One of the significant trends in the broadcast industry over recent years is the rise in mobile viewing. The growth of the small screen has been driven in part by the literal growth of the screens themselves, both in terms of spacial resolution and physical form, and the ubiquitous nature of video capable smartphones. For an increasingly large demographic and geography, the smartphone IS the TV, a primary screen rather than a secondary one.

Another emerging trend is so called immersive viewing – virtual and augmented reality combined with 360 video. Here too, the smartphone is destined to play a significant role. Google’s recently announced Daydream VR platform is just one example of how our phones can become a portal into this new medium; the content to feed these screen is becoming more widely available, and YouTube also recently announced that it is now supporting 4K 360 streaming.

In parallel to the growth of sophisticated video capable smartphones, mobile networks have become better able to carry high quality video. 4G LTE networks are becoming more available in more places to more people at affordable prices. However, demand is increasing at a pace which will put pressure on these networks in the coming years, because better screens need ever more bandwidth.

While some have debated the value of 4K resolution on smaller size TV screens, anyone who has tried to watch HD video on a VR screen a few millimetres from their eyes will see the need for 4K VR. This presents a real challenge for LTE network delivery. Depending upon the resolution, frame rates, compression levels and video properties, 4K VR will require hundreds of Mbps. Current estimates range between 300 – 600Mbps per stream.

Fortunately, there is a major upgrade in development for very high performance connectivity – 5G. This next generation platform will use a combination of better spectral efficiency, increased spectrum access, virtualisation of network functions and radio access, along with greater network density to provide much greater bandwidth and performance. The target improvements are transformational – 1000x increase in network capacity, 10 – 100x increase in end user bandwidth (up to Gbps) and latency reduced to as little as 1ms. 5G networks will need to support between 10 – 100x more devices, driven by the Internet of Things, and support 10x increase in battery life for certain categories of devices.

5G will also build upon the broadcast modes introduced in LTE, allowing the network to dynamically switch between unicast and multicast delivery within a cell when multiple users are streaming the same content, as might be the case during major live events.

When will 5G become available? Early trials have already been announced, which will be extended over the next couple of years and many commercial operators are targeting 2020 for large scale deployments. Ericsson is a leading innovator in this area; being able to combine our expertise in mobile networks with our expertise in TV and Media means we are very excited about the 5G future of TV.

Steve Plunkett, CTO, Broadcast and Media Services