This article is from The Donohue Report’s exclusive research report, “LTE Broadcast: The Path To Pay TV Disruption That’s Right Around The Corner.
Following the recent commercial debut of LTE Multicast at he Indianapolis 500, Verizon is building a new LTE Multicast app reparing to n-venue streamat the Indianapolists LTE Multicast deb of LTE Multicast at the 2015 Indianapolis 500, Verizon will launch mobile application this fall which will allow fans at NFL stadiums to access live programming from NFL RedZone Channel and NFL Network, two sources told The Donohue Report.
Verizon has deployed servers from both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent to power its LTE Multicast product. eMBMS rollout. The list of technology vendors Verizon is working with on its LTE Multicast deployment include Qualcomm, Sequans Communications, D-Link, Altair Semiconductor, Expway and VisualOn, which has built a media player that incorporates the MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) standard.
In 2013, Verizon struck a $1 billion rights deal with the NFL that gave it rights to stream Fox Broadcasting’s American Football Conference games and CBS’s National Football Conference games in the home markets of Verizon Wireless subscribers using the NFL Mobile app on smartphones and tablets. Verizon, which had been charging subscription fees of $5 monthly for NFL Mobile, announced in July 2014 that it would offer NFL Network content and live football coverage in local markets for free.
Verizon, which first demonstrated LTE Multicast with NFL Network programming in February 2014, also announced last summer that it would begin streaming the NFL RedZone Channel during the 2014-15 season to subscribers willing to pay $1.99 monthly. RedZone features live cut-ins to Fox and CBS games on Sunday when a team is close to scoring (line of scrimmage is inside the “red zone” between the 20-yard line and goal line).
Offering RedZone Channel through an app that is delivered through unicast streaming puts a strain on a carrier’s network, as it is required to deliver a unique video stream to every viewer. By creating a new app that will rely on LTE Multicast, Verizon will be able to deliver live video from RedZone Channel by broadcasting a single video stream from each cell site located near stadiums.
“Even in situations where you only have a handful of folks taking advantage of it [LTE Multicast], you’re already serving the network in an efficient manner,” Jack Arky, Verizon Wireless senior engineer, product development, told attendees at the Qualcomm Uplinq mobile developers conference in September 2014.
AT&T Tests eMBMS at NCAA Football Championship
AT&T is the only other U.S. wireless carrier to run a public test of eMBMS. In January, the telco delivered LTE Broadcast video feeds to attendees at the College Football Championship game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
AT&T CFO John Stephens said at an investor conference in December 2014 that AT&T is developing LTE Multicast products. But he didn’t offer details regarding
a timeline for a commercial deployment.
“We believe … with regard to talk about [content owners and networks] that the distribution of video over wireless – that should be really important to them, whether it being TV programming, movies, [Apple] FaceTime videos, sporting events or live TV. We’re building a network that is video centric and has the capacity to do that,” Stephens said.
While Stephens said that the limited number of smartphones and tablets that support eMBMS could impact the timing of the launch of commercial LTE Broadcast services, he said eMBMS will be a part of AT&T’s product portfolio. “We will move towards a more developed multicast process as the ecosystem around it develops, but we’re clearly on that path,” Stephens added.
Sequans Communications, the French 4G chipmaker that supplies Verizon with eMBMS-enabled chipsets, including EZLinkLTE and Colibri, has said that it expects to achieve certification for AT&T’s wireless network in 2015. Sequans CEO George Karam told analysts on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in February that Sequans is talking to multiple U.S. wireless carriers about projects that would involve its Cassiopeia chip, an LTE-Advanced product that supports carrier aggregation and eMBMS.
Hundreds of Video Channels Via LTE Broadcast
One early indication that Verizon saw opportunities to use its 4G LTE network as a platform for pay TV subscription services involved the shift of personnel that developed its FiOS TV product to teams leading the introduction of over-the-top video and LTE Broadcast products. When Verizon held its first LTE Multicast demonstration at an event for reporters in January 2014, the briefing was led by Shawn Strickland, who was VP of FiOS TV product management when Verizon launched FiOS TV and Internet in 2005.
When asked by this reporter if Verizon could use LTE Multicast to launch a wireless version of FiOS TV, Strickland said, “It [LTE Multicast platform] is content agnostic. It could be data packages. Several hundred channels would be a significant amount of spectrum. You really have to see a market opportunity. Technically there really are no limitations,” Strickland said at the LTE Multicast demonstration in 2014.
