Smartphones have gained popularity as video players over the past decade, but movie theaters have been adapting to the times, and their next evolutionary step could see big and little screens sharing the same streaming technology: 5G. In a partnership with Norwegian cellular carrier Telia, Odeon is now operating the world’s first 5G movie theater, displaying films that have been transferred over a live 5G network.

Though Telia originally announced the initiative last December with the launch of a 5G test network at the Odeon Cinema Center in Oslo, the companies took until this year to use 5G in displaying films — again, a test, but one that shows how the next-generation cellular technology will supplant both 4G and some wired broadband service. As Odeon told ZDNet, the theater has found that livestreaming of theatrical films “works excellently” over 5G, though Odeon is largely using 5G to transfer the films to its own servers for repeated playback.

The distinction is critically important as it demonstrates that responsive, high-bandwidth 5G wireless could be a viable alternative to local storage, even in commercial settings where buffering or audiovisual degradation would be problems for hundreds of viewers at once. While 4G LTE networks may struggle to maintain fluid 720p video streams, theatrical films typically run at 4K or greater resolutions with far less compression.

Livestreaming 4K or higher-quality video at respectable frame rates is incredibly bandwidth-intensive, but Telia’s 5G network is up to the task. In its Odeon tests, Telia is achieving 2.2Gbps speeds, between 5 and 20 times the bandwidth of typical consumer 4G networks, and faster than the theater’s wired internet lines. That’s enough to let the cinema’s 5G hardware address its own downloading needs, as well as offering guest Wi-Fi access inside the building.


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There are also positive implications for the speed of video distribution. In the past, theaters received physical reels of film that needed to be manually loaded into projectors for viewing, then rewound for subsequent playback, a process that was more recently replaced by less time- and space-consuming digital film distribution. With 5G, distribution can be instantaneous: Telia’s and Odeon’s observed 7-8 millisecond network response times are around one-fifth of 4G’s latency, which could allow theatergoers to participate in real time with live concerts or other events broadcast from remote locations.

While enterprise-scale 5G applications are expected to become more important and numerous over time, the new cellular technology will likely first become known for its consumer impacts, including high-speed broadband service. Verizon and AT&T are already offering up to 1Gbps home and up to 1.5Gbps mobile 5G solutions, respectively, while 5G modem makers have seen peak speeds in the 5Gbps range. Beyond videos, that bandwidth is expected to power holographic, VR, and AR devices using streamed rather than locally processed 3D content.

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