LTE Broadcast Arrives in Italy

Italy is the latest European country to trial LTE Broadcast for local transmission of a major live event with streaming of a show by singer-songwriter Max Gazzè. Like many other trials to date it was limited to a selected group of users at Expo 2015, the World Trade Fair in Milan, spanning the 110 hectare (272 acre) site. The Gazzè show was multicast to the site over Italian operator TIM’s 4G/LTE network to LTE Broadcast enabled phablets (large smartphones the size of small tablets), allowing users to switch between several channels of live HD video as well as on-demand content within the Expo zone.

The trial used Ericsson’s LTE Broadcast transmission technology, while Qualcomm provided the chips for the Samsung phablets implementing the key underlying eMBMS (evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service). The trio of Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung has been involved in a spate of recent European trials. The Expo demonstration comes hot on the heels of Russia's first live LTE broadcast trial by MTS earlier in October 2015, staged at its offices in Nizhny Novgorod, with content streamed from Aachen in Germany. Pre-configured LTE broadcast capable devices with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor and X10 LTE modem were used in the trial. MTS is Russia’s largest mobile operator with over 100 million subscribers and says there is high demand for viewing TV on smartphones in the country.

There has also been growing interest in LTE Broadcast from broadcasters, which fear being shut out of the loop by content providers going direct to consumers over mobile networks. In some cases though broadcasters are partnering with mobile operators, as the BBC did in the UK in May 2015 with cellular provider EE to transmit three streams of the English football cup final from Wembley stadium.

This enabled EE subscribers to choose between multiple camera angles and replays rather than having to wait for them to be shown in a single broadcast stream. This differed from many earlier trials by not being confined to transmission within a single venue.

LTE Broadcast is part of the fourth generation (4G) cellular transmission standard also called LTE, using the eMBMS point-to-multipoint interface enabling multicast delivery to specified cell sites within the fixed mobile core network. LTE Broadcast is widely deemed to be the most efficient candidate technology to address the mobile video boom by multicasting popular live video streams to cells in which there are a number of users wanting to view them. Multicasting reduces traffic both across the fixed backhaul network serving cell towers and within the cells themselves, known as RANs (Radio Access Networks), by transmitting just one instance of a given video rather than separate unicast streams for each user electing to receive them. Operators can confine LTE Broadcasts to cells where users want to view the content. This all makes the technology particularly suitable for large venues such as trade shows and sporting events, where many users often access the same content virtually simultaneously. At the same time there may be no demand for that content in other cells within the same mobile network.

In support for multicast LTE Broadcast is no different from earlier mobile broadcast technologies such as DVB-H that failed to gain traction with operators or consumers. But it offers three crucial advantages over those earlier incarnations of mobile broadcast. These are improved performance, avoiding the need for additional expensive licensed spectrum, and ability to work with future end user handsets without additional dedicated hardware.

Apart from overcoming these previous hurdles to mass mobile broadcast deployment, interest in LTE Broadcast is being stimulated by the proliferation in wireless video consumption in turn driven by growing penetration of tablets and larger smartphones with bigger screens for viewing, as well as by roll out of 4G networks themselves. 

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