In the never-ending search for elusive new sources of mobile revenue, one operator hopes to sniff out opportunities in the media industry.

Vodafone was back at its testbed at the University of Coventry on Thursday to cut the ribbon on what it claims is the UK’s first 5G standalone (5G SA) Media Innovation Lab. The telco has invited broadcasters and other media companies, as well as software developers, to use the lab to develop new 5G use cases in collaboration with Voda’s engineers and the university’s researchers.

“Finding 5G SA uses for the media makes perfect sense as the technology is well suited to this sector. It enables faster speeds, less latency (buffering) and is more reliable and secure. This makes it ideal for media – who create digitally dense content at high volume,” said Danny Kelly, head of innovation at Vodafone Business UK, in a statement.

Kelly said 5G can come in especially handy “in locations that are isolated or at large scale events where the public network is crowded,” which is interesting because Vodafone recently struck a deal to become official connectivity partner of Glastonbury Festival, taking over from EE. Perhaps Voda is preparing to show off some media-related 5G SA use cases, not that anyone who attends Glastonbury goes to twiddle with the latest tech (and even if they did, they might not remember much about it afterwards).

Anyway, Vodafone thinks media cos will be particularly keen to see what network slicing can do for them.

“Firstly, a minimum upload speed threshold can be set to guarantee content is uploaded quickly and reliably for live streaming. Secondly, it removes the risk of network congestion impacting performance,” Vodafone explained. “This is particularly relevant for mass events such as sports, demonstrations or festivals and live content contribution in isolated locations.”

Flaunting the benefits of 5G SA to broadcasters is all part of the telco industry’s concerted effort to do more than just enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) with their 5G networks. The technology is years into deployment, but operators have still not delivered on the hype. 5G standalone, with its cloud-native architecture, unlocks more advanced network functions like slicing, for example, which could one day pave the way for telcos to actually tap into fresh sources of revenue.

Vodafone has been working on 5G SA with Coventry University since 2020, when it switched on a test network at the university’s campus. One of the first use cases allowed medical students to take a virtual tour of the human body. Vodafone followed up in June 2021 with commercial 5G SA pilots in London, Manchester and Cardiff. In January of this year, it expanded the trial to select customers in  Liverpool, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow, and Birmingham.

“We are delighted that we have been able to extend our collaboration with Vodafone following the development of the standalone 5G network that has been so successfully used by our healthcare students,” said professor John Latham CBE, vice chancellor of Coventry University. “This new project will expand our work with Vodafone into the media arena and we are excited to see how our experts can work with the broadcasting industry on how this technology can be put to use.”

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