With exception of Verizon, LTE Broadcast mostly a no-show in U.S.

stadium (pixabay)
Use cases for LTE-B include the delivery of multi-angle replays to sports fans.
Monica Alleven editor's corner

Despite the LTE Broadcast Alliance’s assertions about LTE Broadcast being alive and well, it looks like we were duped once again. LTE-B isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—at least, not so much in the United States.

A few years ago, Verizon and AT&T—but mostly Verizon—were talking about LTE Broadcast as if it were imminent. In 2015, AT&T used a national college football championship game to conduct its first live demo of LTE-B, delivering replays and video shot from different camera angles to devices.

During the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, Verizon Communications Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam talked about his desire to use LTE Multicast to deliver video services to Verizon's customers during 2014's Super Bowl, which didn’t happen.

Nowadays, Verizon offers its IndyCar mobile app using LTE-B, and that’s about the extent of it right now. AT&T told me that it is currently testing and conducting trials of LTE-B, but it’s not sharing any details about deployment plans at this time.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile is looking at the technology and doing early stage technical evaluations. Sprint said it continues to improve and evolve its network and has not ruled out LTE-B deployment in the future, but it’s not announcing anything at this time.

According to a white paper recently posted by the LTE Broadcast Alliance, important progress is being made in the development of LTE-B worldwide, with proofs of concept completed and underway, commercial services launched and new services nearing commercialization. China Telecom, EE, Telstra and Korea Telecom are among those outside the U.S. that have conducted trials.

The paper noted that Verizon’s IndyCar app has been commercially available since April 2016 for iOS and Android, but only Android users have LTE-B capability at the track. The service is positioned as high-quality, buffer- and lag-free live video, with three exclusive live streams plus audio tracks.

Also known as evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS), LTE-B enables a mobile operator to send a single stream of data to all mobile users in one area as opposed to sending an individual stream to each user. Supporters said LTE-B can ensure a great customer experience even in areas of highest demands. Sports arenas or stadiums are often cited as ideal venues for delivering LTE-B services—but it's still not clear how much, if anything, consumers are willing to pay for such services.

It’s reminiscent of the days of MediaFLO. MediaFLO was a technology developed by Qualcomm that looked sleek and wonderful, and some of us were lucky enough to try it out on demo units. Qualcomm even had a high-tech operations center dedicated to the mobile TV technology and service on its campus.

But MediaFLO never really flew with consumers, even though Verizon gave it a go as part of its VCAST offering in the 2007 timeframe. AT&T Mobility also got behind MediaFLO, launching a service in 2008. However, Qualcomm ended up shutting it down in 2010 and AT&T bought the 700 MHz spectrum that it had been using.

The LTE Broadcast Alliance’s white paper suggested important lessons have been learned and identified areas to work on, like getting handset vendors to embed the necessary features as standard in new devices and the need for operators, content, device vendors and other partners to work together and consider LTE-B services end-to-end rather than focusing on separate parts of the value chain.

Service partners also need more details about device vendors’ LTE-B roadmap and what devices will be enabled and when, and LTE-B needs to support multiple service areas, not just streaming video or stadium services.

Such is life in the fast lane of technology. Technologies will come and they will go, and they always seem to have a way of stringing us along, ever hopeful that something great will come of them. Who knows? The 2017 Super Bowl is right around the corner—Feb. 5 in Houston. There’s still time, right? —Monica