The internet is now fully accessible to the media industry, and this creates tremendous opportunities for new user service propositions, more personalized experiences, and a fast lane for innovation for service providers and content creators. Within this developing ecosystem the combination of fixed and wireless networks, as well as the global 5G introduction enables media content providers to have access to a universal, ubiquitous and future-proof distribution platform allowing them to reach users everywhere, anytime and on any device - in particular the Gen-Z for which the smartphone is the primary device for communication and entertainment . The Ericsson Mobility Reports forecasts that by 2027 5G networks will carry 62 percent of the world's smartphone traffic. Specifically, the delivery of video content is expected to account for 79 percent of the mobile data traffic in 2027 .
To support media and content providers to get access to the powerful, but complex 5G distribution platform, simplifications, support, and abstraction to the workflows of media providers are needed. In the dynamic world of apps, software-centric solutions and agile developments, access to open-source tools to support prototyping, trials and possibly even deployments is of utmost relevance. 5G-MAG has taken on the duty and mandate to fill the role to bring together the media and the 5G world to support deployment of media services on 5G systems.
As a particular effort to respond to the need of software, the 5G-MAG Reference Tools project has recently been established. Since its start in late 2021, a steadily growing developer community is committed to create common open-source reference tools to support implementation and interoperability of 5G Media technologies.
The initial focus of the project was the development of Rel-16 5G Media Streaming and 5G Broadcast client components, server/headend and corresponding 5G unicast and broadcast radio emulators. The overall target is to provide an end-to-end platform enabling the implementation of media players on top of the clients; service layers and the testing of applications developed by other media-related organizations; hybrid scenarios and integration of third-party functions in the network.
In this paper, we present the current architecture of the 5G-MAG Reference Tools and demonstrate the first use-case: “broadband-broadcast seamless switching”. With seamless switching, universal service coverage can be provided by the complementarity of different networks and delivery mechanisms. In cases in which certain users are out of 5G broadcast coverage, the media playback is not disrupted, and the service continues to operate with unicast fall-back from the 5G broadband network. In this way, quality of service conditions can be maintained at an exceptionally high level, and the user experience can be improved according to the needs of users and/or operators.
By combining broadcast coverage and unicast connectivity, the seamless-switching use-case can also be used for other scenarios, like regional and local content insertions, content replacement, and on-demand or targeted advertising. While the developed tools focus on 5G-based distribution, they also may serve as a reference or integration platform for traditional broadcast networks and services. As an example, the integration of a DVB-I service layer is an ongoing effort. In addition, the developed tools closely align with the service layer of ATSC3.0.
In further development steps, the addition of Rel-16 5G Media Streaming functionalities will enable interaction between 5G broadcast and unicast together with overlaying services. As a result, the 5G-MAG Reference Tools further enhance the 5G media ecosystem and serve as foundation for validation, verification, demonstration, trials, and even commercial services. Moreover, the current Linux-based implementation of the 5G-MAG Reference Tools will be extended to support a multitude of devices such as smartphones, set-top boxes, car entertainment systems, wearables, and other Android-based platforms.