What is 5G Broadcast/Multicast?
Rohde & Schwarz and Qualcomm will demonstrate the technology at CABSAT conference in May
One of the use cases being explored for 5G systems is that of remote media production. But the 5G standard also offers a built-in broadcast function, called 5G Broadcast/Multicast.
A broadcast or multicast functionality is not new in cellular systems — 5G Broadcast/Multicast has a predecessor in previous cellular generations, called MBMS: Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS), which was explored in the mid-oughts by the likes of Qualcomm (via MediaFLO), Verizon and MobiTV, providing live or linear TV services to mobile phones. But mobile TV in its early incarnations ultimately spluttered and didn’t succeed commercially. Users at the time preferred to choose their video content, even if that meant short clips from the internet and eventually from YouTube and social media, rather than watch traditional television content on their phones.
The 3GPP point-to-multipoint interface specification outlines the ability for a cellular network to deliver broadcast and multicast services, either at a network level or to selected cells. This is somewhat similar to how emergency alerts are broadcast based on a device’s location—which is another potential use case for the technology.
Regardless of the commercial success (or lack of), MBMS has continued to evolve in 3GPP standards work. In LTE, it became enhanced MBMS (eMBMS), which also saw multiple technology demonstrations, but not much in the way of commercial implementation. In 5G, eMBMS has been iterated to 5G Broadcast/Multicast. Could its potential for providing video streaming services with high spectral efficiency mean that cellular broadcast could finally become a commercial reality?
According to test company Rohde & Schwarz, 5G Broadcast/Multicast “is not restricted to linear and live content” distribution.
“For network operators and media content providers it offers a completely new range of business models for delivering content or data to large numbers of consumers and without affecting the regular cellular 5G mobile network,” Rohde & Schwarz said, adding that the technology could be used within large public venues or for the automotive sector, as well as by government officials or emergency services to deliver messages to the public during natural disasters or emergencies.
Rohde & Schwarz and Qualcomm Technologies—both longtime supporters of MBMS-based technologies—will feature a live, end-to-end demonstration of 5G Broadcast/Multicast streaming at CABSAT 2022 next month in Dubai; the event focuses on broadcast media and satellite technologies.
The demonstration, according to R&S, will deliver pre-recorded content, transmitted live via a 3GPP-compliant, Release 16-based 5G Broadcast signal over-the-air, via sectorized antennas from Kathrein (now part of Ericsson) to test devices from Qualcomm. Rohde added that the live stream will rely on encoding technology from Ateme, and the overall installation and integration performed by Assendive Communications.
The demonstration will encompass 5G Broadcast/Multicast operating in a Receive-Only Mode (ROM) and Free-To-Air (FTA)—perhaps most interestingly, without the need for a SIM card, a feature which is known as SIM-free reception. The demo will operate within the UHF band.
Rohde and Schwarz helped to enable a similar demonstration at this year’s Mobile World Congress Barcelona, with Qualcomm and Cellnex. In February 2020, R&S indicated that it had large-scale trials of its 5G Broadcast system underway in Munich, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro.
“We are giving CABSAT attendees a taste of what 5G Broadcast can do, without compromising existing mobile cellular services, and showing how it is possible using technology and solutions that are available now,” said Manfred Reitmeier, VP of broadcasting and amplifier Systems at Rohde & Schwarz. “We are proud to collaborate with Qualcomm Technologies on this innovative project and offer a view into the potential that 5G offers.”
Lorenzo Casaccia, VP of technical standards and intellectual property at Qualcomm Technologies, noted that the demonstration shows “the delivery of digital TV content over 3GPP standardized technology – without the need for additional chipsets. Thanks to our new 5G R&D technology demonstration we can prove that this isn’t just a far-off possibility, it is here today and can be experienced first-hand.”