Verizon to Stream Super Bowl Over LTE Multicast -- for a Lucky Few

The low-latency, high-efficiency technology will be available at a private event in New York

Verizon Wireless will fulfill a vision it revealed a year ago by streaming the 2014 Super Bowl live via an LTE broadcast, though it will only reach an invited audience at a Verizon event in New York.

LTE broadcasting, which Verizon calls LTE Multicast, delivers content to multiple subscribers at once rather than sending it in a separate stream to each user. This can prevent buffering and delay for subscribers, reduces congestion, and makes more efficient use of a carrier's radio spectrum. One place where the system may be useful is at large events where thousands of people are interested in the same types of content, such as instant replays at sporting events.

Verizon Wireless saw potential for LTE Multicast with the Super Bowl, the biggest annual sporting event in the U.S., and Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam said as much at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2013. He talked about it with the commissioner of the National Football League, a longtime Verizon Wireless content partner, during a keynote address there.

"We'd love to be able to broadcast that Super Bowl to everybody, mobile-ly, in the 2014 time frame," McAdam said.

Not everyone will get the stream this year -- far from it -- but Verizon will provide an LTE Multicast of Sunday's game as part of a special event in New York's Bryant Park to showcase the emerging technology. It will deliver a stream of the Fox Sports broadcast of the Super Bowl, along with streams of a Twitter feed and game statistics, to a few hundred Verizon guests and media at the park, Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debi Lewis said. The Super Bowl will be played just a few miles away, at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium.

The carrier has been demonstrating LTE Multicast to the public all this week at the park, using prerecorded video instead of live streams. With it, they are showing off the potential to stream feeds from different camera angles in the same app.

Verizon's live Super Bowl demonstration will come soon after other breakthroughs for LTE broadcasting. Korea Telecom launched the technology commercially this week, in partnership with Qualcomm and Samsung, and Australian carrier Telstra recently demonstrated it in a stadium during a soccer match.

LTE broadcasting isn't just for localized content at an event. It could be used for any stream of content in high demand, including software updates, over an entire national network. To offer it, carriers need to set aside a portion of their spectrum, which can be allocated back to regular service when needed. Mass software updates might take place overnight when demand for network capacity is relatively low, Qualcomm has said.

Verizon is committed to the technology and plans to have it enabled throughout the national Verizon LTE network in the third quarter, Lewis said. But because it's a new way of using cellular networks, LTE broadcasting requires building an ecosystem of devices, network capabilities, applications and content partnerships, she said.

Specifically, LTE broadcasting requires software at cell sites, plus chipsets and middleware on devices for picking up the broadcasts, and apps to present the streams, Lewis said. Verizon is also talking with various partners about content that might be delivered by this method.

One piece that's already there, in many cases, is hardware. One device being used in the Bryant Park demonstration is a commercially available Samsung Galaxy Note III tablet based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chipset and equipped with LTE Multicast middleware supplied by Qualcomm. The Snapdragon 800 has been shipping since last year. Another device was a tablet reference design based on a chipset from LTE chip specialist Sequans Communications, which is also shipping LTE broadcast-capable chipsets commercially.

Verizon rival AT&T also plans to use LTE broadcasting. It will use spectrum acquired from Qualcomm that once was used for Qualcomm's discontinued FLO TV mobile broadcasting service. Last September, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said the company's LTE broadcast infrastructure would be "mature in scale" within three years.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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