Verizon looks to video broadcasting on LTE

Verizon expects to devote some of its LTE spectrum to broadcasting for live video

Verizon Wireless expects to use broadcasting to deliver live video over its upcoming LTE network, as part of efforts to deal with heavy demand for capacity, a company executive said Monday.

The plan was one of several insights that Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone provided at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco. The carrier is on track to launch LTE (Long-Term Evolution) in 38 cities later this year and across its whole current 3G coverage area by the end of 2013, Melone said. He and other speakers said growing demand for video poses one of the biggest challenges in the mobile world.

"We're working with all of our infrastructure providers ... to develop the technology to incorporate a broadcast capability. To evoke that, you have to dedicate a portion of your spectrum. So a portion of your capacity would have to be allocated to this broadcast capability," Melone said during a panel discussion. "We think that will be a solution to this problem down the road, that there will be a broadcast element to our 4G network that can then more efficiently deal with the live content."

Broadcasting requires less capacity per user if many subscribers want to watch the same content at the same time, because the carrier can send out just one stream of content to many users instead of a separate one for each user. There are mechanisms for broadcasting and for multicasting, another resource-conserving way of distributing content, built into LTE, according to Nokia Siemens Networks CTO Hossein Moiin, who also spoke on the panel.

Mobile TV and live video broadcasts have a checkered history. Carriers have had limited success selling TV services to their subscribers, and Qualcomm is discontinuing its FLO TV service, which broadcast over a dedicated network to devices equipped to work with its specific frequencies.

Qualcomm has also suggested it is looking to sell its FLO TV spectrum, which comes from former TV channels. Earlier on Monday, Verizon's Melone said his company is not interested in buying those spectrum licenses.

"More spectrum is not always a good thing. It needs to be the right spectrum," Melone said.

Speaking with reporters during a break, Melone played up the role LTE will play for Verizon but emphasized that it will take time to make the transition to the new network. Verizon's current CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) networks, which use narrowband CDMA-1x and EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) technology, are likely to be around for many more years.

Though the carrier is moving toward delivering voice calls with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) over LTE, that technology probably won't be able to deliver the right user experience for another year or 18 months, he said. Fittingly, he also said Verizon is unlikely to offer an LTE-only device until 2012 or 2013.

The CDMA networks will stay in place as long as they are needed, Melone said, but when they go away, the newer of the two may be first. Melone said that in 2020, he would not be surprised to see the CDMA-1x network still in place, but the EV-DO system probably will not be. That's because EV-DO is dedicated to data services, just like LTE is, he said.

As data users gradually migrate to LTE, Verizon will be able to shift radio spectrum from EV-DO to the new network one sliver at a time, Melone said.

Femtocells and picocells, the small cellular base stations designed to cover homes and buildings, will play a big role in the new network because LTE will have built-in tools for load-balancing and smooth handoffs, Melone said. However, those tools probably won't be finished until 2012 or 2013, and for now Verizon is focusing on building out the traditional macro cells that cover wide areas, he said.

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