O2, Orange, and Vodafone will conduct joint UK trials of a new mobile broadcast technology called Integrated Mobile Broadcast (IMB), which will let the operators offer better mobile TV and radio service.
The pilot will start in October in central London and Slough, and run for three months, the three operators said. Their goal is to assess how mobile broadcast services can be deployed using a shared network infrastructure.
It is too soon to say when IMB-based services will be available commercially, according to Yves Bellégo, director of technical and network strategy at Orange. However, once IMB is ready to be rolled out, Bellégo expects to see the technology built into smartphones and tablet PCs.
For users, the adoption of IMB will mean better picture quality compared to TV streamed over existing 3G networks. It also lets operators offer more channels, according to IPWireless, which develops chipsets and software for IMB and, together with Ericsson, is providing the equipment for the trial.
Today, mobile operators are looking at various ways to offload traffic from their main network, to better cope with the growing amount of data traffic, and IMB can help them with that, according to the operators.
Besides radio and TV, IMB can also be used for content downloads, according to Bellégo.
IMB sends data using spectrum reserved for Time Division Duplex (TDD) services, which most operators in Europe received when they were awarded 3G licences. TDD uses the same channel to alternately send and receive data, and lets the operator configure the network to use the available spectrum for sending data to the subscriber, which a good fit for broadcast services.
That compares to Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) which is used by most current 3G networks and sends data to and from the subscriber using separate channels, and doesn't allow the same flexibility. However, the amount of spectrum each operator has for TDD services is so small that they have to work together in order to have enough to deliver broadcast TV services, according to Bellégo.
In total, 3G TDD spectrum is available to over 150 operators across 60 countries covering more than half a billion subscribers, according to the operators. So far, it has remained largely unused because of a lack of appropriate technology, they said.
In September, the GSM Association (GSMA) got involved at the behest of some of its member operators. The standards work had reached a blocking point between Ericsson and IPWireless and the GSMA helped solved those issues, it said at the time.
Today, the good thing is that the industry is working together on one technology for broadcast services, which wasn't the case in the past, according to Bellégo.