Posted by Andrew Murphy on , last updated
Throughout October we'll be taking a closer look at some of the work of our Mobile Distribution team - from Broadcast Wi-Fi to 5G trials. In this post Lead Research Engineer Andrew Murphy explains how, after we have experimented with the technology over the last few years, the latest release of mobile standards adds support for broadcast services. This means content can be distributed between large numbers of users at the same time over mobile networks, rather than users receiving the content individually.
Around 18 months ago, the mobile industry kicked-off an initiative on television services over mobile networks within the body responsible for mobile standards - 3GPP. The feature Known as ‘EnTV’, aimed to allow wide-scale TV distribution, enhancing the existing capabilities of 4G Broadcast (eMBMS).
This kind of efficient distribution of content over mobile is something we have quite a bit of experience of from our involvement in trials at both the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in London. Through these trials we identified a number of potential enhancements which included the possibility for a single transmission to be shared across users of different mobile operators and the need for the interface between the broadcaster and the mobile network to be specified.
The BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has a number of requirements for the distribution of its services and, working with colleagues from other broadcasters in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) along with members of the mobile industry we have worked to promote these requirements within 3GPP.
3GPP is a large and complex organisation comprising hundreds of network operators, handset manufacturers and content providers from all across the world and, in a crowded schedule of on-going developments and studies, there are many views and lengthy, competing discussions about the way forward for mobile standards. It is therefore not always possible to get time to introduce new work items and consensus among a number of members is therefore vital.
Over a number of years, the EBU has been working to build understanding between the broadcaster and mobile communities through joint groups such as CTN-Mobile under its Future Distribution strategic programme and this was an important foundation. Direct representation by the BBC and other broadcasters at 3GPP meetings along with the presentation and analysis of data to back up our case were also very important. For example, we were able to demonstrate that, as a public service broadcaster, we need to serve people everywhere, including those away from dense population areas - and this had an impact on the design parameters for the enhancements.
The process has been a remarkable success and Release 14 contains essential features for broadcast delivery over mobile networks such as the possibility for free-to-air reception. Release 14 also supports larger network coverage areas which will allow broadcasters to target rural areas more easily than is currently possible. It’s also addressed a number of the limitations that we identified in our own trials of 4G Broadcast. For example, the standardisation of the interfaces between mobile network and the broadcaster and also between the network and the application on the handset (so-called ‘xMB’ and ‘TRAPI’ respectively) will make it simple to make content available and deliver applications to take advantage of these features.
Two years ago, no one would have imagined that public service broadcaster requirements would have been included in a mobile standard from 3GPP and it is thanks to cooperation between broadcasters and the mobile industry that this has taken place.
Our work on mobile broadcast continues and we’re currently carrying out further gap analysis work with industry coordinated through the EBU to ascertain what, if any, gaps remain in the mobile standards as well as looking ahead to what 5G might mean for the distribution of public service media.
This post is part of the Distribution Core Technologies section