By Anne Morris
On Oct. 28, Telstra in Australia completed what it claims to be the world's first LTE Broadcast session on a commercial LTE network using Ericsson and Qualcomm technology.
Australia's Telstra claimed the first trial of LTE Broadcast,
The announcement indicates the growing momentum for the mobile TV broadcast technology, with both Verizon Wireless and AT&T announcing their support in the United States and Korea Telecom working together with Samsung in South Korea.
Meanwhile in Europe, any operator with an LTE network is likely to have this technology on its roadmap, and indeed France's Orange and EE in the UK are two operators with firm intentions to deploy LTE Broadcast.
A central requirement for any operator will be to have a relatively widespread LTE network. Analysys Mason analyst Chris Nicoll noted that it generally takes around two years after launch to achieve extensive LTE coverage, and also cited the Nordic countries as markets where early LTE Broadcast deployments could take place.
Yet given the previous failures with former approaches, what is the outlook for LTE Broadcast, and how likely is it that this approach will succeed where others did not?
"It's not really a matter of other broadcast technologies failing, but the poor business model associated with them," pointed out Current Analysis analyst Lynnette Luna.. "LTE Broadcast will succeed or fail based on the business model as well."
Back in 2006, O2 presented the results of its first major UK trial of DVB-H, which at the time was Europe's poster child for future mobile broadcast technologies. Indeed that year saw launches of DVB-H networks across Europe to coincide with the 2006 World Cup, seen by many operators as a great platform for marketing these new services.
At the same time, a small technology company called IPWireless presented its new tdTV service as an alternative option to DVB-H that it said would enable operators to offer live TV services without losing control of the value chain, and without causing their existing 3G networks to fall over through excessive video traffic.
IPWireless' solution was to deploy the 3G technology MBMS (Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Standard) technology on TDD spectrum--the 5 MHz of unpaired spectrum in the 1.9 GHz and 2.0 GHz bands that was awarded to mobile operators as part of the UMTS licence auctions. TDD UMTS was then subsumed into the LTE environment. Meanwhile, Ericsson insistently maintained its stance that MBMS on FDD spectrum was the future for mobile broadcast TV. MBMS was originally defined in Release 8 and 9 of the 3GPP standards for LTE and was then enhanced in Releases 10 and 11.
Fast forward to 2013, and one of the last DVB-H networks left running in Europe--in Poland--is on the verge of shutting down while most other DVB-H services. Qualcomm's MediaFLO service has long since disappeared. Now, as the need to support the growing appetite for mobile TV and video on smartphones and tablets becomes a pressing issue, operators in Europe are increasingly talking about LTE Broadcast based on evolved MBMS (eMBMS) as the preferred approach for future TV and video services.
Operators get interested
A central advantage of the technology is that it is integrated with the existing LTE ecosystem and has the support of industry heavyweights including Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Qualcomm as well as smaller players including QuickPlay Media and MobiTV.
How and when operators plan to deploy services based on LTE Broadcast is still very much an open question nonetheless, and indeed there is the perennial issue of when compatible handsets will be available.
Qualcomm's LTE Broadcast SDK and middleware are now available to handset manufacturers, and Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development at Qualcomm Labs, said he expects to see the first commercial devices to come onto the market in the second half of 2014.
Speaking during the recent IBC event in Amsterdam, David Price, head of Ericsson's global TV development, predicted that all smartphones should be compatible with LTE Broadcast in three to four years' time.
Of course, devices are only part of the overall solution. "If operators want to pursue a monetisation angle, they need to create an entirely new LTE Broadcast ecosystem consisting of eMBMS infrastructure, capable devices, enabling partners and programming that is significantly differentiated from OTT options from a quality and content perspective," said Current Analysis' Luna.
For now, some European operators see the initial application of LTE Broadcast as a way to cut costs and make their networks more efficient. "We are very interested in LTE Broadcast and we will be trialling it next year," said Matt Stagg, senior manager of network strategy at UK operator EE.
For EE, the initial "monetisation" of LTE Broadcast will be achieved by saving costs through a more efficient use of spectrum and backhaul networks, and by improving the customer experience by adding extra capacity where required.
Further down the line, Stagg said other applications could then be considered. In one example, Stagg said an operator could upsell a number of broadcast streams to stadium managers when they require coverage of events.
For now, however, EE's focus is on maintaining and improving the customer experience as mobile video usage grows while raising awareness of and gaining wider support for LTE Broadcast. "There has to be end-to-end support," said Stagg.
Yves Bellego, director of technology and spectrum strategy at Orange in France, said the operator is carrying out small-scale trials of LTE Broadcast technology but has not set a particular date for commercial launch. "For now, the priority is on improving LTE," said Bellego, who noted that Orange has learned many lessons over the past 10 years about mobile broadcasting thanks to its previous trials of DVB-H and tdTV.
Like EE, Orange regards LTE Broadcast as a technology that can be used to help optimise capacity and improve service quality for customers particularly in crowded areas, while the business case for other use cases has yet to be worked out. "LTE traffic is just starting," Bellego said, and patterns of behaviour are still in the process of being established.
What will be the use cases?
Luna commented that operators should approach LTE Broadcast from both a cost-saving and revenue-generating point of view if they want to get the most out of the technology.
Many industry observers are in agreement that events will be the starting point for revenue-generating opportunities, with other use cases following in time. Indeed, Verizon Wireless has already said it intends to combine its 2014 launch with a major sporting event, such as the upcoming Super Bowl.
Verizon expects to deploy LTE Broadcast in 2014.
"The primary and likely initial uses for LTE Broadcast will definitely be around events where there are large, heavily concentrated groups of users in a small area like sporting or music events," said Mark Hyland, senior vice president of global sales at QuickPlay Media. "As the control and management layers are addressed by the operators, I believe more use cases will come."
Hyland cited the ability to push out large amounts of data like firmware or OS upgrades to the masses as a further possible use case. "Often updates that every user needs are the biggest strain on the networks," he said.
In addition, LTE Broadcast could also be utilised to deliver pay TV services to areas where broadband internet is not readily available. "For example, in rural areas LTE Broadcast could allow the delivery of the top live TV channels, providing an alternative means for the delivery of pay TV," Hyland added.
Analysys Mason's Nicoll highlighted the opportunity to augment what is seen on the big screen with the small screen by using different camera angles and charging on a per-view basis. "This is where the value comes into play," he said. He also cited distance learning as a further potential application for the broadcast technology.
Hyland pointed out that one unique aspect of the business model for LTE Broadcast is that increased consumption does not lead to increased cost, unlike unicast services.
"This may open up non-conventional models that require mass distribution of large amounts of data," he said. "This could include updates for any electronic, control information or digital signage--anything that there is a lot of, and that needs the same or common data."
In summary, LTE Broadcast is probably still some way ahead in Europe as operators continue to focus on their macro LTE services launches, but the interest in the technology's potential is clearly there. While operators such as EE see cost savings through the optimisation of spectrum and backhaul as an early opportunity for the technology, other use cases are expected to emerge over time, with events currently expected to be the initial launch pad for service offerings.