Latest 5G Tests Show The Promise Of Supercharged Wireless Distribution

Production companies and various sports channels (and leagues) in the U.S. and abroad have been eager to test the new generation of 5G equipment in an effort to take advantage of its promised lower-latency, ultra-fast speeds, and enhanced capacity. Although compatible consumer phones and the required network infrastructure to support millimeter wave (AT&T’s “5G+”) technology is not yet widely deployed, a number of successful tests have been conducted that show its promise.

A good example was a recent Summer League game hosted by the National Basketball Association (NBA) in Las Vegas, where 5G+ service is now available on a limited basis. Customers there can now access the AT&T 5G+ network in Las Vegas using the Galaxy S10 5G smart phone on the AT&T Business Unlimited Preferred plan. On July 11, this Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards NBA Summer League game became the first live major sports production ever shot exclusively on smartphones using 5G+ technology.

AT&T provided the 5G video infrastructure, set up inside Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack arena for the live game production, while six Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones were dispersed throughout the crowd to shoot the action on the court in HD (1080p/60). The live coverage included interactions with fans in attendance, interviews, views from courtside, a customized graphics package, and other in-arena elements.

The effort was made possible with the help of Ericsson’s 5G platform and LiveU’s Smart mobile app. All of the footage was sent to an onsite production truck and then transferred to ESPN's network broadcast offices to be used in live coverage of the game. The broadcast was carried on the ESPN App, International NBA League Pass, and NBA TV Canada.

LiveU’s Smart app bonded internal Wi-Fi and cellular connections that were monitored and managed with the company’s LiveU Central dashboard software.

LiveU’s Smart app bonded internal Wi-Fi and cellular connections that were monitored and managed with the company’s LiveU Central dashboard software.

This test follows a similar one conducted last summer, when Fox Sports and the Fox Innovation Lab partnered with Ericsson, Intel, and AT&T to stream 4K HDR video over a 5G network at the 2019 U.S. Open Golf tournament. The 5G wireless technology transmitted 4K HDR video from two Fox Sports cameras positioned on the par-3 seventh hole at Shinnecock Hills through the Fox Sports production truck and onto viewers through DirecTV.

Christina Cheng, Associate Vice President, Enterprise Mobility Marketing, AT&T Business, said that the NBA Summer League 5G trial—using the company’s NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot technology—is yet another step in the evolution of sending live video over 5G for the sports industry.

[In December 2018, AT&T launched 5G service in parts of Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Waco, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. In April parts of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego, California; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Nashville were added. Then, at the end of June, Las Vegas came online with the next-generation wireless service.]

“This use case is an example of how 5G networks can support live video transmission if designed appropriately,” she said. “[5G technology] is poised eventually to further disrupt the broadcast news and sports industry when combined with other innovative technologies such as edge compute and Artificial Intelligence, to name a few. This technology will eventually help enable video producers and content creators to capture higher quality live streaming video at a faster rate, get it to the end user faster and create new fan and event experiences.”

All of the game footage was sent to an onsite production truck and then transferred to ESPN's network broadcast offices to be used in live coverage of the game.

All of the game footage was sent to an onsite production truck and then transferred to ESPN's network broadcast offices to be used in live coverage of the game.

In order to provide complete coverage inside the arena during the NBA game, the arena was split into two sectors so that 5G wireless signals would sufficiently cover areas for the camera operators to capture the live action. A series of 5G wireless antennas were hung above the court to provide connectivity to the broadcasting smartphones.

Ericson provided its 5G network infrastructure products to the make the trial broadcast happen, including its RAN (Radio Access Network) and virtualized packet core technology. The company’s website says its 5G Platform can help content distributors evolve their networks from 4G to 5G “in a smart, dynamic way and boost performance with precision” while “maximizing automation in their operations and use AI to help them deal with increased network complexity.”

For the NBA test, the RF signals inside the arena were converted to IP packets for delivery to the online platforms. This allowed the production team to take a signal from any source and route it to any antenna within the arena. Looking beyond the game, those signals could be cellular, Wi-Fi, consumer IP traffic or public safety communications.

For its part, LiveU supplied its Smart application, which is designed for live newsgathering using cellular networks. The LU-Smart mobile app offers the latest in bonded cellular transmission technology for smartphones, enabling a journalist to cover live HD news from the field using their own mobile device. The app bonds internal Wi-Fi and cellular connections to reach optimal video quality and resiliency and is monitored and managed with the company’s LiveU Central dashboard software.

Ericsson now markets a wide portfolio of Radio System products that allow operators to run 4G and 5G in the same band with the same radio and the same baseband.

Ericsson now markets a wide portfolio of Radio System products that allow operators to run 4G and 5G in the same band with the same radio and the same baseband.

Dave Belding, Director of Sports Sales at LiveU, said that the app helped transmit the HD quality video from the handset to the LiveU receiver/decoders in the on-site television production truck where the HD signal was brought into the production workflow.

“High bandwidth provides more resiliency and reduces latency,” Belding said. CNET tests of the AT&T 5G network saw speeds that were consistently over 1Gbps, often hitting 1.6 to 1.7Gbps. “There’s no doubt that this workflow will be used in some way for future sports broadcasts.”

Experts predict that by 2024, the volumes of mobile data traffic (consisting predominantly of video file transfers) is expected to increase by a factor of five, with 25 percent of that traffic carried by 5G networks.

Aside form its technical performance, it’s clear that 5G technology offers the broadcast industry a unique chance to establish a uniform global transmission standard for broadcast and mobile services for the first time in TV history. Whether it’s watching the game from a new perspective or analyzing plays and stats in real time, 5G has the potential to increase fan engagement in a multitude of ways.

And as more trials are conducted and the service is deployed in more locations (AT&T said it plans to bring 5G to parts of 21 cities across the U.S. by the end of the year) production professionals will become familiar with its features and how to use them most efficiently (and reliably). Then the wireless sky’s the limit.

“By all measures, the [NBA Summer League] trial was successful,” AT&T’s Cheng, said. “We were able to live stream video over a private 5G network from Samsung Galaxy S10 5G devices. Very few instances of uploading video over 5G are being reported in the field today, so we were excited that we were able to make that happen.”

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