LTE Broadcast enables the same content to be simultaneously sent to a large number of users, resulting in more efficient use of network resources. It is being used by operators as well as content providers to address the demands placed on networks by the huge upswing in mobile video consumption.
What is it?
LTE Broadcast, also known as LTE multicast, is based on 3GPP’s evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS) standard, the global standard for video broadcast on mobile networks. It is referred to in some quarters as LTE-B but we prefer to use the full name to avoid confusion with the LTE-B iteration of LTE-Advanced.
Broadcast or multicast translates as ‘one-to-many’, as opposed to unicast which transmits to a single user.
Mobile broadcasting isn’t a new concept, the DVB-h standard was adopted in 2004 and MediaFLO in 2007. However, both failed as they were not 3G-compatible and had to be supported by a completely new infrastructure. Furthermore, they used spectrum that was not used for mobile networks and the devices then available on the market weren’t able to deliver a high quality viewing experience for any length of time.
The eMBMS standard was introduced in 3GPP’s Release 9, which was frozen in 2010, with improvements in subsequent releases.
As its name suggests, LTE Broadcast is compatible with current and future LTE-based mobile networks. (To understand LTE, read our guide to LTE-Advanced Pro. It allocates a portion of the wireless network resources to host specific content, enabling a mobile operator to send a single stream of data to all mobile users in a particular area rather than having to send an individual stream to each user, with the ability to support a virtually unlimited number of users simultaneously. Any user with a compatible device can simultaneously access the same content, giving a much better, guaranteed user experience, as they are no longer battling with others for bandwidth to access the content.
This much more efficient use of network resources reduces costs for operators. Operators are also looking to LTE Broadcast to deliver new revenue streams.
What are the use cases?
The early buzz around LTE Broadcast usage was for sporting events, specifically in-venue streaming of live events. The technology allows operators to provide exclusive content with dedicated feeds, such as alternate footage, different camera angles and replay for a particular sporting event, or indeed a music concert. This can be charged for on a per-event basis. They can also enhance the stream with interactive features using standard IP, either directly or through a service or content provider, and look to advertising to bring in additional revenue.
Opportunities also exist to push video-on-demand and pay-per-view to people on the move, for example allowing a commuter to watch high quality TV on their phone during their journey to or from the office, or catch up with the news during a taxi ride.
However it’s not clear just how much users will pay for such content and wider use cases are now taking shape. LTE Broadcast will enable push notifications for a broad range of services, such as breaking news, weather warnings, transport information, critical communications for public safety, enterprise communications and multimedia marketing.
Perhaps the most significant potential of this push notification is the delivery of software updates to connected devices, enabling multiple devices to be simultaneously, quickly and efficiently updated. This will be useful for smartphones and other computing devices, but especially relevant for Internet of Things devices that may not have an alternative update method, keeping them working correctly and securely.
LTE Broadcast has significant potential for public safety applications, and service provider Expway is getting to market early with solutions and devices. Launched in Mary 2016, its Expway PMR PS-LTE Solution for the Private Mobile Radio (PMR) and Public Safety (PS) market combines push-to-talk, push-to-video and large file delivery to allow first responders to communicate and collaborate with each other regardless of their location. A first responder can transmit critical information – such as real-time video streams, maps and photos – to the relevant people once, instead of having to send it individually. Commanders can track their troops and vehicle locations accurately to facilitate faster and more precise decision-making. In November 2016 Expway and Bittium launched the first LTE Broadcast-enabled mobile devices for public safety, with the integration of Expway’s middleware into Bittium Tough Mobile devices.
The potential applications of LTE Broadcast are wide ranging. In the enterprise space, companies can use LTE Broadcast to customise content that can be set up in a defined area for a defined period of time, and to deliver multicast content to conferences and business events. In the education sector it can be used to stream lectures. In the smart city, it can connect digital signage, enabling media agencies to dynamically change content for more targeted messaging.
Who’s Doing It?
The first commercial LTE Broadcast service was launched in January 2014 by south Korea’s KT Corp, using Qualcomm Snapdragon processors integrated with Qualcomm Gobi modems and Samsung phones fitted with Expway middleware.
Other operators began demonstrating the potential for LTE Broadcast around sporting events in 2014: Verizon during Super Bowl in February and Poland’s Polkomtel in August for the World Volleyball Championship. In June 2015, EE (since acquired by BT) followed in the UK at the FA Cup final (but onlywith a small number of selected users) and in Asia Singtel worked with Ericsson to trial LTE Broadcast for the South East Asian Games. In the US, Verizon launched its commercial Go90 service in October 2015, having equipped its entire nationwide network with LTE Broadcast capability.
A new User Group for LTE Broadcast was formed in March 2015 by a disparate group that included Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson, KPN, Telstra, Verizon, Facebook, the GSMA and Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). The group aimed to share best practice and work to increase adoption of the technology. Facebook’s interest centred around the potential for using LTE Broadband to roll out application updates to millions of users globally without straining mobile networks.
In April 2016, EE, KT, Telstra and Verizon launched the LTE Broadcast Alliance with the aim of increasing global support for LTE Broadband from all device manufacturers. Broadly speaking, they want to ensure LTE Broadband is available in every top and mid-tier device launched in 2017.
Five new operators joined the alliance in September 2016, as well as the GSA and vendor partners Ericsson, Expway, Huawei, Netgear and Nokia.
When will it become available?
The potential opportunity for LTE Broadcast is huge. In early 2015, Ericsson predicted that 50% of all content viewed will be on mobile devices and on demand by 2020. The GSA expects that 60% of all mobile data traffic will be from online video by 2020, and in November 2015 predicted that LTE Broadcast would reach two billion customers by 2020.
However, while commercial services have been available for some time the technology has yet to really take off, and widespread takeup will not be possible until the technology has full support from global operators and device manufacturers alike.
Not all operators are on board the LTE Broadcast train. AT&T, which demonstrated the technology in early 2015 and continues to trial and test it, has not yet rolled it out as it believes the business case is not yet proven. (However, it is quietly entering the market, having completed the acquisition of Quickplay in June 2016, which provides managed services for the distribution of video to connected devices such as phones, games consoles and connected TVs.) EE is the only UK operator to have publicly endorsed the technology and made clear its plans to launch commercial services, although it should be noted that Vodafone has conducted trials in Germany.
On the device side, Samsung brought its first LTE Broadcast-capable devices to market in 2014 but Apple iPhones still do not support it. Increasing support for LTE Broadband from device manufacturers was the main reason behind the formation of the LTE Broadcast Alliance in April 2016; getting Apple on board must be a priority.