INTERVIEW: Australia’s largest mobile operator Telstra is looking at a number of use cases for LTE Broadcast (LTE-B) beyond stadiums, including mass software updates, but it hasn’t had a full commercial launch as it’s still testing the network and building a business case.
Mike Wright, Telstra’s group managing director of networks, told Mobile World Live it hasn’t reached the point where LTE-B is a mature service and is also working with vendors on the device ecosystem. But he expects that to be more mature in 12-18 months.
“I have nothing new to give you. We have done additional tests in a number of major stadiums and at the Melbourne Cup, and will continue to do testing to understand the network functionality,” he said.
The operator, with 52 per cent market share, was the world’s first to broadcast an event on an LTE-B network back in early 2014, and Wright said in March at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it would equip its 4G footprint with LTE-B technology by May, ahead of commercial trials later in the year.
Wright (pictured, left) confirmed that LTE-B functionality was integrated into its network in May, adding it is “now progressively enabling permanent LTE-B channels at key venues and major events, initially for testing and then for customer access later in 2015”.
While it offers a number of LTE-B capable devices, he explained that it is still at the point of making sure it understands the network and the efficiency benefits, and builds the business case for when it moves towards a critical mass as other operators join.
“I believe in the next 12 to 18 months you will really start to see that, and we want to make sure that we are ready to take advantage of it.”
He noted that not every device manufacturer is a believer yet. “But I think I have been through this loop enough times to know that the challenge is for the network operators to signal to the device manufacturers that if they manufacture the devices, then we will use them. We need a few of us to be the first to be ready to go to market, and then we will start to see the critical mass grow as the use cases and the business cases grow.”
Given the high percentage of video that is forecast to run on wireless networks by 2020, Telstra has previously stated it needs technologies that are going to help it do that efficiently and effectively, and one of those is LTE-B.
Wright stated that as an industry it won’t be able to deal with mass events unless it implements a technology of this type. “When a big event happens, increasingly people turn to their devices and want to know what’s going on. So the network without something like this technology will just not be able to deliver that to our customers.”
Beyond the video broadcasting angle, another aspect is increasing network efficiency, and it is exploring using the LTE-B capability to do mass software updates.
Telstra sees surges of traffic come across the network as a new software release hits, but it also sees an ongoing percentage in its network traffic that is clearly coming from things like app updates. Wright asked: “is that really an efficient way to use a network? We would like to work with the industry and develop a capability that would allow us to optimise the behaviours of those parts of the industry that are generating those software updates and deliver them more efficiently and quickly.”
He noted that the resources required for updates varies, but it has seen them up in the 10+ per cent range of traffic at a point in time. “But I can see that become a bigger challenge over time as more devices get regular updates or maybe get emergency updates if there is a particular patch that needs to be rolled out.”
In addition, he mentioned the possibility of real-time alerts like public safety messages that are broadcast over a specific geographical area.
Telstra last month signed a six-year digital rights agreement with the Australian Football League (AFL) to provide exclusive live streaming of all AFL matches to mobile devices via an official app. The operator has been the AFL’s official technology partner for the past four years and together developed the AFL Live App, which is Australia’s leading sports app with 3.1 million downloads and more than four million unique users a week.
Asked about the AFL deal, Wright said Telstra, like other operators, sees value in what sporting content can bring to its wider offering,
“Things like that, whether it’s AFL or other rights, have big potential if we get LTE Broadcast right. We at some point envision that we can do something interesting with that, but we haven’t at this stage got anything to announce because we haven’t reached that point in time where LTE Broadcast is a mature service. But once we get that right, we will certainly start thinking about what else we can do with it.”
Telstra is looking at a broad range of opportunities, and Wright acknowledged that deployments in stadiums is the most common use case. But he expects LTE-B to be just as interesting outside of stadiums with events where fans are spread out and can’t always see the action. These include events like bike races, car races and golf.
“We think that there are opportunities when we get the ecosystem right and a broad range of other video broadcasting opportunities, whether it’s in shopping centres, airports or on particular routes. We are still exploring all of those options,” he said.