Mobile video is currently delivered on a one-to-one basis (unicast). However, as video consumption increases, operators will face significant issues around network congestion and performance. Performance degradation in turn impacts service quality and network access. LTE technology can help service providers meet the needs of â€¨the growing audiences' appetite â€¨for video content on mobile â€¨devices.
With the surge in smartphone penetration, increased connectivity, and the introduction of machine-to-machine connections, network operators are expecting data traffic to triple from 2016 to 2019 with mobile video set to account for â€¨80 percent of the total data in 2019.
At present, video is unicast, wherein a request is put out to a server and an associated stream of content is delivered to the end-user device. As consumption intensifies, the rise in global video demand will present both opportunities and challenges for operators, with the aggregation of these streams set to pose significant issues around network congestion and performance. Performance degradation in turn impacts service quality and network access, halting progress in the introduction of advancements in premium video and ultimately impacting the operator's bottom line.
To address the challenges posed by the surge in demand, the introduction of LTE has enabled operators to use the technology to revolutionize video delivery in mobile networks. Global momentum is building for LTE Broadcast (eMBMS) technology. The principle of using cellular networks for hosting live video content streams is not new.
LTE Broadcast - On the Cusp of Mainstream
The principle of using cellular networks for broadcast is based on highly rational judgment. The arrival of LTE provided sufficient bandwidth, device variety, and spectral efficiency to finish what DVB-h started. LTE Broadcast technology has overcome the same challenges as DVB-h and is at the forefront of some of the world's largest operators' commercial agendas.
Today, LTE is considered the single global standard for video broadcast on mobile networks. Supporting devices have at least four different processing cores, with vast power and display technology capable of running HD videos. The number of operators currently backing LTE Broadcast also suggests that finding compelling business models would not pose a problem either.
The initial benefit of LTE Broadcast is gains in efficiency. By ultimately increasing capacity, operators reduce costs and improve experience levels as network traffic intensifies. Additional benefits for operators include:
Streaming video without network congestion. The main benefit of LTE Broadcast is its ability to quickly distribute media streams without overburdening the mobile network.
Dynamic bandwidth allocation. LTE Broadcast introduces dynamic broadcasts as a totally new approach to broadcasting. With this, rather than just allocating a portion of spectrum to broadcasting, a network operator can dynamically adapt broadcasts by configuring both the geographic area as well as its bandwidth; even varying the bandwidth over time as the load on the network changes. LTE Broadcast has the capacity to reach an entire country, metropolitan area, or even target a specific venue such as a stadium or an airport.
Media and data delivery. LTE Broadcast provides an integrated architecture for the delivery of all media and data formats including discrete media such as MP4 and raw data files.
Hyperlocal services. LTE Broadcast is capable of targeting a broadcast to an area as small as one specific cell in the 4G LTE network. Just entering an area with a mobile phone can trigger a host of new features - offers for nearby products or merchant push updates or alerts.
Mobile TV Services
LTE Broadcast can be used to power enhancements to a TV Everywhere solution, or as the foundation of a complete premium television offering with wireless content delivery. If a service provider has an existing TV Everywhere solution in market, LTE broadcast provides the foundation to deliver enhanced viewing experiences with live events. The benefit for the end-user is the ability to access HD-quality premium content that would have otherwise not been accessible. The experience might include multiple angles of an event or custom news feeds delivered directly to the second screen, in parallel to a main event on the first screen.
LTE Broadcast or eMBMS (evolved multimedia broadcast multicast services) has been making headlines in the mobile TV industry ever since it was first introduced. But this technology did not gain much momentum as per the benefits it can provide. When LTE gained ground in the market then MBMS (multimedia broadcast multicast services) reintroduced it as eMBMS. Expectations are now high because a combination of LTE and eMBMS provides more flexibility and uses spectrum efficiently. However, the commercial deployment of eMBMS has not matched up to the expectations.
Lack of ecosystem. MBMS requires support from smartphone manufacturers, telecommunication operators, as well as content providers to serve interesting and useful content to users. However, the ecosystem is in early stages and a certain amount of collaboration is required for it to function effectively.
There is no free lunch here. Someone has to pay for the spectrum freed by the operator for MBMS use. The market is still not mature, and operators are uncertain whether they can earn from advertisements or if they have to charge customers for the same. This dilemma has contributed to the delay.
Return on investment (ROI). Operators fear that they may not be able to recover cost of deployments and this era of fast-changing technology has added to the hindrance.
Middleware support. No common middleware support is available from UE vendors to maintain uniqueness and uniformity for the operator's mobile application through which broadcast services will be provided. This is a basic and potentially limiting bottleneck.
In spite of the above, last year saw a more mature market for MBMS. As per the recent Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) 2016 Report, the ecosystem for LTE Broadcast is taking off and there has been an increase in the number of field trials.
Mobile subscriptions for high-data-consumption devices are expected to reach 8 billion by 2019; mobile data traffic is expected to grow 10-fold by 2019, driven mainly by video; and LTE Broadcast services will reach USD14 billion worldwide by 2020. The demand for video is increasing by the day. This is also evident from the increasing sale of personal handheld devices like smartphones and tablets. To meet the fast-increasing demand of video from users, eMBMS seems to be one of the top solutions in the near future
As LTE Broadcast comes of age, the next wave of next-generation viewing experiences will soon be a reality. What make LTE Broadcast distinctive are the new business models and applications that it can enable, from digital signage to push VOD and in-venue applications, which is critical to monetization, user engagement, and commercializing non-conventional business models.
In order to seize the opportunities associated with LTE Broadcast, both operators and content programmers must consider all the steps necessary for robust service delivery. Doing so opens up new avenues for revenue generation, while leveraging the knowledge gained through multiple deployments and trials globally.