Image source: exchange.telstra.com.au
It has been a long time coming, but Telstra have finally turned on their LTE-Broadcast technology and offered it to customers. With the launch of LTE-B, Telstra have become one of the only mobile companies in the world to make this technology accessible to commercial customers. It’s not available everywhere, and is only supported by a small number of devices, but the advance is positive news for other customers who experience slow streaming speeds when their mobile network gets overloaded.
LTE-Broadcast, or LTE-B, sounds like it would go hand-in-hand with LTE-A, but in fact they rely on quite different ideas. LTE-B allows real-time data to be multicast to all users on a cell site instead of each user requiring an individual stream. This system gives the telco the option of streaming high demand content directly to a large number of viewers, which eases the amount of traffic the network has to deal with during those peak periods. It can also be used for updating software, and for people who want to pre-load video content for later viewing.
One of the stumbling blocks for the new technology was the idea that a portion of each mobile cell’s capacity would need to be specifically dedicated to LTE-B, which would mean it would be unavailable for normal use. The development of the Multicast Operation on Demand (MooD) function made that unnecessary, and provided an important pre-requisite in the final development of LTE-B in Australia.
Getting LTE-B Up and Running
Telstra have partnered with a number of other entities to get LTE-B functional and available to customers. The technology uses current LTE infrastructure which makes the roll-out easier for Telstra. That being said, other companies have played a vital role in making LTE-B a possibility. Samsung and Ericsson have collaborated with Telstra to make the AFL app compatible, and Expway have enabled the middleware in the application.
Having the systems, processes and support in place to allow LTE-B to be used for AFL streaming will make it a much easier process to adapt to other types of content in the very near future, and will probably lead to a wide range of future collaborations.
The first content to be offered via LTE-B will be streaming via the AFL app. Telstra have partnered with the AFL for a number of years, and have been able to watch the number of viewers grow. Telstra’s managing director of networks, Mike Wright, claimed that the AFL app had 1.2 million users, which means that traffic just on a weekend has tripled since 2016.
With AFL, NRL and Netball all streamed in 2018, the mobile network traffic peaks on the weekend are higher than the total network traffic a few years ago. Offering AFL streaming via LTE-B takes the stress off the network during those peak times, and can eventually be rolled out to include other popular sports, movies and software updates.
Telstra set up a demonstration at the launch, with more than 100 devices streaming the same content using LTE-Broadcast, and a similar number accessing the same content using the normal network. The demonstration used Samsung Galaxy s8 and s9 phones, which can access LTE-B data via the specialised AFL app. For those present at the launch, the difference was striking. The devices using LTE-B were able to show High Definition content with no issues with streaming, while the others had less quality and experienced stalling due to the strain they were putting on the network.
What You’ll Need to Access LTE-B
It’s an exciting development and will undoubtedly lead to other upgrades in the very near future – but for now, the pool of users who will benefit from LTE-B is quite small. Using LTE-B first requires that you are a Telstra customer. Then, you need to own a Samsung Galaxy S8 or S9, which are the only devices that currently support LTE-B. You’ll need to download the app to watch the match. And then of course, it helps to be a fan of the AFL.
As Telstra representatives are keen to point out, LTE-B will help other AFL viewers as well, as customers using the LTE-B services will lighten the load on the network to help other fans get higher quality streaming. At this stage the difference probably won’t be huge, but they have to start somewhere. For those who can benefit from LTE-B, the release should get other services fast-tracking their upgrades to be able to offer it to other customers as well.
More devices and applications are on their way, and should be made available to customers in the next few months. For now, it’s good to see LTE-B become available to Telstra customers, and the rest of us will have to wait patiently until the other networks catch up.