After years of planning and discussion, tech companies have finally released 5G networks in select spots within the United States. With that technology comes a lot of promise, and plenty of experts are excited about what the future holds, in particular for 5G audio.

Sending an audio signal over internet connections (AoIP) could get much easier and more efficient when those packets of data move at much faster speeds. We'll unpack what AoIP means for future installations, and outline how some people think new 5G audio technology can be used.

Why Does 5G Matter?

There are plenty of reasons to get excited about AoIP, even when it's running on a (relatively) slow network. You'll need fewer cables and breakers, and it's easy for the technology to scale to meet future needs. But adding a 5G network could be just what come companies need to take the plunge into this new form of audio.

Consider the owner of a stadium or amphitheater. When all the seats are filled, and everyone is looking at a glowing screen, a 4G network can slow to a crawl.

"5G has the potential to provide 20X faster data speeds and carry a massive amount of data for a large number of simultaneous users. So users in high-density areas—like airports, stadiums, or urban areas—can still experience the fast speeds and low latency of 5G service," says the team at Let's 5G, a Verizon-led advocacy group.

Moving to 5G could shift the experience for these consumers. But it could also make AoIP more stable. The system can handle the big data load without crashing or slowing, and that could make audio capture much more reliable and secure. The difference is pronounced. "4G can support about 4,000 devices per square kilometer, whereas 5G will support around one million," says technology journalist Heidi Vella.

Clients worried about crashes might be reassured to see just how robust the 5G system really is, and that could encourage them to take the technology leap.

5G and Sound Quality

Just as companies are concerned about stability, they may also have concerns about sound quality. 5G has advantages here too. Roger Cheng, executive editor of CNET News, explains that 5G reduces sound latency. On current networks, listeners can deal with latencies of about 20 milliseconds. A switch to 5G can mean cutting that to about 1 millisecond.

Cutting latency can mean fewer moments of radio silence during a broadcast. The reduction can also ensure that sounds synch with images, as there won't be delays interfering with the action.

"Being able to take one feed from your console and take it all the way into the transmitter without ever leaving the AoIP world means no conversions take place. There are no chances for sample rate issues. For every box you had to go through in the past, you added delay because every box needs to reclock the signal," says Aaron Farnham, chief engineer at Bonneville International speaking to Radio World.

A jump to a 5G network can mean staying within the AoIP network, without sacrificing quality or control. 


Will Costs Increase?

As much as companies want to spring for the latest technology, they may worry about associated costs. While companies will have to invest in infrastructure to use 5G AoIP, there is good reason to be optimistic about price.

For example, carriers may not have increased costs to pass to consumers. "In addition to providing consumers with faster connections, the 5G networks also increase capacity for the carriers, making it less expensive for them to supply data over the airwaves," says Aaron Pressman, senior writer with Fortune Magazine.

Of course, just because carriers won't necessarily have higher costs doesn't mean they won't charge consumers more. That's always an option. But there is the potential that customers joining 5G networks won't see a bigger bill in response.

An added benefit companies facing a remodel when switching to AoIP might be that space could be put to a different use. "Rack rooms can be smaller and require less cooling and conditioned power, yet accomplish more per square foot. There is even the potential for pieces of the station's infrastructure to actually locate in the cloud — very attractive for larger group broadcasters that share common systems amongst all their network or affiliate stations," explains Marty Sacks, vice president of sales, support and marketing at The Telos Alliance.

These savings may not completely offset construction costs. But they could take the bite out of budgeting for some companies.

Potential Use Case: Smart Speakers

We've discussed what 5G AoIP is, and outlined why it might appeal to cost-conscious clients. What might they use the technology for? Smart speakers are one interesting application.

Satish Meena, senior forecast analyst at Forrester Research, explains that there are relatively few smart speakers in use now. But, once the technology catches on and more consumers get connected, it could be a powerful advertising platform.

Smart speakers will rely on 5G speed. When consumers speak a command to an enabled speaker, they expect a quick response. That speed is possible with 5G. The technology could also allow more household items to connect with the web. This is often called the Internet of Things (or IoT).

