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BBC tests 4G broadcasting at FA Cup final

The BBC turns to EE to test out 4G-powered mobile broadcasting during the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium

The BBC partnered with mobile network operator (MNO) EE to trial new capabilities around 4G mobile broadcasting during the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on 30 May 2015.

Working with a number of selected Aston Villa and Arsenal fans, EE supplied a custom-build 4G broadcast app to allow those taking part in the trial to switch between the pitch and the BBC’s footage on a tablet device.

Viewers were able to choose between live camera angles or a selection of replays, all with multiple camera options to show the action from different angles.

The app also included interactive statistics, updated live over the air, and a function allowing them to ask questions such as ‘who has made the most passes so far?’

Users were also given access to a bespoke release of the BBC Sport app, connecting into the EE 4G broadcast demo.

BBC Sport supplied three live streams to the EE demo, two direct feeds from in-stadium coverage and the regular feed that viewers at home saw on BBC One. Its internal research and development team used its in-house Stagebox technology to transfer those feeds from the BBC’s outside broadcast truck to the EE network in real time, using MPEG-Dash to encode them.

Live TV events already cause a huge amount of strain on EE’s network, and for this reason the operator was keen to turn to emerging network technology to overcome capacity challenges.

LTE broadcast offers a solution to some of the most complained-about problems – such as buffering or pixelated video content, by enabling any number of devices in one location to connect to a single high-definition multicast stream.

The technology uses a technology called evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast (eMBMS) to make live video available to any device in the same location, connecting a potentially massive number of people at once.

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This is in contrast to the current unicast mobile streaming technology in use today, which sends content from the network to each user as they demand it.

A number of technology partners also took part in the trial, including mobile chip-maker Qualcomm, which supplied Snapdragon 615 processors to power the tablets used, as well as broadcast client software and forward error correction technology.

Meanwhile, Huawei deployed a hybrid video system platform, eMBMS core network and integration services, and EVS – a live sports video systems provider – supplied its FanCast product, which comprises a live production server, content management suite and cloud-based multimedia distribution platform. Finally, app developer Intellicore’s Playrz system was used to construct EE’s 4G broadcast app.

Mobile Video Alliance founder and head of video at EE, Matt Stagg, commented: “Momentum is growing around 4G broadcast as companies from mobile, from broadcast and from content industries recognise how it can finally be the way to more efficiently deliver a truly great TV experience to large numbers of mobile viewers.

"This wasn’t possible with 3G, but it is part of the 4G roadmap and we’re investing in this innovation to give customers a great mobile video experience, wherever they are.”

Wembley Stadium group director of IT and digital Rob Ray added: “This latest innovation highlights that through Wembley’s partnership with EE we are at the forefront of technological advancements in global sports and music entertainment venues. It demonstrates the value of the partnership and our commitment to our event owners, and to their fans and the experience they will enjoy at the stadium for years to come.”

A full commercial deployment of LTE broadcasting could take place in 2016, said EE, which is already working with other device manufacturers, content owners and broadcasters to raise awareness and enhance the service quality.

EE has already been working extensively alongside Wembley Stadium’s operators to deploy carrier aggregation technology around the area, combining three 20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum, 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum and a further 15GHz of 2.6GHz spectrum to enable local speeds that could potentially reach 400Mbps, although at present only a 150Mbps service is available.

EE said that carrier aggregation would make it easy to stream replays, check apps, upload pictures and videos and use social media during events. The reactions of those users selected to test the new app who happened to support Aston Villa were not recorded.

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