Ericsson Targets Live Sports With New LTE Broadcast Technology

With a keen eye on the live-sports and entertainment market, Ericsson has announced a new end-to-end LTE Broadcast concept that it says will revolutionize delivery of live video over mobile networks. It combines three of the latest standards — HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP), and eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) — to allow wireless carriers to multicast high-quality live and on-demand video content over an LTE network using less bandwidth than previously required.

“It is clear that people want both convenience and quality when [streaming live video content] and they expect quality to continue to get better,” says Simon Frost, head of TV Marketing, Ericsson. “So what is the most premium content that has the most important need of quality and immediacy? Sports content. That is why this technology applies particularly well to the sports environment, where the live aspect is key.”

With an imminent onslaught of mobile-video traffic on the horizon (Ericsson projects that overall mobile traffic will grow 12-fold by 2018 and 90% of all mobile traffic will be video traffic within the next three to four years), the company is looking to stay ahead of the curve with this new LTE Broadcast infrastructure, which can be used for live streaming of high-demand video content (such as live sports), among other mobile-related applications.

For live sports, specifically, LTE Broadcast provides a bevy of opportunities. Wireless carriers can broadcast major sports events in dense areas to all subscribers or, within a stadium or arena setting, provide multiple camera angles and replay channels — as well as stats and other mobile content — to fans at the venue.

The Technology Triumvirate
LTE Broadcast is built around three primary standards: HEVC (or H.265), MPEG-DASH, and eMBMS.

H.265, officially standardized by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in January, represents the MPEG’s latest video-compression standard and promises to halve the bandwidth required to transport video content compared with H.264 (or MPEG-4 AVC). Ericsson announced the market’s first H.265 encoding platform at IBC in Amsterdam last September.

MPEG-DASH intelligently optimizes bit flows during streaming to eliminate the excessive buffering and stalling that can occur as packets are delayed during transmission. This kind of functionality is particularly important in the cellular environment, ensuring a more quality viewing experience and greater exploitation of network and radio capacity for the mobile-network operator.

eMBMS is a 3GPP standard that allows a wireless carrier to deliver the same live video content to multiple end users simultaneously. It enables mobile networks to offer broadcast/multicast services dynamically to offload issues of popular content in dense-consumption scenarios, reducing the cost of service delivery over the radio network and for backhaul.

“By leveraging those three standards, it transforms the applicability, cost-effectiveness, and the quality capability in delivering content to consumers and their ever evolving needs,” says Frost. “You’ve got HEVC halving the bitrate while delivering the same level of quality. You’ve got MPEG-DASH reducing the costs in HTTP adaptive streaming by standardizing the streaming layers and reducing complexity. And you’ve got eMBMS enabling the network to dynamically shift pieces of the network to multicast or broadcast this content.”

Teaming Up With Verizon, NFL
At CES in January, Verizon Wireless announced plans to offer live broadcast TV over 4G LTE in conjunction with Ericsson’s LTE Broadcast technology. The wireless carrier plans to unveil LTE Broadcast for entertainment and sports events in 2014 and has already partnered with the NFL to enhance in-venue mobile-video capabilities at stadiums across the country.

In addition, during his CES keynote speech, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam teased the idea of broadcasting Super Bowl XLVIII live over the company’s 4G LTE network in 2014.

“If Verizon is able to guarantee [those] 100,000 people in the stadium access to LTE on their smart devices in the future, it will open up all kinds of possibilities,” says Frost. “It will allow the NFL to offer alternate camera angles and multiple pieces of unique content to a very broad audience in a very dense setting.”

What’s Next for LTE Broadcast?
This week, Ericsson also revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, that it will partner with Australian operator Telstra on a live network trial of LTE Broadcast technology in second half 2013.

Telstra and Verizon are likely just the beginning. There’s no mystery behind Ericsson’s strong push for LTE Broadcast. Just look at the numbers: according to GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), as of January, a total of 145 commercial LTE networks had already been deployed across 66 countries, with a further 381 operators in 114 countries committed to build LTE networks; by third quarter 2012, more than 43 million subscribers had signed up for LTE services.

“Due to the fact that LTE is so widely deployed and rapidly being deployed further, this solution is a relatively quick and easy addition to the LTE investment that really enables the [wireless carrier] to offer high-quality, highly efficient data-delivery services and video-content–delivery services,” says Frost. “It presents a variety of new opportunities with the content industry. I think having the confidence that the network can deliver high-quality content efficiently allows you to enter a different level of conversation with the content industry, because you can effectively prove that you can mass deliver and not run out of capacity.”

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