"5G can provide hundredfold increases in traffic capacity over 4G, and this has truly transformative potential on the offer of extended connectivity for a wide range of uses and development of innovative IoT solutions," says Štěpán Húsek, partner in the consulting arm of Deloitte Central Europe.

Imagine if a consumer's microwave could speak out cooking instructions, or if a washing machine could call out necessary repairs. In the world of IoT, this is possible. And those messages could get sprinkled with ads.

It's likely the ads won't be simply audio-based. "Traditional non-interactive ad formats, including television, print, radio, and billboards, are becoming less and less effective as the audience changes," says Alex Hertel, cofounder and CEO of Xperiel. But if 5G networks allow for more responsive audio, perhaps paired with video, consumers could both learn from their devices and feel compelled to buy more.


Potential Use Case: Connected Cars

Smart speakers have been part of the driving experience for decades. Consumers who need roadside assistance can shout out for help, or consult maps built right into their consoles. 5G technology could allow for even more audio support.

Toyota experimented with this idea in Sweden. The company's ad had built-in statements including "Hey, Siri" that pushed driver's phones into a non-responsive mode that was safer for driving. "Toyota takes security very seriously, and this was an exciting way to use new technology and thus bring out an important message," said Jan Casserlöv, marketing and customer experience manager at Toyota Sweden.

AoIP could allow manufacturers to interface with the car directly and take over key functions, while explaining to the panicked driver what's happening and why. The technology could also keep drivers entertained as they motor down the road. "Think about NPR or any other content house, and think about how much more they could do with an audience in a vehicle that's moving but with no distraction. Those are the collaboration opportunities we are exploring," consultant and big data futurist John Ellis tells Radio World.

AoIP on a 5G network could allow drivers to interact with the stories they're hearing over their speakers or let them call in to broadcasts in real time. They could also use the tech for shopping, if the car is enabled with some type of voice-activated assistant like Siri or Cortana. Smart speakers will be “omnipotent,” predicts Dan McQuillin, managing director of Broadcast Bionics, “all the cars will have them.”

Potential Use Case: Public Safety

City managers, government officials and others tasked with the responsibility of keeping the public safe often need to push out an audio message quickly to as many people as possible. AoIP through 5G seems perfectly suited for this task.

For example, the technology could be used to help ease traffic problems. Real-time data about an accident or emergency response could help to reroute cars quickly, writes Chris Smith, vice president of technology at AT&T Public Sector. Similarly, if an earthquake or other natural disaster hit, pushing an audio message through a 5G network could help residents get to safety.

Potential Use Case: Sports  

Consumers expect immersion from their entertainment. Audio can play a key role, and AoIP could help to transform that outreach. "We expect the impact on the sports entertainment industry to be massive. It promises to revolutionize the entire game-day experience for fans," Vestberg says about adding 5G capabilities to sports stadiums.

Engineers could grab disparate audio sources from the field, including streams from headsets and grunts from the ground, and create a tapestry of sounds for consumers sitting thousands of miles away.

Developers are also looking for ways to make captured audio and visuals exclusive. "For the league, a next-gen network can allow fans a virtual VIP pass to the locker room for exclusive interviews with players and coaches—unlocking a host of new marketing and promotional opportunities," says Verizon.

Potential Use Case: Community Radio

While sports arena owners may have deep pockets to dip into, they're not the only broadcasters that might benefit from 5G networks. Even smaller shows with limited budgets and tech could appreciate the new opportunities.

Jim Hibbard, director of radio engineering for The Dan Patrick Show, says, "If a listener calls into the Milford studio and the audio level is not right, perhaps there's a delay, I can adjust for it quickly. I can run a network show from 3,000 miles away." His use of current AoIP technology allows him to manage a show from anywhere, even when his star is on the road, doing live interviews. If 5G networks become commonplace, decentralized stations could appear almost everywhere, with an explosion of content to follow.

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