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The Impact of 5G on the Future of Live Streaming Services

It is often said that we live in an age in which information quality is increasing rapidly due to the big development in technology. One of the proofs of that statement is a significant change in how we watch TV. Back before, to watch a favorite show, we had to wait for a week until the show is broadcasted again on the specific time aired on the television or to borrow or even buy the VCD/DVD. These days, we can watch any TV show anytime we want with the help of streaming services; examples are Netflix or iFlix. But what if I say the current streaming technology may get left behind in the next couple of years? An emerging new technology called 5G is believed to have an impact on almost anything in the technology environment, including streaming services. In this paper, we will look deeper into how 5G will affect the future of live streaming services. Live streaming is a different kind of animal compared to buffering a show for future watch. It is an event which can be watched by anyone from any part of the world in real time. A man who is behind this event watches your video and sends data back to his video server. This data is then transcoded and sent to a web player where viewers can see it in almost real-time situation. There are many types of live streaming events; it could be a concert, sports event, video games, and many others. A research by a video delivery network called Limelight Networks found that the popularity of live streaming is increasing. Today, 41% of the survey sample said they are currently live streaming events and 23.5% of them say they are interested to watch live stream when they have an event.

Advantages of 5G for Live Streaming Services

The concept of offering a mobile live stream is particularly relevant to these cases, and with 5G, it will be more feasible. The higher speed and reliability of 5G networks will make it a more viable option for those hosting the event, as well as providing a better experience for the viewer. This is due to the aforementioned improvements in video and audio quality and the decreased likelihood of technical difficulties during the broadcast. In this case, the improved quality of the streamed content may also lead to increased participation in the event, as watching the live stream will be a more sufficient alternative to physically attending.

An often overlooked advantage of live streaming is its ability to bring an event to people who would otherwise not be able to participate. This is often the case for business-related events such as conferences, where limited company budgets or the higher priority of other investments have led to sending only a select few employees to an event, the information learned then being disseminated to others at a later time. In a different context, it may be those living in remote areas or developing countries who are excluded from certain events due to constrained resources.

Faster and more reliable connections

The key component of 5G that separates it from 4G and Wi-Fi is its vastly superior speed and reduced latency. 5G is expected to have download speeds of around 1Gbps, whereas 4G averages around 20Mbps, and typical home Wi-Fi around 100Mbps. Reduced latency means that when a user requests data, the time it takes for the data to start being received will be much shorter. Edge computing, computing that is performed closer to the sources of data, can be utilized more effectively with 5G due to reduced latency. This is a massive upgrade from 4G, which has average latencies of 50ms, and 5G with a constantly reliable network is expected to achieve latencies of around 1ms. Combined, high speeds and low latency mean that data can be reliably retrieved and downloaded almost instantly. This is essential for streaming, where high-quality video and audio data needs to be consistently and immediately retrieved. High-quality lost data due to insufficient speeds or network quality is a chronic problem for streamers today, and 5G can potentially solve this by making high-quality streaming more consistent and accessible.

Enhanced streaming quality

Low-latency applications are most suited to sport and online gambling, where players/viewers can receive constant up-to-date information and rapid feedback on their current actions in the game. While current generations of mobile technology have evolved to gain acceptable mobile streaming quality via 3G/4G networks, the quality of the streamed video may not be at the level that the end-user would find satisfactory. 5G networks can give the mobile networks the ability to offer greater encoding resolutions and higher consistency in video quality. During a study conducted by Ericsson, analyzing 5G for use in live sporting events, it was agreed by experts that for certain static wide-angle shots, today’s 4 Mbps video codec is capable of delivering satisfactory results. However, when the camera zooms in to slower action or fast panning, the expected and estimated throughput requirements are equivalent to that of today’s HDTV. This indicates that video quality expectations for live sporting events are expected to increase, with some visual angles requiring up to 100 Mbps throughput. With sport being the most valuable content type in terms of media rights and the subscription revenue it attracts, there will be pressure on mobile network operators to provide a service capable of satisfying these requirements.

