07 October 2014
I want my M(obile) TV – Part 2
Back in February 2012, I wrote a blog discussing mobile TV and the attempts to that time to produce a viable mass market method of delivering broadcast television to portable devices. At that time, Tablet TV was not announced, ATSC M/H was about to launch and LTE Broadcast was little known outside technical specifications and roadmaps. So what has the last 2 years brought ?
ATSC M/H has been launched and re-launched in the US. The brand name of Dyle was used to promote the service in a number of cities across the US, with limited channels. The Dyle service was prompted by the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) which contained many of the major networks and station groups across the US. The competing group of stations (Mobile 500) has produced no press releases since early 2013.
Dyle was launched with accessory tuners, with a single mobile handset with the required tuner offered by limited operators. The accessory tuners have been revised in order to reduce cost, but no new handsets have been launched. The take up of the service is not public information, but it is likely to be limited. The service is still available, but appears to have a limited marketing budget at this time.
Dyle seems to have suffered from the old problem of limited content and limited coverage. So a user buying into the service would have some stations available in some locations. Not all the normal broadcast content is available on the stations which are broadcasting. This is not an easy message to get across to the end customer.
Even with the limited take up of Dyle (and previous attempts, such as Mediaflo, DVB-H etc) there is still an appetite to create new broadcasting for mobile devices. The current technology being promoted is LTE Broadcast (also called 4G Broadcast in some areas, or eMBMS). LTE Broadcast is currently being pushed by equipment manufacturers and has been testing in limited filed trials by various mobile operators across the world. The reason for this push by equipment manufacturers is clear, it’s a new market opportunity for them. For operators, the reason for interest are more related to concerns about their network capacities. The growth of 4G networks has been accompanied by the growth of handsets with larger and higher resolution displays. The result of this is that the operators project that the demand for video content will stress their network capacity. One potential solution to this is to broadcast some of the video content to handsets, instead of sending across their networks. (In reality the broadcast is still using their network, but is sent multi-cast instead of uni-cast, so sent to everyone vs sent to only 1 person).
The amount of content that can be supplied using LTE broadcast varies depending on the network operator and how much spectrum that the operator wants to assign. Examples vary depending on who you talk to, but the example of around 2Mb/s H.264 would allow around 10 channels (or streams) if the operator has 10 Mhz of spectrum available which is around 60% of a LTE cells capacity.
As discussed above, to date the trials / studies of LTE Broadcast have been driven by the network operators and equipment manufacturers. In most cases, the operators do not have large amounts of content they can draw on, so would have to secure the high value mass market content that would benefit from LTE broadcast (such as prime-time TV). The exception to this for some operators is limited sports, where they already have some arrangements in place.
The trials to date have used modified Samsung handsets / tablets for reception of LTE broadcast. The current handsets in the market do not support it. The latest handset announcements (such as the iPhone 6) do not include LTE broadcast. Rollout of the technology is still a question. In some limited markets, a 2015 roll out is expected, but questions still remain in terms of the business model and content etc. Some have suggested that LTE broadcast may find it niche in broadcasting content in and around a stadium during an event.
In summary, ATSC M/H has had a difficult birth, and to date is showing very limited take-up. LTE broadcast is generating a lot of press coverage, with many issues to be solved to produce a viable customer solution. Into the mix, Tablet TV is about to launch using existing broadcast technology and content as well as the existing portable devices in the market today. As Tablet TV will allow viewers access of around 95 of the top 100 TV programs in both the UK and US it may well reduce the video load on 4G mobile networks, which would make LTE Broadcast irrelevant before it is even launched.
Dr Glenn Craib
Vice President Products & Services