Three sources have told The Donohue Report in recent months that Verizon plans to use LTE Multicast to launch a new video service that would stream hundreds of channels. Last week, one source said Verizon plans to flip the switch on a new subscription video service in 2016 that will use a combination of unicast and multicast delivery.
For Verizon and other carriers, the key to streaming multiple video channels through broadband wireless is managing how much spectrum should be allocated to traditional unicast streaming, and how much spectrum should be carved out to broadcast live video programming via LTE Broadcast.
Carriers Can Allocate 60% of Spectrum to Multicast
When asked at the Qualcomm Uplinq conference in September how many channels of video programming Verizon could stream via LTE Multicast, Jack Arky, an engineer dedicated to work on LTE Multicast, noted that the eMBMS standard allows wireless carriers to allocate up to 60 percent of LTE spectrum for use with multicast. “That could be a fair number of channels depending upon the bitrate of your video,” Arky said. “If it’s smaller video [files], depending upon the use case you can have many channels,” he added.
Claude Seyrat, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at LTE Broadcast technology vendor Expway, said one of the best use cases for using multicast versus unicast would be for streaming CNN in a major city during a breaking news event. Expway supplies its eMBMS middleware to Verizon through a deal it has with Alcatel- Lucent.
Seyrat said when LTE Broadcast is widely deployed, viewers won’t know whether they are watching content that has been delivered via multicast or unicast. The idea is to make the switching between unicast and multicast delivery seamless, he explained.
MobiTV Senior Director of Technology Kerry Travilla describes LTE Broadcast as a “network operations tool” that can allow wireless operators to deal with increased demands from subscribers for multiscreen video. MobiTV is one of the technology vendors that worked with Verizon on its LTE Broadcast demonstration before Super Bowl XLVIII.
Travilla noted that the amount of demand Verizon sees from fans at NFL stadiums who want to watch the RedZone Channel through NFL Mobile has forced Verizon to use “geo fencing” – placing a virtual fence around football stadiums that block users inside from streaming RedZone. “They’re not allowed to deliver that because their network can’t handle that [demand for unicast video streams]. To solve that multicast is a beautiful tool, 7Travilla said. “This is another arrow in the quiver of the types of things that you can do to the network,” he added.
Several patent applications from technology vendors Qualcomm and MobiTV detail methods Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and other wireless carriers may be able use to deliver subscription video content to both mobile devices and IP- connected TVs through a combination of multicast and unicast delivery.
In a patent application filed in May 2013, Qualcomm explains how it could use a high attachment rate detection [HARD] module to detect when the number of UEs [User Equipment Devices] exceeds a threshold that is set by a carrier, and switch a user from unicast to multicast streaming based on demand for content.
“Examples of content that are suitable for demand-based eMBMS may include breaking news, traffic alerts due to abnormal events, which may cause a large number of users to tune to a news channel or traffic channel. Another example may be content/movie download via a cache, where many devices/users may request from a server download of some content, game, or movie during a certain sliding window time period of a predefined length,” Qualcomm states in the patent application.
According to MobiTV, whose customers include Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, one of the keys to ensuring seamless switches between unicast and multicast delivery is to introduce a delay in the broadcast stream. “Relative delay is introduced between the broadcast servers and the unicast servers so that broadcast transmission fragments are one or more fragments behind unicast transmission fragments to provide a client device time to request and retrieve unicast fragments if the corresponding broadcast fragments are not available,” MobiTV states in its patent application, titled,
Since the launch of FiOS TV more than a decade ago, Verizon has built relationships with major programming networks to distribute linear broadcast and cable networks and video-on-demand content to homes within its FiOS TV footprint. Verizon has already started to negotiate deals with networks that include terms that address distributing video to Verizon Wireless customers, CEO Lowell McAdam said in February.
“With 108 million subscribers on the wireless side and the best wireless broadband network, we think we’ve got tremendous leverage there. Without announcing anything, the dialogues that we are having with the content providers are very encouraging,” McAdam said on a conference call Verizon held the day it announced a deal to sell its FiOS systems in California, Texas and Florida to Frontier Communications.
Verizon hasn’t announced plans to use its LTE network distribute linear broadcast or cable networks to mobile devices or IP-connected TVs. But its teams of inventors have designed methods for delivering video content, including 4K Ultra High Definition programming, to TVs via its LTE network.
