It could be argued that, after an initial bout of enthusiasm around LTE-Broadcast, with the right noises coming from select industry heavyweights through pilots and trials, momentum for the technology has waned somewhat.
LTE-B (also known as eMBMS) has been pitched by some of the world’s largest operators – for the past two years at least – as the most cost effective way to provide TV and video content in crowded and congested areas, with many of the early trials being conducted at major sporting events.
UK’s EE, which has previously stated the technology will be the sole driver for live content on its network by 2019, last year noted plans to launch the service on its 4G network in 2016, while Verizon has already commercially launched the technology, as did Korea Telecom in 2014.
Most recently, Telstra’s director of networks Mike Wright told Mobile World Live it was in the process of testing the technology across multiple use cases, but warned that it will be another 12-18 months until it really takes off.
But perhaps, most telling from the interview, was the suggestion that not every device manufacturer is a believer in the technology, yet.
To that end, last month, the quartet (EE, Verizon, KT and Telstra) announced the formation of the “LTE-Broadcast Alliance”, vowing to “facilitate the ecosystem” around the technology.
While boasting that the alliance itself represents more than 200 million mobile subscribers, the group notably said its primary goal “is to encourage global support for LTE-Broadcast services from all device makers”.
For Paolo Pescatore, director, multiplay and media at CCS Insight, an apparent lack of wider support from device manufacturers is indeed why “the whole thing around LTE-B has gone all too quiet, very quickly”.
“We initially saw network vendors and providers all keen to move forward with the technology across the world, but there seems to be a stumbling block in generating broader appeal within the wider ecosystem”.
Pescatore went as far as to tell Mobile World Live that the “alliance is a last ditch effort to get the industry moving forward and together in the right direction”.
“It does feel pretty ambitious, but the technology has proven to bring numerous merits,” he continued. “The one over-arching concern is the business model with LTE-B and who is going to pay for the network upgrades and deployment.”
Expectedly, Matt Stagg, EE’s head of video and content, was more bullish on both the progress of LTE-B to date, and wider ambitions to attract the bigger device manufacturers to embrace the solution, while dismissing fears around the underlying business case.
“This technology is an enabler, and we can do lot of things with it. At the moment, the driver is network efficiency, and if we can move about even one per cent of the traffic from our network to LTE-B, it pays for itself,” he told Mobile World Live.
Although he didn’t exactly backtrack on the company’s 2016 aim, Stagg said launching the technology commercially was now dependent on a number of factors, before adding that it is no “longer a case of ‘if” LTE-B will be deployed”.
“In order for us to pull time scales forward and deploy commercial services for network efficiency, and also increased quality of experience for our customers, particularly for live sport, we need everyone on board, because it won’t always be our own content,” he said.
“Currently, the combined weight of our lobbying the handset manufacturers and chipset manufacturers to support this technology as early as possible, and maintaining the evolution of mobile broadcast services as a whole through to 5G and realise the benefits for the IoT world, is our challenge.”
So, the LTE-B story rumbles on, and Pescatore believes it now depends on whether this alliance can finally win the support from the “big players”.
Apple remains one of the most high profile names that still does not support the technology on the iPhone.
“In our list of supporters, you’ll see the absence of the number one, the elephant in the room, which most people are reliant on. We need all major handset manufacturers to support this as soon as possible,” added Stagg.
No doubt EE’s Stagg and the other three operator members will be keeping a close eye on the west coast in September when Apple unveils the iPhone 7.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.