• 07/31/2014
    7:00 AM
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LTE Broadcast On The Horizon

The technology, which allows cellular operators to multicast popular live TV and sporting events to multiple subscribers, is gaining traction.

LTE Broadcast -- also known as eMBMS -- is a way to dynamically address congestion, specifically in areas of high video traffic such as sports stadiums. While the technology is part of the 3G and 4G LTE standards, it has not been commercially exploited outside of Asia until now.

In the United States, the three main operators (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon) are interested in deploying the technology. In Europe, the British EE network (formerly Everything Everywhere) plans to launch the service later this year.

LTE Broadcast is a single-frequency network (SFN) in broadcast mode that is part of the series of 3GPP LTE standards known as evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS).

During the recent World Cup in Brazil, more viewers than ever before watched the games online, and I bet a whole lot of soccer fans were frustrated looking at buffer wheels spin and screens freeze when they tried to stream the games. The next World Cup, scheduled to take place in 2018 in Russia, will be mostly delivered by LTE Broadcast.

Cellular operators in the US and Europe are trying LTE Broadcast in what is now called "stadium scenario," because users inside a stadium typically consume a lot of the same feeds, in the same area, simultaneously during an event.

By deploying LTE Broadcast, cellular operators can manage network assets better by allowing multicast for popular content demanded by multiple subscribers, such as live TV and events. Operators also can utilize off-peak capacity to deliver new service offerings, such as rich media caching or managed software updates.

"Delivering video streams to hundreds of users in a cell site by using LTE Broadcast will utilize almost the same bandwidth as a single user with the same video quality. The guaranteed quality of experience can increase subscriber loyalty and deliver significant service differentiation compared with the competition," Ericsson claims in a whitepaper.  

In order to deploy LTE Broadcast efficiently, operators should start upgrading the capabilities of the base stations in stadiums and other large venues to support eMBMS, and then use new cells supporting LTE Broadcast in any new network expansion. The next step will be to upgrade/install microcells in large population areas.

With LTE Broadcast, cellular operators could continue to charge premium rates for premium content without saturating their networks, and guarantee quality. They also could have the ability to deliver content no matter how many people are watching a particular live event.

Another possible revenue opportunity is to offer pay-per-view for special events. For instance, if Verizon implements LTE Broadcast in the major US cities and makes a deal with the next Super Bowl broadcaster, including multiple in-venue channels in the University of Phoenix Stadium, the operator could offer its LTE subscribers a special pay-per-event package of $5, outside of their data plan allowance.

The next Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will probably attract over 80,000 attendees. LTE Broadcast will be used to deliver some of the keynotes and important conferences. I’m sure many operators will be watching closely to see how effective the technology is.



Pablo, do you see any potential challenges or obstacles to getting LTE deployed?

Re: challenges?

Marcia, I believe LTE Broadcast is a Win-Win technology both for operators and users.

For operators it is an easy upgrade of their LTE networks, for consumers it is a way to get great performance when sctreaming content during events.

Most of the LTE  smartphones and tablets released in past 12 months are already compatible with the technology and all the new models should be prepared.

One obstacle could be pricing. Some users won't be happy if operators want to charge the same for content delivered by multicast. But, if used correctly, the technology could relieve the network of so many connections in one location and improve user experience.

Re: challenges?

I see, thanks Pablo. I can imagine pricing being an issue since operators usually always find a way to charge a premium it seems.

Re: challenges?

And with more and more millennial's cutting the cable cord there needs to be an alternative to broadcast TV and or cable TV.  The ripple effect will be interesting to watch.  Historically I had been concerned that the content would be lost but as we have seen premium cable TV providers, content delivery networks (Netflix) have found ways to get their own original content out there and doing well.

Re: challenges?

I've come across information in the past basically stating that verizon won't build more capacity unless there is more demand in the marketplace. 

I believe "demand" is just a euphemism for more money from consumers.  Although they were talking about more capacity through additional cell towers, I think that multicast would also fit the bill.  Verizon is already the most expensive of the big three and I would be surprised if they managed to raise their prices even higher.

Re: challenges?

@AbeG: That's sort of a Catch-22, huh?  New technology creates more demand, but the new technology doesn't get widely deployed because carriers want to see the "demand" first.

Big economic difference between what you're actually selling/using and what the real demand is.

Re: challenges?

Abe, that is true for most cellular operators.

But LTE Broadcast requires only a small investment over exsisting LTE cells. The biggest investment will be on stadiums and conference venues, but it could be very profitable.

Fran Shammo - Verizon CFO said at Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference "...if everybody in this room was too watch the same video today, we probably would bring down the cell site because there wouldn't be enough channels in that cell site to deliver that same video to everybody. With multicast, it is one channel and one cell site and you can all watch the same video on that one channel. And that is the ability of what multicast can bring."

And Verizon and others can use one channel but charge every user for the data consumed.

Re: challenges?

@Marcia: There are also the typical technological challenges, I imagine -- such as when weather can sometimes make 4G coverage spotty and whatnot (which just happened to me last week during a series of rain/thunderstorms ).  In spots where the coverage is SUPER fast when the skies are clear, streaming media has been pretty much impossible for me sometimes in bad weather.

Cutting the cords!

This is fantastic news!  I've been considering cutting my Broadband entirely and going all 4G.  This is certainly a huge incentive (considering I cut cable TV years ago).

Re: Cutting the cords!

Joe, I wouldn't cut the broadband cable just yet. LTE and 3G are saturated in most metropolitan areas and there are many factors that affect performance.

Here in Barcelona we suffer slow cellular at the city center and around the main tourist spots because of the amount of devices connected to few cells.

FTTH is being deployed everywhere in the city now, I'm getting 200/200 mbps next week.

Re: Cutting the cords!

@Pablo: 200/200?  Sweet.  Here I am stuck with "15" (I put that in quotes because it rarely gets close to that).

But yes, I was thinking about that, so I might take a test run with a 4G device -- without ditching cable immediately -- and see how it goes for a year.