5G broadcast: best for TV, not radio, says organisation behind pilot

5G is seen by many as the future of terrestrial broadcasting. But an organisation overseeing a pilot service has now stepped in to manage expectations.

It comes as lawmakers and some commercial radio organisations in parts of Europe attempt to block DAB expansion in favour of leapfrogging to 5G, while others aren't clear of the difference between 5G mobile and 5G broadcast.

The 5G Media Initiative, a consortium of organisations working on a pilot TV broadcast on UHF in Bavaria, says for radio, there's only marginal differences to the existing 4G mobile radio (LTE) on 5G mobile and that the main benefactor of 5G Broadcast mode will be television.

It has issued the following statement:

Against the background of the discussion about 5G radio broadcasting, it is important to distinguish between 5G mobile radio in unicast mode and a 5G broadcast mode.

5G mobile
5G will be launched in the coming years as a pure mobile system (unicast, point-to-point connections). For the technical possibilities of radio broadcasting (audio streams), this results in only marginal differences to existing 4G mobile radio (LTE).

5G will align itself with the business frameworks of mobile network operators. A 5G area coverage in unicast mode, which would be approximately comparable with broadcasting systems, is currently not foreseeable.

The unicast propagation of radio via audio streaming on mobile networks has been technically possible for many years.

5G broadcast
For years, European broadcasting has been committed to expanding the 5G standard so that the distribution of linear TV programs will be possible in the future. This can be done using existing high-tower-high-power broadcasting equipment, similar to DVB-T2, which sends a signal from one transmitter to an unlimited number of receivers simultaneously. This allows independent network operation by broadcast network operators.

These extensions of the global 5G standard are also known as "5G Broadcast", technically FeMBMS (Further evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service).

The standard extension and the planned supply structures are based on the requirements of a TV broadcast. The primary goal is to bring free-to-air TV offerings to consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets and vehicles. The distribution of linear TV programmes benefits from the high data rates of the broadcast mode.

There is no doubt that from a technical point of view, 5G broadcast can also be used for the distribution of linear radio programs. The specific demands of radio broadcasting with regards the distribution of its linear content, such as providing full coverage and regionalization, are not automatically met by the introduction of 5G broadcast. The current provisions are based on the specifications for TV.

The radio market alone does not have enough economic potential to drive the market penetration of 5G broadcast. Only once the 5G broadcast market for TV has started then, theoretically, there are options for radio. As a consequence, this means that a market success of 5G broadcast for TV does not automatically mean a successful use of radio.

A successful launch of 5G broadcast for TV still needs to overcome some hurdles. First and foremost is the availability of chipsets and devices that support 5G broadcast, as well as sufficient spectrum. The 5G Media Initiative works on a cross-industry basis on these topics to drive 5G broadcast.

The 5G Media Initiative was launched by well-known companies and organizations to further the potential of the future network standard 5G for the media industry with research and development. Its partners include the Bavarian State Center for New Media, the Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), the Munich start-up Cadami, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS), the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the Institute for Telecommunications Engineering of the TU Braunschweig, the Institut für Rundfunktechnik (IRT), Kathrein SE, Media Broadcast GmbH, MUGLER, Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz, SWR and Telefónica (O2).

The 5G Media Initiative networks media, science and industry to exchange know-how, develop joint positions and initiate research projects.

  • This statement was first published in German. The original language text can be downloaded here.

  • In the UK, the BBC is currently testing 5G Broadcast for radio services. The BBC has yet to provide any detailed public verdict on the trials, but has previously announced its commitment to IP broadcast alongside FM and existing DAB services.