MBMS – Will LTE Broadcasting Succeed?

LTE broadcast or eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services) has been making a buzz in the mobile TV industry (with vendors, technology evangelists, operators etc.) ever since it was first introduced for UMTS in 2006. Strangely this technology did not gain much momentum as per the benefits it can provide. When LTE gained ground in the market then, MBMS reintroduced it as eMBMS. Expectations are high now because a combination of LTE and eMBMS provides more flexibility and uses spectrum efficiently. However, the commercial deployment of eMBMS has not matched up to the expectations.
IMG_3426Technology evangelists were perplexed about why MBMS was not gaining ground in terms of actual commercial deployments, though it is capable of providing huge benefits. This article attempts to analyze this question and provides some very useful and practical use cases where both operators and users stand to benefit.

A few basic concerns due to which MBMS has not gained momentum yet are:

  • Lack of ecosystem – MBMS requires support from smartphone manufacturers, telecommunications operators as well as content providers to serve interesting and useful content to users. However, the ecosystem is in early stages and a certain amount of collaboration is required for it to function effectively.
  • There is no free lunch here – Someone has to pay for the spectrum freed by the operator for MBMS use. The market is still not mature, and operators are uncertain whether they can earn from advertisements or if they have to charge customers for the same. This dilemma has contributed to the delay.
  • Return on investment (ROI) - Operators fear that they may not be able to recover cost of deployments and this era of fast-changing technology has added to the hindrance.
  • Middleware Support - No common middleware support is available from UE vendors to maintain uniqueness and uniformity for the operator’s mobile application through which broadcast services will be provided. This is a basic and potentially limiting bottleneck.

Inspite of the above, 2015 saw a more mature market for MBMS, an example being the commercial deployment of Olleh LTE Play service from KT, Korea.. As per the recent GSA 2016 Report, the ecosystem for LTE Broadcast is taking off and there has been an increase in the number of field trials.

The highlights of latest GSA report are as follows:

  • Mobile subscriptions for high data consumption devices are expected to reach 8 billion by 2019
  • Mobile data traffic is expected to grow 10 fold between 2013 and 2019, driven mainly by video
  • GSA forecasts market for LTE Broadcast services will reach USD14 billion worldwide by 2020

The above reports reinforce my personal viewpoint that the demand for video is increasing by the day.
This is also evident from the increasing sale of personal handheld devices like smartphones, tablets etc. So, to meet the fast increasing demand of video from users, eMBMS seems to beone of the top solutions in the near future.

Some of the basic features of eMBMS are listed below:

  • Unicast, Multicast and Broadcast simultaneously (Multicast yet to be included)
  • Most efficient use of spectrum
  • MBSFN to improve coverage and cell edge – this line is not very clear
  • Service continuity
  • MBMS Operation On Demand (MOOD) – 3GPP Release 12
  • HEVC Codecs – 3GPP Release 12
  • Multiband eMBMS using carrier aggregation – 3GPP Release 12
  • Overload Management for eNodeB

So, with the same LTE network, eNodeB can transmit the data normally and whenever needed, it can start LTE broadcasting services as well along with Unicast data, and MBSFN can provide synchronization in a predefined area. LTE broadcasting is used to deliver same content to many users simultaneously.

However, for this to happen, upgradation of existing eNodeB’s are required which the operators are hesitating to do quickly. Nevertheless, for new LTE deployments such as Reliance Jio in India, operators can deploy eMBMS enabled eNodeBs at one shot, and can later reap the benefits of this technology. As per the GSA report, Reliance Jio is already in the trial phase for eMBMS.

LTE broadcast can be useful in many cases apart from Mobile TV. In some cases, eMBMS can be used instantly. Other use cases may be developed as and when the technology and market evolve.

