I have to confess that, before talking to Patrick Lopez, Founder & CEO, Core Analysis, this week, I was a little mystified about the hype that continued to cling to the topic of LTE Broadcast. After all, in an ecosystem in which mobile video traffic was creating such a conspicuous burden for operators and networks, a new technology that, at first glance, appears to offer some significant reprieve for networks and on second glance delivers next to none, looked irrelevant at best…
Well, if Lopez was to open my own eyes to the potential significance of LTE Broadcast (so bear with me, particularly if you struggle to see it yourself), he was also a very articulate critic of the attempts to paint the technology as a “revolutionary game changing” one in broadcasting per se.
“Let’s say I’m a little sceptical,” he explained. “And the reason for my scepticism is that, even if this specific technology has not been around for long – it’s just really starting now – we have had comparable technologies and comparable services for a very long time in the market and they haven’t been very successful. Specifically I’m referring to mobile TV.”
While many assert that linear broadcasting will continue to enjoy a healthy enough future, few anticipate this future existing outside the living room, or at least the home. When it comes to mobile devices, VOD rules the waves, and as such, on the surface of it there seems limited relevance to a new mobile broadcast technology, however slick. “I see a lot of vendors seeing this as an opportunity to sell new network technology,” says Lopez, not afraid to put too fine a point on it.
Arguably, though, this isn’t what LTE Broadcast is about.
“What LTE Broadcast does introduce,” Lopez goes on, “is the ability to broadcast in a specific area and a specific location content that a number of people would find attractive in that area. What is widely used as an example is people going to a football game and at half time watching replays or highlights from other games – or trying to catch the TV broadcast while they’re at the game.”
It is a widely repeated example. Too widely, even, I suggest to Lopez. It makes the notion of LTE Broadcast seem tediously narrow. People can watch TV at a football game: so what?
“Indeed,” concedes Lopez. “It sounds like a one trick pony – if you’re going to wheel out a whole new technology just for one possible application or use case it doesn’t sound that attractive. But I think there will be other narrow vertical applications we will see possible success for the technology.”
I ask for some examples. Lopez mentions the capacity for campus universities to broadcast lectures (a potentially invaluable resource for hungover undergrads, I guess), and points also to its potential relevance to digital signage. “From my perspective though,” he continues, “I think the main application of the technology in the future is going to be related to transport. I think that having an LTE Broadcast technology in a plane or a train is going to provide new services that are going to be attractive.”
How does he mean?
“Well, already here in North America you’re starting to see lower cost airlines that do not have a screen available. So you bring your own tablet or they rent you a tablet for 3, 5, 10 bucks and the content that you can access is not open content, it is content that is broadcast on the plane itself.”
Indeed, the potential for monetisation on trains, planes and so on is more than obvious. As for the aforementioned football game, punters would presumably be expected to shell out to access the broadcast, which would serve as a kind of video programme, and this could of course be as relevant to concerts, conferences, festivals, and other live events. Embryonic examples, Lopez adds, already exist…
“Today, at every Grand Prix in the world there is a booth where a device called Kangaroo TV is being rented for anywhere between £50 to £100. And that device is a screen, a little bigger and thicker than a tablet, and on that device you have the TV broadcast as it is broadcasted on live TV, but you also have the capacity to select any of the embedded cameras that is on every one of the drivers for the race, as well as statistics channels etc, so you have maybe 20 or 30 channels, and people go and rent it, because it provides them with value.”
Considering the emergent IoT ecosystem, Liberty Global’s Lukas Kernell recently mused how, “There will come a point when we will only notice screens by their absence.” It strikes me that he may well be wrong (in an interesting way): that the number of screens will actually contract – to those one we carry on our person – and that it is broadcasts we’ll come to notice by their absence. Arguably, LTE Broadcast would be the ideal technology for accelerating such a process.
LTE Broadcast and more will be discussed at the ‘OTT & Video Management’ stream at the Broadband World Forum on the 23rd October.