LTE Broadcast Is Not a Silver Bullet for Mobile TV

-But There Are Plenty of Other Uses for the Technology
-Mobile TV Faces Its Own Obstacles

Expway, a software provider that makes the middleware for LTE Broadcast, released a study this week that makes the case for a multi-faceted strategy to deploy the technology. LTE Broadcast will “play a pivotal role in the future of wireless,” the company said, but mobile TV still faces a set of obstacles.

One of the main conclusions of the study is that operators will need more than one reason to deploy LTE Broadcast. “One use case rarely justifies the launch of LTE Broadcast, but the pay back can be quick – and additional, significant profits can be realized – when running various use cases at the same time,” it said.

Expway identified 14 business opportunities for LTE Broadcast that cellcos and other wireless operators could tap into. The technology offers both new revenue streams and cost savings. Expway estimates that a wireless operator with 25 million subscribers could achieve as much as €300 million ($400 million) worth of additional revenues and costs saved by deploying the technology. “It represents more than €1 ($1.35) per subscriber per month of increased margin.”

While operators around the world are trialing LTE Broadcast technology to deliver live broadcasts to smartphones and tablets, the use cases for video delivery for the technology remain limited to times and places where a broadcast solution (ie, delivering the same piece of content to many devices) is a viable option.

Cellcos such as Verizon, AT&T in the States, Telstra in Australia and just this week EE in the UK, have focused their trials on the “stadium scenario” of the technology, in which game watchers can access content on their mobile devices in the stadium without overloading the network. Cellcos are keen to focus on these scenarios first because there is a significant need for capacity during live games, and because it’s one of the uses of LTE Broadcast that can generate extra revenue.

The message loud and clear from the report is that in aggregate, LTE Broadcast is a money saver for wireless operators and cellcos, but mobile TV won’t play as large of a role in LTE Broadcast deployments as some are expecting.

Expway’s 14 Uses for LTE Broadcast
It’s become obvious that there is no one killer use case for LTE Broadcast. Whether delivering mobile TV, used in a stadium setting, or used to deliver firmware or operating system updates to devices, the opportunities to use LTE Broadcast are limited, which has led detractors to argue the technology will never take off.

Taken in aggregate, however, Expway believes the total revenue and savings pay for the infrastructure upgrades. The upgrade includes new pieces of network equipment that generate eMBMS streams and move them through the radio access network (RAN), and upgrades to a few other pieces of the workflow, such as the encoder and base stations that experience demand peaks.

Expway identified a creative 14 different uses for the technology. LTE Broadcast benefits cellcos by enabling the customer to receive higher quality video streams and signals through multicast delivery – rather than unicast delivery – while reducing transmission costs for the operator. “Since the same signal is transmitted from several cell towers in a particular area, the signal quality is higher, regardless of location or which direction the device is pointed. A user can move around without the data being interrupted, and with less drain on the device’s battery.”

LTE Broadcast can also help cellcos reach more customers and expand their service coverage. “LTE Broadcast reaches places that typically are poorly served, such as stadiums, tradeshows and highways. All while reducing transmission costs.”

-Mobile TV: either a subscription model or transactional for specific events. Users could access live local stations’ content without affecting their data plans. Content will always be HD, because it won’t be dependent on network conditions for streaming quality.

-Video-on-Demand: subscription or transactional, always HD. Operator can “push” content to a number of devices at once, for downloading and viewing whenever the user wants to do so.

-Connected car: because LTE can deliver video to moving devices, LTE Broadcast can be used to deliver live TV, OTT or other services to cars in motion, can either be subscription, or usage based, and can have local ads (and hence additional revenue).

-Fixed LTE broadband: for rural areas without access to wired broadband.

-Wireless emergency alerts: weather and other emergency alerts can be delivered to many users at once, all within a specific geographic location.

-Stadium app use: operators can have revenue sharing schemes with sports league or stadiums, and can offer in-app purchases for end users, delivering live feeds, camera angles, statistics or commentary to many users in the stadium.

