LTE broadcast – migrating to a multimedia world
LTE broadcast, or “LTE multicast”, is a solution that aims to address video content delivery problems faced by operators, allowing a more efficient use of network resources.
When a large number of people are gathered in one spot, such as sports events or concerts, there is a big increase in demand for premium content, and mobile network operators can often struggle to maintain a high level of service.
LTE broadcast allows operators to handle these spikes in mobile usage and can deliver popular content using one single stream of data to large masses of users in venues and specific areas at the same time. The technology allows an unlimited number of smartphone users in one location to access video content in high quality at the same time – without affecting the operator’s bandwidth and without placing additional load on the network.
How does LTE broadcast work?
LTE broadcast replaces unicast content delivery with a single-stream network broadcast mode through an evolved multimedia broadcast multicast service (eMBMS). In most cases, a user requests access to content, which is then sent to the consumer using one chunk of bandwidth.
If two people are watching the same stream, they get two separate transmissions which uses double the bandwidth of a single stream. If too many users request the same content, the LTE network can get overwhelmed.
LTE broadcast sends the same content to a large number of users at the same time, rather than having the same content unicast to each user. The technology sets up a single feed that multiple users could tune into simultaneously, instead of having to individually distribute exclusive streams for individual users.
Where are LTE broadcast services being deployed?
In January this year, South Korean operator KT announced the launch of its LTE broadcast service for customers using the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 device. The service is named Olleh LTE Play and it allows devices to run applications like mobile TV and radio broadcast with minimal delays and disconnection rates.
Australia’s Telstra, together with Swedish vendor Ericsson, also trialled the technology at the Melbourne cricket ground during a cricket match at the end of January this year. The trial consisted of three live video streams delivered to a series of LTE broadcast-enabled smartphones, allowing participants to browse between live commentary, highlights and statistics of the match that was being played before them.
Telstra estimated that the entire broadcast used a total of 6GB of bandwidth for the three live streams, rather than 2GB of bandwidth per channel for each connected user.
Verizon in the US also demonstrated the technology at Super Bowl XLVIII in February. The US operator announced in January this year that it has partnered with the National Football League (NFL) to launch an OTT video network called NFL Now. The service is expected to be launched this summer and will be accessible to internet-connected devices and to Verizon Wireless subscribers through its LTE broadcast platform.
In Europe, Vodafone Germany conducted a live test of LTE broadcast with Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung, in February this year. The company now claims to be the first European carrier to trial the new technology, which took place in Borussia Mönchengladbach’s football stadium in Germany.
Also in February this year, Etisalat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ericsson, which will see Etisalat launch trials of Ericsson technologies, including LTE Broadcast.
How will LTE broadcast services evolve in the market?
Operators are expecting LTE broadcast to create opportunities and drive new revenue streams for video services over LTE. Possible business opportunities for operators to monetise networks include the ability to sell content for hour-long time slots or pay-per-view events at sporting events, like the soccer World Cup or the Olympics.
However, experts have commented that the right ecosystem has to be developed. The technology requires new chipsets and software in devices and it could take some time before handsets with the right technology are proliferated in the market.
“LTE broadcast provides a great opportunity for mobile operators to drive new revenue streams for premium entertainment video services over LTE and meet increasing consumer demand for exceptional-quality video experience,” said Hakan Eriksson, head of Ericsson Australia and New Zealand.