Report: The killer app for next-gen 5G in the US? Video streaming

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More than three-quarters (78%) of US consumers say they expect to expand their mobile video streaming when next-gen 5G phones and services become available.

When asked to name which types of activities they are likely to increase due to the arrival of 5G, consumers ranked video streaming first, ahead of video calling, social media, mobile gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality, a new study from IHS Markit Digital Orbit showed.

The researcher said it expects the deployment of 5G – which has begun on a trial basis in numerous US cities – will help cause video usage to grow to account for 70 percent of mobile network traffic in 2022, up from 47 percent in 2015.

As you’d expect, interest was highest among younger consumers. Although in this case, “younger” means under 50, where 81% of survey respondents in that age range citing video streaming as the top activity for 5G.

“Consumers are expressing strong interest in video streaming both on smartphones and for home internet services, which are equally supported by 5G.” said Joshua Builta, senior principal analyst for IHS.

Operators adopting next-gen 5G broadly

During earnings calls last month, AT&T and Verizon both focused on 5G, their ongoing deployments and their expectations of what the new, super-fast delivery would mean for consumers.

Verizon currently offers its brand of next-gen 5G home service in areas of Houston, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles. It offers mobile 5G in Chicago and Minneapolis, Denver, Providence, St. Paul, Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis and Washington, DC. It plans to be in more than 30 cities by the end of 2019.

AT&T, meanwhile, has been even more aggressive. Its next-gen 5G mobile service already is available to a slice of its customers in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Waco, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, Fla., Louisville, New Orleans, Indianapolis, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. It plans to push out the groundwork necessary for 5G in some 400 markets by the end of this year.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint also are deploying 5G service, along with a handful of other wireless carriers.

As part of a deal to allow T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, satellite operator and pay-TV provider Dish Network made a huge push to close a deal to acquire assets from them that would help it become the fourth major wireless carrier in the US, and position it to jump wholeheartedly into the 5G battle. It’s goal: To reach 70% of the US population by 2023.

“These developments are the fulfillment of more than two decades’ worth of work and more than $21 billion in spectrum investments intended to transform Dish into a connectivity company,” Dish CEO Charlie Ergen said in July. “Taken together, these opportunities will set the stage for our entry as the nation’s fourth facilities-based wireless competitor and accelerate our work to launch the country’s first standalone 5G broadband network.”

Why 5G over 4G Internet?

5G wireless delivery could have a huge impact on the “connectivity industry.” Even at its theoretical minimum speeds 5G is faster than almost all current wired home connections and more than 10X as fast as 4G.

For delivery of live sports and events, next-gen 5G is expected to be able to stream huge files faster and with extremely low latencies. That means consumers could see the action from a football game, for example, even faster than it can be delivered through a traditional broadcast and significantly faster than it can over the Internet now.

5G Wi-Fi also will mean faster downloading, stutter-free streaming of massive files – UHD, VR and even 8K –improving user experiences in streaming, VR and playing games online.

For rural areas without high-speed Internet available because of poor infrastructure, 5G also is being seen as a game changer because of the ease – and lower expense – of expanding a network wirelessly, specifically the “final mile.”  

The 5G standard enables 4K on mobile platforms because of its increased capacity and speed. When coupled with the growing demand and supply of 4K UHD content, the proliferation of 5G will help drive mobile consumption of UHD content.

Home 5G promotes video streaming

IHS Markit, meanwhile, also found that US consumers are expressing intense interest in engaging in 5G video streaming via home internet access. 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) uses wireless mobile network technology to extend Internet access into homes.

Most consumers say they are attracted to 5G FWA by its faster speeds. The average speed of broadband connections in the US in 2018 was about 35 megabits per second. In contrast, 5G can theoretically operate at up to 1 gigabit per second, although initial deployments will be much slower.

Survey respondents cited streaming of video, both prerecorded and live, as the most compelling reason to upgrade home internet service. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents named video streaming as the chief motivation for upgrading to 5G in the home.

This phenomenon is not surprising as IHS Markit forecasts that global over-the-top (OTT) video subscriptions will pass the 1 billion mark in 2021, up from 620 million at the end of last year. In 2022, OTT video subscriptions will surpass pay-TV subscriptions.

The bottom line

Savvy content owners and broadcasters have looked to mobile delivery as a pillar of their consumer video strategy for the past few years. And, rightly so. Our Global Video Index has shown that mobile devices have steadily become the device of choice on which to stream video.

That’s not going to change as next-gen 5G devices, with faster speeds and more bandwidth that deliver an even better user experience begin to grab market share.

Be ahead of that curve by making certain your mobile play is as engaging as your big screen play because – in time – they’ll be the same thing.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn