One day after noting that it had won roughly 50 percent of the world’s 5G contracts, leading network hardware maker Ericsson announced a partnership with the South Korean government to show how 5G’s low latency capabilities will transform communications. To appeal to a wide swath of consumers, their collaboration is a live performance of Pharrell Williams’ hit song Happy, as covered by Korean indie band 24Hours.
While the concept of showing off 5G speeds isn’t new, the video’s methodology is impressive. Early demos of 5G’s low latency — or rapid responsiveness — focused on dry industrial applications, such as keeping multiple silver platters in sync. Verizon recently tried to use athletic demo videos to imply low latency, but the difference couldn’t actually be seen by viewers. Ericsson’s demo makes a clearer case, using geographically separated musicians to show how 5G can let them achieve “perfect sync,” versus stuttered performance over older LTE networks.
The video shows four members of 24Hours collaborating in pairs. Each pair is separated by “hundreds of kilometers” but using an HD video feed to perform together. Using Ericsson millimeter wave wireless gear, the video starts with a 1.5Gbps 5G connection with 7 millisecond latency and zero compression/decompression time. It then flips to a 20Mbps LTE connection with 25 millisecond latency and 800 milliseconds of compression/decompression time.
Not surprisingly, the slower and lower-bandwidth LTE stream desynchronizes one pair’s guitar and drum performance versus the other pair’s vocals and guitars, audibly wrecking the song. As video producers oversee the performance, an attempt at simultaneous video recording shows desynchronized frames, as well.
It’s worth underscoring that Ericsson’s demo is far less aggressive in simulating “real-world” conditions than it could have been. Tests of 5G have achieved sub-2-millisecond latency with 2 or 3 times the bandwidth, while LTE’s average connection speed worldwide is in the 16Mbps range, less than the 20Mbps figure in the demo. In other words, an actual performance of this sort using LTE would likely be worse, while 5G could well be even better.
In the real world, 5G’s low latency will have a wide variety of applications: The technology is expected to enable autonomous cars to precisely synchronize their movements, expert surgeons to operate on remote patients, and wireless factories to dynamically adjust their production lines based on minute-to-minute needs. For average users, web pages will load instantly on demand, games will become completely responsive, and streaming VR videos will dynamically adjust to quick movements.