Increased accessibility and reach

However, the most notable change in how accessible live streaming will become comes from the increased bandwidth 5G will be able to provide. Currently, without WiFi, most mobile phone users are limited to watching streams at quality settings of 480p or below. This is due to both restrictions on download speeds and mobile data plans usually having a limited amount of high-speed data. Data usage on live streams can vary, but watching a stream at 480p will usually consume around 350MB per hour. Most people will watch streams on mobile when they are away from their home, and so are often restricted to only being able to watch at around 480p while trying not to go over their high-speed data limit. With an increase in data usage, streaming services can convert to higher quality options being available to viewers, and content creators no longer have to sacrifice quality for the sake of viewers using their phone’s data.

5G will not only provide faster download speeds, but lower latency on wireless networks. Low latency for streaming services means there will be less delay when relaying content between the streamer and the viewer, allowing for more interaction between the two. Any inputs from the viewer will occur much closer to real-time for what is happening on the streamer’s end. This can create many new possibilities for viewer interaction on live streams.

It is now common knowledge that 5G will allow for much faster download speeds on wireless networks. With mobile phones being the most commonly used method of viewing streamed media, an increase in speed to download content will mean more people can watch streams on higher quality settings without suffering constant buffering.

Challenges and Limitations of 5G for Live Streaming Services

In addition to this, the infrastructure changes are expected to require more permits from local authorities, more rental costs for attaching cells to utility poles, and an increase in RF regulation requirements. This may slow the rollout of 5G and may only be available in certain areas, making it hard for the user to access 5G everywhere.

All this complex technology costs money, and small cell deployment is expected to cost around $500 per user. To fund this, network providers may increase prices or reduce their network investment in rural areas to save costs. This will make it harder for live streamers in rural areas to access 5G and could have implications on the service quality provided. The user may have to subsidize the cost and install a small cell adjacent to their property to be able to access 5G inside, creating a ‘do-it-yourself’ network that is very impractical for mobile live streaming.

Infrastructure for 5G will require a large investment and a significant update compared to the current 4G LTE standard. The high-frequency bands used in 5G demand high-density solutions to provide effective coverage. The use of outdoor small cells is essential to provide coverage where it isn’t available from macro cells. High-frequency 5G also uses beamforming to direct the radio signal to the user. This requires a massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna to create enough spatial division to produce the required beams.

Infrastructure requirements

A final problem specific to home fixed wireless access involves the multiple devices in a home commonly sharing a single wireless 5G connection. While it would be possible to provide several connections for each device in the home, the latency benefits will not be fully realized unless there is a method of aggregation to combine the traffic from these multiple connections into a single channel to and from the internet.

Even where full fiber connections are present, many base stations are not actually located in places where the fiber has been installed. For instance, a rural base station may be connected by E1/T1 leased line, which only provides speeds of up to 2Mbit/s. An additional problem in rural areas is that many do not have a power supply and are actually solar or battery powered. All these situations have the same issue in that a new 5G base station will require a mains power supply and full fiber connection. These changes can be particularly complicated and expensive in densely urban and rural areas.

In order to run a 5G network, there will need to be significant infrastructure upgrades, making it difficult to simply swap out an old mobile network with the new one. Many mobile network base stations exist that only connect to the core network through limited bandwidth connections, such as copper or microwave links. These base stations will be unable to support 5G’s high bandwidth, low-latency technology, so the only viable option will be to overhaul them to a full fiber connection. This is a lengthy and expensive process involving getting council permission to dig up roads to install new cables and has been cited as a reason 5G will take a long time to roll out.

Cost implications

In contrast, larger corporations will find the cost of a transition to 5G as less of a barrier. However, 5G costs may still impede progression depending on the margin of additional costs. In any case, live streaming services on a 5G network will have to guarantee a high quality of service to succeed. Thus, the infrastructure costs of creating dedicated private networks must also be considered. High QoS guarantees will also require service level agreements and QoS monitoring to ensure requirements are met, all of which add additional cost.

