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Out with the Old, in with the New: Mobile Broadcast TV

LTE promises to deliver broadcast TV to mobile devices. When the technology and devices are more widespread, will there be a new dominant player in the market?

I came across a provocative chart a few weeks back called ‘AOL vs. Netflix: The Entire Internet In One Simple Chart’.

The commentary below the chart ties AOL to dial-up, and Netflix to broadband, pointing out that companies’ subscriber numbers reached parity in late 2008, “just as Netflix’s streaming video service was starting to take off”.

The rise of streaming services such as Netflix has been very much linked to the increase in internet bandwidth, whilst wrongly or rightly many have kept the association of AOL and those free disks/CDs offering easy dial-up access. The history of TV and the web goes right back to almost the start when in the early 90s Steve Perlman came up with the idea of WebTV. But with the limitations of the Internet meant not only was it unlikely a consumer would have a fast enough connection, the Internet itself lacked the bandwidth to handle TV.

There’s no concept of ‘broadcast’ via the Internet. Unlike TV, where a single outgoing signal can serve TV to thousands or even millions of recipients, each Internet device receiving a TV show requires its own connection. Today video is responsible for 57% of traffic on the Internet, and this is set to grow to 69% by 2017.

Now, as I’ve posited before, LTE networks are to mobile Internet connectivity what broadband was to dialup. So, I’m wondering: what is the ‘AOL’ for mobile, the technology that's on its way out, and what is the ‘Netflix’, the one on its way in due to LTE?

The capacity to stream video has been Netflix’s boon. Will LTE’s similar capacity just extend Netflix dominance?

Mobile networks have by-and-large had the same limitations when it comes to challenges with broadcast services. Mobile has of course dabbled with broadcast in various forms—from Cell Broadcast (more of that in a later post) to mobile devices with TVs build-in but none have really succeeded.

3G has gone some way to address bandwidth issues, but with mobile data growing at three times that of fixed devices, capacity is always going to be challenge.

Or perhaps not, as mobile is giving broadcast another go, with LTE Broadcast. This will enable LTE networks to broadcast across specific cells much like tradition TV/radio networks.

This whitepaper from Ericsson explores how LTE could eventually serve as a broadcast channel for live streaming of sports, events and breaking news, background file delivery for video, music and print, software updates and emergency broadcasts.

So LTE networks have yet another trick up their sleeves as it not only will provide the bandwidth that streaming services such as Netflix need, but will also enable traditional broadcast services to finally work efficiently for mobile.

Much has been written about the change in how we consume media, from broadcast to on-demand. LTE can support both models, but which will dominate? Only time will tell. But at least we can spend the next several years speculating.