5G – the future for radio?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

If there’s one thing being talked about a lot over the last year or so, it’s 5G. It’s a new technology for mobile broadband.

5G is interesting to large public broadcasters because, I think, it’s the only platform that can deliver everything that they produce: radio, TV and online; both live and on-demand. So, for a public service broadcaster, it’s an important thing to be experimenting with.

But what’s the deal with 5G?

At its heart, it’s a fast internet connection that can replace 3G and 4G for mobile phones, but it has much higher capacity and could also, potentially, replace broadband connections at home as well.

It has one thing in it that could potentially be useful for broadcasters: 5G Broadcast. If you have a thousand people listening to your live radio station online, that normally means a thousand connections to your streaming server, and a thousand sets of audio data being sent over the internet. With 5G Broadcast, it means just one: because it uses broadcast technology to get your signal to your audience. That makes it more resilient, and better for the network.

4G has this too. The difference with 5G is that shared 5G Broadcast can be run by the broadcaster, rather than by each network operator: because unlike now, 5G Broadcast doesn’t need a SIM card, and different mobile phone customers can connect to it.

And it works for radio and for TV.

There have also been tests to move people from a normal internet stream to a 5G Broadcast stream automatically. So if the football match comes on, and everyone wants to watch it, the network could automatically switch from a normal internet stream over to 5G Broadcast, to make for a better experience.

It could theoretically replace a network of radio or TV transmitters. It could replace satellite TV broadcasting, or cable networks.



So from a technology point of view, it’s quite interesting for larger broadcasters.

However, in reality: the spectrum has already been sold to the mobile companies. They would want to charge broadcasters for access to it. If 5G Broadcast uses 10% of the available spectrum, let’s say, then that’s effectively 10% of the mobile companies’ income that needs to be passed on to the broadcasters as costs. And the costs of installing the tens of thousands of base stations to make all this work.

5G Broadcast is also not built into 5G phones as standard. So mobile operators would need to get the phone manufacturers to do that. Their charging structure is based on data usage, so it’s difficult to understand why they would want to put something into mobile phones that reduces the amount of money they can make from selling data.

And the advance that 5G Broadcast gives is limited to live broadcasting. It doesn’t offer anything extra for on-demand other than a connection with bigger capacity.

So is 5G the future?

From a technology standpoint, it is clearly exciting. But in the real world, it seems to me that there are many questions that we don’t yet have the answer to. Broadcasters already have a great way of reaching audiences through internet, FM or DAB+; and unlike 5G, our use of the normal, public internet offers benefits for everyone, whatever technology they use.

So my suggestion is to keep watching 5G, but focus on our existing broadcast infrastructure. FM works great for many; and DAB+ offers an exciting future.


About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.