-Data feeds and notifications: can be a subscription service, delivering local or national content, updates, weather, news, stock market updates, etc.

-Firmware and OS updates
-Ad network: Operators can partner with media agencies to deliver ads or revenue-share with service providers for display ads that would be kept in the cache and accessed when needed.

-Last mile CDN: enabling CDNs to extend reach for better management of content and data delivered to devices, for the most popular video or pieces of data. See http://www.expway.com/wp-content/uploads/White-Paper-14-LTE-Broadcast-Use-Cases.pdf

The top revenue generating applications are VoD, fixed LTE broadband, delivering mobile ads, and acting as a last mile CDN.

Obstacles for Mobile TV
We’ve speculated about a number of potential services that could be launched using the technology: a wireless operator or cellco might use the technology to deliver a mobile-only pay TV service, a cellco-owned service could even eventually be delivered into the home with an LTE-enabled gateway or set-top box; or a broadcaster might want to partner with a cellco to use the technology to deliver a mobile streaming TV service.

Still, there are a number of obstacles for a streaming mobile pay TV service.

-It’s unclear if consumers actually want to tune into live broadcasts daily on smartphones. Smartphones are more common devices, but viewers tend generally to migrate to the larger screens for a lean back entertainment experience. There is some data from Ooyala that points to viewers watching more content and longer sessions of content on smartphones. But most TV Everywhere access is done on laptops and tablets.

-Therefore, tablets will need cellular data subscriptions. The trend today is that more tablets are being sold without LTE subscriptions than with LTE subscriptions. This trend will need to reverse for mobile TV via LTE Broadcast to take off. Also, tablet makers will need to make tablets with LTE Broadcast modems inside. The cellco or wireless operator could have their own LTE broadcast-enabled tablets to go with the video service.

-Such a video service would only be available on mobile devices. A mobile TV service that uses LTE Broadcast will, logically, only be available on devices that support LTE Broadcast. That limits viewers to watching on mobile devices exclusively. There are LTE-enabled net-tops in the works, but none have been released yet. There are LTE gateways for the home, too.

-Live broadcasts aren’t as important to the modern viewer as on-demand and any place access. In a world that has become increasingly personalized for the viewer, both in terms of content and delivery, it seems unwise to launch a service that is scheduled and un-personal. Audience fragmentation means a significant portion of video streams on mobile devices will be unicast. [For more on this, see “Ericsson: LTE Broadcast Is Useful because It Is Flexible,” pg 14].

Verizon’s Potential Service Is All Big Events, Not Daily TV
For a mobile video service to take advantage of the benefits of multicast/broadcast over unicast, the video will have to be live and popular enough to draw large simultaneous audiences. Verizon, which has said it will have its LTE Broadcast network in place across its footprint by the end of this year, has a variety of video use-cases for LTE Broadcast that satisfy both requisites:

NFL TV service. Verizon already has a mobile streaming service that delivers NFL games to subscribers. This is exactly the type of service that could benefit from LTE Broadcast. Once there are more devices that support LTE Broadcast in the market, Verizon will likely switch over this subscription service to LTE Broadcast.

-Stadium app uses: Verizon has conducted a number of field trials for the “stadium scenario” use of LTE Broadcast, including most recently at the Indy 500 races.

-Pay-per-view sports: Verizon could also deliver special tournaments or games to subscribers via LTE Broadcast as a transactional or PPV model.

-Concerts: Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said a few months ago that big concerts are another opportunity for LTE Broadcast. “Concert promoters have come in and they have said, gee, if we had the ability to allow people to pay $3 to watch whatever the hot act is, no matter where they are in the country, would you guys do that? Yes, I think we would,” McAdam said. [See “Verizon’s McAdam on LTE Broadcast,” in TOR879].

A linear, mobile TV service that delivers live feeds of channels on a day to day basis, however, isn’t on this list.

NOTTV in Japan 
There is one success story in mobile TV. The first and only successful broadcast TV service to mobile devices is…

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