Around 15 years ago, mobile telecoms operators had a dream: that the 3G networks they'd lavished lots of money on through acquiring licences would support video services that would reap major cash benefits. Fast forward to the present and they're still talking the dream, not living it.
It could be quite easy for those who regularly attend Mobile World Congress (MWC) to be sceptical about any claims that mobile TV and mobile video are about to ramp up, but MWC 2015 gave grounds for real optimism for mobile video. Optimism based on LTE Broadcast.
The media, technology and telecoms industries are rather wonderful for generating buzz and excitement regarding future technologies and services. Even if such services stand slim chance of ever being realised. 3DTV is a prime example of this and for a long while so have mobile TV and video, which have been 'just about to take off' since 2005 when the World Cup of 2006 was going to drive the industry to create products and services which of course end-users would lap up. Instead what we got was that 2006 was characterised by arcane and self-defeating battles between the DVB-H, MediaFLO and DAB mobile video air interfaces, really poor pre-iPhone devices such as the hapless Lobster phone and no mass adoption.
Speaking about the World Cup, on the evening of the semi-final between eventual winners Italy and Germany, Nokia and Texas Instruments showed an eager telecoms press corps the capabilities of the former's N92 mobile TV phone powered by the latter's chips. A worthy and ground-breaking device, indeed best in its class, but in real time the device running over the DVB-H network showed the Azurri triumphing a whole 21 seconds behind normal TV.
That was then and this is now, when talking about mobile TV and video it took Ericsson a whole 40 minutes to even mention the word device in a press conference, and only then because it was prompted.
To say that the telecoms technology giant went big at MWC would be a grand understatement. Its presence more than matched neighbours Sony and Samsung and established thought leadership for mobile video at the show. Not just by technology, but by its moves in creating alliances with operators and technology firms alike to drive broadcast-quality video over mobile cellular networks. At the heart of the drive was LTE Broadcast.
Based on Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (emboss) standards, LTE Broadcast is designed to deliver the same stream of content to multiple users, eliminating network capacity constraints, delivering higher quality video and reduced latency compared to a unicast delivery. Current LTE Broadcast applications have been trialled in stadiums hosting live sporting events, among other activities, enabling large-scale audiences to view high quality video in real time without taking up network capacity. LTE Broadcast can also extend into push VOD delivery, targeted advertising, and subscription-based services, thereby offering additional opportunities for operators who seek to monetise content.
As MWC opened, Ericsson announced that it was the driving force behind the LTE Broadcast User Group, a consortium of mobile operators, content providers and device manufacturers who would share their respective expertise and best practices to ensure that broadcast services worthy of their name over 4G LTE networks would happen. Tellingly this consortium includes not just the usual suspects of telcos and technology companies but also the likes of
Facebook and INDYCAR.
"The principal objective of the User Group is to share the best practices that will spur industry growth and widespread adoption as we enter a new era of personalised media content," explained GSMA senior director of technology, Dan Warren. "Users want anytime, anywhere, any device access to their media and entertainment, and LTE Broadcast can be a key technology to enable delivery of popular content in an optimal way. It can relieve some of the heavy traffic burden that operators would otherwise have to support."
Making the case as for why such an alliance was necessary, Ericsson quoted research showing that mobile video traffic was growing rapidly and would likely make up 55% of all mobile data traffic by 2020. The company added that LTE Broadcast was attracting significant and growing industry traction as a method for making the best use of existing network resources and available spectrum to introduce new video services and reduce the strain on the network.
In what will be one key use case, Ericsson revealed that it was working with leading Asia-Pac telcos Telstra and Singtel to enable full production LTE Broadcast capability on their networks later in 2015. "We have completed a number of successful LTE Broadcast trials and seen first-hand the benefits to our network and how it enhances the delivery of high quality content during large scale events," said Telstra Group managing director networks Mike Wright. "We are now excited about the possibilities it will provide once the capability is deployed across our network."
These possibilities look a lot less than tenuous given the breadth of the ecosystem. For example multiscreen video technology provider Quickplay added its weight behind the project, integrating LTE Broadcast within its managed video platform.
Away from LTE Broadcast activities, regard for mobile video moves should also go to Samsung whose new S6 Galaxy devices contain AMOLED screens optimised for video applications, and MWC stalwart SPB which announced a raft of new products and deals in the space, in particular a new high-capacity and energy-saving Encoder for mobile TV, OTT TV and IPTV, a new OTT TV platform featuring 4K encoding and a swipe feature, plus details of a new service launch in Pakistan, the country's first, with Mobilink Networks on the new 3G/LTE licence.
In a really interesting departure for mobile TV and video in general, François Moreau de Saint Martin, CEO, Viaccess-Orca took to the stage at MWC breakout 4YFN, which focuses on start-ups in the mobile industry, to highlight what he felt would be the key drivers to fully exploit the potential of the mobile channel. He distilled these into seven key experiences: create a personalised experience where the service adapts to the user and not vice versa; have rigorous testing of services and respond quickly, such as with the evolution of the Netflix interface; combine editorial with other services; open the TV walled garden, as has been the case, successfully, with the online world in general; keep it simple - especially in terms of navigation; share everything; explore the potential of gamification in TV and video.
So that was MWC 2015. Just as in 2006, the following year will see a major sporting event, the Rio Olympics, that could act as a catalyst for widespread mobile TV adoption. However, this time round all of the bits are in place to make sure that it could actually happen.