As promised, Verizon Wireless is using the country’s marquee sports event, the Super Bowl, to show off its new LTE-broadcast technology. Verizon’s eventual plan is to turn its two-way LTE data networks into broadcast towers that can multicast simulcast video and other content to millions of phones and tablets. But before you get your hopes up too high, Verizon’s Super Bowl broadcast this year is going to be fairly limited.
In fact, it’s limited to a single room: its remote “skybox” Bryant Park, NYC, on the other side of the Hudson River. Verizon isn’t broadcasting the Super Bowl in and around the environs of MetLife stadium. In fact, the NFL is blocking all live video streams of the game within the stadium itself due to the immense load video traffic would place on 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks in the arena.
But according to Parissa Pandkhou, Verizon Wireless’ director of mobile video delivery, Verizon is using its Bryant Park demo to show why future bans on video streaming at big events like Super Bowl might be unnecessary – at least for Verizon customers.
The problem with mobile video streaming today is it’s all unicast. Even if two separate viewers are watching the same content in real-time while connected to the same tower, the network essentially creates a separate channel for each viewer. And each of those channels eats up a separate chunk of bandwidth on the network. It doesn’t take more than a few dozen video streams to shut down even a high-powered LTE cell, and at an event like the Super Bowl, thousands of people trying to stream can cause the cellular network to grind to a halt.
LTE-Broadcast simply combines all of those disparate live streams into a single multicast feed, similar to how a TV tower broadcasts the same signal to millions of televisions. So in a stadium, you could send the same the same live video feed to a thousand different phones and use only a tiny fraction of the network’s capacity.
You’ll have to wait for future events to actually see LTE-broadcst in action on your own Verizon phone though. Pandkhou said Verizon’s vendors Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson are currently performing the necessary upgrades to its LTE networks nationwide and expects to launch live in 3rd quarter.
The network in Byrant Park is just a demo, streaming four simultaneous NFL video feeds to some Samsung tablets and a few smartphones. On Sunday they will broadcast the game itself. Many of the LTE devices currently on Verizon’s network will support LTE-broadcast, but they’ll need software updates. And Verizon is still waiting on device vendors to deliver that software, Pandkhou said.
This isn’t the first time Verizon has taken a crack at broadcast video. It sold Qualcomm’s FLO TV service back several years ago, but there was little consumer interest. LTE-Broadcast will be different. Instead of selling video content to directly consumers, it’s opening the networks to developers and content providers. The NFL will offer broadcast video feeds to its customers through its own app.