At the end of April, mobile operators from around the world, including EE, Telstra, KT and Verizon, announced the formation of the LTE-Broadcast Alliance. The founding members have between them a combined subscriber base of more than 200 million, and their aim with the alliance is to encourage new business models that use the technology, and also push for wider device compatibility.
LTE Broadcast was already a talking point earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, when senior executives from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and fellow US operator AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) discussed the latest developments around the technology. Of the two operators, Verizon has been the more vocal in its public support for the technology (which it calls LTE multicast) and claims to now have an LTE Broadcast footprint that covers the entire US. Meanwhile, AT&T has revealed that it is investing in technology trials and live demonstrations as it explores different use cases and business models.
Monetizing one to many
In the US, a number of LTE Broadcast trials have taken place at major sports events, including AT&T's first live demonstration of the technology at the NCAA college American Football national championship game in January, in partnership with Ericsson, Qualcomm and sports broadcaster ESPN. Having so many people contending for so little bandwidth, in the same place and at the same time, is an appropriate setting to showcase the capabilities of LTE Broadcast.
At the moment, large numbers of spectators at these events compete for network capacity to access content about the spectacle they're attending. Each individual spectator seeks to set up a personal data stream to their own device, all using the same network cell. Unsurprisingly, the cell struggles to support multiple streams simultaneously and the quality of the user experience suffers as a consequence.
Both AT&T and Verizon have leveraged LTE Broadcast to tackle this issue and create a single data stream to reach all compatible devices in the stadium. This significantly reduces network congestion and delivers a high-quality service to each recipient while maximizing spectrum and other network resources.
Not just about video
But LTE Broadcast is not only for streaming video. At Barcelona in February, Parissa Pandkhou, director of product development at Verizon, expressed the view that enterprise and telematics applications could be more lucrative than video in monetizing LTE Broadcast, at least in the short term.
She pointed out that operators were unlikely to benefit from video broadcast via multicast technology while Apple devices continued not to support it. Currently, only certain devices from Samsung Corp. , LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) and Motorola Mobility LLC contain LTE Broadcast terminals.
This has a lot to do with why Verizon is more eagerly targeting telematics as a means to monetize LTE Broadcast. The growth in connected cars across the US is exciting, but it also brings certain unique challenges. With the activation of each car comes the need to adequately keep its supporting software updated and properly functioning. In this instance, a connected car is no different from a smartphone or any other connected device.
The problem is that large over-the-air OS upgrades for smartphones from major OEMs have proved unpopular with consumers, especially when they have to support the large bandwidth demands of these upgrades from their own data plans. Imagine the cost and network impact of having to update thousands (potentially millions) of connected devices -- smartphones, tablets, wearables, cars, household appliances -- with future updates? That is a significant amount of required network bandwidth for operators to provide.
The ability for operators to use LTE Broadcast to send the same content to large numbers of subscribers at the same time makes it suitable for these updates. But this is by no means all that LTE Broadcast technology is good for.
Next page: Maximizing multicast for third parties
Maximizing multicast for third parties
The ability to broadcast the same content to a big audience has exciting potential beyond the occasional sporting event or a widespread software update. From a brand perspective, operators can conceivably use the technology to serve targeted ads or third-party content to specific consumers, in a certain area at a certain time of day. This could include broadcast TV or "infotainment" packages for busy commuter train routes during rush hour. Other examples include broadcasting ads or themed content to visitors to a city or major tourist attraction, such as a theme park or holiday resort. These could be served based on a revenue share or an ad-funded model.
Beyond this, and perhaps more exciting for mobile subscribers, is a carrier's opportunity to mix multicast and unicast services together at the same time. For example, much has been made about the use of multicast technology at large sporting events. What if operators combined basic services available across the unicast network -- such as mobile betting -- with a live multicast broadcast service in a stadium?
Spectators could place bets on the outcome of a game while watching it live and using the extra content available -- but without having to worry about getting a good-enough connection for their bet to go through in time. Operators could also power a service in which live odds are broadcast to mobile devices in the stadium as part of the interactive viewing experience.
It's a business decision
Regardless of application or use case, operators must weigh up the commercial pros and cons before deploying LTE Broadcast technology. As with all technologies, they will need to consider the value of potential new services based on the costs incurred to deploy them. Operators must decide where to offer these services and the number of channels they must use.
The fact remains that the broadcast layer is built on top of the core LTE network. That means it is crucial that the delivery of multicast services does not undermine or impair the performance of the unicast network. Operators must consider the impact on spectrum, network load and modulation before deciding whether any broadcast service is viable. The significant reduction in cost that LTE Broadcast delivers means that some highly innovative and engaging services are on the horizon. What remains to be seen is which of these services consumers will prefer.
– Thomas Neubauer, vice president of business development and RAN solutions, TEOCO