AT&T hopes to breath new life into some old airwaves by building a broadcast network, ideal for pushing out live video to many multiple devices with out jamming up its pipes with traffic. The technology is called LTE-Broadcast, and as it name implies it turns what is normally a two-way mobile broadband network into a one-way multicast network similar to those used by TV broadcasters.
Announcing the new project at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said AT&T’s mobile focus is “all about architecting networks to deliver video,” FierceWireless reported. The new network will also give AT&T a use for the old MediaFLO airwaves it bought off Qualcomm in 2011 after it shut down its FLO TV experiment. Stephenson didn’t say exactly when they new network would go live, though he hinted at a three-year horizon.
I’ve written plenty in the past about how LTE-Broadcast works as well as its benefits and limitations, but basically you can think of its as a very dense TV network. Instead of blanketing an entire city with a few high-powered TV towers, LTE-Broadcast turns every cell site into broadcast transmitter. Each cell can use its spectrum to broadcast different content, but every device within the same cell receives the same transmissions. That’s ideal for certain types of real-time content.
LTE-Broadcast’s best use case is for big live events like the Super Bowl, which could be watched by millions of people simultaneously. But the distributed nature of the LTE network could also let carriers tailor individual broadcast content for very specific locations. Cell sites at a stadium could send out a constant play-by-play feed as well as transmit highlights and replays to thousands of phone and tablets simultaneously.
LTE-Broadcast also isn’t limited to data. It could datacast real-time stock quotes, sports scores and news. It could also be used as a very efficient way to deliver subscription content or send out app and OS updates en masse. For instance, when a new episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones is available, an LTE-Broadcast network could simultaneously ship it to every HBO Go subscriber’s mobile device, which would then store the episode for later viewing. Performing such a feat on the regular LTE would simply inundate the network with thousands of concurrent downloads – a recipe for disaster.
The conundrum carriers face, though, is whether they can find enough of these kind of applications to justify the investment in infrastructure and spectrum necessary to support LTE-Broadcast. Unlike other mobile broadcast technologies like MediaFLO, though, LTE-Broadcast doesn’t require a special chip or radio in the phone. It’s part of the LTE standard.