In one scenario contained in a patent application titled, “Streaming Multicast Content to a Television Via A Mobile Device,” Verizon says a single smartphone or tablet could be used to deliver three separate TV programs to four televisions in a home. Content would be delivered from the mobile device to a TV using methods that could include connecting the device to a TV via an HDMI port or using wireless media extenders such as Apple’s AirPlay, which would also require the use of an Apple TV set-top. 6
Verizon Wireless already sells three streaming video devices that can be used to deliver video programming from a mobile device to a TV via a Wi-Fi local area network TV – Google Chromecast, the Belkin Miracast adapter and the NetGear Push2TV wireless display adapter. Those devices don’t support eMBMS, and may not have the content protection capabilities that would be required by major programmers and Hollywood studios. But Sequans and Expway address content protection in another recent patent application, titled, “eMBMS Over LAN.”
One of the ways wireless carriers could ensure content security would be to supply subscribers with LTE-capable routers, according to Sequans and Expway. “By making eMBMS services accessible to more users simply by installing a local application, the network operator will increase the value of its content delivery system. If a network operator also has a WiFi network or provides home routers, then the provision of an LTE backhaul would allow eMBMS delivery through its
Wi-Fi hotspots or home routers. With the embodiments described herein, an end user with an LTE capable mobile router can provide eMBMS services to all devices connected to the LTE capable mobile router,” the companies state in the patent application.
Four months after Sequans and Expway filed the patent application, which shows multiple images of MiFi devices, Sequans announced in December 2014 that its LTE chipsets were inside Verizon’s new Ellipsis Jetpack MiFi hotspots. The LTE chips Sequans is supplying to Verizon are based on its Mont Blanc platform, which can support eMBMS. The Ellipsis Jetpack can connect up to 15 Wi-Fi devices. It appears to be one of the devices that will be key to Verizon’s LTE Multicast deployment.
Caching Videos and Targeted Ads with Local Storage
While eMBMS powers the broadcast of a single piece of content to many devices, several recent patent applications from inventors at Intel, Verizon and other technology providers detail ways that targeted advertising can be delivered to individual viewers by caching content on mobile devices or storage devices in a home. Wireless carriers will also be able to offer video-on-demand TV shows and movies by broadcasting content to mobile devices and LTE-powered DVRs and video gateways, similar to the way satellite TV providers store video-on- demand programming on DVRs.
Verizon’s Jack Arky noted at the Qualcomm Uplinq conference that one of the use cases for eMBMS would be to “distribute data at off-peak hours if you want to do a movie distribution, or if you want to deliver advertising content.”
Wireless carriers may not only cache programming on storage devices placed in a subscriber’s homes. They may also use storage devices that are placed in a neighbor’s home to deliver personalized advertising and programming. That’s a technique that Sony Corp. says could be useful if the storage device in a viewer’s home becomes filled to capacity.
“NRT [non-real time] content is trickle downloaded to a reception apparatus. When the reception apparatus is memory constrained, not all NRT content from all digital television channels are stored. Instead, only the NRT content for television channels most viewed by a user. Thus, in one embodiment, the memory storage is based on user viewing habits. When a user explores other television channels, the NRT would have to be trickle downloaded to that device again from the corresponding content source. However, if a neighbor has that NRT content available, it can be recognized by the reception apparatus and quickly accessed for viewing without the need to wait for a trickle download of the NRT content,” Sony writes in a patent application titled, “Storing Non-Real Time Content.”
DVR manufacturers such as Arris, Cisco, Humax, Pace, Technicolor and TiVo may supply wireless carriers with LTE Broadcast set-tops that contain storage. In December, TiVo SVP Tara Maitra told attendees at the TVOT 2014 conference in New York that TiVo was talking to wireless carriers. “I know those discussions are happening. That’s as far as I can go right here,” Maitra said during a panel session moderated by this reporter.
Sponsored Data Opportunities
Wireless carriers may also be able to generate revenue through sponsored-data agreements with advertisers involving both unicast and multicast streaming which would allow consumers to access content without incurring data charges. Verizon’s Jack Arky told mobile developers at the Qualcomm conference in September that Verizon would be able to provide commercial customers with “skinable apps” that could be used to promote goods and services to Verizon Wireless customers who “wander into an area.”
“It could be a golf course, a theme park, a department store,” Arky added. Verizon offers more details about the sponsored data approach in a patent application titled, “Methods and Systems for Providing Location-based Subsidized Access to Network Content.”
