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Telstra seeking network efficiency through LTE-B

Telstra is aiming to improve its network performance and efficiency by enabling LTE-Broadcast, saying it 'never wants to have to say sorry' to its customers.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra has said it "never wants to have to say sorry" to its customers for a poor network experience, and is aiming to attain greater network efficiency through LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) as it works towards 5G.

According to Telstra director of Networks Mike Wright, speaking at Mobile World Congress (MWC) on Wednesday, if telecommunications operators don't evolve and improve the way that customers are able to consume media and video on their devices, there will be a compromise in network quality.

To solve this problem, Telstra earlier this week announced that it will be deploying an LTE-B network across Australia by 2018, which shares cell width with users all consuming the same media source, but without setting aside capacity permanently.

"It only turns it on when people are using it, so it's a fundamental thing that shifts the business case and the efficiency of LTE-Broadcast ... it's not a product, it's an efficiency tool," Wright explained.

"Say you had hundreds and hundreds of users in a cell all trying to talk to each other, everybody hears the same stream, but in the way it works today, they all individually get a stream and that pretty soon consumes a whole cell; LTE-B allows us to send the one bit of data to everyone at once ... instead of using the whole cell's capacity, we just set aside a little; it means the rest of the cell's there for everybody who wants to use it.

"We're looking at the future, because we don't want to be in a world where we have to say sorry."

Wright told ZDNet that Telstra has already activated its LTE-B network in Sydney and Melbourne out to 5 kilometres, and that it ensured during its 4G network rollout that every cell would be capable of the broadcast technology once Telstra decided to switch on LTE-B.

Telstra will now simply progressively activate the LTE-B network across Australia.

"We're using that [activated network in Sydney and Melbourne] with our product colleagues and the engineers to really understand it in greater detail, because there's some incredible benefits that come from LTE-B in terms of the edge of the cell," Wright told ZDNet.

"That will go into how the product team position and create the products that utilise that technology."

Wright also pointed out that LTE-B is about more than simply video consumption or accessing the network during a highly attended sports event; earlier this week, Telstra revealed that it enabled push-to-talk calls via its LTE-B network for public safety applications.

"It's not just about stadiums, it's not just about watching video; you can do things like preposition software," he said.

"One of the announcements we did was with Motorola, Ericsson, and Qualcomm, where we did the world's first mission-critical push-to-talk call using LTE-B, and that's for emergency services applications."

Telstra will also use its LTE-B network for media content delivery, with the telco earlier this week announcing a trial of this solution in partnership with Ericsson and 21st Century Fox.

"The 21st Century Fox demonstration and trial we're planning is about raising the bar and fundamentally shifting the way you consume media at great quality," Wright explained.

"It will be tied pretty well with when we go live with the LTE-B technology and product set, so we'll turn the enabler on and then start to add solutions that go on top of it," the head of networks told ZDNet.

"From later this year, people will start to see momentum."

With 5G also a hot topic during MWC, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn said the industry is finally starting to see development toward actual uses of the network technology, which is driving further innovation.

"We've seen traction around what 5G innovation is, and then also what the use cases and particularly how 5G is going to make a difference and facilitate lots of different sort of applications," Penn said on Wednesday morning.

"Our vision to be a world-class technology company that empowers people to connect is really borne out of this understanding that the worlds of technology and telecommunications are converging, and so in the context of that, we seek to be advocating that but also demonstrating that through some of the things we're doing with partnerships with people in the ecosystem."

During MWC, Telstra announced that it would be undertaking 5G new radio (NR) trials with Ericsson and Qualcomm.

Telstra and Ericsson also used MWC to announce an expansion of its optical network and the rollout of a Cat M1 Internet of Things network across Australia, and revealed that its virtualised network is carrying live video calling ahead of broadcast media.

In spite of the myriad joint announcements with Ericsson, however, Wright told ZDNet in response to a question about whether it is interested in Nokia's 5G First platform that Telstra is still looking into every networking vendor's solutions.

"We look at every vendor and every technology choice, and usually there is an inflection point when there's a change in technology, so we've spent plenty of time with all the vendors and we'll make a decision at the time we have to make a commitment commercially," Wright told ZDNet.

"But we obviously work with Ericsson because they're the one we have in our network and we can do those tests and trials with them when we need to ... but we also need to understand what the other vendors are capable of as well.

"Frankly, to date Ericsson have shown that they're on a pretty good track and we'll just see how things unfold when we get towards 5G."

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