In addition, the higher frequencies used by 5G networks mean that the range of base stations is shorter, which means more infrastructure is needed in densely populated areas. This contrasts with 4G networks, which were built with a blanket infrastructure approach in mind, meaning low population areas actually require more infrastructure for a 5G network to be effective. This overall will likely lead to higher service costs, making it less affordable for small-medium sized businesses to implement live streaming services using 5G technology.

For example, the cost structure in terms of scalability of services in a 5G network is uncertain at this point in time. Some believe costs will decrease due to lower infrastructure costs. However, in order to fund 5G infrastructure, governments around the world have invested large sums of money in infrastructure auctions. This suggests costs will be passed onto the consumer, leading to higher service costs in a 5G environment.

Network congestion and bandwidth limitations

This shift from current wireless networks to 5G networks will provide a good quality live video streaming experience for users. It will also fulfill the requirements of providers who intend to offer live services such as online trainings or live radio.

The high data rate will allow users to receive live video by consuming the same amount of bandwidth that it is being transmitted with. Users will be able to receive the video with less buffering and higher quality.

With the future of 5G wireless networks, it is expected that there will be wider network bandwidth available to users. This is because 5G wireless networks are able to provide consistent and uninterrupted high-speed data services, ensuring no interruptions during audio or video streaming.

If users are unable to receive the UDP stream, they will attempt to receive the video using TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). With the present networking congestion, all of the network bandwidth may be consumed by the retransmission of dropped video packets, resulting in extremely slow and interrupted playback of the video using TCP.

The biggest problem for live streaming providers is limited bandwidth. When users want to watch a live video, there is a large possibility that they may not get the video on the first attempt, as the streaming server provides the video using UDP (User Datagram Protocol) and sometimes the UDP ports are blocked on routers.

The current status of live streaming services is not that good when it comes to video quality or the duration of video playback. Users have to wait for the video to buffer completely. Buffering is the term used to define the downloading of video ahead of its playback. An uninterrupted playback means less buffering.

There is a growing demand for live streaming services among customers. In the future, it is expected that the use of live streaming services will increase significantly. For that, live video streaming providers must work to provide better quality.

Future Trends and Opportunities in 5G-powered Live Streaming Services

The ultra-reliability of 5G will also enhance current content; for example, second-screen has become a popular trend for big TV events such as sports where viewers are using phones or tablets to access extra content, but buffering and poor load times can often make this a frustrating experience.

With 5G, interactive live streaming applications can be taken to the next level through the use of augmented reality and virtual reality. Imagine watching a music festival from the comfort of your own home, but with the ability to ‘walk around’ different stages and interact with other viewers, or being able to ‘try on’ new clothes while watching a fashion show. These kinds of interactive VR experiences are made possible by 5G’s low latency, which is a key enabler given that current VR content can often leave users feeling nauseous due to a slight lag between their movement and the system response.

The improved connectivity offered by 5G will make it possible for streaming providers to deliver vastly improved interactive experiences. Viewers are currently limited when interacting with live video; while some platforms allow users to contribute comments or questions, for the most part, viewers are passive. Real-time online gaming and gambling are examples of content types that have done well to integrate interactive elements, but others have had limited success due to current streaming constraints.

Enabling new and innovative ways to tell stories and transforming business models along the way, live streaming is evolving at a rapid pace. As discussed, the deployment of 5G will greatly improve bandwidth, reliability, and overall connectivity and will have a transformative impact on the future of live streaming services. This will create new opportunities for the live streaming market, allowing for the delivery of new types of content and will lead to shifts in viewer behavior.

