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Mobile TV is BACK: Ericsson launches broadcast video for 4G

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MWC 2013 Broadcast mobile TV is back again, this time on Verizon's 4G network with better quality than ever, because it's obviously merely inferior technology which has prevented the success of mobile broadcasting in the past.

Ericsson is going large at Mobile World Congress. It is now the largest provider of mobile infrastructure whose kit handles world's LTE traffic, plus O2 has forgiven its past failures and awarded Ericsson the contract to run the UK's core network across the generations. The company is also demonstrating that it can route mobile calls right into a web browser with WebRTC... But what really caught El Reg's eye was the announcement that Verizon would be using Ericsson's eMBMS technology to deploy broadcast video in the USA later this year, and Telstra is going to give it a shot Down Under too.

That's "broadcast" video - where everyone watches the same thing at the same time without the pause/rewind/skip one gets watching mobile video on YouTube, or iPlayer or any of the other video-on-demand services. But Verizon and Ericsson reckon mobile users will forgo the convenience of being able to control playback for the increased network efficiency made possible by Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service.

eMBMS is a nice technology, just as MBMS was a nice technology when it was applied to 3G networks. The broadcast system uses existing cellular infrastructure, and radio frequencies, but broadcasts the same signal to any number of people. This makes it much more efficient - as long as lots of people want to download the same content at the same time. It's also very attractive to network operators, who know video is popular and whose networks struggle to provide it. The Ericsson press release on the matter points out that 67 per cent of consumers watch TV on a mobile or tablet, but is silent on the matter of how many would choose to do so if they couldn't select what to watch.

A number of operators tried MBMS on 3G networks, but discovered that the vast majority of viewing took place in the home - largely from the teenager's bedroom - where Wi-Fi provides a better solution, but Ericsson is hoping that technology will provide a more compelling proposition for Verizon's planned launch.

That launch will be later this year, and revolves around sporting events and concerts. That's time-critical content which will certainly need the bandwidth available to the 4G-based eMBMS, along with the greater compression that H.265 (aka HEVC, High Efficiency Video Coding) can offer and the adaptive capabilities of MPEG DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) which can modify encoding to suit the available bandwidth, all of which makes for terribly impressive demonstrations and will make for good video should anyone sign up to watch.

But the product echoes the mistakes that were made following the launch of 3G: just because something is technically possible doesn't mean anyone will want it. Broadcasting television to mobile telephones has been tried, and tried again, eating through millions of dollars and pushing the technical development to almost universal indifference from consumers who just want NetFlix to work properly. ®

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