Guest post by Matt Stagg, Senior Manager of Network Strategy, EE
Content has changed dramatically since the birth of the internet, yet, by comparison, the fundamentals of content delivery have changed very little. A consumer with an internet-enabled device requests content from a server and it is delivered. The demand is linear; number of sessions multiplied by the bandwidth per session.
Multicast and Broadcast technology are a fundamental shift in this paradigm.
Being the first 4G operator in the UK gave us an early insight into the rise in mobile video. Driven by faster speeds and lower latency creating a far superior experience to 3G, and one more akin to a home broadband connection, we could see our customers consuming more video. Based on this user behaviour, we could confidently forecast that video would constitute ~70% of all traffic by 2017.
It was then that we took the unique step of looking at LTE as a ‘Video Distribution Network’ that also provided exceptional voice, messaging and internet services. As we developed our five year technology roadmap it was evident that eMBMS would play a significant role in ensuring EE was the best network for mobile video.
One comment I always get when I talk about Broadcast at events is “we’ve seen this before with a whole host of other technologies labelled ‘Mobile TV’ and they all fell by the wayside”.
So where are we now? Why is this any different?
Fundamentally, LTE broadcast – a tool to deliver live and linear content in a spectrally efficient way – is technically and commercially viable in a way that previous offerings have not been.
1) The landscape is very different now, with more live and linear content being consumed, and that consumption is increasing all the time, because:
- There is a lot more content available as content providers open up their schedules to mobile viewing and more providers enter the market
- The viewing experience on 4G is a very good one, with higher bit rates enhancing screen resolution – especially important for sports
- The penetration of smart phones and tablets has increased dramatically
2) eMBMS can dynamically switch from unicast to broadcast so if there is no demand for the content in a particular cell then it is not enabled, thus removing the ‘broadcast to nobody’ problem with earlier technologies
3) There is now global support for a single standard which avoids technology fragmentation, brings down the hardware costs and reduces the total cost of ownership for operators. Telstra, Verizon and Korea Telecom have already completed successful demonstrations, with other operators announcing their interest on a monthly basis.
One of the primary use cases for eMBMS is within sports and entertainment venues. Our research and analysis tells us that the biggest driver of congestion, on both WiFi and cellular, within many football stadiums is the streaming of live video, often fans streaming the game they are watching live. This enables them to see different camera views, watch replays and obtain live statistics and commentary.
To alleviate this problem during the Superbowl XLVIII, the NFL blocked the ability to stream the game within the Stadium. Not the optimum customer experience. LTE Broadcast enables this feature-rich experience for an unlimited amount of users without congesting the network.
My predictions for the future of LTE broadcast:
1) Commercial stadium deployments by Q1 2016
2) Further deployments at other large events such as Glastonbury, Tour De France, London Marathon, etc. during 2016
3) Enabled on the macro network for spectral efficiency during 2016/17
4) As coverage moves towards ubiquity, other use cases will start to become possible – digital signage, traffic alerts and weather warnings
5) Sports delivered over eMBMS will be the big driver for 4K mobile video
In order for any of this to come to fruition we need to ensure that we get the device density of eMBMS enabled handsets and tablets to increase dramatically. This is one of the reasons that so many operators are publicly announcing their support for the technology – the simple fact is that until there are enough enabled devices in a cell watching the same live content, the business case will not stack up.
Matt Stagg will be appearing at the Video Over LTE Summit – co-located with the LTE World Summit (23-25 June, Amsterdam RAI)