IMB & eMBMS: Wait-and-See Mobile TV

IMB and eMBMS have a year to improve their penetration in the mobile video market to become long-term options for mobile offload

September 23, 2011

4 Min Read
IMB & eMBMS: Wait-and-See Mobile TV

Who really wants to watch a movie or a TV show on a cell phone? Count director David Lynch among the majority of mobile users who don't. But here's why the rest of us should care: Although only 9 percent of wireless customers are using their devices for video at any given time, that group is already generating 38 percent of all mobile data traffic.

So say the carrier customers of Bytemobile Inc. , one of the many vendors proffering solutions to mobile video problem. Solutions centered on policy control and optimization have gotten most of the attention, trials and deployments so far, but there are two others flying under the radar: Integrated Mobile Broadcast (IMB) and evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (eMBMS).

IMB and eMBMS could offload about 20 percent of video traffic, including infrequent events that attract mass audiences, such as royal weddings. The French Open, for example, overloaded many base stations, the kind of problem that some carriers believe they could mitigate with IMB. Besides these once-a-year and once-in-a-lifetime events, carriers and/or their business partners also could use IMB for linear broadcasts, such as newscasts and original programming.

Twenty percent might sound like a drop in the bucket, but carriers considering eMBMS and IMB technologies believe that amount will significantly alleviate pressure on their networks, which then can focus on other traffic. "If our traffic is going to double every year for the next five years, there's going to be an enormous amount of traffic coming from just that 20 percent," says an executive at a Tier 1 carrier in the Asia/Pacific region.

But as discussed in the new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "The Mobile Video Crunch: IMB & eMBMS to the Rescue?," most carriers are on the fence about both technologies. In the case of IMB, one reason is classic: They're waiting for vendors to start producing compatible smartphones, tablets and other devices, while vendors are waiting for carriers to deploy the infrastructure.

"Despite our efforts to convince the industry, we don't see enough support to go full speed on IMB," says an executive at one of the world's largest carriers. This carrier has helped promote IMB, and the executive says the internal consensus is that it's the right choice for their company. But, "we don't see our peers as excited as we are."

This uncertainty creates opportunities not just for eMBMS, which is more of a 2012-and-beyond story anyway simply because of standards work, but also for policy- and optimization-based alternatives. In fact, many carriers already seem to be leaning toward eMBMS. "eMBMS is kind of a check mark: Everybody has it on their Excel spreadsheets," says Eran Eshed, co-founder and VP of marketing and business development at Altair Semiconductor . "eMBMS is a feature that's being requested in many markets."

Even so, it's a mistake to write off IMB as an historical footnote. One reason is the size of its addressable market: More than 150 carriers in 60 countries own or have access to the necessary time division duplexing (TDD) spectrum, according to companies such as Streamezzo Group . That works out to about 500 million potential end users, a market big enough to pique the interest of major consumer electronics vendors, whose presence or absence can make or break IMB.

IMB also is relatively cheap: primarily a channel card and software upgrade at the base station level, or about $10,000 per site for base stations that can't be upgraded. "To do the U.K., you're talking in the £30 million region [about $49 million], and that's to cover over half the population," says Jon Hambidge, IPWireless Inc. CMO. On the device side, IMB is about $1.50 in volume.

The trick is to get to those volumes. After all, the more customers that a carrier has using IMB, the greater relief it provides in terms of capacity and profitability. For carriers and their investors, that would be must-see TV.

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, 4G/LTE Insider

This report,"The Mobile Video Crunch: IMB & eMBMS to the Rescue?," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit:

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