The amount of video consumers watch on their mobile devices is growing at an exponential rate.

Weekend traffic from the AFL Live Official app on Telstra’s network has grown three fold since 2016 and on any given weekend, Australian sports fans consume 37 million minutes of live content over Telstra’s AFL, NRL and netball apps.

“This season we’ve seen an overall 58 per cent increase in customers streaming games. In some instances, more than twice the number of customers have streamed, compared to the same clash last year,” a Telstra spokesperson said.

To cope with this increased demand, and the strain on its network, Telstra has switched on Australia’s first LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) network technology.

LTE-B sends content via a single stream of data to many mobile users in the one area at once. Currently, individual content streams of data are sent to each individual device, which means video quality will degrade the more users join the network. A comparison of the LTE-B and unicast streams is pictured above.

The technology is an efficient way to distribute the same content to many users in the same place, making it ideal for live sports broadcasting.

Conventional unicast transmissions aren’t going away, but LTE-B  will help Telstra cope with “flash traffic” ie a large number of people watching the same thing at once, without having to build excess capacity for the network.

“We’ve got 17 million customers on our network. If 10 million decide to watch something at the same time we’d need a network with about 50x capacity,” a Telstra spokesperson said.

One of the big challenges for mobile network operators around the globe is the ever growing demand for data and video. And when the whole world is watching the same event, there isn’t anywhere to hide if you’re streaming service fails.

“Consumers have come to expect a great experience all the time but the reality is the technology itself, the internet, was not designed for broadcast. As engineers we have to start thinking about being able to adapt the technology to be able to deal with massive spikes in demand as well as the normal demand,” the spokesperson said.

The first use case for LTE-B is the AFL Live Official app. At this stage the service is only available for Telstra customers using Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9 devices but the telco says any user on the LTE-B stream is freeing up room for other users on the network.

Telstra is the only operator in Australia and one of the first in the world to deploy LTE-B into its mobile network.

To roll out the technology, LTE-B capability needs to be embedded in video streaming apps and device makers need to include LTE-B software in the phone’s operating system. Telstra is expecting more devices and applications will be added over the coming months as the technology proves itself.

Over the longer term LTE-B, could be used to facilitated software and app updates, emergency alerts, real time traffic and road updates to autonomous cars, and preloading TV and movies without using up streaming data.

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