Mobile TV reloaded

Mobile TV reloaded


In the wake of the 5G rollout, an old idea could gain new life: enabling television viewing on mobile devices. A pilot project is testing the feasibility.

The idea of offering television on mobile devices is not new. Since 2006 there have been various attempts, mainly in European countries, to establish the DVB-H (H for handheld) standard based on the DVB-T standard for television. However, these efforts proved to be in vain long before the last active service (Finnish DVB-H) was shut down in 2012. Developed before the smartphone era, the system with its screen resolution of 320 × 240 pixels was outmoded and there were only a limited number of devices that supported it.

Rohde & Schwarz transmitter went into operation at Bayerischer Rundfunk’s transmitter station

Back to the beginning

Several mobile communications generations later, the situation is different. 4G systems can easily transfer high-resolution video, but the rapidly growing use of video-on-demand services and live streaming is pushing state-of-the-art networks to their limits. 5G can help, but it can only provide significant help once 5G standalone networks in the millimeterwave bands become operational, which will take several years. However, it is a waste of transmission capacity to overload IP networks designed for point-to-point connections with multicast transmissions. Classical broadcasting is still the best solution for this, provided it is delivered to consumer devices in a modern form.

Multicast already planned in 3G

Multicast already planned in 3G

Standardized mobile communications technologies for multicast transmissions have been around since 2006 when the Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Service (MBMS) subsystem was specified in 3GPP Release 6 (UMTS). With Release 9, it made its way into LTE in the form of evolved MBMS (eMBMS) and in Release 14 (LTE-Advanced Pro), it reached the current development stage dubbed Further evolved MBMS (FeMBMS).

Although a standardized broadcast mode for 5G was not yet ratified, 3GPP was able to incorporate FeMBMS largely unchanged into Release 16 because the system technology enables true integration of broadcast mode into the mobile communications world. Both are now based on signal feed over IP networks and OFDMA at the air interface. The transmitter gets its payload and configuration data via 3GPP-compliant protocols. The signal conditioning of a DVB-T2 transmitter can be adapted to the FeMBMS specifications with reasonable effort.

The frequencies are already compatible if the signals are transmitted in the original TV bands, which were added to the mobile communications frequencies as a digital dividend during broadcasting digitalization or as a result of spectrum repacking. Compatible end devices must support receive-only mode without a SIM card so that the service can also address devices that are not registered in a mobile network, for instance television receivers.

5G Broadcast | Rohde & Schwarz

An incentive for all concerned

A relatively significant question aside from all technical considerations remains open. How can mobile network and TV network operators, chipset and device manufacturers and content providers be motivated to arrive at an agreed system rollout? All of these parties are needed to launch the service.

The answer is a win-win situation for everyone concerned. Mobile network operators get a way to offload the data burden of broadcast content. TV network operators get a new, attractive application area for their transmitters in times of declining demand for terrestrial television. Content providers, e.g. internet broadcasters, can be assured of full-coverage, high-quality supply. And the end device market – which has not had any true innovations in recent years – gets a convincing reason for new product purchases. Entertainment is only one of the possible applications. The service can be used to transmit more than video, for instance data such as software updates for a large number of similar devices in the internet of things or in future vehicle fleets.

The mobile measuring system, has been built into a baby buggy for transport in public areas.
The mobile measuring system, has been built into a baby buggy for transport in public areas.
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Field trial

Since there is no practical experience available for a system based on FeMBMS, the research project 5G Today was initiated in Germany. Under the leadership of the Broadcast Technology Institute (IRT), project partners Rohde & Schwarz, Kathrein, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) and Telefónica are investigating the practical aspects of the system in a project that runs until the end of October 2019. The basis is a reference implementation of all transmit and receive components.

The trial takes place in Upper Bavaria. Two modified Rohde & Schwarz R&S®THU9evo transmitters with 5 kW and 6 kW amplifier power (100 kW ERP) and operated by BR at Wendelstein and in Munich-Ismaning form a single-frequency network on channel 56 (754 MHz to 758 MHz), which was provided by Telefónica. The transmitters enable reception in the Munich municipal area and along the main traffic arteries between Munich and Salzburg. Kathrein has installed its own diversity-capable antenna system developed for this purpose and also provided the mobile measuring system, which has been built into a baby buggy for transport in public areas. Its equipment includes an R&S®TSMW network scanner as the RF frontend.

The transmitter obtains the payload and configuration data via 3GPP-compliant protocols from an LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC). The R&S®BSCC broadcast service and control center handles this task in the research project. An R&S®AVHE100 headend feeds the program content provided by BR to the R&S®BSCC.

The 5G Today project comes at the right time, before the expected 5G wave reaches consumers

Positioning 5G Broadcast

The 5G Today project comes at the right time, before the expected 5G wave reaches consumers. The technical insights from the project can be used to fine tune FeMBMS standardization in 5G and improve the launch conditions for a rollout of commercial FeMBMS networks. The industry gains valuable information for prototype development.

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