile broadband connectivity with increased data rates and low latency, and new network features such as network slicing or edge computing, 3GPP is developing a media architecture fully integrated within the 5G system. This aims at supporting the most recent advancements in terms of media and video content providing augmented quality of service for traditional audio and video services as well as emerging formats for virtual/augmented/mixed reality. The 5G Media Streaming Architecture (5G-MSA) is the nuclear system to enable different business arrangements between on-line media service providers (e.g. CDN providers), broadcasters, and mobile network operators. With the 5G-MSA, network and device functionalities are exposed to third-party providers enabling the use of 5G capabilities in the best way to ensure an increased quality of service for connected users. The new architecture is a reality in 3GPP from 5G Release-16.
The 5G-MSA introduces the concept of trusted media functions, which are implemented in both the network and the user device and also define APIs to interface with external media servers and functions. This effectively means that functions commonly deployed outside the network domain can be integrated within it. ABR encoders, streaming manifest generators, segment packagers, CDN servers and caches, DRM servers, content servers for advertisement replacement, manifest modifications servers, or even metrics servers can now be allocated within the 5G network to improve the delivery of the service. For instance metrics collection and reporting may provide information related to the user experience, streaming sessions can be monitored on the user device and reported back to the service provider or even to the network where the information may be used for potential transport optimization within the mobile network.
This opens the door to use 5G not just as a better 4G network but as an option shaped to cover future needs for media distribution and resolve problems that IP distribution via mobile networks may be currently facing.
An insight into mixed-mode multicast
Multicast may also play a role in 5G understood as a network off-loading mechanism in mobile networks. This feature may address the need to make content distribution scale according to demand, therefore providing sustainable quality of experience for content consumed by massive audiences.
3GPP is considering the introduction of multicast capabilities for the 5G system architecture in Release 17, initially targeting an architecture to fulfil requirements associated to IoT, Public Safety, V2X or IPTV, among others. This work also covers the radio access network (RAN), which should involve the possibility to use multicast and broadcast at cell level or between a small group of cells. In this way, the 5G network may be able to select the most appropriate delivery mode according to different circumstances like concurrent audience demand.
The 5G Media Action Group, shaping together the future of media
5G technologies comes with a wide range of enhanced technical capabilities and network features such edge computing or network slicing. While previous mobile technologies established a closed solution, 5G introduces a paradigm shift with respect to industry engagement, new services and business opportunities in many market sectors. The global media industry is one of these sectors, where opportunities are identified along the entire value chain. For the media industry is important to ensure that upcoming 5G specifications support their needs and requirements.
The 5G Media Action Group is an association bridging the global media and ICT industries. 5G-MAG members, drawn from the entire value chain, work together to understand and shape future technologies for media production, contribution and distribution. Analysing what 5G standards can do for media, defining new media use cases, recommending how to use and implement technologies and networks are some of the key work areas of the association.
Author: Jordi J. Giménez – 5G-MAG Head of Technology