OnQ Blog

Where will 5G take digital TV? [video]

It’s amazing how much innovation has taken place with TV in just the past few decades — from analog to digital cable to satellite delivery and hundreds of unique channels delivering focused content. Now, TV is ready to take another transformative turn... with 5G. Yes, 5G — the technology associated with mobile connectivity — is ready to transform digital TV. How is that possible?

As it so happens, this week, the European TV broadcasting industry gathered in Espoo, Finland, to meet, discuss, and get a glimpse of the future digital TV. The event attracted more than 50 attendees from all over Europe, including, government officials, regulators, public and private broadcasters, mobile operators, equipment vendors, and journalists. Qualcomm Technologies co-hosted the event with Nokia, MTV, Yle, and Elisa, representing the end-to-end European TV broadcasting ecosystem, and showcased how mobile networks can be used to efficiently deliver highly customizable, mass-market content to consumers.

In addition to the strong lineup of keynote speaker and panelists, I also had the pleasure to address the event attendees, walking them through our journey of standardizing LTE enTV (enhanced TV) in 3GPP Release 14 — an important technology that enables digital TV broadcasting over cellular networks and establishes the foundation for 5G broadcast.

But before we get into the details of enTV, you may be wondering, why would cellular technology be the ideal solution to deliver digital TV services, especially for live/linear TV content? The answer is quite simple: cellular technology is the single largest platform in human history and it is accessible by billions of users daily. For TV broadcasters and content providers, it creates an opportunity to broaden their reach; for mobile network operators, it expands their service portfolio by leveraging existing networks and resources; and for consumers, it gives them access to even richer content on their mobile or fixed devices. Moreover, cellular has evolved rapidly in recent years and can deliver much higher efficiencies than other standalone TV broadcast technologies. And this is where LTE enTV comes in — it is designed to make delivering digital TV over the existing mobile networks a reality, addressing the needs of broadcasters, content providers, mobile operators, and consumers.

LTE eMBMS/enTV is the foundation of 5G broadcast

3GPP has the vision to support digital TV delivery in the 5G era, and it has defined a set of 5G requirements for multimedia broadcast services. Today, Release 14 LTE enTV already meets most of the 5G requirements and it is expected to meet all of them with its continued evolution in Release 16 and beyond.

At Qualcomm Technologies, we see the future of broadcast technologies evolving in two distinct paths. The first is terrestrial broadcast that enables a dedicated broadcasting network leveraging cellular technology to provide a common delivery platform for different content and services (e.g., live/linear TV). The second is mixed-mode broadcast that allows for dynamic mode switching between unicast and broadcast to more efficiently deliver identical content (e.g., device firmware).

Figure 1: Evolving LTE broadcast towards meeting 5G requirements.

Terrestrial broadcast fuels the future of digital TV delivery

While the concept of broadcast is nothing new in 3GPP (in fact, it was part of the original LTE specifications in Release 8), what may be the most significant enhancement in the LTE broadcast evolution is the introduction of enTV in Release 14. For the first time, 3GPP took on a system approach to define how cellular broadcast should work for digital TV.

Release 14 enTV brings several radio access layer enhancements, including the support for a longer inter-site distance, rooftop reception, higher broadcast capacity, and more deployment flexibility for both mobile and fixed devices. On the system side, enhancements enable receive-only devices such as TVs that do not require SIM or service subscription, a transport-only option that allows content providers to deliver media in native format, and shared broadcast that allows multiple operators to utilize a common broadcast carrier.

And enTV is especially interesting for Europe, as there is an immediate deployment opportunity using the re-farmed 700 MHz spectrum band. The Release 14 enTV specifications already meet all EU digital TV broadcast requirements, and it is ~2x more efficient than DVB-T, allowing spectrum to be freed up for new use cases such as with the new 5G NR deployments in 700 MHz.

Figure 2: enTV — a strong candidate for next-generation digital TV delivery in Europe.

Mixed-mode broadcast brings network efficiency to a wide range of use cases

The second evolution path is mixed-mode broadcast, which enables dynamic switching of unicast and broadcast services, and it has a wide reach into many different use cases.

LTE IoT: one key challenge for the IoT is when identical content needs to be distributed to a massive number of devices. It is inefficient to use unicast, but ideal for broadcast. It can make OTA (over-the-air) firmware upgrades and group messaging much more efficient.

Cellular V2X: next-generation vehicles will support enhanced safety and more autonomous driving, and C-V2X allows vehicles to efficiently communicate with the network and its surroundings. With broadcast, it allows the network to more efficiently deliver real-time information, such as traffic, to vehicles.

Public safety: government and public service entities are looking for ways to communicate with citizens, and broadcast (or MCPTT — mission-critical push to talk) is being adopted to more efficiently deliver real-time emergency notifications to a wide variety of devices.

Figure 3: Mixed-mode broadcast is essential to new mobile use cases.

To learn more about the LTE broadcast evolution as well as other LTE technologies that are essential to 5G, download our recently updated LTE Advanced Pro presentation.

To get a full list of all members driving the evolution and commercialization of LTE broadcast, check out the LTE Broadcast Alliance website.