OnQ Blog

LTE Broadcast: how Snapdragon processors are changing the way we connect

18 Sep 2014

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Remember all that hype about portable TVs in the early 2000s? It was right around the time features phones were getting a little smarter. A fair amount of buzz and speculation went around about how mobile TV and mobile broadcast technology were the future of media consumption. You might not have heard too much about it lately, but broadcast technology hasn’t been forgotten, and it still provides a number of advantages over the way we consume content now.

Traditional broadcast technology, such as radio or television transmission, allows devices to tune in to channels by picking up signals in the air. The phrase “tune in” originated from tuning your TV dial to match the broadcasted signal. Somewhere nearby, a tower was emitting your favorite show and all your TV had to do was pick up that frequency.

Despite the trend of radio migration to the web, broadcast itself is far from dead. In fact, the FCC-mandated transition to digital television in 2009 was a move to a more “advanced broadcasting technology.” The move freed up valuable spectrum, which the FCC has been auctioning off since 2008. The spectrum has been purchased by various telecommunication companies, including Qualcomm and AT&T, who are looking at how broadcast technology can improve mobile connectivity.

Let’s look at video streaming as an example, where the most obvious advantages of broadcast technology can be found. Streaming from services like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime to mobile devices is the new norm: in 2013 Netflix reported that the percentage of members viewing the site from smartphones had more than doubled to 23%, up from just 11% in 2012. Viewing from a tablet went from 5% to 15% during the same period. Today, if you want to stream a video from your favorite site, you’ve got to establish a dedicated connection from your mobile device. The technology is called LTE Unicast, and it means that if someone ten feet away from you wants to watch the same video, they’ll need to establish a second dedicated connection; and if a third person—you get the idea.

You can start to see where streaming over LTE Unicast becomes really problematic when you think of any events watched by thousands—or even millions—of people worldwide. So, there’s a major opportunity for network improvement right there. The rise of streaming paired with the relative inefficiency of LTE Unicast over the traditional broadcast model means more crowded bandwidth, less efficient systems, and therefore more expensive access.

Luckily, if your device runs on a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 800 series processor, such as the Samsung GALAXY S5 or HTC One (M8), it carries something called LTE Broadcast. Compared to LTE Unicast, LTE Broadcast simply allows your device to “tune in” to a set frequency broadcasted from a nearby LTE tower, as if it were any other LTE network.

There are a number of unique advantages to LTE Broadcast. For one, it’s not the exact same technology that early mobile broadcast systems were built on. LTE Broadcast (eMBMS) is not an overlay network, which simply means it isn’t built on top of another network and is therefore cheaper and simpler for operators to install.

And, when working in tandem with the powerful media centers that are today’s mobile devices, LTE Broadcast is part of a compelling user experience. Snapdragon 800 series processors, as a comprehensive SoC system are equipped with a heck of a lot more than just LTE Broadcast capability. Between 4K support, advanced connectivity, advanced CPUs, and carrier aggregation, a Snapdragon processor can provide an experience that’s just as immersive as any living room’s, all in support of the content that LTE Broadcast more efficiently provides.

Spectrum is a finite resource. The growing number of connected devices, combined with iGR’s estimate that by 2016 video content will account for over 70% of mobile network traffic (PDF), make the need for a more efficient content streaming system greater than ever. LTE Broadcast technology will help the world meet the 1000x Data Challenge.

We put the technology through its paces at this year’s Indianapolis 500, and Snapdragon processor-supported LTE Broadcast was also showcased at this year’s Commonwealth Games as part of a collaboration with BBC and Huawei, and at the China Youth Olympics, also in collaboration with Huawei and China Telecom. It’s also important to point out that LTE Broadcast isn’t just for video streaming, however. Other use applications could include in-venue broadcasting, file transfer, breaking news and public safety alerts, or really just about anything else you can imagine that might be compelling to a large number of people.

Qualcomm recently hosted an LTE Broadcast webinar, where we discussed applications for the technology. And today at our mobile developers conference, Uplinq, Qualcomm announced that the new Qualcomm LTE Broadcast Software Development Kit is available to developers. We’re very excited to see what new services and applications developers will come up with.