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LTE Broadcast Launches in the US

by Chris Taylor | Sep 01, 2015

Verizon Wireless demonstrated its LTE Broadcast this week at an Indy Racing League (INDYCAR*) motor vehicle race at the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma CA.  LTE Broadcast, or eMBMS as it is technically known, uses a multicast technology to provide streaming video and multimedia content to multiple users at the same time, reducing the load on the local cellular network compared to delivering content via unicast.

Verizon Wireless is sponsoring a series of INDYCAR races this year, and using the opportunity to demonstrate its LTE Broadcast service, which will officially launch later in September 2015 probably at CTIA.

Attendees of the event at the Sonoma Raceway on August 30 were encouraged to download a beta version of the “INDYCAR 15” smartphone application.  This app provided real-time information on the race event including:

  • Leaderboard: An up-to-the-second outline of the race course showing the positions of the cars.  This was very useful for seeing what happens after the cars pass the spectator and go to parts of the track not visible.
  • A live camera feed for looking over the shoulder of any selected driver.  This showed what any driver was seeing while negotiating particularly tricky maneuvers such as sharp turns and trying not to crash.
  • Instrument display of any driver’s instrument cluster including speed, steering angle, throttle position, brake position, tachometer and gear number.  The instrument display gave the viewer a sense of how often and how quickly a driver had to change a car’s speed from 140+ mph down to 45 mph going into a chicane and back up to speed again.

Did INDYCAR 15 work if you were not a Verizon Wireless subscriber?  Well, sort of.  A smartphone user that downloaded the application saw one of the following:

  • A Verizon subscriber using one of five LTE Broadcast certified phones could view all live content.  For this event, live content was restricted to the immediate vicinity of the event itself, but in principal content could be made available nationwide.
  • A Verizon subscriber using a non-certified phone saw some live content using unicast, but with (my estimate) 30 seconds or more of delay.
  • Subscribers of other operators could view general information but not use the live features.

During the race, Qualcomm and Verizon both had suites to show off the technology.  I spent some time with the INDYCAR 15 app at one of the suites, and I thought the app really helped to make the race come to life, especially for a first-time race attendee such as myself.  I picked a favorite car & driver and followed the driver’s fortunes through the race as cars jockeyed for position, avoided crashes, and carefully scheduled pit stops for tire changes and repairs.

Verizon has certified five phones so far for supporting LTE Broadcast, the Samsung Galaxy S5 (using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801), Samsung Galaxy Note Edge (Qualcomm Snapdragon 805), LG Vista (Qualcomm Snapdragon 400), LG G3 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 801), and Moto Droid Turbo (Qualcomm Snapdragon 805).  All of these phones support LTE Advanced as well as LTE Broadcast.  According to Qualcomm, Verizon Wireless has mandated LTE Broadcast on all of its future phones, and has another five to eight phones in the certification process.  We presume that Qualcomm supplies the radio chipsets for all of these upcoming LTE Broadcast enabled phones.

It isn’t clear exactly how Verizon Wireless will monetize LTE Broadcast, but in general operators will probably offer basic content free of charge and full features for an additional fee on top of a subscriber’s existing data plan.  Verizon will apparently use an app-based approach, with different applications required for different sports / franchises (INDYCAR, National Football League, and National Hockey League etc.) and different owners or licensers of content.  This would mean that a fee for use of an app could get built into the ticket price for an event.  In addition to individual apps, it seems likely that Verizon Wireless will launch LTE Broadcast under an umbrella name such as the rumored name “Go90.”  I just hope no operator decides to call this “5G” or “6G.”  It’s confusing enough to consumers that 3G still gets called 4G in some markets.

Operators AT&T Mobility, Reliance (India), EE (UK), Telecom Italia, Vodafone Spain, Telstra (Australia), and Telefonica (Spain) will probably launch LTE Broadcast later this year and early next year.  All have conducted LTE Broadcast trials with good results, and are working on ways to monetize and market the technology, which seems especially useful to subscribers at sports and other live stadium events.

Qualcomm has been a big promoter of LTE Broadcast, with one goal differentiation from the competition, and it appears that this strategy will now start to pay off.  Even Qualcomm-equipped phones that have been on the market for a year or more such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 can support LTE Broadcast on properly provisioned LTE networks.  Qualcomm chipsets have supported LTE Broadcast since the Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974), with support now extending down to the Snapdragon 400 and 600 series used in many lower-priced LTE smartphones.

With interest in LTE Broadcast high, the chipset competition isn’t far behind Qualcomm.  MediaTek, Marvell, Intel, and Samsung LSI also support LTE Broadcast in their latest LTE chipset offerings, and it will be interesting to see how these measure up to Qualcomm.

*Note: For those of you that do not follow automobile racing in the US, INDYCAR vehicle specifications differ slightly from those of Formula 1 vehicles, but the cars are very similar, with front and rear spoilers and long pointy noses very unlike any (“stock” in racing parlance) car you could purchase from a local car dealer.

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