EE to test LTE Broadcast at Wembley; aims to make service ‘better than TV’

Mobile operator EE is lining up its next major trial of LTE Broadcast this summer and is set to feature 4K video for the first time. It expects commercial deployments of the technology in-stadia to begin from Q1, 2016.

SVG Europe understands which event is being targeted although EE will only publicly refer to the trial at Wembley as occurring ‘during a high profile sporting event’.

“We know LTE works,” says Matt Stagg, principal strategist, EE. “What we want to do now is lead on how good you can make the experience. We’re looking to do a very feature rich trial at Wembley that will stretch the use of the technology to enhance the experience of watching live sports.”

Features of the trial will include multiple replays, multiple camera angles and realtime statistics.

“We want to push the broadcast industry,” says Stagg. “We don’t see this technology as one which can just be used to do the same only more efficiently. We see LTE Broadcast as being able to improve on broadcast by making it a superb experience that people will see and will have to have.”

Further deployments at other large sports events such as Tour De France and London Marathon are anticipated by EE. By the end of the year EE also plans trials of linear TV over LTE Broadcast and predicts that by 2017 LTE Broadcast will start to be commonplace.

LTE Broadcast uses evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (eMBMS) to stream live and on-demand data more efficiently over a LTE/4G network than current one-to-one methods.

EE believes sports delivered over eMBMS will be a big driver for 4K mobile video. Furthermore, it believes eMBMS is the answer to ensuring premium live content is delivered at an economical cost to serve for live sporting events.

Further benefits, according to EE, include reduction in network demand during live events, the protection of other users from slow speeds, and guaranteed quality of experience for both HD and UHD.

“Everybody at the moment has done in-stadia tests and this is a solid application,” he adds. “But we see a bigger use case in delivering a feature-rich experience outside stadia. The issue is that there are spikes in the network around the streaming of live sports events in certain areas. A Saturday afternoon around Premier League football stadia, for example, exhibits high spikes in demand which has the potential to mean that no one gets a really great experience.

“LTE Broadcast can alleviate that but at the same there’s no need to have a broadcast version of what you can get today. Let’s make it better than TV.”

This can be achieved because LTE Broadcast can be used alongside interactivity achieved through unicast. “You could live stream the game over LTE and offer bespoke fan commentary, for example, multiple replays, camera angles, and all manner of other interactivity via unicast,” Stagg explains.

Maintaining continuity

While LTE Broadcast has been proven at numerous trials, predominantly in sports arenas over the past year, there are some aspects that need further work.

“We’re not sure if anybody has cracked the mobility aspect,” he suggests. “What happens when you move between a broadcast area to a non-broadcast area and vice versa. We need to maintain continuity – to swap between unicast and broadcast. That’s one area we haven’t tested.”

Another test is dynamic switching of streams within a cell. “One of the main advantages over previous iterations of mobile TV is LTE Broadcast’s ability to be able to switch between unicast and broadcast based on configurations that the operator has set. Once you see multiple people watching a live stream of an event you should be able to switch from unicast to broadcast to enable unlimited capacity for viewing the same live stream.”

There are a number of unique factors that need to taken into account when applying LTE Broadcast to ‘sports on the go’. Factors like the time of day and the popularity of the event change the demand profile but are easier to predict than the score or popularity during knockout stages.

Last year EE demonstrated LTE Broadcast outside a stadia and in the UK for the first time at the Commonwealth Games. The two-year collaboration involved the BBC, Samsung and Huawei. Three live HD streams were sent successfully to select handsets. The test included integration of Google Maps where users could click on a Google Map of the Games venues and receive specific streams from the venue. A new iPlayer App was developed exclusively for the demo.

The Wembley test will not be public but involve 20-30 handsets. Smartphones equipped with LTE Broadcast chips have yet to brought to mass market.

“There is a clear need to drive device density to realise the true potential of the technology,” says Stagg.

The largest LTE Broadcast trial was conducted by China Telecom and Huawei around the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing last summer, at which 18000 Huawei eMBMS-enabled devices were handed out free-of-charge to Games volunteers and members of the athletes village.

Consumer handsets

Aside from equipment upgrades to the network’s core and possible software upgrades to cell towers, the main technical impediment to Broadcast LTE rollout is the lack of eMMBS capable consumer handsets.

4G LTE coverage is rapidly being rolled out by Vodafone, EE and other operators and will be ubiquitous across the UK by the start of 2016.

“We wouldn’t do a ‘big bang’ and turn everything Broadcast LTE at once. We’d go to specific areas around stadia such as around Wimbledon where all these spikes are.”

He adds: “Sports content owners and rights holders will have the opportunity to monetise content, network operators can drive up-take of current services and use these new experiences to differentiate their network.

“With this organic growth we can move toward other value add services over LTE Broadcast like public service broadcasting, mass software downloads, digital signage, traffic alerts, weather warnings, machine to machine communication. Anything where multiple devices require a download of the same content is broadcastable.”

There are standardisation issues that need harmonising. EE champions the Mobile Video Alliance, which it co-founded last year (and which Stagg chairs), with the aim of identifying, developing and advocating technologies that harmonise the delivery of AV content to mobile.

EE and Wembley

Meanwhile, EE struck a sponsorship deal with Wembley last year to help deliver the FA’s plans to make the stadia the most advanced connected sports venue in the world by 2016. It has begun a vast network upgrade programme at the stadium to ensure every visitor through the gates can stay connected, even with a 90,000 capacity crowd on event days.

It will shortly switch on its 4G+ network providing speeds of up to 300Mbps and then begin trials of 400Mbps network technology that the operator claims will make Wembley the fastest connected stadium in the world.

The vision to make Wembley the world’s best connected stadium goes beyond installing a world-leading network. Advanced mobile ticketing solutions are already in place, with EE customers also able to use contactless mobile payments at various concessions stands, and work is also ongoing with regard to more service and engagement innovations.

From early 2015 the iconic arch will ‘act as the digital heartbeat of the stadium’, says EE. The arch’s LED lights will react to significant moments such as goals scored and crowd noise, and fans will even be able to control them via social media.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters