At Indy 500, Verizon races to offer premium video content on mobile devices

LTE Multicast technology seen as expanding revenue streams for carriers and providing premium video to viewers

During the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday, Verizon Wireless, Ericsson and other tech companies will be focused less on the drivers and more on a racetrack demonstration of new wireless technology called LTE Multicast that would used for transmitting video to smartphones and tablets.

Verizon earlier this month showed for the first time in the U.S. that LTE Multicast could work over a commercial network -- its own LTE network.

Video cameras placed inside the cars and at trackside will carry video to IndyCar teams for new perspectives on the action incorporated with the race broadcast, Verizon said in a blog post.

This year's Indy 500 LTE Multicast won't be seen by the general public, but the possibility for that happening in the future is wide open. There's little question Verizon has big plans for providing premium video content -- at a premium price -- over its nationwide LTE network to fans in a variety of sports venues and other settings.

Offering wireless video content has become an obsession with the nation's biggest carriers -- including Verizon and AT&T -- which are eager to find new revenue sources. Both companies already work with the NFL to beef up Wi-Fi in football stadiums, but the LTE scenario will extend the reach of LTE Multicast to areas outside of Wi-Fi's reach.

To show the variety of ways LTE Multicast can be used, Verizon blogged in January about the possibility of giving college students on a school's satellite campuses the ability to see lectures by professors on the main campus, or giving municipal governments the ability to send important video messages to citizens' mobile devices.

In the case of AT&T, the company's planned purchase of DirecTV for $48.5 billion is heavily focused on giving AT&T more control over video content -- and access to DirecTV's 20 million customers.

Popular events like the Indy 500 have big followings that can generate big revenues "and Verizon Wireless is trying to tap into that," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Strategically, Verizon wants to get deeper into the content distribution business, and in this case, they are using LTE Multicast" to do that, added Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

The technology behind LTE Multicast is fairly complex. It essentially tries to mimic what happens in a TV broadcast, so that everyone in the audience tunes in to the same channel on their smartphones to watch events as they happen. There's no individual video stream to each device, but one universal stream that everyone equipped with the right technology can tap into. If a user tunes in late or drops out before the event is over, he will miss that part of the video, Gold said.

With the multicast concept, Verizon can significantly reduce the load on its network and keep video performance high, Gold noted.

With LTE Multicast, a specific channel of wireless spectrum is assigned to carry content, increasing efficiency. "It's spectrally efficient, so everyone has a great wireless experience," said Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis.

The Ericsson technology that will be used in the Indy 500 demonstration is called LTE Broadcast. The company claims to be the only network equipment vendor that offers a comprehensive approach to this type of undertaking, but Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and others are contenders.

Ericsson uses a combination of three new standards: Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS), which is used to put broadcasts/multicasts on mobile networks; High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), a new compression standard that requires 50% less bandwidth than MPEG-4 to transport video content; and MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (MPEG DASH), which simplifies and standardizes the way video is delivered to consumer devices.

Ericsson described its technology as a way for wireless carriers "to charge premium rates for premium content... without fear of congestion or failure to deliver."

Ericsson also claims that its LTE Broadcast technology can be used to enable delivery of content to a "virtually unlimited number of users simultaneously."

In an earlier use of LTE Multicast for the Super Bowl in February, Verizon relied on technology from Alcatel-Lucent rather than Ericsson.

It isn't clear how much customization of smartphones and tablets will be needed for Verizon to reach wider audiences in future LTE Multicast broadcasts. At Sunday's Indy 500, Verizon said special Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphones, with multicast-ready chipsets, middleware and multimedia services from Qualcomm, will be used to view the video.

And demonstration tablets from Sequans, equipped with Expway middleware, will also be used. Application development and delivery across multiple other devices will come from MobiTV.

This article, "At Indy 500, Verizon Races to Offer Premium Video Content on Mobile Devices," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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