Collins | Dissecting The Possibilities For 5G
The fifth-generation wireless technology standard, known as 5G, currently being deployed has been reported to offer unlimited technological potential.
Potential applications include everything from accelerating the rise of so-called “smart cities” by connecting sensor networks that can manage traffic and resources, to connecting self-driving cars, facilitating high-speed connections that enable surgery and other telemedicine applications, helping companies automate their factories, and offering businesses dedicated high-speed internet lanes. According to CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, wireless providers will invest $275 billion in 5G-related networks in the U.S.
Certainly, media companies are already delving into how this technology can make all their businesses run more efficiently. But what is fact and what is fiction? Skip Pizzi, vice president of technology education and outreach at the National Association of Broadcasters, writing for the September-October issue of MFM’s member magazine, The Financial Manager (TFM), seeks to provide some much-needed insights.
In the piece, Pizzi explains that 5G will replace 4G in two distinct phases. In phase one, as is typical with such upgrades, the new software allows somewhat more efficient use of existing wireless bandwidth than is possible with the current 4G standard. This incremental change has already begun in some markets and will continue over the next few years as manufacturers develop, and consumers purchase devices that support the new specification.
The second phase of 5G will truly “open up new horizons” and allow for some of the advancements I cited in my opening paragraph. Pizzi says this is “mostly due to the use of wholly new, higher frequency operations — so-called “millimeter wave” (mmWave) bands — which allow wider bandwidth connections per user.” However, he warns not to expect to see this broadly deployed until the mid- 2020s. And deployment, he reports, will only be in densely populated urban areas. It’s unlikely mmWave 5G will ever be seen in rural areas, because of its limited coverage area.
What 5G Promises
Pizzi explains that up through the 4G era, wireless phones have operated in various bands between 600 MHz and 6 GHz regions, but with the full deployment of 5G, frequency bands above 24 GHz (mmWave) will be used. That will allow users to connect to the network on much wider-bandwidth channels. As a result, full 5G deployment will provide consumer devices with connectivity up to 20 times faster than with 4G, and the ability to connect many devices to the internet without bogging it down. Impressive!
Other benefits promised by 5G, as reported by Pizzi, include:
- Greater robustness, such as fewer dropped calls.
- Low latency, for faster data transfer.
- More sophisticated antenna design to allow more users to connect at higher speeds in a given area without interference.
- Network slicing, which allows multiple forms of usage to share the network simultaneously, such as smartphones and Internet-of-things (IoT) devices.
- Edge computing/virtualization, which puts cloud computing servers physically closer to customers, further reducing latency and reducing network congestion.
Implications For Media Companies
Pizzi delves into the implications for media companies, and as with the deployment scenario, there is good news and not so good news. The spec’s so-called “broadcast mode” allows a one-to-many delivery format akin to broadcast radio or television service. While this capability currently exists in the current 4G LTE system, he reports that 5G further expands it. The difference is that 5G’s broadcast mode is not infinitely scalable like traditional broadcasting and the economics of the system are not likely appealing to mobile network operators.
One media sector that Pizzi thinks is particularly vulnerable to new competition from 5G is the multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) business. Some wireless operators are considering the use of 5G as a “last meter” delivery method for IP-based service bundles to the customer without stringing cable into the home, he says.
As Pizzi explains, 5G’s wideband, wireless connection from the antenna on the street pole to the homes on the block (or to the multiple units of an apartment building) offers an appealing and potentially cost-effective alternative to traditional hard-wired fiber or coax — or even small-dish satellite — delivery of television and/or broadband internet service to residential customers. With 5G, wireless operators have a new way to compete with traditional wired telecom businesses.
The new standard’s impact on existing media businesses may be ultimately beneficial, as traditional operators find ways to use 5G services to improve operations, Pizzi suggests. For example, he believes content creators will benefit from enhanced connectivity for live backhaul of content from remote sites. He says weather forecasters and other data collectors will be able to deploy massive numbers of sensors using IoT devices to accelerate their services.
The speed and capacity offered by 5G could increase content crowdsourcing and audience interaction. There is also the possibility of convergence with the similarly IP-based ATSC 3.0 system soon expected to be deployed by television broadcasters, according to Pizzi.
In this scenario, he says broadcast transmission and wireless broadband service can be used together and simultaneously to provide rich and responsive media experiences to tomorrow’s audiences. (For more information, see our column entitled 3.0 Forecast: Growth Engine For Stations from March 26.)
Pizzi concludes by offering this sage advice, “…continue to study the real prospects for the technology, to learn how it can best work with, or against, your existing services.”
If you would like to read Pizzi’s article in its entirety, the September-October 2019 issue of TFM will be available on the MFM website — mediafinance.org — in mid-September.
Media Outlook 2020 — Sept. 12 in New York City
In what has been referred to as the “Streaming Wars,” media and technology companies everywhere are racing to launch OTT platforms and keep pace with the seemingly never-ending torrent of content that Netflix releases. Learn more about the Streaming Wars from a panel of industry heavyweights during Media Outlook 2020, a seminar presented by the Media Financial Management Association (MFM) and its BCCA subsidiary. The seminar will be held Thursday, Sept. 12, at the offices of Lowenstein Sandler LLP, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, in New York from 8:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook sites.