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13 December 2018

China makes 4K UHD headway using 5G slicing, but no HDR

While the major US operators prepare to launch 5G service offerings throughout 2019 to which video streaming services will be tacked as a primary selling point, China has again threatened to distance the gap. China Mobile, its entertainment content subsidiary Migu and – you guessed it – Huawei, are claiming the first instance of a true 4K UHD live broadcast using 5G network slicing.

Huawei describes “real” 4K UHD as resolution of 3840 x 2160 at a frame rate of 50fps, although without HDR we would argue the broadcast lacked some real life-like quality. But we believe the point is probably to highlight the difference between being mastered in 2K or 1080p then upscaled – otherwise known as fake 4K UHD. With HDR, the unstandardized nature and inconsistency of screen brightness ranges has acted as a deterrent for some, yet Dolby Vision and HDR10+, or something like Technicolor’s HDR Intelligent Tone Management (ITM) technology, have been gaining momentum.

So, during a celebrity-stacked music ceremony in Shanghai, live UHD signals were sent to the Migu videoconferencing cloud data center for production and distribution through a 5G network slice – established by China Mobile’s Shanghai unit and Huawei. At the same time, it says, the first application of 4K live broadcasting was achieved through this end to end network slice. However, the broadcast wasn’t being beamed into homes, but right back to a 4K screen onsite at the music ceremony.

Network slicing is a technique being heralded by experts as the key enabler for new 5G services to truly differentiate from 4G. The importance of network slicing is that services with very different network requirements can be accommodated from a single physical network, whereas in the past they would have required separate networks. Instead, they are supported by a virtual set of resources which can operate as a self-contained network, allowing for heavy customization of the service requirements.

China Mobile and Huawei reckon the ultra-high bandwidths and ultra-low latency features of channels providing slice services in 5G network infrastructure, provides guaranteed 4K UHD video playback experiences.

Yet there is a somber tone to the announcement. Huawei’s indispensable role in the project highlights how the eviction of the vendor from Western countries, most recently in Japan this week and BT in the UK last week, will further China’s lead in 5G, and therefore in 4K UHD video streaming. ZTE is another local vendor caught up in the US-China trade war.

The West must find alternatives. There is hope in Europe with Deutsche Telekom, one of the frontrunners in 5G network slicing, but it has Huawei deeply embedded in its network infrastructure and pressure is growing among US allies about security concerns. Although we feel Deutsche Telekom is less likely than BT to begin stripping out equipment from its core network.

Nokia is therefore the obvious choice, having worked closely on 5G trials with operators in the UK using Massive MIMO, although the Finnish vendor also recently landed deployments at the three Chinese giants China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, valued at $2.3 billion.

As this is Faultline Online Reporter, for fixed lines, the core considerations are that 5G will need one millisecond latency and the entire broadband set up will need to offer multiple levels of QoS protocols, and support them even on a single line, to support 5G network slicing – guaranteeing a single service a certain amount of bandwidth, without front ending each connection with specialized processing logic.

Migu, which reportedly has some 856 million regular viewers, says it will continue working with China Mobile Research Institute, Huawei, mainstream media and universities to explore 5G + multimedia applications. It aims to convert achievements into industry consensus through the 5G Multimedia Innovation Alliance, formed last year, and the 5G Slicing Association. The latter was set up in March by China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Digital Domain, Fraunhofer FOKUS, GE, Huawei, CEPRI of SGCC, Tencent, TIM and Volkswagen. It aims to instill trust and address 5G requirements of vertical industries.

Qiu Xuefeng, president of Huawei 5G Core, said, “5G will create new industries on an unprecedented scale. Network slicing is an important technology for enabling 5G services in more vertical industries. Huawei’s 5G network slicing solution can implement on-demand network definition, quick deployment, automated operations, E2E SLA assurance, and capability exposure. Through this collaboration, the E2E technology and service verification of 5G network slicing is carried out in real multimedia business scenario for the first time. This will accelerate the maturity of related technologies and solutions.”