Telstra kicks off LTE-B deployment with AFL app and Samsung devices

Only two devices and a single app are available at the moment to use technology the telco hopes will ease the load on its network.

Telstra has switched on LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) across its network in an effort to prevent congestion by having users share the same data stream.

Initially, LTE-B is only available on Samsung S9 and S8 handsets when using the AFL Live app. The telco told media on Thursday that more applications and firmware updates for handsets to allow for LTE-B use are in the pipeline.

Mike Wright, Telstra group managing director of Networks, told ZDNet that the threshold for towers to switch from unicast to using LTE-B is only a handful of users.

"The business case basically says after one or two users, it's cheaper to use broadcast. In fact, we did a business case a few years ago that said if 1 percent of traffic could be released by 2020, it would pay [for itself]," he told ZDNet.

Wright said the telco will progressively deploy the technology in its network, and is first targeting high-traffic areas. Currently, it is using LTE-B only on weekends, and switching back to unicast during the week.

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Although LTE-B is currently limited to time, devices, and apps, Telstra said that any devices it can move to broadcast will free up bandwidth for devices locked to unicast.

"We are now streaming live sports content to a massive base of around 1.2 million devices, and sports fans consume 37 million minutes of live content over our apps on any given weekend," Wright said. "This season, we've seen an overall 58 percent increase in customers streaming games. In some instances, more than twice the number of customers have streamed, compared to the same clash last year.

"As recent major sporting events around the world have shown, meeting the massive peaks in demand for live sporting content takes extensive end-to-end network design combined with careful network management and strategic investments."

Going beyond live broadcasting, Telstra said the technology could potentially extend to data streams such as updates, but would need to be baked into device operating systems.

The telco said the streaming through its AFL app has grown threefold since 2016 and hit 143Gbps this year.

"One of the biggest challenges for mobile network operators around the world is how to manage the ever-growing demand for data and video. LTE-B is key part of the solution -- not only does it improve network efficiency, but more importantly improves the customer experience by delivering an enhanced streaming experience," Wright added.

According to network loadings shown by Telstra, peak traffic for AFL streaming does not occur on grand final day or in the post-season, with users presumably switching back to TV and bigger screens.

Earlier this week, Wright announced that he would be leaving Telstra at the end of September after nearly 40 years of service.

"Under Mike's guidance, Telstra has been a leader in deploying new network technologies. By the end of September when Mike will be stepping down for a well-earned break, we will be nearing completion of the key elements of our Networks for the Future program, and Telstra will be well on the way to deploying 5G," Telstra COO Robyn Denholm said on Tuesday.

Telstra last month revealed that it would be axing 8,000 jobs amid a restructure program labelled Telstra2022, along with a reduction of "2-4 layers of management", with 25 percent of executive and middle management roles being removed.

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(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

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