Mobiles: ready to move on to the fifth?

From the first mobile phone using analog networks to the future 5G, the evolution in mobile telephony standards is the story of epic innovations. Back to the future.

Nowadays, leaving for a weekend in the countryside deliberately forgetting your smartphone is almost a personal challenge, a desire to find your limit of apnea. But about 20 years ago, it was the reverse. It was the era of 2G, which soon followed the very first mobiles. They used analog technology – in France, it was Radiocom 2000 – and few of us had them. Then 2G arrived with the success that we all know about, along with a miniaturized mobile used to… phone and send text messages.

As yet the mobiles of the 90s had no Internet access. The “www” had just appeared on desktop computers. The first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) standards had bit rates of 9.6 kb / s. Very slow! Then the GPRS (General Packet Radio System) standard rapidly increased bit rates until the EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) standard reached as much as 150 kb / s.

Cars, hospitals, home automation, stadiums…

In 2001 3G came with the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) format which reached up to 384 kb / s. Then it was the 3G + and the era of bit rates in Mb / s. Steve Jobs, the emblematic Apple boss, was able to rub his hands together in developing the iPhone, which surfed this explosion of transmission capacity. Closer to home, 4G, along with the LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard, multiplied the mobile bit rates by ten compared to 3G + to reach speeds of several tens of mb / s.

And soon there will be 5G, announced for 2020. The speed of connection will be multiplied by 30 compared to the current 4G standard. At least 100 times more, predict the most optimistic people. But does this speed make sense? Will it really be useful?


That’s a very good question,” says Eric Hardouin, director of connectivity research at Orange. “If you take all the successive generations of mobiles, every time people wondered what we were going to do with all the speed. But experience has shown us that, whatever the technology, there are always applications that will use the available bit rates in order to offer new services. We already have some services that will benefit from higher bit rates, including high-resolution video, 4K and 8K. On a smartphone screen, at the moment these are useless. However, with a virtual reality headset and augmented reality, the case for use is more interesting.”

In practice 5G will make it possible to download movies in just a few seconds. It will connect sensors of all kinds, for health, smart cities or agriculture, will enable autonomous cars to communicate with each other and optimize road traffic, revolutionize video games and virtual reality, and transform the spectator experience in stadiums and concert halls. “One day we will probably see through the eyes of the players,” imagines Éric Hardouin.

The digital revolution, so dependent on connection speeds, has only just begun.

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Live streaming has become increasingly widespread. With the addition of 5G, this service can be dramatically improved at all levels, including image quality, download times, interruptions and lag. Faced with today’s generations’ enthusiasm for live feeds, researchers are now working to adapt live streaming TV so it can be done on the go. The Goal: Lag-Free Live Streams Getting closer to what’s happening live is one of the main challenges in the field of live streaming. Yet, streaming over the Internet using Wi-Fi or 4G still results in a lag of 30, 40 or even 50 seconds on tablets or smartphones. This lag will particularly hit home for any soccer fans who have ever heard their neighbor watching TV and cheering for a goal they haven’t seen yet. It also affects participants in time-limited interactive TV game shows and televised broadcasts by figures of authority in relation to announcements, alerts or disasters, for example. Ensuring service continuity, particularly when faced with high demand, is another challenge of live streaming. At Orange Innovation, researchers are therefore thinking about how they can make improvements in the field of TV streaming on the go, using a combination of 5G, video streaming technologies (multicast, low latency), network bandwidth allocation (network slicing) and edge computing. Their work has primarily focused on mutualizing streams; a key way of saving bandwidth. Dominique Thômé, Product Manager Innovation Data TV, explains that “Unlike unicast technology, which broadcasts streams as many times as there are simultaneous connections, multicast should allow a single stream to be broadcast to thousands of people connected to a large 5G zone. This mutualization prevents bandwidth loss and, consequently, service interruptions from network congestion. Another advantage, which is of great importance to Orange, is that it consumes less energy and therefore contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recognizing the Know-How of Carriers Experiments carried out in the Orange laboratory have yielded interesting results. A real-time readjustment of video quality to prevent network saturation resulted in each customer being able to watch TV with only five seconds of lag, confirming the feasibility of 5G live streaming on the go. In fact, faced with ever-increasing volumes, some broadcasters are beginning to turn to carriers to broadcast their TV streams. They need players that are able to transmit this huge amount of data while ensuring optimal quality, in order to avoid any latency problems. Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Innovation for Interactive & Multiscreen Services at Orange says that “Our pioneering approach toward 5G live streaming highlights the valuable role that network carriers play, right at the heart of the system, compared to OTT players (“over the top,” such as the Tech Giants), both in terms of technology and business. We will be able to get involved in data transmission, with optimal mutualization technology that will save money and energy.” These technologies are consistent with Orange’s CSR commitment, both in terms of carbon footprint (lower energy consumption) and inclusion (broadcasting the right information at the right time). More than Just Entertainment The challenge goes far beyond the traditional TV broadcasting market itself. In the context of the health crisis, brands have been quick to understand the value of live streams to generate sales and are starting to venture into “Live Shopping.” Originating from China, this large-scale approach to teleshopping consists of an online event where presenters, influencers or personalities showcase products live to a digital audience who are able to order products or ask questions. Live Shopping is attracting more and more brands around the world. “With hundreds of thousands of people connected at the same time, its large scale will certainly create capacity issues” says Thômé. “This is another case where mutualization will ensure quality of service.”

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