Mobile TV is the most targeted case for eMBMS simply because everybody watches TV! Here, advertisement could be the main source of revenue and we just need to plan out the content of TV channels selectively. The job of the content provider is a bit difficult here because it can affect revenue significantly. One suggestion could be to opt for live broadcasting of most of the popular shows on a TV channel and do the repeat telecasts quite regularly. So those who miss watching the show can catch up on it at a later point in time.

Live broadcasting of sports events to all users and stadium-specific broadcasting, available only to those in and around the stadium, could be the best bet. Whenever a live event is scheduled, eNodeBs can be fine-tuned to do both Unicast and Broadcast, after which they can switch back to regular Unicast mode. This is the best use case where eMBMS can help in efficient use of spectrum. I have observed that a lot of people use Mobile Apps to watch live telecast of sports events while on the move. This works on the Unicast mode. If we start doing the same in broadcast mode, we transmit content only once. This is a win-win situation for all parties concerned.

Another innovative idea could be the live broadcasting of FM channels. This way, FM channels do not need to maintain separate logistics for broadcasting as they do now. FM channels just need to lease out one channel from the operator. This way, FM channels can focus only on the content and not the delivery aspect. Also, users are not required to have a separate FM receiver, since their smartphone is all they need to listen to their favorite FM channel.

In such cases, push advertisement could be the best source of revenue. We can broadcast any advertisement video/audio/text to the users and include information related to discounts, new offers and so on to the users in a selected location. Here eMBMS can directly compete with the new beacon technology which works on this use case. We will examine both these technologies for this use case separately, at length.

The first use case of pushing static content to the users as per their subscription would be similar to e-newspaper, magazines, movie, games updates etc. These use cases are interesting and revenue generating. For example, if a user has subscription to a magazine and also to the video of a new movie, the operator can push this content to the users during the most optimum time, such as night time when the requirement for unicast service is less. And in the morning, users can access the content on their smartphones. This would be an efficient use of eMBMS!!

Push information can be related to emergency, live traffic updates, live news feed, weather report, temperature, any government messages and many more such cases. All these cases listed benefit most of the data users and are quite beneficial for them.

In all the use cases discussed earlier, we see that eMBMS can be very useful and effective. We just need to wait for a more robust ecosystem to develop to see some or all above use cases in the near future. As per GSA, over a 100 devices are available with eMBMS support already and there are more coming up. This could help in enhancing the overall ecosystem in favor of eMBMS. In any case, smartphones have much shorter innovation (or technology update) cycles and thus support new technologies at a faster pace.

As per the latest GSA report, the operators actively involved in trials for eMBMS are as follows:

Country Network Status
Australia Telstra Trialed
China China Mobile Status
China China Telecom Largescale User Trial
France Orange Trialed
France TDF Trialing convergence
potential of eMBMS
with DVB
Germany Vodafone Trialed
Germany IRT Trialing
Hong Kong China Mobile Demonstrated
Hong Kong PCCW (CSL) Internal tests
India RJIL Trialed
Indonesia Smartfren Trial Planned
Italy RAI Trialing convergence
potential of eMBMS
with DVB
Italy TIM Trialing
Netherlands KPN Trialed
Philippines Globe Deploying
Philippines Smart Trialed
Poland Polkomtel Plus Trialed
Portugal Meo Trialing
Russia Megafon Lab Tests
Russia MTS Trialed
Singapore SingTel Trialing
Germany IRT Trialing
South Korea SK Telecom Development
South Korea KT COMMERCIAL
Spain Vodafone Trialed
UAE Etisalat Trialing
UK EE with BBC Trialing
UK Three UK Trialing
USA AT&T Trials, deploying
USA Verizon Wireless COMMERCIAL

GSA also published a list of devices that support eMBMS with other details, which is available on their website.

Aricent is already in the position of LTE specialists as well as specialists in LTE broadcasting involving eNodeB and end-to-end broadcasting infrastructure. Aricent has ready to use LTE eNodeB Stacks supporting M2AP Protocol. Aricent has a proven base platform too which can reduce time-to-market of the final solution.

 

 

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