Wireless Carriers Tune Up LTE Video Plans

Major U.S. wireless carriers continue to use big sports events to show off an emerging technology that enables them to deliver large files and high-quality video to mobile devices without gobbling up all of their precious capacity.

In the latest example, AT&T on Jan. 12 hosted its first live, on-site trial of LTE (Long-Term Evolution) Broadcast technology during the College Football Championship matchup between Oregon and Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Considered much more bandwidth-friendly than unicast streaming, LTE Broadcast (also called LTE Multicast) carves out a dedicated slice of spectrum to deliver live video that can be captured by a multitude of compatible mobile devices that are within range of the signal.

AT&T’s demo provided a mixture of bonus content from game telecaster ESPN, including access to the venue’s “Spider Cam” feed, access to the ESPN “Film Room,” and integrated real-time stats.

The telco’s demonstration used 5 Megahertz of LTE spectrum to deliver two channels of streaming video and one channel of data simultaneously to 40 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 devices, according to website FierceWireless.

MobiTV, a longtime AT&T mobile-video partner, developed the app and the stack required to decode the LTE Broadcast signals, relying on MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adapted Streaming over HTTP) packaging. In addition to Samsung, other technology partners included Ericsson and Qualcomm.

“We’re fully DASH-complaint and can deliver [content] in unicast and broadcast,” Kerry Travilla, MobiTV’s senior director of technology, said. “This is just another delivery end point for us to support.”

The bandwidth-efficiency of LTE Broadcast has raised questions as to whether it will be used primarily for in-venue scenarios like sporting events, or if it can also be tapped to help wireless carriers underpin downsized subscription-TV packages.

MobiTV’s Travilla couldn’t speak to any specific commercial plans carriers have for LTE broadcast, but noted that it would not make sense for providers to use the technology to deliver large packages of 80 channels or so.

Each stream for AT&T’s LTE broadcast demo took up about 1 Megabit per second of wireless capacity. Even with an advanced codec like High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) in play, a carrier would need much more capacity than that to deliver HD streams sized for a large TV screen.

AT&T has not said when it might commercially deploy LTE Broadcast, but a spokesman said the provider uses a standard that can allocate up to 60% of its LTE carrier for such applications.

Video is just one application that can take advantage of LTE Broadcast, Travilla said. Wireless operators can also use it as an efficient file-delivery service for things like firmware updates, he said.

Verizon Wireless, another MobiTV partner, has also been out front with LTE Multicast, demonstrating it during events surrounding last year’s Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos in East Rutherford, N.J.

Verizon revealed last fall that its network was ready to support LTE multicast as of August 2014. Mobile devices that bowed in the fourth quarter of last year would be equipped with chips that support the new technology, Verizon noted, positioning it for initial commercial rollouts sometime this year.