The Next World Cup Could Be Delivered Via LTE Broadcast

More viewers than ever before are planning to live stream some of the World Cup matches coming up in July. A recent survey conducted by YuMe earlier this month found over half of respondents said they plan to watch World Cup matches online. We’re betting a whole lot of soccer fans will be watching buffer wheels spin and screens freeze while they try to stream the high profile games of the tournament.

Sports events such as the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl are considered successes in live streaming, but the recent snafu with BSkyB’s OTT service Now TV underscore some of the technological issues with live streaming high profile events over the Internet. Sky was forced to refund thousands of soccer fans after its Now TV app crashed during a soccer match due to high demand. Similar capacity issues have arisen this year for media companies streaming important moments in TV, for example when the HBO Go app crashed during the season finale of HBO’s “True Detective”; or when ABC’s app crashed during the Oscars.

We asked Glenn Laxdal, VP and head of advanced technology solutions at Ericsson, if LTE Broadcast might be a better technology to use to deliver World Cup matches to viewers. “That is a perfect use-case for LTE Broadcast,” Laxdal told The Online Reporter. “The World Cup in soccer, the basketball playoffs, hockey playoffs, any streaming of live content is an ideal use-case.”

The tournament, and the way in which viewers watch it – ie on laptops, smartphones and tablets — underscore the opportunity for LTE Broadcast. In the US and across Europe, cellcos are trialing the broadcast technology in what has been dubbed the “stadium scenario,” meaning to users inside a stadium during a particular sporting event, because stadium attendees typically consume a lot of the same content, in the same space, at the same time – ie during the game.

The stadium scenario is just the first and most obvious use-case for the technology. There’s no reason a cellco couldn’t use the technology to deliver any type of popular live programming to subscribers across an entire footprint, not just to a single area. LTE Broadcast offers a solution to the live stream buffer problem: it gives a wireless operator the ability to deliver high demand live content to mobile devices, efficiently, using an LTE network. “The operator can take a fraction of an LTE channel and broadcast that content live to the subscribers, do it in an extremely efficient way,” Laxdal said.

And the cellcos will want to do so, as demand for content on mobile devices continues to increase. “This will be one very important weapon in the arsenal of the big carriers like Verizon and AT&T to provide valuable content – and in particular live sports content – to mobile devices,” he said.

Laxdal said we’ll see LTE Broadcast being used in that stadium scenario initially, but that “the World Cup and any other live sporting event is going to be right on the heels of that.” He said operators will also be interested to use LTE Broadcast for certain television content – we assume events such as awards ceremonies or state of the Union addresses, but it could be even be used to deliver specific popular programs to subscribers, something like “American Idol,” or perhaps a season of football games (as Verizon does with the NFL). “Any application for a broadcast TV of any kind is a great application for multicast,” Laxdal said.

We asked Laxdal what steps were necessary for a cellco like Verizon (who has said it will deploy LTE Broadcast across its nationwide network) to begin offering a video service using LTE Broadcast across its entire footprint.

Laxdal said that the cellco would be with the type of stadium deployments we’re seeing now. He said the cellco would then expand service in those cities where there are stadium deployments, before finally offering some content on a nationwide basis. “It will happen in a stepwise fashion, where they will initially want to prove the service, and then eventually expand,” he said. Once the infrastructure is in place, the cellco will only need to get the content rights and sign up subscribers.

Device Penetration
The biggest obstacle to such a service is the limited numbers of devices available that support LTE Broadcast. Today, only Samsung is offering devices capable of receiving LTE Broadcast signals. Laxdal predicted that by the middle of 2015, all new LTE-enabled smartphones will have LTE Broadcast capabilities.

Tablets seem like a better mobile device for watching video content, but Laxdal noted that only about a third of tablets today are LTE-enabled, while the rest are Wi-Fi-only. He seemed skeptical that tablet makers will begin making more of their tablets with LTE chips, as generally, we’ve seen consumers move away from buying LTE data plans for their tablets. “If there was a killer app, like broadcast media content, that could tip the scales,” he said.

On the other hand…

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