Audio Global Viewpoint – June 2022

5G-NR Replacing WiFi?

5G-NR (New Radio) is more than just faster 4G, not only is there the potential for increased bandwidth and reduced latency, but a whole new method of dynamically managing the network has the potential to deliver 5G-NR to every home and every business. So does this mean 5G-NR could overtake WiFi?

The Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS) specification was first released by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in 2015 as a point-to-multipoint multicast distribution method. Although it’s been trialled throughout the world by various telcos, it hasn’t gained a great deal of traction. One of the reasons for this is the fixed and static bandwidth that was provided in the specification for MBMS which restricted its practical deployment.

Recent new 3GPP releases have delivered the eMBMS (Evolved MBMS) and now the FeMBMS (Further Evolved MBMS). These specifications in themselves are providing more features for broadcasters to enable a better immersive experience for the viewer. But it is network splicing that not only allows dynamic allocation of bandwidth to the FeMBMS services but also facilitates this through a software defined network (SDN).

FeMBMS combined with SDN is incredibly important for broadcasters as it provides a new dynamic and scalable transmission method that delivers to mobile devices without the overhead of internet delivery. The internet was never designed to stream massive amounts of continuous data, but MBMS and now FeMBMS was. Furthermore, this is not only solving the latency issues and quality of experience associated with live streaming events, but also facilitates downloading of large media files and software updates.

Another advantage of 5G-NR and FeMBMS is that free-to-air transmissions can be accommodated as well as pay-per-view services. And FeMBMS works alongside unicast IP services so that web pages can be simultaneously downloaded, and social media messages exchanged. In effect, 5G-NR and FeMBMS have the potential to replace all the media streaming services over the internet.

Is this such a far-fetched idea? We know that viewers are demanding more from broadcasters in terms of how they consume their media. And it looks like 5G-NR might have the solution to facilitate this. Yes, broadcasters still need to send their media to the 5G-NR telcos, but leased lines and CDNs can solve this.

5G-NR transmitter networks allow localized coverage of a few tens of feet to large scale coverage of several miles depending on the frequency, power, and type of beam forming technology employed. Consequently, it is possible for 5G-NR to cover entire cities and localized dead spots to provide a comprehensive network coverage.

Assuming telcos deliver on all the features promised, then the reliability of 5G-NR will be orders of magnitude greater than that of WiFi, and even WiFi-5G, especially for metropolitan areas where the WiFi frequencies are heavily contended. There may well be an argument to cover remote buildings with WiFi as the economies of providing a 5G-NR transmitter for a few homes may not stack up. But for the vast majority of city dwellers, the uninterrupted and low latency service 5G-NR offers may well make WiFi obsolete in many homes and offices.