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Lag’s a drag: enabling a more extreme streaming experience

Real-time video streaming is a fundamental building block for a wide range of 5G use cases, from cloud gaming to XR and robotics. However, if the forecasted skyrocketing demands are not managed, severe network congestion could occur – resulting in significant degradation of the user experience. This could become a showstopper for scaling up use cases. To overcome this challenge, Ericsson ONE intrapreneurs are harnessing the power of 5G technology to create a cutting-edge streaming solution that can handle 'X-Stream' conditions and unlock novel use cases for communication service providers (CSPs). 

 

In one sentence, what is this new solution?

X-Stream is a 5G network-native real-time video streaming platform that enables a wide range of advanced 5G applications. 

 

Streaming technology: on overview

In the past, telecommunication networks were primarily designed to support voice communication and best-effort internet service. However, the emergence of 5G technology has brought about a significant shift in technological requirements, enabling new use cases such as cloud gaming, web XR, enterprise AR, remote-controlled robotics, and surveillance. These applications share a common need for consistent real-time (low latency) video delivery. Such delivery can occur either from the cloud to the device (for example, in cloud gaming where advanced graphics rendering is offloaded to the edge), from the device to the cloud (as is the case with remote-controlled robotics that stream real-time device video feeds to the control center), or both (as seen in XR with rendering and spatial computing on the edge). 

These applications impose significant demands, necessitating high throughput and low latency performance in mobile networks simultaneously. Enhancing the network's capabilities to accommodate these applications will empower CSPs to enhance user experiences, unlock new use cases and seize monetization opportunities. 

 

What challenges are you trying to solve through your X-Stream?

Mobile networks have bounded capacities determined by the spectrum allocated to the specific mobile operator, the actual radio conditions and the number of mobile devices in a specific cell. This often results in fluctuating throughput for typical users. However, buffering can generally handle these fluctuations for applications such as web browsing, video on demand (e.g., YouTube, Netflix), and to some extent even for video conferencing. 

However, buffering introduces significant latency that cannot be tolerated by interactive applications like cloud gaming, XR, and remote control. These applications require latency to be kept within the tens of millisecond range, with consistent delivery even on a large scale with thousands of simultaneous application sessions in a given area. 

As the demand for real-time video streaming continues to grow, analysts predict that it will exceed the network capacity buildout by a large margin. Without addressing this challenge, severe network congestion or limited adoption of applications is anticipated. That's why our team has devised a solution that can more effectively support real-time video streaming for advanced 5G applications. 

In short, the challenge we are tackling is the lack of application awareness within mobile networks. 

Challenges

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Current networks have a limited understanding and control over the end user experience. The network requirements of various applications, such as cloud gaming, XR, and remote control, can vary significantly and change continuously. Consequently, in congested scenarios, certain applications waste network resources while others remain underserved. 

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The absence of a central intelligence system for making traffic prioritization decisions based on user experience prevents CSPs from optimizing network utilization and attaining pre-defined application-specific service levels. 

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There is no application-level utilization of network radio conditions information. As a consequence, users with poor reception, such as those on the cell edge, disproportionately consume radio resources, leading to a reduction in the overall end-user experience for other users. 

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There is also the challenge of ecosystem adoption. While we already have the necessary network enablers, such as the quality of service (QoS) framework, network analytics and traffic routing, to address the aforementioned challenges, some CSPs are hesitant to directly expose these capabilities to the ecosystem. This reluctance leads to fragmentation. Furthermore, even when these capabilities are available, they are not straightforward for app developers to adopt. 

How can your solution solve these challenges?

Addressing low-latency, real-time video streaming is not a trivial problem; it is a well-defined issue that affects a wide range of applications. To tackle this, we introduce a network-native real-time video streaming service built on top of the 5G infrastructure. This service is provided as easy-to-use APIs accessible to the ecosystem. 

The X-Stream streaming stack combines essential 5G network enablers, including the RAN QoS framework, network analytics, and traffic routing, with video streaming pipeline control points. These control points incorporate delivered video key performance indicators (KPIs) and video rate control, implementing a closed control loop. This integration enables consistent, low-latency video streaming for applications that cannot rely on extensive video buffering as an option. 

