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Signals Ahead: eMBMS / LTE Broadcast - once bitten, twice shy?

  • ID: 2758009
  • Report
  • February 2014
  • 26 Pages
  • Signals Research Group, LLC
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This issue of Signals Ahead examines the market opportunity for eMBMS / LTE Broadcast. Specific topics include the following:

- What went wrong the first time? In 2007 there were 17 "mobile TV" technologies and virtually all of them, including MBMS FDD and MBMS TDD, failed to deliver. That was then, this is now.

- Technical Primer. We provide a tutorial on how eMBMS impacts the LTE network architecture and how the MBSFN subframe is able to deliver the same multicast content to all users with higher spectral efficiency and coverage than good old LTE.

- Tracking the Release functionality. We discuss the features of LTE Broadcast, including some futuristic features, and when they get introduced into the standard.

- The Use Cases. The Use Cases for LTE Broadcast are fairly well understood. We review them but focus on the Use Cases that we really like as well as those Use Cases that are questionable. Bottom line, LTE Broadcast rollouts will be very gradual and the Use Cases, including the size of MBSFN areas, will expand very gradually over time.

- The Challenges. LTE Broadcast does come with its own set of challenges, although many of the challenges can actually be viewed in a positive manner. First and foremost, launching LTE Broadcast isn't nearly as simple as upgrading the network and flipping a switch. Further, it does very little to address the data tsunami, in particular in the near term.

- Market Outlook. We provide our near-term outlook for LTE Broadcast and the catalysts that could drive wider spread adoption - including more operators larger / more frequent MBSFN Areas.

This report is included as part of a subscription to Signals Ahead or it can be purchased separately.


Signals Ahead is a research-focused product that is published on a periodic basis. Its clientele include all facets of the wireless ecosystem, including some of the largest mobile operators, the top handset suppliers, the major infrastructure vendors, subsystem suppliers, semiconductor companies and financial institutions, including Wall Street, Private Equity and Venture Capitalists, spread across five continents.
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Executive Summary
The Second (or Third) Time Around
Verizon Wireless LTE Broadcast Demonstration
eMBMS - a Technical Primer
The SFN Concept
The Radio Layer
Spectral Efficiency
The Network Architecture
Tracking the eMBMS Release Functionality
Opportunities - Potential Use Cases
Final Thoughts

Index of Figures
Figure 1. LTE Broadcast in Action
Figure 2. LTE Broadcast in Action, II
Figure 3. MBSFN Service Areas
Figure 4. eMBMS Network Architecture
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In 2007 we identified a staggering seventeen different technologies that enabled "mobile TV". Fast forward to 2014 and virtually all of these technologies have fallen by the wayside, including two different implementations of MBMS, FLO and DVB-H. In this context, it is no surprise that the industry frequently uses the term LTE Broadcast to refer to an enhanced version of MBMS (eMBMS) that is a part of the LTE standard. Release 8 introduced the MBSFN subframe but the real meat of the feature gets introduced in subsequent releases.

For multiple reasons, we believe that things will be different the second time around. First, eMBMS/ LTE Broadcast has universal support throughout the industry. Multiple chipset companies are enabling the middleware and making other necessary changes to their chipsets. All infrastructure vendors support it, albeit with a couple of different architectures. Major operators are also deploying the feature and/or doing announced or unannounced trials. In 2014 we believe that 3 operators will launch commercial LTE Broadcast services and we are aware of an additional 8 operators that have plans to trial or are currently trialing it.

The "e" in eMBMS may be lower case, but it is large in stature. In addition to riding on the coattails of a more spectral efficient air interface, LTE Broadcast leverages a Single Frequency Network (SFN), which turns what would otherwise be unwanted interference into a desired signal. The net result is tremendous gains in spectral efficiency with only modest areas where coverage holes could exist - something that unicast could potentially fill. In fact, the network economics for LTE Broadcast can be more favorable than unicast with as few as one or two active mobile devices per sector (the exact answer is based on the cell site density and other factors).

To put things into perspective, at the Verizon Wireless LTE Broadcast demonstration that we attended in New York City the operator was broadcasting 7 channels, including 5 video channelswhile reserving 40% of the network resources for unicast services. Each video channel had a bit rate hat was approximately equivalent to the maximum possible cell site capacity that MBMS could deliver with HSDPA. Obviously, differences in channel bandwidth need to be considered when making the comparison.

Lastly, the market opportunity for LTE Broadcast is now more evident. Mobile data usage, driven almost entirely by video content, dwarfs the level that it was a few years ago. The size of the display on a typical smartphone and the brilliance/resolution of a video image are also mind boggling, to say the least.

LTE Broadcast comes with a few distractors that must be taken into consideration. First, we believe that many of the LTE Broadcast Use Cases do very little to address the data tsunami. This outcome is especially true in the near-term, based on the services that we believe mobile operators will first offer. Instead, operators should view LTE Broadcast as an opportunity to offer new services and content to their subscribers using new business models that go well beyond the bit pipe mentality that exists today.

Therefore, it isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, turning on a new network feature, and selling new mobile devices that support it. Instead, operators will need to invest considerable time and resources to identify suitable content that can be sent via a broadcast transmission. Once this content is identified, they will need to establish business relationships with the content owners who are historically risk averse. It is also fair to say that content owners will want their content to reach the largest possible addressable market, suggesting that the larger Tier 1 operators have an inherent advantage.

Operators will also need to consider how the LTE Broadcast services that they offer impact the size and location of the LTE Broadcast areas - also called MBSFN Areas. A MBSFN area that is defined by only a couple of eNBs can’t benefit from SFN and interference exists at the boundaries between MBSFN areas. At the other extreme, an overly large MBSFN Area may not attract sufficient usage to justify the network resources that have to be reserved to deliver the broadcast transmissions. For this reason, and others, we believe that operators will first limit their LTE Broadcast services to venues housing sports events and concerts. Longer term, they will explore other Use Cases which require more forethought, a larger population of devices in the network, and larger MBSFN Areas. If done correctly, at least one of these Use Cases can have an impact on the so-called data tsunami.

In this issue of Signals Ahead, we examine the market opportunity for LTE Broadcast. We discuss why things went wrong the first time around as well as why we believe LTE Broadcast can rise from the ashes of MBMS. We look at the eMBMS network architecture, the changes to the air interface that occur due to the introduction of the MBMSFN subframe, and how eMBMS functions and features evolve through future Releases. We then examine many of the LTE Broadcast Use Cases as well as some of the challenges that operators will face when embarking on a LTE Broadcast strategy. We conclude by providing our thoughts on how we believe the market opportunity will evolve over the next several years.
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