While 5G is often heralded as a communications panacea, a European Broadcasting Union study suggests that 5G networks are unikely to reach meaningful coverage before 2030. The alliance of public service media organisations concludes that 5G networks are not going to replace existing broadcasting infrastructures, although they could become complementary.

An EBU Technical Review by Marcello Lombardo on a Cost Analysis of Orchestrated 5G Networks for Broadcasting forecasts a fully operative 5G service in 2030.

In this timeframe, it considers one scenario in which digital terrestrial television is phased out in favour of 5G and another in which the orchestration of multiple delivery networks is enabled by 5G.

The report envisages that the use of multiple networks would provide greater coverage, make more efficient use of spectrum, and deliver benefits for operators and audiences.

Notably, the study suggests that coverage of 20% of the population living in rural areas costs about half the entire running cost of the network for the whole country.

However, the study only considers 5G networks for unicast delivery, dismissing eMBMS multicast by noting that “mobile broadcasting mode has never significantly been fully deployed on a large enough scale to be considered as a viable alternative”.

Consequently, the report concludes that exclusively using a 5G network to deliver television would cost 60 times more per person than a traditional digital terrestrial television transmission network.

While 5G this would permit viewing on mobile devices, the extent to which such usage will increase is currently uncertain.

The report proposes that a mixed network architecture permits better spectrum efficiency, lowers overall network costs and provides greater flexibility.

The study concludes that broadcasters should be engaged with the 5G ecosystem to ensure that traditional broadcast platforms are considered and included in the network orchestration that 5G will permit.

For media distribution at scale, the EBU believes that 5G networks are not going to replace existing broadcasting infrastructures. Cost, likely deployment timelines, coverage issues, capacity limits, and current business models simply do not make for a strong case in support of such a scenario.

The EBU is investigating ways of integrating broadcast capabilities and orchestrating diverse kinds of infrastructures for a seamless user experience. It warns that there is no guarantee that such technologies will feature as part of the technical standards, or that business models can be found to meet the requirements of all stakeholders.

While there are many good strategic reasons for broadcasters to get involved, collaborate and inform innovation in the 5G space, the EBU says it is important to temper expectations.