Most content on mobile networks is sent over the network on a specific stream or download to a specific user's device, a system called unicasting. If many users want the same content anyway, it's inefficient to send it to each one separately, backers of LTE broadcast say. This becomes a problem especially at large gatherings, such as sports events, where everyone in the stadium is likely to want replays and other content related to the sport, they say.
LTE broadcast is best for selected content in selected areas, typically dense urban or suburban regions where many people may be trying to access content at the same time, said Neville Meijers, a vice president at Qualcomm. To ease the pressure on their networks, carriers can take a certain percentage of their spectrum on certain cellular base stations away from unicasting and devote it to broadcasting. They'll do that manually at first and later make it happen automatically in response to current conditions, Meijers said.
The content can be anything that takes up a lot of network capacity. In addition to video streams, it can include app and device OS upgrades, which can be delivered to devices overnight during low-demand hours for use the next day. Carriers could also make deals with third parties, such as online video companies, and let them deliver content of interest to their subscribers over the spectrum set aside for LTE broadcast, he said.
Qualcomm is building LTE broadcast capability into its mobile-device chipsets and working with network vendors such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, plus mobile operators, to help drive adoption of the technology that could make its mobile broadcasting idea a hit at last. Verizon Wireless has said it will trial LTE broadcast at the 2014 Super Bowl, Australia's Telstra has also committed to a trial, and Korea Telecom has said it will deploy the technology, Qualcomm officials said.
When it comes to getting LTE broadcast into handsets, device makers may have their own role to play. Apps can be written to use the technology, but it also requires middleware on the device. Manufacturers are free to add that middleware to Android devices, but with iOS, it has to be built into iOS, Meijers said. Current iPhones and iPads run on Apple's own processors, while Qualcomm's Snapdragons have been at the heart of many Samsung Galaxy phones and other devices. Meijers would not comment on Apple's LTE broadcast plans, nor what any other mobile OS player may be doing. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, in the years since Flo TV's demise, Qualcomm believes the mobile boom has only made a stronger case for a broadcasting technology.
"The networks need it more now," Johnson said.
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