By Ben Munson
While deployments like those for IndyCar events are well-known, Verizon sees
In the U.S., Verizon is going it alone in its effort grow adoption for eMBMS LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B). But on a global scale, the carrier has recruited a team of like-minded operators to help it in achieving its ultimate goal: LTE-B support in every mid- and top-tier device by 2017.
That lofty ambition is the centerpiece of the recently announced LTE-Broadcast Alliance, consisting of Verizon, Telstra, kt and EE. The group is the latest salvo for Verizon, which has been championing LTE-B (or LTE Multicast, as the carrier has branded it) since 2012 while other U.S. operators have lost interest.
MBMS hasn't always had a giant wireless operator with a mature, nationwide LTE network in its corner. In 2008, companies like NextWave Wireless were preparing to launch to UMTS MBMS-based video services and similar services operating on WiMAX. But NextWave was eventually acquired by AT&T for its spectrum and everyone knows what happened to WiMAX.
But with LTE came evolved MBMS (eMBMS) and with that evolved technology came a major backer in the form of Verizon, whose support Current Analysis vice president Peter Jarich thinks could be the difference maker.
"This isn't new. It was there with 3G and it's there with LTE. What's the difference? Well now we have someone who's pushing it. Verizon is going to set up this momentum and really help it move forward," Jarich told FierceWireless.
As far as meeting the LTE-B Alliance goal for device penetration, Jarich said it's possible in markets where operators are a key channel for devices, meaning they can set the agenda for device specs. But devices sold outside of the carrier channel could present a problem, Jarich said.
That kind of device maker and vendor support hasn't been there since the beginning of eMBMS and that's a big factor in Verizon's move to help form an alliance to push compatibility.
"When the 3GPP standards were written and developed, the technology, as far as the vendors supporting it, wasn't really fully baked," Parissa Pandkhou, director of Product Development at Verizon, told FierceWireless.
That meant when Verizon decided about three and half years ago to go forward with the technology, the carrier had to work very closely with the vendors that supported it.
"It took a long time for us to drive it and mature it," said Pandkhou, referring to the work that led up to the October 2015 commercial launch. During that time, Pandkhou said other operators had been watching Verizon as it worked to get LTE-B fully off the ground. At this year's Mobile World Congress, the other, future members for the LTE-B Alliance reached out to Verizon and proposed a team up.
"We were interested to see how we could collectively make the marketplace more knowledgeable about the benefits of this service," Pandkhou said. "Because I feel like there's still a lot of, not mystery around it, but not everyone is aware of what the service can do for them."
Use cases beyond video
Much of the talk around LTE-B has been around its mobile video application and truly, most of the early high-profile demonstrations of the technology have focused on just that. But Pandkhou said Verizon is trying to expand LTE-B's horizons.
"Everybody's only thinking about mobile video like our applications with Indy Car and Go90 but there are other benefits this technology can support," Pandkhou said. "Verizon's goal specifically in this alliance is to drive the enterprise side of LTE-B."
What that means is using LTE-B for specific IoT applications, like digital signage. One of the initiatives Verizon is currently working on, one that it demoed last year at CTIA, is digital signage. Pandkhou said the technology could make it much simpler to push content out to screens located across large venues and environments like subway stations, airport terminals, hospitality suites, and bus stops throughout a metro market.
Pandkhou said LTE-B is a more efficient way to push live content to those boards because it can be sent to multiple sites at once, instead of requiring a one-to-one connection, which could be more costly and more difficult to manage.
Similarly, Pandkhou said LTE-B could be used for public announcements in smart cities.
But stadiums still remain a prime environment for practical use of LTE-B and Pandkhou said that Verizon is hearing from its counterparts in other countries that the Tier 1 sports in their respective countries are asking if they go through the effort of deploying for LTE-B, what percentage of consumers will be able to take advantage of it?
"The more devices that are capable, it becomes less of a question and integration becomes a no-brainer," said Pandkhou. "But right now there is still a lot of evaluation about whether it's worth the effort or the funding to do the integration and application coming from the content provider, the sports club owner and the venue owner."
If device penetration is the cure all for anything holding back wider acceptance of LTE-B, it's up to the device makers to mix the medicine. That means addressing both the capability of the chip and updating the software.
Pandkhou said most smartphone and tablet chipsets nowadays by default support LTE-B. But the second piece, the middleware, is less often present. The software is necessary to keep a device alert for receiving LTE-B content and so far, not all device makers have gotten around to it.
"Some of the manufacturers are on board and have, per carrier request, natively added it to the device," Pandkhou said. "But some are not there yet, which is what we're trying to conquer here."
If the pick up around LTE-B has seemed slow, it's worth noting that Verizon is still less than a year out from its commercial launch of the technology and only one month into its efforts within the LTE-B Alliance. As Jarich pointed out, the keys to success for LTE-B involve establishing strong use cases and building out the ecosystem.
The time frame for when those two factors will reach the critical mass necessary to make LTE-B a widespread technology isn't clear yet.
"How do we get support in devices? How do we get support in the networks? I think it's one of those chicken and egg things. Are we going to develop the business model before we have the ecosystem? Do we have ecosystem before we have the business model," Jarich said. "We're not there yet."
But with Verizon and its partners in the LTE-B Alliance throwing their considerable support behind the technology, an answer could be coming soon.