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5G Broadcast-Multicast evolves: in China AIB builds new business opportunities

Seldom, if ever, has a new broadcast and mobile communications technology offered the potential gains that 5G Broadcast-Multicast does. These gains are available to both the end consumer and the service provider. For the user, 5G Broadcast-Multicast offers, for the first time, high-quality, reliable video playback, and much more. For broadcasters and service providers, it offers the potential to open up significant new revenue streams and indeed, entirely new business models.

Using Broadcast and/or Multicast over 5G, network operators can deliver premium content to mobile consumers while they are still attached to cellular networks and with consistent high quality of service (QoS) and higher quality of experience (QoE) within an overlay concept.

For a network operator or a media content provider in the mobile telco industry, this means that a completely new range of business models are now possible for delivering content or data to a very large number of consumers without affecting the cellular 5G mobile network.

This technology offers entirely new ways for consumers to access high quality media over a range of smartphones and a diversity of SIM-less devices with a higher coverage and lower latency. Starting from Release 14 and until 3GPP Release 16, 3GPP has defined further enhanced Multimedia Broadcast-Multicast Service (FeMBMS) as new Broadcast-Multicast enhancements, which could be used in both dedicated and mixed modes. Using Broadcast and/or Multicast over 5G, mobile network operators can deliver premium content to mobile consumers while they are still attached to cellular networks with consistent high QoS and higher QoE either via an overlay network or via SDL concept.

In free-to-air and/or encrypted receive-only mode (ROM) we will see dedicated carriers with 100% Broadcast-Multicast allocation in a downlink mode. Services provided will be distributed in such a way that all kinds of devices, not only smartphones but also smart cars and smart home appliances, can receive them. No SIM card is necessary— consumers just need to be within the coverage zone in a ROM.

With a simplified architecture, in addition to multi-frequency network (MFN) or single frequency network (SFN) transmission mode in the access network, just a few infrastructure elements are needed in core networks to make lower latency and transparent transmission.

With wider coverage and spectrum efficiency Broadcasting/ Multicasting information sent once via high or medium power transmission as an overlay network or via cellular supplementary downlink (SDL) low power is much more efficient than sending it hundreds of thousands of times to mobile network cells. In addition, the flexibility in subcarrier spacing and cyclic prefix allows a cell coverage ranging from 1 to 100 km.

Indeed, this improved flexibility will substantially reduce the cost of deployment and operation. Finally, with better QoS and higher QoE consumers are evolving toward higher quality HD and ultrahigh definition (UHD) resolutions, as well as high dynamic range (HDR) for better picture quality. In fact, with the lower latency and higher flexibility that 5G broadcast offers, consumers can enjoy a better experience with more real-time focused apps.

Worldwide Trials Lead Slowly but Surely Toward Potential Rollouts

Over the last decade, there have been several false dawns when it comes to commercial high-quality mobile media broadcasts. What looks fantastic in an R&D lab or on a tradeshow stand has rarely lived up to expectations when it is applied to real-world scrutiny. 5G TODAY was the very first project to test broadcast and multicast capabilities over 5G. It officially launched in July 2017 with project partners including the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation (Bayerischer Rundfunk, BR), the Broadcast Technology Institute IRT, Kathrein, Rohde & Schwarz, as well as Telefónica Germany, all jointly testing broadcasting options for future 5G technology.

The project established in Munich and the Bavarian alpine region, concluded at the end of February 2020. It tested how 5G broadcasting can be used to create an overlay infrastructure that can simultaneously serve millions of future 5G mobile devices. The aim is neither to burden the regular mobile networks nor to incur additional costs for citizens but rather to demonstrate how premium content can be distributed more efficiently, deliver new visual experiences while enhancing the user experience. Now that the project has been turned off, the results are being evaluated and will be publicly shared.

The next metropolitan trial is underway in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Globo, the largest Brazilian and Latin American TV network, recently conducted a 5G broadcast field test together with Rohde & Schwarz. In early October 2019, a rock festival was transmitted as 4K signal using the 5G broadcast technology. Immediately after launching the 5G broadcast trial in China, Rohde & Schwarz provided a transmitter and core network components to support Globo, while testing this new technology. The aim of the test run is to validate the transmission technology in terms of its operability and market potential.

While running the two POCs in Beijing and Rio de Janeiro, Rohde & Schwarz believes that 5G broadcast has a future in Europe as well, where it supports CRIT (RAI Center for R&D) in Torino, with a testing network including high/medium power transmitters and the Broadcast Service and Control Center (BSCC) playing the role of the core network.

China builds on 5G Broadcast to create new technology horizons with AIB

Beijing is a city witnessing the start of another big 5G Broadcast-Multicast project. The Academy of Broadcasting Science (ABS) and China Broadcasting Network (CBN), the two public institutions under governmental authority of the Chinese National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), have set up a proof-of-concept (POC) trial, which started in August 2019. That date marked the first step of the long-term strategies pursued by both parties, which comprise 5G broadcast commercial deployment by the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, followed by further national expansion by the 2025.

Further to this proof of concept trial, the Chinese technical standards organizations are preparing a new mobile Broadcast-Multicast standard named AIB: Advanced Interactive Broadcast that will be considered as the future industry standard. It is based on FeMBMS/5G Broadcast standardized in 3GPP Rel.16 which will be ready by end of this year.

The Radio Access Network will be similar to 5G Broadcast, as defined in 3GPP Rel.16 and the core network will be enhanced and simplified.

The AIB working group includes more than 70 members, such as Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, Huawei, ZTE, Qualcomm and Rohde & Schwarz. The group’s strategy is to support mobile and broadcast convergence within a 5G technology environment where Point-to-Point communications utilize the existing 5G standard. Regarding Point-to-Multipoint communications, the group is innovating to meet Broadcasters’ requirements, converged within Sub-700MHz frequency for commercial deployment.

Already, AIB has trials operating across China. Its target is to roll out the first commercial deployments in 2022 with large scale commercial service roll out in 2025.

AIB is composed of 12 standards defining the main requirements for frequency resources and network elements, such as transmitters in the RAN and the 5G Broadcast-Multicast Core network.

The Broadcast world is watching China with keen interest. All the countries that are either involved in trials or interested in 5G Broadcast-Multicast with R&S are watching the development of AIB closely. In Europe, this includes Germany, France, Spain, UK, Italy, Austria, Finland, Russia and Switzerland.

In the Middle East and Africa, UAE and South Africa are interested, and further afield, Australia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan are all keeping tabs on AIB’s evolution.

In the Americas, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and USA all see potential applications for AIB in their own countries.

5G multicast is still an embryonic technology, but it is exhibiting the ability to transform the mobile entertainment and information market. China’s AIB concept builds on much of the pioneering development work of 5G and has the potential to open up major new markets across China and also in many other countries. Today’s trials will be tomorrow’s commercial pioneers—the big winners will be the early adopters.

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