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Sun 19 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Broadening horizons

As wireless broadband technologies mature and the spread of FTTH networks impact broadband penetration levels, the prospects for IP-based content delivery are improving. Digital Broadcast investigates.

Broadening horizons
Broadening horizons

As wireless broadband technologies mature and the spread of FTTH networks impact broadband penetration levels, the prospects for IP-based content delivery are improving. Digital Broadcast investigates.

Live HD quality transmission via broadband to a mobile device seems like a remote development, particularly in the Middle East given that several of these individual components, chiefly broadband and HD broadcasting, remain in their infancy.

During the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, however, a demonstration of just this was provided by Motorola.

The company deployed a Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless broadband network connecting their booth at the exhibition centre to a van that was driven around the streets of the host city.

DVB-H and DVB-S have a role to play but we will see a shift away from these technologies and towards LTE networks... In the immediate future, we are going to see DVB-H and other standards. - Noel Kirkaldy, Director marketing wireless broadband, Motorola.

Of particular interest was the network's ability to stream HD video to LTE test handsets on the showfloor. The opportunities for on-demand video services delivered over the internet via an LTE wireless broadband network are obvious.

"The WiMAX standard might be able to handle some video but when it comes to delivering quality video services for mobiles via wireless broadband, LTE far exceeds WiMAX," says Ian Wilkinson, solutions marketing manager, Motorola.

"Fibre-based broadband networks can reach 50 MB/s comfortably, we expect LTE to stretch beyond that."

Given that the demonstration managed to transmit its HD signal at speeds of just 8MB/s, a fraction of the standard's full potential, the use of LTE networks suddenly appears feasible.

With telcos likely to invest in this infrastructure over the course of the next five years, perhaps the upcoming investment in DVB-H networks from several operators in the Middle East could be unwise if video content were to become widely accessible via LTE.

However the unicast nature of LTE means that locations with high density populations will begin to see a reduction in the speed of their service in much the same way as an overcrowded Wi-Fi network.

"LTE will bring more bandwidth, but it can't support high-quality mobile TV when you have a few dozen subscribers in one cell of the network," says Stefan Schneiders, business development for mobile TV and mobile advertising, consulting and systems integration, Nokia Siemens Networks. "A test is always nice, but you need to compare them on same level i.e. the number of commercial launches between the technologies.

"Commercial DVB-H devices are available from Nokia, Samsung and LG, but we do not foresee potential for any commercial LTE device in the near future," he claims.

Motorola's wireless broadband marketing manager noel Kirkaldy is less convinced about the problems the shortcomings of LTE will create for video delivery in the long term.

"DVB-H and DVB-S have a role to play but we will see a shift away from these technologies and towards LTE networks," says Noel Kirkaldy, director marketing for wireless broadband at Motorola.

"It all comes down to the economies of scale. There are only so many different networks that an operator wants to be running in parallel. In the immediate future we are going to see DVB-H and other standards. The industry will use whatever technology it can get its hands on as long as it can deliver the quality of service that they require", he adds.

So DVB-H would appear to remain the clear front runner for mobile broadcasting with LTE offering unicast on-demand content, depending on the specific network conditions. The more pertinent question could be how relevant linear broadcasting will be in three to five year's time and what effect will it have on the success of DVB-H services?Current patterns of mobile TV consumption would suggest that short-form content such as sports highlights, music videos and edited versions of TV serial episodes are the most popular. This would seemingly limit the advantage of linear broadcasting on DVB-H with only news and music channels seemingly a good fit for the platform. There could also be a reliance on the rights holders of popular long-form content to provide edited, mobile friendly versions of its shows.

"Content is the ultimate driver, you can't get away from that," says Wilkinson. "There are some operators taking the view that they should explore other services because of the effect that piracy has in the region, which is a legitimate approach. There is still a revenue opportunity for quality content however. It comes down to what services can be added on top and that, which in turn comes down to the creativity of the operators."

Wilkinson stresses the importance of the customer relationship and the additional revenues that it can enable. This an area that the telco industry is more accustomed to than the broadcasters.

Exploiting the customer database, targeted advertising, location-based advertising are just some of the new incomes that Wilkinson is talking about.

However, despite Schneiders pointing to commercial roll outs of DVB-H networks in Europe, the standard's ability to generate meaningful revenues remains largely untested.

Launches in Italy, The Netherlands and Austria have achieved some success, however the first licensee in Germany was forced to return it after failing to secure sales and marketing partners.

Regardless of the success or failure of DVB-H, LTE networks will be put in place to provide wireless broadband. Any mobile-ready video services available through LTE should be considered complementary with the capabilities of the two so very different.

Wilkinson offers a less segregated outlook for the future of video delivery built around three pillars, IPTV, wireless broadband and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks.

"These are inseparable really. You can't talk about one without including the other. When you talk about FTTH, broadband TV comes in and so on they are interlinked."

Much of this technology is, by Wilkinson's own admission, a few years away from being rolled out commercially. He believes that broadcasters in the region are keeping a watchful eye on the opportunities broadband can offer.

"Everybody is actively interested, but there are differences in how people are interested. In some areas there is interest across the board. For example VoD is not a hard sell, everyone agrees that being able to watch what you want when you want is a good thing. The difficulty is in translating that into a successful business model."