When the opening match of the world’s largest football tournament kicked off Thursday in São Paulo, Brazil the world was watching—hundreds of millions at home, others at work, and also a fair amount in bars around the world. For reference, 2010’s opening match between host nation South Africa and Mexico drew just over 300 million viewers.
In 2010, 4G LTE was still out of reach for most. Now there are nearly a quarter-billion 4G LTE connections worldwide. This summer, millions of smartphone and tablet users will be watching the world’s most popular sporting event from park benches, buses, or just about any place where there isn’t a TV.
This represents a big technological leap forward for mobile users around the world, but it also poses a problem. There’s only so much spectrum to go around, and chances are, even with the fastest, most advanced networks, there’s bound to be some slowdown. There is a solution, however: LTE Broadcast.
Traditionally, when you stream video on a phone or tablet, the network sets up a connection just for your device. Even if multiple people are watching the same exact stream, the network still needs to establish multiple—albeit duplicate—connections. For something like watching a live, massively popular sporting event, it’s terribly inefficient.
Instead, LTE Broadcast—as its name suggests—broadcasts a single data channel over a single frequency that all users on the network can tune in to. It’s not unlike traditional radio: The network operator can designate a certain video stream for broadcast, and because all a device needs to do is “listen in” on that channel, the network can support a near-limitless number of users.
In order to access popular content in this way, LTE Broadcast requires three things:
- An LTE Broadcast-enabled LTE radio network and properly configured backend network
- A device with LTE Broadcast receiving capabilities enabled by a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ processor (and optional LTE Broadcast middleware)
- An app that can point to an LTE Broadcast signal
The technology is still in the early-adoption phases for phone manufacturers and network operators. It has been commercially deployed in Korea and operators, such as Verizon Wireless and Orange, have recently demonstrated it at the Indy 500 and the French Open respectively.
For now, let’s imagine LTE Broadcast is already available globally in networks and in devices. Here’s how it might work for this summer’s tournament:
During the opening weeks, when there are as many as four games per day—some of them playing out simultaneously—LTE Broadcast would let as many fans watch the game they want to watch, wherever they want. With a properly configured LTE Broadcast, an entire city, theoretically, could watch any broadcasted game with near-zero impact on the data speeds of others. Football fans would get to watch as much football as they like, and with others unaffected by a bandwidth crunch.
Then, imagine that on July 17th, the United States plays Brazil in the final. With an LTE Broadcast station inside the venue, all 78,838 fans could watch from multiple HD camera feeds and access on-demand replays of the U.S. as it soundly defeat the odds-on favorite.
Okay, the U.S. lifting the cup is a bit fantastical; but watching the final without massive data bottlenecks wouldn’t have to be. With LTE Broadcast, the only unpredictable part of watching the games from your phone would be the games themselves.