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Why 4G broadcasting is the future of mobile TV

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The ability to access live content on the move is becoming increasingly important to mobile users, but streaming services such as BBC iPlayer tend to struggle with high volumes of traffic.

Problems like these will one day become a thing of the past thanks to the potential of 4G mobile broadcasting, a system for delivering video in a consistent quality to myriad users simultaneously.

Partnered with EE, Huawei and Qualcomm, the BBC is carrying out extensive 4G broadcasting trials during the Commonwealth Games, and we stopped by to find out more about the technology.

A general view of the track at Hampden Park stadium, Glasgow where the Commonwealth Games will take place

© PA Images / Andrew Milligan

Hampden Park stadium, Glasgow


What are the benefits of 4G mobile broadcasting?

Conventional streaming services are prone to freezing and stuttering at times of heavy traffic as the content must be sent to each user individually, placing strain on the network.

LTE broadcasting is tailored for delivering the same data to many people simultaneously. It is capable of supporting a virtually unlimited number of users at once and maintaining efficient use of networks and spectrums.

Transmitting content via LTE is not unlike delivering to television screens over the air, and viewers will be treated to the same playback consistency as a TV broadcast.

The Beeb's research and development arm showcased the technology at an event held in the Glasgow Science Centre, where we saw a trio of Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphones running live streams from the Games free of lag and distortion.

"4G broadcasting is particularly good when you have lots of people in the same place trying to watch the same content at the same time," lead research engineer Andrew Murphy told Digital Spy.

Glasgow Science Centre

© Florian Fuchs

Glasgow Science Centre


"This might be at a stadium or it could just be when there's a big football match on that a lot of fans want to watch while they are out and about.

"Any time you've got lots of people trying to watch the same thing at the same time, broadcasting content makes sense because it's a more efficient use of the capacity of a network."

Not only was the footage on show uninhibited by buffering, the quality of the broadcast was noticeably higher than the BBC's standard mobile streaming platforms.

The challenges of implementing the technology

Although this UK-first trial is in its early stages, the BBC is well aware of some of the challenges it will face when it comes to implementing the new mobile broadcast technology.

An extensive amount of integration work had to be carried out just to make this short-live trial possible, so offering 4G mobile broadcasting on a wide scale will be no easy task.

The Beeb worked closely with EE to deliver its content over the Orange and T-Mobile merger's test network, while Huawei had to carry out optimisation work on its BMSC server.

The BBC Sport app running on tablets

© BBC

The BBC Sport app running on tablets


"Our partners in the trial have had to do a lot of integration work, so we've had to make a connection with EE to get our content over to them and Huawei have had to get their BMSC server working correctly," Murphy explained.

"We then had to integrate that with the Qualcomm middleware running on the Samsung phones, and then we've had to get the connectivity up and running in Glasgow in order to deliver a live broadcast to the Science Centre."

When will public 4G mobile broadcasts be available?

The short answer to this question is nobody knows, but the amount of research being invested into the broadcast technology around the world suggests it may not be too far off.

US network provider Verizon carried out a similar trial during the Super Bowl, and Orange tested 4G broadcasting during the French Open tennis tournament.

On these shores, the Beeb is keen to stress that its trials are a learning experiment that will help to identify exactly what the technology can do and shape its future strategy.

BBC Sport on Mobile

© BBC


"The idea of this is that it's a technical trial aiming to find out how the technology works, and then we can use that knowledge to factor into any decisions going forward," Murphy said.

"There's quite a lot happening at the moment but it's not yet quite clear when it will be available. The knowledge that we gain from technical trials like this one will help us answer that question."

4G mobile broadcasting is just one of the initiatives undergoing testing at the Commonwealth Games, with the BBC also exploring 4K broadcasting, High Frame Rate TV, virtual reality and augmented video during the sporting event.

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