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31 May 2016

Turkcell pushes LTE-Broadcast into stadiums

Turkish mobile operator Turkcell has deployed the country’s first live HD mobile experience using LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) technology, in partnership with Ericsson, a couple of months after the two companies’first demo.

The live broadcast took place during a basketball match between rival teams Fenerbahce and Galatasaray Odeabank, based in Istanbul. Ticket holders who were also Turkcell LTE subscribers were able to view live HD video streams on their mobile devices from four different camera angles – combining LTE-B with HEVC compression technology and MPEG-DASH.

Other potential applications for these new networks in sporting environments include the ability to watch instant replays and access stats and figures, while stadiums and teams would have new monetization options through their own apps.

In the US, where Verizon has worked on a similar business model, it initially used dedicated spectrum to support in-arena viewing, but it had to agree to black out broadcasts to local areas, out of fears that if people could watch games on their phones, they would not come to the live events. In time, the aim is that LTE-B should use the same infrastructure and spectrum as other LTE services, reducing carrier cost.

The last time the two rival Istanbul basketball clubs played each other was at the end of February at the Ulker Sports Arena, a 13,000-capacity stadium, so this was presumably the game at which the test took place.

There will be a contest between LTE-B and WiFi in many stadium scenarios, especially when 802.11ax, which will be optimized for dense deployments, emerges. WiFi has been in place at some of the world’s largest capacity venues for years now. The New England Patriots is just one example – its 70,000-capacity Gillette Stadium has 360 WiFi access points providing a free network that allows about 40% of the stadium to access video simultaneously. The inhouse Patriots Gameday Live app also has features such as tracking the wait time for restrooms.

However, if these apps were implemented in LTE-B, 100% of attendees could get access to the service, because a single frequency network is created, where there is no interference. This is one reason why area video will shift to LTE-B, and other services will run in parallel on WiFi, once venues can bring down the cost of a two-stream deployment.

LTE-B, or evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS), supports multicast (one video stream sent to multiple receivers), which benefits operators by freeing up precious bandwidth compared to one-to-one unicast. Unicast transmission will never be economic for popular linear broadcast services, so the real battle will be between mobile operators and broadcasters for control of spectrum for multicast video.

While Turkcell’s focus is currently on live events such as this latest demo, over in the US Verizon has declared its plans to stretch LTE-B to use cases such as public safety warnings and weather updates, as well as IoT applications such as the personalization of connected digital signage.

AT&T, which has been less aggressive about the technology, could also bolster its LTE-B presence with the acquisition of Quickplay Media, a company which has a mobile content delivery network for LTE-B, which enables operators and content programmers to roll-out commercialized services in live broadcast, as well as push video-on-demand. AT&T also owns spectrum previously used for Qualcomm’s failed mobile TV platform, MediaFLO, and so has the potential for scale implementation of live TV channels using LTE-B.

Verizon recently formed the LTE-B Alliance alongside EE in the UK, Korean operator KT, and Telstra of Australia. The international carriers, spanning four different continents and boasting over 200m mobile subscribers, aim to make LTE-B available in all top- and mid-tier devices launched in 2017. However, both AT&T and Verizon have confessed to bringing in very little cash from LTE-B deployments so far.

Turkcell recently said it planned to deploy 4.5G (LTE Advanced) in 81 Turkish cities as of April this year, but any news on the success of this project has yet to be released. 4.5G is being used to describe a stepping stone on the way towards next-gen 5G technologies – whenever they are standardized and make it to market.

Turkish regulator ICTA’s figures show that Turkcell is the clear market leader with 46.2% of mobile subscribers, in a base of 73.6m, but has lost a small percentage of these to Vodafone and Avea over the last year, with 30.4% and 23.4%. respectively.

Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson Region Middle East, said: “With mobile data traffic expected to grow 15-fold until the end of 2017, largely driven by video, LTE Broadcast is proving to be a vital solution for mobile providers to optimize their networks, increase efficiency and provide the best possible mobile video experience. This live demonstration of our LTE Broadcast solution proved that it is possible to provide a high quality and immersive stream that doesn’t just match, but can actually exceed the live viewing experience sports fans can access through current broadcast TV delivery.”