LTE Broadcast gets ready for its close-up
By Tammy Parker
It's no secret that mobile video is one of the most popular uses for mobile broadband networks. Yet there is one huge drawback to customers' insatiable desire to view video on their mobile devices: Most of the content is provided by over-the-top players and delivered via unicast channels. This sucks up precious bandwidth on mobile networks and does not allow operators to monetize the service beyond charging for the amount of data consumed.
Enter LTE Broadcast, billed as the answer to at least some of the video delivery challenges challenges facing mobile operators.
Based upon evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS) and available commercially beginning with 3GPP Release 9, LTE Broadcast replaces clunky unicast content delivery with a single-frequency network broadcast mode that can send the same content to mass audiences within a specific area.
According to a white paper distributed by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), two of the technology's most enthusiastic boosters, an LTE Broadcast service area can span just a few cells or it can be expanded to cover an entire country.
The white paper notes that an LTE network can be upgraded for LTE Broadcast via software, and the addition of a new media service layer "offers a dedicated network element for the implementation of end-to-end LTE Broadcast services."
Actually the upgrade can be quite a bit more involved depending upon the underlying LTE network, said Neville Meijers, vice president of business development for Qualcomm Labs. "It really depends upon the age of the network. It depends upon the suppliers as well. You may have to replace firmware or software. In some cases you may have to replace some hardware cards," he said.
"It is an upgrade to the LTE network. You need a provisioning backend as well in place, what's known as the BM-SC, or Broadcast Multicast Service Center. That provisions the network and allows broadcast content to be delivered through the network," Meijers explained.
Further, operators interested in deploying LTE Broadcast should ensure they have sufficient backhaul to enable robust synchronization between their base stations, which need to closely coordinate with one another so they broadcast with the same intervals, according to Hector Menendez, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) marketing manager. He noted IEEE 1588v2 is the timing and synchronization standard needed for LTE Broadcast service.
In addition, compatible devices require the appropriate chipsets to support LTE Broadcast along with appropriate firmware and middleware layer.
Qualcomm has been working closely with Ericsson on LTE Broadcast. "Ericsson has focused on upgrading the eNodeBs to accommodate LTE Broadcast as well as the BM-SC and the middleware part of the head-end. We at Qualcomm have focused on the device side, both from a QMC chipset point of view and a middleware point of view," said Meijers.
Alcatel-Lucent is also working closely with Qualcomm on LTE Broadcast and is using pre-commercial handsets outfitted with Qualcomm chips in lab tests, said Menendez.