UK mobile operator EE is the latest 4G service provider to put eMBMS mobile video broadcast capabilities to the test, working with a number of partners to show off the service in Glasgow while the Commonwealth Games are taking place in the Scottish city. (See Huawei Helps Out in BBC, EE 4G Broadcast Trial.)
The trial, which will be displayed at the Commonwealth Games Showcase in the Glasgow Science Centre during the Games (which run from July 23 to August 3), involves sports content being delivered by the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) over EE 's 2.6GHz spectrum via Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. infrastructure to devices powered by Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) chips.
Such trials, using the eMBMS (evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services) specs included in the 3GPP LTE standard, are important to mobile operators to determine whether live, high-quality streaming video can be delivered using broadcast capabilities to multiple users simultaneously over 4G instead of using unicast streams, which use up much more spectrum capacity and overload the network when multiple users are in the same mobile cell. (See eMBMS: Revolutionary Technology or Alphabet Soup?)
Here's what the partners will be doing to show off the 4G broadcast:
The live content for the trial is in MPEG-DASH format provided by the BBC's R&D team, sent over an IP link to a Huawei server situated within the EE test labs. The content is then encapsulated within multicast and sent to basestations (eNodeBs), one of which is situated within the showcase at the Glasgow Science Centre, where it is transmitted on 2.6GHz spectrum. An application written by BBC R&D, enabled by Qualcomm Technologies' LTE Broadcast solution -- comprising LTE Broadcast middleware and a Snapdragon 800 processor with an integrated Qualcomm Gobi modem -- is then used to display and navigate the live streams on handsets. This can be connected to the BBC's iPlayer content application to enable the integration of unicast on-demand content with live broadcast streams.
EE is very keen on eMBMS as an enabling technology for the delivery of sports content in particular. At a recent joint EE/Qualcomm briefing in London, Matt Stagg, a principal strategist at the mobile operator, noted that 4G Broadcast and live sport were "a winning team," and one that EE is prepared for. "We have basically built a video distribution network" that does other things too, he said, referring to EE's LTE infrastructure: 3G, by comparison, is a "communications network."
But he also noted that there have been many mobile broadcast video efforts previously, none of which had come to anything. But the big plus point about eMBMS is that "it's dynamic," said Stagg. "Before, content was being broadcast even if no one was watching it, but the dynamic switching capabilities in eMBMS eliminate the 'broadcast to no-one' problem."
In addition, because eMBMS uses less spectrum to broadcast video within a cell than is used by two 4G users streaming unicast video, the deployment of eMBMS can deliver significant cost savings related to spectrum, backhaul, core network requirements, and peering.
"eMBMS is a valuable, long-term technology," he told journalists at the briefing, but it needs greater support from across the industry, something that can be achieved through the Mobile Video Alliance.
In the meantime, EE has plans to undertake various tests and trials of eMBMS in the coming year or so and look to launch 4G Broadcast as a commercial service in 2016 at the earliest.
For more on eMBMS, see:
- AT&T Investing in LTE Video Despite Capex 'Freeze'?
- Etisalat Expands 4G with Alcatel-Lucent
- Euronews: Vodafone Tests LTE Broadcast
- KPN trials eMBMS (Eurobites item)
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading