BBC, Huawei, Qualcomm, EE bring Commonwealth Games into 4G era

The BBC is joining forces with EE, Huawei and Qualcomm Technologies to test a new 4G broadcasting technology at the Commonwealth Games.

In what will be a first for the UK, BBC content from the games will be streamed using LTE eMBMS (evolved multimedia broadcast and multicast service) to broadcast live coverage to 4G tablets and smartphones, with none of that pesky buffering.

Qualcomm Technologies is supplying its Snapdragon processors with broadcast middleware and an associated software development kit, whilst Huawei will provide the network equipment to run over the EE network.

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The new technology will be demonstrated at the BBC's Research and Development Future of Broadcasting showcase, where those attending will be able to watch footage on their mobile devices via 4G broadcasts.

The purpose of the showcase is to compare this new service to the conventional unicast stream, with smartphones on the stalls displaying content from the Commonwealth Games streamed over both transmissions.

Fotis Karonis, the chief technology officer of EE, said, "Using eMBMS to deliver TV over 4G is an incredible demonstration of the capabilities of LTE. The ... network that we've built for Huawei offers an amazing experience for consumers, and an amazing opportunity for broadcasters to more efficiently deliver their most popular content to multiple mobile users."

In terms of the serious technical details, eMBMS is a multicast technology that sends content over a mobile network to multiple users simultaneously, compared to the one-to-one communication of unicast transmissions. The content is sent over an IP link to a Huawei server in one of EE's test labs. It is then moved to eNodeBs base stations, one of which is currently sitting in the Glasgow Science Centre, where it is transmitted on a 2.6GHz spectrum.

Qualcomm's LTE Broadcast solution then provides a platform for a BBC R&D application which enables the display and navigation of the live streams on mobile handsets.

Andrew Murphy from the BBC's R&D department talked up the benefits of this technology. "Broadcasting popular content to mobile devices offers the possibility of delivering content in a consistent quality without the buffering and resultant freezing that can affect conventional streaming over mobile networks at times of congestion."

It is also thought that this will be a much more efficient and cost-effective means of transmitting content to a large number of people, whilst still maintaining the same level of quality.

Read more: How to watch the Commonwealth Games live online and on TV

"The future isn't being created by one company or different companies working in isolation, this is a future that is going to be created by collaboration, and the BBC is committed to open innovation and open research," said Matthew Postgate, the controller of BBC R&D, and BBC CTO designate.

The showcase takes place at the Glasgow Science Centre from 24 July to 3 August, and will also be used to demonstrate virtual reality and augmented video technologies.