“In some examples, the sponsored geographic area may comprise an area in which the sponsoring entity has an ownership or other interest (e.g., a hotel owner may be a sponsoring entity associated with a sponsored geographic area that includes the hotel premises). Conversely, in other examples, the sponsoring entity may have no ownership or other interest in the sponsored geographic area (e.g., a soft drink company may be a sponsoring entity associated with a sponsored geographic area that includes a football stadium). For example, the sponsoring entity may have no association with the sponsored geographic area
other than the association arising from the entity’s capacity as a sponsoring entity for subsidized access to network content in the sponsored geographic area as it is detailed in the subsidized access arrangement,” Verizon states in the patent application.
LTE Broadcast Customer Premise Equipment
Equipment that Verizon will likely deploy for its LTE Broadcast rollout includes the D-Link eMBMS TV Dongle.
The device, which Verizon showed at its booth at the 2014 CTIA convention in Las Vegas, contains the Sequans VZ20Q EZLinkLTE module.
Emeryville, Calif.-based MobiTV also unveiled its MobiTV Connect HDMI stick at the CTIA convention. While MobiTV has filed several patent applications that involve using LTE Broadcast to deliver video, the white- label MobiTV Connect device
won’t support eMBMS.
AT&T and T-Mobile are among the first U.S. wireless carriers that could deploy the streaming video device this year. It is designed to deliver over-the-top video content through any high-speed Internet connection, including broadband provided by cable modems or LTE gateways.
“Reaching the large screen at home – the dongle provides that route, where you can bypass the [cable or satellite] set-top box, and really have a universal offering for the way that people are consuming content today,” MobiTV’s Kerry Travilla said.
“You’re going to see a lot of these in the field in the first half of the year,” Rick Herman, MobiTV chief strategy officer, told The Donohue Report last fall.
LTE gateways may also be deployed in the United States and international markets where wireless carriers launch eMBMS services. In March, Expway announced that its eMBMS middleware was available on Technicolor’s over-the- top set-tops.
Technicolor’s product line includes the TG22100 LTE triple-play gateway, which can deliver data at speeds of 100 Mbps. Technicolor is one of Verizon’s equipment suppliers. But the companies have not yet announced deals involving eMBMS-capable gateways.
In 2015, LTE Broadcast will move from trials to commercial deployments both in the United States and international markets, including South Korea and India.
One source said KT Corp., which began streaming two channels of video programming via LTE Broadcast with the launch of its Olleh TV Play app in January 2014, will announce a significant expansion of its LTE Broadcast product in June 2015. Another source said India’s Reliance Jio, which announced in August 2014 that it would deploy LTE Broadcast, will use the platform to deliver Bollywood movies to subscribers.
Verizon and AT&T are the only two U.S. wireless carriers that have tested LTE Broadcast. While Sprint and T-Mobile have not announced plans to deploy LTE Broadcast service, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T could challenge incumbent pay TV distributors by launching over-the-top services using devices such as the MobiTV Connect.
Sprint has also tested an over-the-top device from Denver-based technology firm aioTV called the Passbox. The device, when connected to a cable set-top and an HDTV, could allow Sprint and other carriers to essentially hijack the user
interface cable subscribers see when they navigate TV programming. Cable
subscribers would still receive content from their local operator, but they would get access to both free and paid online video content from a wireless carrier.
With the recent sale of FiOS systems in Texas, Florida and California to Frontier Communications, coupled with increased investment in over-the-top video platforms with its acquisitions of Uplynk, Edgecast and Intel’s OnCue assets, Verizon’s video distribution strategy will shift from FiOS to over-the-top video services. It will deliver subscription video services through broadband networks
of rivals, and it will also use its 4G LTE network to deliver new video services that will rely on both unicast and multicast streaming.
There has already been significant disruption in the pay TV industry in the last 12 months with the launch of direct-to-consumer networks such as WWE Network, and virtual, or over-the-top subscription video services such as Dish Network’s Sling TV.
The launch of Verizon’s wireless pay TV product in 2016 will cause more disruption. But it is too soon to predict how this service will compare to FiOS TV, which has reached penetration levels of more than 50 percent in some of the first cities where it debuted, including Dallas.
Adobe predicted recently that mobile viewing of video will surpass desktop viewing by the end of 2016. Pay TV incumbents will continue to benefit from mobile viewing if subscribers use authenticated TV Everywhere services supplied by their local operator. But if Verizon and other wireless carriers succeed in obtaining content rights to deliver subscription video via LTE Broadcast, or if wireless carriers launch new over-the-top products through devices like MobiTV Connect, aioTV Passbox or TiVo, Comcast and other incumbent providers could find it increasingly challenging to retain triple-play subscribers.