 

With this stack:  

  1. The mobile network can monitor how each and every stream is performing with given network and radio conditions and perform granular, central control to optimize end-user experience in real-time on the network level. 
  2. The mobile operator can provide a high value add service for the ecosystem enabling advanced 5G applications without directly exposing sensitive network information and control. 
  3. The ecosystem gets an easy to understand and adopt 5G building block. The discussion gets shifted from megabits, traffic priorities and network KPIs to resolution, frame rate and video quality. The proposition also includes integrations with the leading application platforms for seamless developer experience. 

 

What’s the current status of the project and what are the next steps? 

We have already commenced engagements with a leading North American mobile operator, as well as other ecosystem players, focusing on XR, cloud gaming, and remote-controlled use cases. Interest in this type of solution is rapidly growing alongside the awareness of the limitations of traditional implementation approaches. We are working together to quantify the benefits, identify the right go-to-market strategy, and prioritize the initial segments to target. 

 

How will the ecosystem utilize the solution? 

The utilization will depend on the ecosystem player. To cater to individual developers, we will provide use case-specific and ecosystem-specific video streaming software development kits (SDKs) to streamline the developer experience. These SDKs will be accessible through the Vonage portal or the dedicated channel of the ecosystem, such as an API marketplace. Developers will have the flexibility to select the appropriate video streaming settings (resolution, frame rate, quality, latency, availability, etc.) for their applications and use the SDK for development purposes. 

Additionally, we will offer integration points for leading cloud application platforms. In this scenario, the app platform vendor will integrate our service into their native developer experience, enabling a 5G-enabled platform capability for their developers. This integration will provide a seamless and enhanced development experience within the platform. 

 

What are the main benefits of developing the project within Ericsson ONE? 

We believe that empowering small teams to accomplish big tasks is more effective than relying on a large army that can get bogged down by different frameworks and procedures. That's why the Ericsson ONE concept works so well. With Ericsson ONE, you can work as a small team to try new approaches, fail fast, and quickly iterate to achieve your goals. Our agile approach enables us to avoid confidently marching in the wrong direction and achieve impact even as a small team. 

In addition, creating your own solutions within a larger company allows us to transfer valuable insights and learnings back to our relevant Solution Areas. It's incredible to see the impact a small team can have when given the autonomy to pursue creative solutions. Ericsson ONE gives us the ability to perform on par with the most aggressive startups. We share the same mentality of "let's go out there and see if we can make a market" and strive to develop solutions that make sense and quickly get them to the MVP stage. This approach is reminiscent of the entrepreneurial spirit found in Silicon Valley, which has propelled it to become the innovation hub it is today. Our aim is to create and implement fresh and innovative ideas, ensuring that we get our solution to the market before any other startup can come up with a similar idea. 

  

Reflections on the project

Jonathan Lynam headshot

Jonathan Lynam

Engineer V—Research GFTL ER Networks PN, Santa Clara 

“I want to inspire those who have taken a different educational path. Although I didn't attend college, my career path has proven that hard work can lead to great opportunities. All you have to do is show interest in a job, start doing it, and fully commit to it. Nowadays, I manage a team of five to six PhD students, and I have to say that Ericsson has been amazing to me. They value skills and hard work over educational background, which I appreciate immensely. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Ericsson. For others who are in a similar situation to me in the past, I believe Ericsson is a good place for them.” 

László Szilágyi headshot

László Szilágyi

Director, Product Management, North America Chief Technology Office

“I hold a master's degree in electrical engineering with a specialization in embedded systems and digital signal processing. Throughout my career, I have gained comprehensive experience across the entire application stack, including cloud platforms and AI algorithms. I have worked in various roles, starting as a software engineer and transitioning to system engineering, strategy, and product management. Currently, my focus lies in enabling next-generation advanced 5G use cases, encompassing both technological advancements and commercialization strategies. It is crucial for us to engage and collaborate with leading ecosystem players, such as hyperscale cloud and media platforms, to successfully bring our propositions to fruition. Being based in Silicon Valley provides significant advantages in this regard.”