What will the 5G rollout mean for pro AV?

Europe’s first 5G mobile network launched in April. Tim Kridel explores what the technology means for pro AV.

With promises of gigabit speeds and 1 ms latency, fifth-generation (5G) cellular is a potential fit for a variety of pro AV applications, such as backhauling outdoor surveillance cameras and controlling drone light shows. But like any brand-new technology, time will tell whether 5G lives up to its hype.

One aspect is a safe bet: 5G won’t fizzle out like WiMAX did a decade ago, when mobile operators abandoned it for the 4G alternative known as Long Term Evolution (LTE). Virtually every operator currently offering 4G plans to upgrade to 5G because there’s no alternative like WiMAX waiting in the wings. In April, Swisscom launched Europe’s first commercial 5G network

Mobile vendors and operators have spent the past several years designing 5G to support a variety of highly demanding use cases so they can go after new market opportunities. This work provides capabilities that benefit pro AV for certain applications.

For example, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) is a set of 5G capabilities designed to support remote surgery, autonomous vehicles and other applications that require 99.999% reliability and 1 ms latency. Pro AV could leverage URLLC for mission-critical applications such as video surveillance.

Another example is 5G’s use of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, which is above 30 GHz. Higher frequencies provide more throughput to support bandwidth-intensive applications such as 4K video. In the US, for example, AT&T has spent the past two years testing its internet-delivered DIRECTV NOW service over 5G in mmWave spectrum.

All of this work develops and refines technologies that could be adapted for pro AV applications.

“We are seeing interest in leveraging broadcast-quality video uplink capabilities of 5G by mobile news and production crews that were only possible before with microwave links,” says Marco Contento, vice president of technologies at Telit, whose products include cellular modules that vendors embed in their devices.  

7.17DerekJohnstonImage1DSC_3146 (002)“In Japan, in conjunction with KDDI, Samsung demonstrated how 5G network capabilities could be utilised to transmit a large amount of 4K surveillance video from a Tokyo train platform to help employees drive station safety and security,” says Derek Johnston [pictured left], head of marketing and 5G business development for Samsung Electronics America’s networks division. “Additionally the two carriers demonstrated how multi-camera views at events can be dynamically stitched together and transmitted to provide unique content to patrons at events.” 

Spectrum of considerations

mmWave also is where some of the caveats start. The cellular industry has never used spectrum that high, which means a learning curve about the density of sites required to provide coverage on par with 4G. Also, at higher frequencies, signals don’t travel as far.

So when deciding whether and how to use 5G for pro AV applications, one consideration will be the spectrum that the local operators use. That directly affects performance, coverage and more.

Peter LinderDSC07499 (002)“The latency varies very much with the spectrum you’re using,” says Peter Linder [pictured left], Ericsson North America 5G evangelist. “In order to get down to 1 ms, you’re typically talking about high-band spectrum, [such as] 28 or 39 GHz. We’re typically seeing the early deployments [at] sub-10 ms latency. So we’ve reached below the 4G target.” 

Of course, not every pro AV application requires high bandwidth. For some, latency will be the decisive factor. Drone light shows are one example.

“Drones may have the biggest benefit through the lower latency that 5G offers and the ability to pilot a drone over a 5G link,” says Jeremy Bennington, corporate solutions and technical strategy lead at Spirent, which makes tools for analysing service quality and performance. “This could be more reliable because it would be in a licensed band with less interference and longer range than point-to-point methods. There are a lot more quality of experience and service (QoE/QoS) mechanisms in 5G.”

5G everywhere, but what about inside devices? 

4G can support a variety of pro AV applications, such as feeding digital signage at bus stops. Yet pro AV vendors rarely embed 4G modems in their devices, leaving it up to integrators to add that connectivity with a dongle. Time will tell whether 5G follows that model.

“Initially, pro AV vendors will be able to benefit from 5G via a hot spot or dongle until a broader ecosystem of embedded system on a chip (SoC) is available for AV OEMs to decide whether to embed the technology,” says Samsung’s Johnston. “It is not necessary to embed 5G modems on displays in order for them to take advantage of content transfer and download speeds over a 5G network. 

“For example, 5G can be used as a reliable wireless backhaul and support live 4K video transmitted over a 5G network to a location and then accessed via a local Wi-Fi network. Hence the capturing of the content is at 5G speeds, but the consumption is not.” 

Telit’s view of the market is helpful because it’s a supplier that pro AV vendors would turn to if they want to embed 4G or 5G.

“Pro AV equipment vendors will likely continue their practice of keeping functionalMarco Contento headshot components very modularised so that the production team can decide if and what video stream needs to be uploaded and how,” Contento [pictured right] says. “We expect to see a multitude of traditional and non-traditional vendors in the pro AV ecosystem supply Gigabit LTE and subsequently 5G gateways that are compatible with pro AV camera standards such as USB 3.”

