The UK mobile industry is so keen on LTE Broadcast that “by 2020, no live TV will be unicast,” says Matt Stagg, senior manager of network strategy at the country’s largest operator EE.
For the past two years, EE has been one of the prime movers (along with data centre firm Equinix) behind the Mobile Video Alliance (MVA), tasked by the UK’s Digital TV Group (DTG) to “identify, develop and advocate technologies that harmonise the delivery of audio visual content to mobile devices”.
This week, Stagg told the DTG’s annual summit that the group’s prime focus is LTE Broadcast in the 2.6 GHz band. Although the UK’s other mobile operators are not directly involved in the MVA, they are also keen to experiment with the technology, Stagg said.
LTE Broadcast, based on eMBMS technology that already exists within the LTE standard, overcomes the main source of the mobile industry’s inefficient use of spectrum in comparison to terrestrial broadcasting. This is that the same live audiovisual content is broadcast over one channel to millions of households in a digital terrestrial TV network, but that duplicating that on a mobile network would require a unique channel for each connection and the consumption of more spectrum than physics has given us.
Or to use Stagg’s words: “if we broadcast the Premiership then it will break the mobile network” (the Premiership being England’s main football league).
In a discussion after Stagg’s presentation, the CTO of UK regulator Ofcom Steve Unger pointed out that LTE Broadcast throws up interesting regulatory questions (none of which he gave a view on). These include the extent to which operators will need to buy broadcasting rights, or be subject to broadcasting licensing conditions. And could this possibly go against the principle of “net neutrality”?
While these are valid concerns, they do not seem to detract from the fundamental strength of LTE Broadcast: that it reconciles the huge growth of the mobile broadband ecosystem in recent years with the unavoidable fact – one reiterated by Unger yesterday – that demand for linear TV remains extremely high.
Toby Youell, PolicyTracker