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Welcome back to broadcasting, wireless industry

by David Mercer | 7月 11, 2014

A lone thorn amongst roses, I sat with a group of wireless analysts this week listening to Qualcomm and EE explain why broadcasting was a good way of getting the same content to lots of people at the same time. It’s 94 years since Marconi started broadcasting entertainment wirelessly from his base in my home town of Chelmsford in Essex.

Both Qualcomm and EE are keen to promote the benefits of LTE Broadcast, which is the consumer-friendly name for eMBMS. I’ve been tracking this initiative for some time as any widespread deployment would seem to have strategic significance for media players. And while my own colleague, Wei Shi, pointed to the importance of the technology for uses other than video in his recent report (The eMBMS Revolution Will Not Be Televised: LTE Broadcast More For Data Than Viewers) television was the focus of the Qualcomm/LTE discussion. And not just any old TV: Matt Stagg, EE’s LTE Broadcast advocate, even believes that 4K video will feature strongly when services are eventually rolled out.

An early release of eMBMS is already used in Korea to broadcast two TV channels on Korea Telecom’s LTE network. It’s available to Samsung Note 3 LTE smartphone users, a device based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor. But this flavour of eMBMS is not dynamic, unlike later releases. When those launch in Europe and elsewhere operators will be able to dynamically adapt the bandwidth allocated to broadcasting. The classic video use-case would be to support peak viewing of major live sports events, which are the most challenging for any digital network to accommodate.

In its efforts to promote LTE Broadcast EE recently formed the Mobile Video Alliance in the UK. This group is now part of the UK’s DTG (Digital Television Group), a sure sign of convergence if ever there was one. This is a positive sign that wireless networks recognise the role they must play in broader efforts to prepare for the future of broadcast television. It is still very much open to question how these discussions will affect the debate around future frequency and bandwidth allocation and the role of terrestrial broadcasting in general.

LTE Broadcast faces many challenges. There have been a number of trials already deploying the technology to support wireless video users at major sporting events. Apparently most attendees stream video of the event they are attending, while they are watching it. Perhaps they are looking for shots of themselves in the crowd… Whatever the uses, sports organisers are certainly keen to enhance the experience of their high-value visitors and anything which improves wireless network performance in these arenas is to be welcomed.

But they will face the same challenge as anyone else wanting to deploy services based on eMBMS: lack of devices. The solution to this roadblock will depend on commitments not just from device and semiconductor vendors but also from media ecosystem players like “broadcasters” (who may not be the same as the established ones), service providers and content owners themselves. Qualcomm, EE and others should therefore focus their efforts on developing such partnerships. They should also give more attention to tablets than to smartphones. 4K video has limited utility on a 5” display. At 7-8” it could start to get interesting.

David Mercer

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