How Telstra’s LTE-B makes sports streaming so much better

Posted: 12 July 2018 2:37 pm News

No more death-by-a-thousand-buffering pauses for major AFL matches.

Telstra has officially switched on LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) across its mobile network. What does that mean right now? If you're streaming through the official AFL Live app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S9, you'll see a higher quality stream, and one that shouldn't suffer from buffering or picture degradation as more and more people watch it.

Telstra has been testing the upgrade over the last few weeks with a handful of select AFL matches (having announced its plans earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, and now thinks that it is ready for a broader rollout.

In simplified terms, LTE-B ensures that if lots of people connected to a given mobile cell are all watching the same content, it doesn't have to be downloaded individually for each viewer. "Because all of the phones are sharing the same broadcast, we can achieve higher quality," Telstra group managing director of networks Mike Wright said.

That makes it ideal for watching major sporting events, with both more reliability and higher quality. LTE-B can also be used for software downloads where lots of people are accessing the same content (think Android or iOS upgrades).

Telstra showed off LTE-B at a media demonstration in Sydney today, where over 100 Samsung S8 and S9 phones were simultaneously streaming using LTE-B, alongside a handful that were using the conventional "unicast" method (where each device is pulling its own separate stream). The unicast devices regularly timed out, but there were no problems with the devices streaming LTE-B.

The LTE-B devices also had a higher quality (720p HD) compared to their unicast siblings:

The biggest issue right now is that for LTE-B to work, software updates are needed to both the phone's operating system and to any app that uses it. Wright says that Telstra expects more phones and apps to be upgraded in the near future, though he wouldn't commit to any timeframe for an iOS upgrade.

Given Apple's importance in the Australian market, that will be an essential to keep the majority of Telstra's 1.2 million football streaming subscribers happy. I'd also assume that we'll see an upgrade to the Telstra NRL app pretty soon.

One interesting side note: the 100+ devices were all showing the same stream, but weren't exactly in sync, as you can see in this picture:

Wright explained that this was due to each device having started off on a slightly different frame. The difference is very slight, however, and wouldn't mean that if 30 people were all watching the match in a pub on their phones, they'd cheer at different times as goals were scored.

The Internet wasn't designed to support traditional broadcast methods, so tweaks like LTE-B are going to be ever more important as we continue to switch to streaming. With luck, by the time Game Of Thrones returns in 2019, it will ensure streaming viewers get the best possible experience.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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Pictures: Jack Baker, Telstra

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