Sunday 10 August 2014

What's True About Mobile Broadband Broadcasting?

Biased "research reports" ignore the impact of LTE technology
It is claimed that the large download capacity provided by the wireless communication standard 4G/LTE will solve all problems for the IP distribution of radio, and maybe even television, services to mobile devices. According to broadcasting organizations such statements represent an oversimplification of a complex problem, including various non-technical aspects such as net neutrality, and costs writes EBU. 

However, after three much toted reports the broadcasting sector have not yet presented the complete picture but rather leaving out the decisive facts of the capacity growth for future 4G and 5G as well as recent developments of the LTE Broadcast multicast technology.

2013 the Swedish network provider Teracom commissioned a white paper from a research company, which concluded that "...(replacing the) distribution of radio in the terrestrial broadcast network ... with distribution via cellular networks ... is not credible and that the need for terrestrial broadcasting will remain for an indefinite future."  The main (but not only) reason for this was found to be the very high costs of such an approach. 

Similar conclusions are now available from research commissioned by the Bavarian Media Authority (BLM) and the public service Bayerischer Rundfunks. The study Analysis of radio transmission in Bavaria through DAB+ or LTE - comparing the costs of supply finds that "Providing terrestrial radio exclusively via LTE would be around 40 times more costly than transmission via DAB+."

The German study concludes that instead the migration from FM to DAB+ should be accelarated in the coming years without excluding the additional provision of terrestrial radio via LTE, leaving the door open to a hybrid future. The EBU project group CTN Mobile has also published a technical report negatively assessing the delivery of broadcast content over LTE networks. 

Most radio listening in Bavaria is on FM, today 5 % is on DAB+. The German report does not take into account the costs for a transition from FM to DAB+ and the hybrid alternative of retaining FM complemented with online digital radio (which is for example recommended by PTS the Swedish telecom authority).


Claimed setbacks of radio and tv via mobile broadband are based upon today´s technical capabilities and set prices. The reports are not taking into the account the future situation from 2020 and on. Internet capacity with 5G etc is projected to be 1.000 times faster than today. 

European politicians will force the television broadcasters to leave the 700 MHz band in favour of mobile broadband. Finland and Sweden have already taken a decision on this starting 2017-2019. An European Commission recommendation in this direction is expected in September 2014.

On air broadcasting will indeed be less costly than 4G/LTE if the whole potential audience is listening all the time on all channels. A niche channel will be very expensive in contrast to a major channel because the transmission cost per viewer or listener will be very high. In contrast a broadband channel is only paid for when actually being tuned to by the receiving end. A broadcast channel will cost money even if there are no viewers or listeners - and this will be a pure waste of radio spectrum. Online, the spectrum is only used exactly as a istener or a viewer actually receives the program.

With interactivity and communication mobile broadband is foremost a utility whilst broadcasting is foremost a distribution platform for entertainment (music, sports etc) lacking two-way communication availability. Music is the core of radio but it is nowadays challenged by various online platforms. Distribution of entertainment is in most cases not a societal responsibility financed via taxes or tv license fees and should rather be paid for by the users (listeners and viewers). Thus broadband platforms offer such distribution platforms with optimal fairness for an open market and will probably be of a far better value for the citizens. 

This will be good arguments for a transfer of more radio spectrum in the VHF and UHF band from convenient broadcasting per DVB and DAB technologies to smarter mobile broadband technologies. 

The report does not consider developments of LTE Broadcast technology on 700 MHz, with test trials now starting in Munich with involvement of public service companies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The use of LTE Broadcast will enable smartphone users to watch TV and listen to radio without eating into their mobile data subscription and will be independent of network load. 

Read Report (EBU web site):  Broadcast or broadband ? On the future of terrestrial radio supply 

Also read
First Wide-scale 700 MHz LTE Broadcast Trial Launched