Release 14 of the 3GPP mobile specification is a landmark update for the broadcast industry, writes Darko Ratkaj.
If the ultimate goal is mobile networks with significantly improved abilities to distribute broadcast content, the recently adopted 3GPP Release 14, with its latest set of mobile specifications, is a milestone in that direction.
3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) is a collaboration between seven telecoms standards bodies that covers cellular telecommunications network technologies, including radio access, the core transport network and service capabilities.
The update contains substantially enhanced LTE eMBMS features compared to previous releases. Some of the most significant ones include:
- An extended cyclic prefix to allow large cell sizes, which improves the economics of the wide-area LTE eMBMS network coverage.
- Up to 100% of carrier allocation to eMBMS, enabling both a mixed unicast/broadcast configuration on the same carrier and a dedicated broadcast-only carrier. The latter can be deployed in a stand-alone eMBMS network configuration.Support for handheld, vehicle-mounted, and rooftop antenna reception, which means different categories of receivers can be reached at the same time.
- Shared MBMS broadcast that allows eMBMS services transmitted by one network to be received by subscribers of other mobile network operators. In this way, popular content can be transmitted once (i.e. by a stand-alone eMBMS network) and received by all interested users, instead of being transmitted multiple times as would be the case with each MNO distributing the content separately to their own subscribers.
- The possibility of free-to-air reception in addition to the conventional subscription-based reception modes.
- A receive-only mode, i.e. reception of selected eMBMS services without the need for a user device to authenticate with the network (i.e. without a SIM card). The services available to receive-only devices can of course also be received on all other devices with a SIM card, provided that they are eMBMS enabled.
- Standardised interfaces were introduced at two levels: between content providers and BM-SC on the LTE network (xMB interface), and between MBMS clients and receiver applications (MBMS-APIs). The xMB interface provides the functionality for content ingest, authentication, and notifications, and permits four different ways of carrying the content: streaming, file transfer, applications, and transport mode. MBMS-APIs facilitate development of web and user applications that make use of new functionalities while being compatible with existing media players.
- The transport-only mode allows the distribution of any IP-based data flow over eMBMS, including content formats external to 3GPP, such as MPEG-2 Transport Stream. For example, this would enable traditional broadcasters to distribute content in its native format (without the need for transcoding) via eMBMS to existing radio and/or TV receivers. The adopted protocol allows new functionalities to be added in the future, such as QoS improvements through FEC, audience data gathering, and reception monitoring.
In addition, 3GPP took important steps with release 14 to align the TV service layer with best practices in TV industry.
Ideally, broadcasters and other content providers can deliver their content and services on all distribution platforms, in the same way, using the same audio and video formats, codec, subtitling and accessibility standards.
This would reduce the need for transcoding, facilitate content re-purposing, potentially increase the value of legacy content in broadcasters’ archives and substantially reduce distribution costs and complexity.
The work in 3GPP on the TV service layer has found its first manifestation in Release 14 and might span multiple releases, which provides an opportunity for cooperation with broadcast standardisation bodies such as DVB.
3GPP Release 14 is considered to be a major accomplishment and a result of close cooperation between the broadcasting community led by the EBU and the mobile industry.
As the EBU’s new Director General Noel Curran recently said, technology opens more doors than it closes.
3GPP Release 14 is opening the door for a commercially viable delivery of TV services to personal devices such as smartphones and tablets on a large scale.
It allows mobile operators to build on their existing network functionalities and the broadcast industry to expand their own transmission infrastructure.
It also provides the flexibility for content providers to expand their service portfolio and creates a basis for new business arrangements between content providers and network operators. And Release 14 allows the radio spectrum and the network capacity to be used in a better way.
The next challenge will be to bring the new features in release 14 to the market, which will only be possible if the interests of and incentives for different players in the value chain can be aligned.
The EBU and its members are committed to help achieve this goal.
Darko Ratkaj is EBU Senior Project Manager