Will LTE Broadcast disrupt current content delivery paradigms?

Usually in this space, we inform you of some new technological development, supplemented by some succinct and insightful analysis.

Well, anyone who tells you they know how LTE Broadcast will affect the cellular business, the content streaming business, the broadcast television business or any wireless content delivery business either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or is simply in love with hearing the sound of their own opinionated pontification.

So let me tell you how LTE Broadcast will affect… lots of content delivery stuff. Or, perhaps I should tell you what LTE Broadcast is, which should set your minds whirling with the implications.

In a nutshell, LTE Broadcast allows cellular carriers to designate specific frequencies to push out content in a broadcast or multicast mode (as opposed to a unicast mode). For instance, Verizon could live stream a special event, such as the Super Bowl, for consumers to watch on their compatible smartphones and tablets.

In fact, that’s exactly what Verizon did a couple of months back in the first public demonstration of LTE Broadcast in the U.S. In Europe, Vodafone conducted a similar LTE Broadcast broadcast of a football game (soccer to us Americans) in late February.

There are multiple technological and business advantages to LTE Broadcast. First, it clears out the increasing clogs caused by heavy video streaming. According to Cisco, global video traffic will account for 69 percent of all Internet traffic by 2018. Also by 2018, according to a fascinating white paper from leading LTE Broadcast developer Ericsson, mobile data subscriptions are due to nearly double to 4.2 billion and mobile data traffic could rise 12-fold.

By sequestering specific spectrum and broadcasting select content, there can be some relief on overcrowded mobile networks.

LTE Broadcast also allows companies to send out hefty OS updates to devices, not only for consumer device (i.e. iOS and Android), but to infrastructure such as vending machines or other equipment. Since cellular networks are broken down into cells (duh), LTE Broadcast can be used to “narrowcast” by not only time but geography as well.

On the business side – Jiminy Crickets, there are many possibilities. Although companies that are making the LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) equipment, like Ericsson, are quicker to point to applications such as digital signage, TV-via-cellular broadcast is a popular service to ponder.

LTE Broadcast technology

What’s so great about LTE Broadcast’s future? Well, I’ll tell ya.

The inclusion of dedicated tuners and antennas in devices like smartphones and tablets has had little success beyond the 1-seg service in Japan, and so many crystal-ball gazers see LTE-A as a viable option to broadcasting certain TV content to a mobile device. Much of the underlying technologies have been developed and are currently being tested. So far, successful tests have occurred only in stadium settings.

LTE Broadcast’s three core technologies are:

• eMBMS (enhanced Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services), an enhanced version of what already exists within the current 3G standard and as a feature within LTE;

• HEVC H.265 video compression, which, admittedly, isn’t included in any new smartphones yet (hopefully, maybe, it will be included in one or both of the two rumored upcoming iPhone 6 models), although Google is pushing its own royalty-free VP9 compression standard as an alternative.

• MPEG-Dash, the streaming-over-Internet streaming protocol, which is already supported within Android KitKat 4.4, although Apple requires its own HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) protocol.

While not required, LTE Broadcast is likely to be rolled out part-and-parcel with LTE Advanced, which promises download speeds of up to 10 times faster than current LTE when rolled out later this year (we hope). Both LTE Advanced and LTE Broadcast require whole new chipsets – primarily the next-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 matched with the Gobi 9×25 modem – along with access to wider and more plentiful carrier-aggregated LTE-A frequencies.

But these soon-to-be smartphone capabilities will become the new smartphone normal in a year or so from now, paving the way for a critical mass of LTE Broadcast-capable devices.

LTE Broadcast possibilities

There have been no official carrier announcements for LTE Broadcast services so we can only imagine potential services. Possibilities include sports, special event streaming, or LTE Broadcast-only pay-per-view concerts, or maybe new season debuts of hit TV shows that are owned by companies willing to go out on a limb with new distribution partners.

But it’s easy to imagine carriers and cable concerns such as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse to see LTE Broadcast as a new way for customers to access content (and charging them through the nose for the pleasure), or carriers partnering with content creators for special download distribution deals.

That’s the low hanging, no-imagination impact analysis of LTE Broadcast’s potential. LTE Broadcast is such an intriguing concept, but it’s impossible to tell this far out what kind of disrupting influence it could have. What we do know is how new technologies generate their own fresh models and paradigms.

Is the technology ready for large-scale broadcasting of video?

Can LTE Broadcast create a whole new content distribution model that will disrupt the current content delivery ecosystems?  Will content owners add cellular distribution?

Will carriers provide consumers with the LTE Broadcast version of public access channels?

Will consumers opt to switch from a wired or satellite provider and just watch LTE Broadcast broadcasts?

We’ll have at least a year of carrier trials and LTE Advanced-compatible phones coming to market while we ponder the future wonder of LTE Broadcast.