Just as China closed out the year as the undisputed 5G frontrunner, South Korea played a last minute hand – with SK Telecom announcing a claim to the world’s first live TV broadcast over 5G. It again brings into question the race to delivering video over 5G, just days after AT&T launched its first 5G mobile network.
On the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, SK Telecom demonstrated an eleven-minute long broadcast production live on channel XtvN, following the commercial launch of its 5G network at the beginning of December. This is interesting as the network launch was intended to support enterprise use cases, so the switch to a consumer demonstration so quickly could be a sign SK Telecom is more prepared for delivering video over 5G at scale than initially assumed.
SK Telecom combined its network infrastructure, comprising 5G base stations and 5G mobile routers, with its T Live Caster broadcasting technology, which has been in development for the past four years, enabling smartphone-filmed content to be distributed on TV channels over 5G and LTE networks via a simple mobile app. It achieved latency of less than one second, claiming a similar level of latency to the country’s existing wired broadcasting system.
It’s worth noting that SK Telecom is an operator which decided to opt for an expensive in-house network architecture to get ahead of the curve, instead of waiting for standardized affordable virtual radio access networks to become available. Although, the operator has also had successful tests of 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) Core, developed by Samsung, with 5G base stations from Nokia and Ericsson, conducted in November 2018.
The reason behind the government’s decision to have a simultaneous, multi-operator launch in Korea, rather than holding out until Spring, may seem like a rush to market, but it says this was to reduce the need for marketing costs and accelerate progress on actual network build-out.
The three giants SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ are all now official 5G providers, with a network that covers large parts of 13 cities, even before there are commercial smartphones available. They are focusing heavily on the industrial uses of 5G, which will drive far greater growth than another consumer device. SK Telecom, for instance, said that Myunghwa Industry, a car parts supplier, is already using the 5G network for process improvements at its factory, with artificial intelligence analyzing results from on-site cameras in near-real time, over low latency 5G links supported by a network slice.
SK Telecom and KT also marked the end of an era when they shut down their mobile broadband services based on the WiBro technology. This was Korea’s homegrown variant on the WiMAX standard, which was briefly a contender to be a 4G alternative to LTE. Now the two operators will transition WiBro subscribers to LTE, and refarm the 2.3 GHz spectrum for 4G or 5G if they are allowed to keep the licenses (which expire in March 2019).
The plan now is to upgrade T Live Caster to support UHD content and interconnect the technology to personal broadcasting platforms this year.
SK Telecom also notes that 5G use cases extend beyond live TV broadcasts to video surveillance to improve emergency responses, and it will also look at the drone market, partnering with manufacturer DJI to develop a drone video surveillance system.
“With today’s successful live TV broadcasting over commercial 5G network, SK Telecom ushers in a new era of 5G-based media services. In this new era, individual creators will be able to provide high-quality live broadcast anytime, anywhere, via 5G smartphones,” said Choi Nak-hoon, SVP and Head of 5GX IoT/Data Group of SK Telecom.