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15 August 2019

ZTE QCell helps China Mobile extend 5G TV lead

Asia Pacific countries continue to lead the pack in showcasing 5G-deliverd video, demonstrating not just superfast speeds but the diverse new formats and features that the new generation of wireless technology promises to enable.

China’s lead was evident this week as China Mobile teamed with technology supplier ZTE to claim the crown of delivering the country’s first 5G live TV sporting event, boasting three unique cases supposedly specific to 5G – multi-angle viewing, free viewpoint and flexible zooming. Although not exactly revolutionary on the surface, together these features and their enabling technologies have the potential to alter the mobile viewing experience as we know it.

China Mobile provided IPTV subscribers with multi-angle Ultra HD viewing of the country’s National Youth Games via its live streaming app, supported by a range of technologies from ZTE. These included the vendor’s Digital Intelligent Indoor 5G-QCell system, supported by multi-access edge computing (MEC), low latency encoding and location-based services to shrink live end-to-end latency down to under 1 second.

Does China Mobile’s reliance on ZTE in the 5G TV race suggest the giant MNO is turning its back on Huawei? Fat chance. Huawei has been a critical supplier of equipment for building China Mobile’s 5G network, beginning back in 2016 along with ZTE, Nokia and Ericsson, switching on the first 5G transport network in June this year in preparation for the country’s early October commercial rollout.

Outside the core network, Huawei and China Mobile have also collaborated on video ventures. Just before the turn of the year, the two companies – alongside China Mobile’s entertainment content subsidiary Migu – claimed the first instance of a true 4K UHD live broadcast using 5G network slicing. Huawei described “real” 4K UHD as a 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 was 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.

The project beamed UHD signals 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.

As for ZTE’s QCell in action more recently this week, this is a diverse technology which has cropped up elsewhere, for example in powering smart parking services in China with analytics services. The Indoor Intelligent Navigation, Smart Car Seeking solution combines connectivity, IoT sensors and MEC to allow navigation, smart car finding and other services to be extended into underground and indoor parking garages. The QCell detects and reports approaching cars to the MEC system, which then triggers the indoor navigation system and provides drivers with parking space reservation services and route planning. The solution can also record a vehicle’s specific location through the magnetic IoT sensors in the parking spaces. A driver can then use an app to find their vehicle within the car park.

Data out this week from IHS Markit puts Asia’s lead into perspective, putting South Korean operator LG U+ miles ahead of overseas competition with median 5G download speed of 426.4 Mbps. The 5G First Look Report has US operators at a fraction of this, with Verizon on 67.8 Mbps, T-Mobile 63.3 Mbps, AT&T 62 Mbps and Sprint 45.7 Mbps. SK Telecom recorded speeds of 286.9 Mbps and KT came in third at 163 Mbps, although the research did not measure 5G speeds from any Chinese service providers.