Mobile TV reloaded

Mobile TV reloaded


The 5G rollout will bring new life to an old idea: enabling television viewing on mobile devices. The transmission technology is now ready for deployment.

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 has placed a heavy load on networks. 5G can help, but it can only provide significant help once 5G standalone networks in the millimeterwave bands become operational, which will take a while. However, it is a waste of transmission capacity to overload IP networks designed for point-to-point connections with broadcast transmissions. Terrestrial 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). 3GPP has incorporated FeMBMS largely unchanged into Release 16 with the designation "LTE based 5G terrestrial broadcast" which is now an official component of 5G.

The technologies for terrestrial broadcasting and mobile communications have been converging for some time. Both are now based on signal feed over IP networks and OFDM 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 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 (free to air) 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

Aside from all technical considerations, a key question remains: How can mobile network and TV network operators, chipset and device manufacturers as well as 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. Along with video, the service can be used to transmit data of all kinds, including software updates for a large number of similar devices in the internet of things or in future vehicle fleets.

This Rohde & Schwarz prototype transmitter in Ismaning was used in the German 5G Today field trial in municipal Munich.
This Rohde & Schwarz prototype transmitter in Ismaning was used in the German 5G Today field trial in municipal Munich.
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Field trial

One of the first field trials with the technology took place in Germany. Rohde & Schwarz, Kathrein, Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk and Telefónica worked together in a 5G Today research project led by the Broadcast Technology Institute (IRT). The project, which concluded at the end of February 2020, used a reference implementation of all transmit and receive components to study the performance of the technology under real-world conditions. The test network set up by the partners enabled reception in the Munich municipal area and along the main transportation routes between Munich and Salzburg. Rohde & Schwarz supplied the signal processing and broadcast equipment. The results were encouraging, with the system functioning as intended and demonstrating its operational readiness.

Since then, many countries around the world have come on board, either indicating a strong interest in the technology or even implementing, starting or planning their own field tests using Rohde & Schwarz equipment.

This down-to-earth rackmount device – the R&S®BSCC 2.0 broadcast service and control center – contains the data processing technology needed to supply TV transmitters with 5G broadcast signals.
This down-to-earth rackmount device – the R&S®BSCC 2.0 broadcast service and control center – contains the data processing technology needed to supply TV transmitters with 5G broadcast signals.
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Waiting for end devices

The Rohde & Schwarz transmit components required for 5G broadcasting have now entered series production. For example, the R&S®BSCC 2.0 broadcast service and control center will provide wireless networks with the functionality they need for controlling TV transmitters to transmit broadcast/multicast content. With a simple upgrade, the current transmitter series will be able to receive and broadcast the data. What is still missing, however, is end devices capable of receiving the broadcasts. However, the strong worldwide interest suggests that chipset manufacturers will incorporate the technology into their next chip generations – soon to be followed by the first end devices.

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