Following a trial at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year, EE demoed LTE Broadcast services to a small group of selected users (approximately 20 tablet devices) at the FA Cup Final two days ago.
Viewers were able to select multiple camera angles, access real-time match statistics and watch HD-quality replays of the action (on-demand) within a minute of events happening on the pitch. The trial was the latest tech development by EE at Wembley Stadium, which it has dubbed “the mothership” of its national 4G network.
EE is keeping its cards close to its chest in terms of specific timeframes for next steps, but a statement from the operator says it “intends to build the 4G Broadcast capability into its network in 2016.”
LTE-Broadcast is being pitched by operators such as EE, Telstra and Verizon Wireless as a cost-effective way to provide TV and video content in crowded areas that would normally suffer problems with pixellation or buffering due to network congestion. Unlike traditional unicast mobile streaming, which sends content from the network to each individual user as they demand it, LTE Broadcast (also known as eMBMS) makes the same live video content available to everyone in the same location, connecting any number of people all at the same time.
US operator Verizon Wireless has commercially launched the technology via a partnership with motor racing series Indycar, and EE says it is preparing for its own commercial deployment. “The next time we do something it will be a live deployment that will stay and then we can move on to light up the next area,” Matt Stagg, head of video at EE, told Mobile World Live. “Anywhere we light up next year for event or capacity reasons will stay.”
Of course, as with any new technology, there are major challenges to overcome. There are only a handful of devices currently available that support LTE-Broadcast technology, as well as issues around content rights. And there’s a big question mark over the business model behind the service; after all, watching a 90-minute football match will consume a huge amount of data that has to be paid for in some way.
“The technology is great as underlined by the numerous successful trials but the lack of actual commercial deployments demonstrates the uncertainty around the business model,” commented CCS Insight analyst Paolo Pescatore. “There is no doubt that LTE Broadcast will be a useful tool in overcoming network congestion and coping with the explosion in video traffic. It provides sports fans with a great second screen experience, but it is unclear whether they will pay for it; it’s too early to say. As a result, operators are probably unwilling to invest millions in upgrading their networks. The most likely scenario would be joint investment with a venue owner or content owner to share the financial risk which reinforces the clear use case that is emerging.”
EE’s Stagg is, unsurprisingly, upbeat, claiming his company’s progress so far is evidence that this form of mobile TV distribution – unlike previous ill-fated technologies such as DVB-H and MediaFlo – will succeed.
“Once we move through 2017 and we get organic growth… then we will start to do the other things eMBMS is good for – things like pushing software updates for mass downloads for the internet of things. By 2019 on our network there will be no live or linear tv that isn’t [LTE] Broadcast.”