In this special joint interview, IP&TV News gets the absolute lowdown on eMBMS, talking to the doubly distinguished Pierre François Dubois (VP product development, Technocentre, Orange) & Charles Emmanuel-Bon (EVP Business Development, RTL)…
IP&TV News: Hello Pierre! Could you give us a picture of the challenges mobile broadcast is presenting to operators, both in terms of technology and profitability?
Pierre Francois Dubois: Chipsets and equipment are in place and end-to-end trials have been completed by several MNOs. I don’t see any major technology challenges ahead of us: LTE has been fully designed for data and LTE anticipated eMBMS in the standard. This was not the case with other broadcast technologies such as IMB which came late on 3G.
Challenges are more related to business models:
- can we expect a massive roll out of eMBMS handsets and at what cost ?
- how can we use this technology with a positive impact in terms of value for the end customers, the service providers and the operators? We need to identify the right opportunities.
IP&TV News: Hello Charles! Why are French radios so enthusiastic about the potential of eMBMS?
Charles-Emmanuel Bon: French radios, as in many other territories, have long recognized the potential of IP networks to carry our programs. Today, driven by the widespread availability of new devices, from smartphones to tablets, we are experiencing a very rapid uptake of listening via the Internet. Today, among younger audiences, it is one listener in four who is tuning in to radio via IP networks.
Mobility has always been at the heart of radio and the experience we are offering on mobile data networks is not satisfactory. 4G networks are already a huge improvement, but we are looking to eMBMS to address specific congestion and quality of service issues. Remember that radio may be small as a data stream, but it is massive in usage with more than eight out of ten persons listening on average three hours per day.
IP&TV News: Is it fair to say there’s an unusual amount of disagreement regarding the potential importance of broadcast over LTE? Why do you think this is? Where, first of all, do the doubts derive from?
Pierre Francois Dubois: On top of the business challenges mentioned previously, I believe there are two other concerns related to spectrum management that may lead to some people being conservative. The first one is that with eMBMS, a popular live stream will have to be broadcasted by each MNO, this may seem inefficient as in theory it would be much better to mutualize this stream. I believe this concern is not relevant: eMBMS is already a first optimization and it may also lead to differentiation between MNOs through different choices or policies. The second one is that eMBMS should only be used for contents with a high demand, in relevant places at a relevant time: this requires Carriers to carefully anticipate customers’ behaviour, and that can be a challenge. There are evolutions in the technology that provide for “dynamic” activation of broadcast based on actual observations, but it is still unclear how effective this will be.
IP&TV News: But I understand you are both advocates of this technology – how would you answer the critics in these areas?
Charles-Emmanuel Bon: From our point of view, listeners must come first. We see eMBMS primarily as a tool for MNO to provide a better quality of service to their customers and therefore to the content providers. Typically, the use case we envision is to make sure there is no connection dropped when entering cells with a high density of users, listening to the same program. We believe customers will value this as much as we do and that we can build a business case out of it.
IP&TV News: Pierre, how close is this technology to reaching maturity, in your view?
Pierre Francois Dubois: If you are talking about the technical components, we are very close to maturity: most equipment manufacturers and handset vendors are close to real commercial offers, several trials have been run, there are live services in Korea.
If you are talking about the impact on customers, we are not there yet. I believe you need at least 15-20% of handsets, before it makes really sense to operate eMBMS in a network. This will probably take another two years. But to be there in two years we need to start now.
IP&TV News: Is it fair to say that broadcast over LTE has a future only if linear programs (both TV and radios) have a future? Do you think this one crucial area where people are divided on this topic?
Charles-Emmanuel Bon: Much has been said about the death of linear programming. It is true that a very significant usage has developed for on-demand programing, both for video or music. But you should not discount linear programs just yet.
First of all, radio is a media where almost 100% of programs are made live. There are reasons for that. Of course, news and events need to be told as there are happening, but can also think of radio as a companion, going through your day with you, like a trusted friend. Of course, you can listen to a playlist whenever you want, but if you want a bit more than this, live programs are a necessity. This makes radio quite unlikely to switch massively to non-linear.
Second, it is true that that personalization is a long-term trend, but it should not be overblown. There is a demand for a laid-back approach, where the listener or the viewer is not asked to make a choice and just pick-up the program he trusts.
IP&TV News: You’ll both be attending the Video over LTE World Summit. Would you say this is a pivotal time to attend this event? What debates and conversations are you looking forward to having there?
Pierre Francois Dubois: Internet on the fixed access had a major impact on content services and their business models. eMBMS enables to merge broadcast and interactivity on mobile devices, I believe the impact can be as big. It is very important to meet with other MNOS and Content Providers to share ideas and make sure we make the right choices. It is very important that the LTE World Summit exist in order to give us this opportunity.
Charles-Emmanuel Bon: The conjunction of LTE and ever more capable devices is a sea change for content providers in every possible way, from business models to the content itself, not just the delivery of the content. I look forward to the summit to gain a better understanding of the use cases emerging in different territories as well as a perspective on the time line of the different technologies underpinning them.