Sky Deutschland Combines With Telefonica For End To End 5G Live Sports Transmission

German pay TV operator Sky Deutschland has combined with Spanish telco Telefonica for 5G Broadcast of a live sports event from camera to client, claiming this to be a first for Europe.

This demonstration is applying 5G broadcast mode on December 6, 2020, from 13:00 CET for live coverage of the German Handball Bundesliga match between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Frisch Auf Göppingen.

Sky Sports will take footage from up to twelve 5G smartphones and transmit their signals via the 5G stadium network provided by O2, Telefonica’s brand in the country. Sky will then compile this footage into a livestream available free of charge at its web site accessible over 5G networks where available, as well as over its regular satellite Sky Sport channel.

According to Sky and Telefonica, the transmission shows how quickly a stadium can be set up for such transmission from multiple angles and perspectives, taking 7 days for O2 to equip the Flens Arena with the requisite 5G mobile technology.

“The positioning and use of the 5G smartphones brings us completely new possibilities in capturing game situations,” said Alessandro Reitano, Senior Vice President Sport Production at Sky Deutschland. He added that the O2 5G network in conjunction with smartphone cameras will bring viewers closer to the action in HD quality. Rapidly changing camera perspectives from new positions around the court will make live coverage more responsive, as images from the smartphone cameras will be controlled and assembled in a separate control room in front of the arena.

According to the partners, the potential for remote production teams became apparent during initial tests. Teams can work independently of location and do not necessarily have to be on site with an OB van, while reducing time and costs.

The other side of the equation is transmission, which was not the principal focus in this case. This has been a long running saga that has resembled a soap opera at times as successive candidates arrived on the scene amid extravagant hyperbole, only to be dashed on the rocks of unfulfilled expectations and broken promises.

The main problem was none of the pieces were really quite fit for purpose, devices were not capable of displaying at sufficient resolution while cellular networks lacked the bandwidth or consistency to meet expectations over quality of experience in any case. Furthermore, the underlying business case was not there, with poor ROI (Return On Investment) as prospective revenues failed to justify cost of the required infrastructure upgrades.

Under 5G though the pieces are falling into place with the promise of video consumption at high quality over networks capable of delivering consistent bit rates up to 100 Mbps or more in populated areas at least. With mobile video consumption booming, all parties including broadcasters, video service providers and mobile operators have a common interest in efficient multicast video delivery over cellular.

This has led to 5G Broadcast becoming a major prospective use case, despite the preceding LTE Broadcast failing to gain the promised traction. On the one hand, the technology has been enhanced within successive releases of the cellular platform, that is Release 14 and 15 as Further Enhanced Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service or “FeMBMS”. Known now as just “EnTV” or Enhanced Television services, this is combining with the other key development, the High Power High Tower (HPHT) overlay model, effectively imposing on top of a cellular network what looks very like a traditional DTT (digital terrestrial TV) infrastructure, supporting large super cells up to 60 Kms diameter.

Under this hybrid arrangement combining traditional cellular with a DTT-like infrastructure with multiple cells within one super cell served by a higher tower, unicast video is accessed over the mobile network as usual on a one-to-one on demand basis. But popular content, primarily live, is broadcast over a whole HPHT domain spanning multiple mobile cells, although possibly still smaller than a typical DTT network.

Clearly there is a need to be able to switch transparently between the broadcast/multicast and unicast modes and this has now been enabled in a release from the 3GPP, the body that develops and maintains global mobile technology standards, called MooD (MBMS Operation on Demand). This can switch from unicast to multicast dynamically as the number of users consuming the same stream in a cell passes a defined threshold.

This has led to growing recognition that TV over mobile can at last meet the needs of all parties, that is consumers, mobile operators, content providers, pay TV operators and broadcasters. Indeed, a report published by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) in June 2020 concluded that 5G could meet the distribution requirements of both public service and commercial broadcasters, as soon as some remaining structural hurdles had been overcome. This is strikingly different from the EBU’s tone a decade earlier when mobile networks were still seen as unwelcome and greedy interlopers over broadcasters’ precious DTT spectrum.

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