In January, both college football and AT&T tried something new. For the NCAA, it was the first College Football Playoff National Championship, at AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas. For AT&T, it was a different kind of first. Teaming up with Qualcomm and Samsung, the carrier broadcast two distinct video streams of the game to dozens of Galaxy Note 3 smartphones. Along with real-time game footage, the streams carried a slew of data-rich content, including instant replays, stats and trivia.
The trial used LTE Broadcast technology, a method for distributing data that uses the 4G wireless standard to deliver the same content to multiple devices simultaneously. With video expected to make up around 70 percent of mobile traffic by 2018, the technology could reduce some of that massive load on network infrastructure.
Verizon has been deploying LTE-B as well (the company calls it LTE Multicast). In a program called “Tech at the Track,” auto-racing fans who own compatible mobile devices with the IndyCar 15 app will be able to access live, exclusive video at the events. The technology will also be used to power Verizon’s Go90, an on-demand mobile video service targeted at millennials that was announced earlier this month.
LTE-B circumvents the need for large TV towers by harnessing existing cell towers to distribute content to local users, turning the two-way network into a one-way broadcast, similar to terrestrial television. This offloads the strain of separate streams, while potentially giving distributors the ability to tailor content based on location. And since the technology is part of the LTE standard, it can be supported natively across a wide range of devices.
AT&T’s venue-casting trial represents an early potential use for the technology: broadcasting the same high-bandwidth data to a dense crowd of users in the same setting, rather than having to deal with the heavy data toll caused by a crowd of people requesting individual streams at the same time. As with television, the same high-quality signal goes out to everyone at the same time.
But venue casting is only the beginning of LTE Broadcast’s potential. The technology could some day be used to push operating system and app updates to devices, send breaking news and emergency alerts, and deliver electronic periodicals and broadcast music over the air. LTE Broadcast could potentially be used to deliver television programs to devices, either as live streams or to be saved for later viewing.
LTE Broadcast is still in the early stages, but it’s certainly possible to see how the technology could help alleviate the infrastructural strain a growing number of smart device users are putting on the system — particularly as users’ expectation of high-quality video streaming continues to grow.