Gateways also create opportunities to use 5G as a secondary rather than primary connection. For example, if a copper or fibre link goes down, the application could switch to 5G. Or if the wired connection is too slow or too congested to support a suddenly bandwidth-intensive application—such as a big video file—then 5G could be turned on to shoulder some of the load. 

Vendors could embed 5G to differentiate their products—and not just in terms of connectivity options.

“If 5G modems were embedded in digital signage, customers would be able to take advantage of dynamic signage, such as Samsung’s embedded SoC displays with embedded sensors and cameras to deliver a more sophisticated interactive experience,” Johnston says.

For vendors, embedded 5G creates additional design considerations. For example, signage vendors must ensure that the modem and antennas are in locations where they won’t be subject to interference from the display and processors. Those additional design and testing steps can increase a device’s cost and time to market, which is another reason why vendors might be reluctant to embed 5G.

“With mmWave, cells are much smaller and must be complemented by special antenna systems made of dozens (versus current one to four) elements capable of forming and steering the radio beams between the cell and the device,” Contento says. “So in the case of the pro AV camera video stream connection via 5G mmWave, that would require an external antenna pack connected to the 5G router which is connected to the camera.”

FutureSoftware CEO Chris Fulton [pictured right] has extensive experience in both AV and mobile.Me2 Based on demos he’s seen at major cellular events such as Mobile World Congress, he believes 5G eventually will be like Wi-Fi: a technology that silicon vendors such as Intel build into their chips. 

“That will be embedded in the laptop design or as part of a reference design for screens, which the NECs and Samsungs can all go and use,” he says. “To me, it becomes a really unified communications platform. It becomes as easy as Wi-Fi.”  

Inside job

5G is designed partly to support IoT, a broad, deep category of devices that includes occupancy sensors, smart lighting and HVAC controls. Some AV firms have expanded into the smart building market, so it’s worth exploring how 5G could be used indoors for both IoT and traditional AV applications.

Spectrum is a key consideration because the higher the frequency, the more easily signals are attenuated by physical obstructions such as walls. 

“I watched a demo the other day, and they showed that if you closed the door, then the 5G coverage basically dropped off like a stone,” says Mike Brooman, Vanti CEO.

As a result, many indoor IoT and AV applications probably would require a WLAN-like 5G network. 

franci sideco“It could get to the point where the [5G] base stations are cheap like Wi-Fi APs, and you don’t need to propagate through walls,” says Francis Sideco [pictured left], IHS Markit vice president of technology.

Like previous generations, 5G also faces the question of whether alternatives such as Wi-Fi, fibre or copper make more sense in terms of installation and bandwidth costs. 

“There are some deployments where this would make all the sense in the world, like listed buildings, for one,” Brooman says. “I can imagine the cost of lashing cable through a heritage building, where you’ve got to get approval from 800 different places. Or retrofitting into complex buildings where you want to put functionality in, where you’re not doing a full building refurb where you pull things back to opening up cable routes and all that. There are going to be specific use cases where 5G makes financial sense.” 

5G also could make sense where Wi-Fi, 4G or both are available but don’t offer the capacity, latency and reliability that a particular AV application requires.

“The current Wi-Fi operational model is based on best-effort data communications to share limited capacity resources with as many subscribers as possible,” says Samsung’s Johnston. “With 4G LTE, while network operators continue to advance the standard and utilize new spectral efficient techniques to drive enhanced throughput, capacity still remains a challenge with their current available holdings.”  

Many mobile operators and major building owners already provide indoor 4G networks so people can use their devices inside—a model that 5G will follow. AV integrators could install those networks, as some have been doing for years with Wi-Fi and VoIP.

Indoors and out, some 5G networks will be private. That’s possible with 4G but rare.

“We believe private LTE/5G will eventually be offered by all operators having a strong enterprise business,” says Telit’s Contento. “The clear use cases for it start with Industry 4.0, oil/gas, rail, airports, but quickly evolves into other areas, which may include media and broadcasting.”

IHS Markit has a similar outlook.

“We’re seeing a lot more interest with 5G than we did with LTE,” Sideco says.

The April 2019 Inavate explored drone light shows, which require reliable connections to ensure safety and an optimal performance. One of those companies said it’s been approached by a mobile operator to judge its interest in private LTE networks.

Ericsson Industry Connect is an example of a private network solution that can be deployed today for 4G and 5G. A mobile operator could deploy and manage the solution for, say, a major enterprise campus. Or a third party such as an integrator could do that if the client has access to the necessary spectrum.  

“With Ericsson Industry Connect, we’re targeting applications where people are trying to find something that’s more robust and more secure than the wireless services they’ve had access to,” Linder says.

Regardless of whether a 5G network is private or public, indoors or out, another consideration is QoS/QoE. Today, mobile operators can use a tool such as Spirent’s Umetrix to identify and resolve video QoS/QoE problems such as freezing and tiling. In the future, AV firms could use it for their clients’ 5G services.  

“The next evolution of Spirent’s video portfolio that is cloud enabled could make it easier for the owner/operator to simply upload files for analysis to determine the best setups for their systems,” Bennington says.

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