Can LTE save mobile TV?

John C. Tanner
10 Mar 2014

Ever since the heady days of 3G, video has been touted as the killer app for mobile data. First it was video calls. Later, it was mobile broadcast TV. The latter seemed like such a no-brainer that a standards war broke out to capture the market, the biggest contenders being DVB-H and Qualcomm’s MediaFLO.

That was over ten years ago. MediaFLO shut down for good at the end of 2011, and the only significant DVB-H operation left is in Africa, where South African media group Multichoice offers DVB-H service in eight countries. Mobile TV did gain significant followings in Korea, Japan and China via homegrown standards (S-DMB and T-DMB for Korea, 1seg for Japan and CMMB for China), but for the most part, the technology has been a colossal dud.

But now mobile TV is poised for a comeback – or at least the technology to enable it is.

Ironically, the technology in question existed even during the peak of mobile TV’s hype cycle – Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Services (MBMS), a standard developed by the 3GPP as part of Release 8 for UMTS that was intended to enable broadcast capabilities for 3G networks. But the only company trying to commercialize MBMS at the time was IPWireless, whose tdTV solution leveraged unused TDD spectrum. tdTV never got past a handful of trials in the UK, partly because of lack of interest in TDD outside of China, and partly because of the limitations of a 5-MHz channel regardless of whether it was TDD or FDD.

Now, however, MBMS has evolved alongside LTE into what the 3GPP calls “evolved MBMS” (eMBMS), a.k.a. LTE Broadcast, which works with both the FDD and TDD flavors of LTE. And some big-name cellcos are making plans for LTE Broadcast.

In Asia Pacific last October, Telstra announced it had completed the world’s first LTE Broadcast session on a commercial LTE network, using technology from Ericsson and Qualcomm. Korea Telecom is working with Samsung to roll out commercial LTE Broadcast services. Elsewhere, AT&T, Verizon, Orange and EE have also committed to deploying the technology in the next year or two. As we went to press, Verizon had plans to introduce LTE Broadcast in association with the live broadcast of the Super Bowl at the end of January.

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