China's 5G newcomer pins its hopes on untried mobile broadcast

China's 5G newcomer, China Broadcast Network Corp (CBN), is pinning its hopes on the so far-untested 5G broadcast standard.

CBN, an amalgamation of local cable TV companies and new investors Alibaba and State Grid, has a 5G license, 700MHz spectrum and a network sharing partnership with China Mobile. (See China's CBN gets Alibaba backing in $14.7B restructure.)

But it faces the unenviable task of competing as a greenfield player against three of the world's biggest telcos. Between them, the operators have deployed 700,000 basestations and clocked up 180 million 5G subscribers. CBN won't get started until some time next year. (See China's newest telco starts up.)

Zeng Qingjun, a CBN vice president, says it believes it can build its business around 5G broadcast, a one-to-many signal that can send media content to the handset without causing congestion in the RAN or incurring data charges.

It also leverages one of CBN's strengths – its huge library of TV content that the mobile operators lack.

The specifications for 5G broadcast have been laid down in the last three 3GPP releases, but a recent study by the European Broadcast Union says this is just the start.

It said 5G "may be able to meet the distribution requirements" of broadcasters through a combination of 5G mobile broadband and broadcast.

This would require collaboration across the media value chain but so far media companies had made little progress in building out use cases.

At this stage "it is not possible to identify a reliable timeline" for the commercial availability of 5G broadcast features, the report concluded.

Some China commentators are recalling CMBB, the mobile industry's unsuccessful effort to build a broadcast technology for 3G, which foundered because of the technology limits and lack of a business case.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

Zeng said CBN is making progress, with 5G broadcast trials with Huawei and other vendors completed in October.

He said CBN acknowledges it has to work with chip and hardware manufacturers to drive integration between media and mobile communications.

But he said already more than 20 smartphones and around a dozen CPE products had been approved for network access.

The operator says 5G broadcast can also be deployed in other verticals, including public safety, emergency communications, IoT and connected vehicles.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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