Interactive and immersive streaming experiences

Immersive technology is a technology that is beginning to take greater strides in many different fields. Immersive technology offers a marketing edge in understanding the needs and behaviors of consumers. The mobile industry has seen the rise of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), and both are now being offered over 5G networks. VR is a technology which has been around for many years but, due to high latency issues and slow download times, has had limited success in the gaming industry. VR works by immersing the user in a computer-generated simulation and has been described as a truly immersive experience. The concept of VR is still new to mobile phones, with only high-end smartphones supporting this feature. Samsung has offered VR capabilities with their Gear VR, and Google has taken the simple approach to VR with its Cardboard, which has succeeded in getting people interested in the VR space. Samsung and Google’s VR offering has been quite successful; however, both still have limitations, with the Gear VR only working with a handful of Samsung devices and Google’s Cardboard’s reliance on the host device degrading its benefits. Oculus Quest is a standalone VR that uses smartphones and an internet connection to download games and apps. Oculus Quest can be used to play VR games on the go and at home. With 5G and advances in VR technology, it may be possible to replicate the Oculus Quest experience everywhere on a much simpler device. VR has a practical use in live streaming and has the potential to change the experience of watching an event at home. Rugby is a game where VR has been considered a tool for analyzing the game, and despite it not being live streaming, a study conducted by Attfield and Russell found that VR can improve the understanding and retention in certain rugby scenarios over traditional video. This could be beneficial to rugby fans who wish to gain a better understanding of the game. Although VR is not available to everyone, in 2017 the Six Nations ran a VR campaign with the release of an app which gave a VR experience of being in the shoes of the players and coaches. Users watched through their phone with a VR headset and were able to choose between different scenarios. This gave an exclusive experience to the user, and it is not hard to imagine the potential of being able to choose between VR and standard streaming live games.

Integration with emerging technologies

As the IoT has developed, it has frequently produced large quantities of data in video form. For example, one of the clearest IoT success stories is in smart home devices. An increasing number of these are now equipped with video cameras, and data from these cameras is used for a wide range of purposes, from home security to activity recognition (such as monitoring the health of an elderly relative) to just providing a convenient means of checking that a user switched off their TV.

One of the most significant spaces for emerging technologies in recent years has been the Internet of Things (IoT). This is the term for the ability to network and connect data from any type of object or device. Increasingly, consumer products in a wide range of markets now come with internet connectivity as a feature.

One of 5G’s most significant benefits for live streaming services is the way it will enable them to integrate with other emerging technologies. What this integration will look like is only broadly sketched, but it’s possible to see some clear directions.

New business models and monetization strategies

Contrary to what many consider progress, paying for content is not dead, with the premium content providers wanting to capitalize on the richer experience possible through reliable high-bandwidth low latency connections. PPV and subscription-based models will be taken further by mobile service provider tie-ins where data used on the content is exempt or using the network slicing capabilities of 5G to secure a QoS on live content. For example, guaranteeing the customer to be able to watch live sport in UHD with no buffering. This may lead to innovative ways of partnerships between content providers and CSPs with methods such as revenue sharing or subsidized content packages. With more and more transactions occurring on mobile devices, particularly in developing regions, m-commerce is a lucrative prospect. Enabling viewers to buy products related to the content seamlessly or even during interactive video content, e.g. voting on reality TV shows, predictive gaming, could open new streams of revenue for content providers.

One of the key benefits anticipated from the much greater capacity and lower latency of 5G networks is the advancement of new business models and monetization strategies by live streaming services. With more content being consumed on mobile and on the go, new ways of monetizing the mobile experience must be found to replace the dying model of the app download with in-app purchases. Ad-supported content is expected to continue from 4G networks and will be more effective with better targeted ads using mobile subscriber data and real-time connection to the ad server. 5G will enable server-side ad insertion, which replaces ads in the recorded video with current ads. This allows content to be stored and shared without expiration, often making ads more effective than the live ad insertion alternative. An example of this is the current trials being done by Sky UK with AdSmart. Pay TV and free-to-air broadcasters normally allow about 15% of their advertising to be sold. More when the targeted ads are stored server-side and can be replaced. This number is expected to increase.

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