Video featured no fewer than 65 times in Ericsson’s latest 5G frenzy, otherwise known as the Swedish vendor’s Mobility Report, representing a marked 5% increase in video iterations from the report published this time last year. Time to celebrate? Perhaps, yet it was something beyond the obvious traffic numbers which caught our attention in the latest Ericsson research.
Don’t get us wrong, figures forecasting video traffic in mobile networks to surge 34% annually up to 2024, accounting for almost three quarters of all mobile data traffic, from 60% in 2018, is certainly reason enough for the Faultline Online Reporter industry to pop the champagne. But, for all its insights, the June 2019 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report is really just another 5G hype weapon, for which the rise of video streaming is an ever-growing driver. However, buried within the 36-page report was something providing a refreshing glimpse beyond, but not ignoring, the forecast numbers – in the form of an exploration into using mobile radio networks for broadcast, aside from 5G.
In one of three co-written articles, Ericsson has provided a glimpse of the progress happening in markets on the verge of deploying 5G. The first, in partnership with Australian telco Telstra, looks at LTE-B, a technology long-forgotten in some respects but just beginning in others. In fact, Telstra only switched on LTE-B, based on the Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services standard, across its entire network in July 2018, as part of an end-to-end service streaming Australian Football League games, available free to Telstra mobile subscribers and a monthly fee for others.
One year on, results have emerged, showing video quality enhancements using multicast via LTE-B compared with unicast without LTE-B, with the latter experiencing inconsistent viewing experiences with fluctuations in video quality, while LTE-B users were delivered HD quality content at a sustained stream. As a result, Telstra claims LTE-B users viewed a stream more than 25% longer than viewers watching the same content on devices not compatible with LTE-B. After at least three false dawns, mobile multicast is breaking through.
Digging a bit deeper, Telstra observed that around 12% of traffic is now being carried via LTE-B to capable devices, in cells where LTE-B has been activated, which the telco says represents a tangible improvement in network efficiency as less capacity is used in the cell to carry this traffic. Therefore, as more LTE-B-compatible devices join the network, it can be expected that efficiencies can be further improved within LTE-B-enabled cells.
Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report explains that LTE-B kicks in once a predetermined traffic threshold is reached. This is achieved using a feature called MBMS-operation-on-Demand (MooD) which dynamically activates or deactivates LTE-B based on certain parameters, such as the number of devices in an area streaming the same video content or accessing the same data stream, and when traffic levels reach a designated threshold. Ultimately, this improves network efficiency both in CDNs and in the RAN, while also improving coverage of high bit rate services.
Speaking of high bit rate services, emerging immersive video formats and applications such as VR, AR, UHD and 360-degree video were touched on briefly in the Mobility Report, cited as some of the main drivers for video traffic growth projected by Ericsson. Russian mobile network operator MTS is cited as one operator with VR on its roadmap, with its network evolution strategy targeting the realization of commercial products based on VR by between 2021 and 2022.
Elsewhere, other insights of interest include an addition of 44 million new mobile subscribers globally during Q1 2019 to total 7.9 billion, naturally driven by China which dominated growth with 30 million new subs. Mobile broadband subs, meanwhile, grew by 150 million in Q1 2019 to total 6 billion, equaling 76% of mobile subscriptions.
Strangely, Ericsson’s very own forecast on mobile subscriptions by technology makes no mention of LTE-B, although given that the technology is only activated after a certain threshold, putting it on a pedestal with 4G and 5G is perhaps unfair. From the 7.9 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide today, Ericsson forecasts a rise to 8.8 billion by 2024, of which 5G is projected to rise from 0 today to 1.9 million by 2024, while 4G’s domination will continue in five years’ time when it will account for nearly 5 billion subscriptions.