White Paper: The Use of 5G for Live Production – The Technology Evolution and Emerging Capabilities
Within the broadcast industry, there is a growing interest in using 5G in live production to wirelessly connect cameras into the live production workflow. This is due to the ubiquity, versatility, and bidirectional nature of the networktechnology. Sony recognized this interest when 5G was first starting to be introduced to the world around 2018 and has been working on prototypes of a portable low latency encoding device, 5G IoT technology, and media orchestration tools to address this new opportunity.
At the core of the challenge is bandwidth. Cameras require a lot of bandwidth and 5G bandwidth, even within private networks, is constrained. In practice, most connections will be around uplink speed of 200 Mbps and possibly substantially less, so transferring a 12G-SDI camera output over a wireless link is no easy task. For that reason, using a low bitrate (high compression ratio) video encoder and decoder is essential. However, given the demands of live broadcasting, that codec also needs to be high quality and very low latency.
During the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) 2023, Sony announced the CBK-RPU7, a powerful and portable HEVC encoder using a codec chip developed in house. The CBK-RPU7, when connected to a 5G modem, allows a wireless camera to have similar performance to that of a wired camera. Combining the CBK-RPU7 with the latest Sony cameras enables the creation of the highest quality content regardless of location. (See Fig 1)
Using the prototype version of the CBK-RPU7, Sony has conducted various proof-of-concept (PoC) tests in different parts of the world to demonstrate the potential for changing the production workflows in current media live operations. While 5G potentially offers fast connectivity, the biggest challenge beyond the available bandwidth has been to secure the Quality of Service (QoS) within the wireless space — the common perceptions being the lack of reliability and consistency compared to the wired network. This is mainly due to the best-effort nature of the technology usually employed which can make it unusable in situations where there is a high level of competition for the available bandwidth. This is often the case with public 5G networks, where many mobile handset users or even broadcasters,might be actively competing for transmission resources. However, it can also be the case for dedicated private 5G networks where different equipment (including cameras) is connected.
A professional media organization needs to ensure that, under these circumstances, the live feeds from their cameras are assigned a higher priority than that of a smartphone user browsing content on social media or checking email. In order to address this challenge, Sony is developing a software stack as part of VideoIPath — a media and network orchestration platform created by Nevion (a Sony Group company) that can request dynamic prioritization of live media signals over the 5G networks. This smart QoS management platform is designed for use on 5G Stand Alone (SA) networks, a new mobile network architecture that is not dependent on existing 4G infrastructure to facilitate communications, through a key feature called the Network Exposure Function (NEF). This feature allows external applications to communicate with the 5G networks via a set of APIs standardized by 3GPP, the organization responsible for developing protocols for mobile telecommunications. Through these APIs, VideoIPath can now request that the network allocates the necessary bandwidth to the camera feed chosen by the operator in a dynamic way.
This adds a powerful new capability to what is already a comprehensive fixed network orchestration and SDN control system, providing connection management, service assurance and network inventory capabilities for service providers and broadcasters, presenting new opportunities for true wired-to-wireless network convergence.
The first public display of this technology was at a PoC during the Coronation of King Charles III on May 6, 2023, in London, United Kingdom. The test was carried out by Sony, private 5G SA Networks developer Neutral Wireless, and the research and development arm of UK public broadcaster the BBC. The objective of the PoC was to demonstrate that media signals could be prioritized on a standalone non-public network (SNPN) using QoS control.
Fig 1. Successful tests carried out during the Coronation of King Charles III
The solution for this PoC was built on elements of Sony and Nevion’s Networked Live offering. (See Fig 2) For media transport, each camera was fitted with an early prototype of the CBK-RPU7 mentioned earlier, which provided ultra-low-latency HEVC video encoding, and was connected to the Neutral Wireless 5G SNPN via an Xperia 5G smartphone. For network and resource orchestration, VideoIPath was used to interface with the 5G network’s NEF to configure the QoS for individual flows based on dynamic information about the bandwidth and signal priorities. For example, a camera activity transmitting audio and video was given a higher priority for its signals compared to a non-transmitting camera.
Fig 2. Orchestrated 5G Production System in the Coronation PoC
The effectiveness of the technology became clear during the test as the camera feed with QoS control applied was far more stable with an increase to the operating area of the camera compared to the feed without QoS.
This ability to dynamically switch the QoS of camera feeds enables a production team to increase the number of cameras attached to a single network without the need to invest in additional infrastructure. This is beneficial to the production as it allows for the addition of different angles while also reducing costs associated with those additions.
While this recent PoC was performed using an SNPN, the concept is also applicable to applications using a public network. Requesting prioritization of bandwidth from a public network serving huge numbers of smartphone users remains a challenge, but this is set to change as a new concept called network slicing — a new network architecture that creates multiple, logical networks on the same shared network infrastructure – becomes more mature and commonly deployed. Mobile Network Operators (MNO) across the globe are currently planning to offer network slices for different applications and network requirements, and it is reasonable to assume that a part of this technology eventually may also be offered to the media industry. This, combined with orchestration tools that can control QoS at the application layer opens the way for media companies to create media workflows over public 5G networks for their own purposes.
There will continue to be a need for both private and public 5G for media applications. In scenarios where networks face significant congestion, such as sports venues, concerts, and pop-up live events, public network operators will be eager to satisfy the requirements of their smartphone subscribers and it will be a challenge for professional content producers to secure the bandwidth they require. In these cases, the use of private networks dedicated for use by media organizations may be necessary. However, private networks may not be sufficient to provide enough coverage in wide area scenarios, such as golf tournaments or long-distance road races or at unplanned events, such as news coverage of a severe weather event, where the use of a public network (preferably with network slicing) will be a better fit.
Sony is currently working together with major MNOs in the United States to leverage Sony’s expertise in cameras, encoding, IoT, and media orchestration with the latest developments in advanced 5G networking, both in public network slicing and private network environments. As stated earlier, this is an area that is generating significant interest in our industry, as media organizations seek innovative new ways to optimize workflows and network operators look for new business opportunities offered by the latest networking technology.