Can 4G LTE Networks Sustain HD Video?

Combining 4G LTE for live video streaming to overcome the network bottleneck

With the biggest post-paid subscriber base and the largest 4G LTE deployment in the United States, Verizon Wireless is one of the first wireless companies to hit a wall of network congestion that caused download speeds to decline by as much as 20% in several U.S. cities since 2012. A WSJ article reported today that Verizon finished their 4G LTE network rollout that cost over $500 million in 2013 and resulted in 2.5 million new customers, but new users are congesting the network, in part because too many of them have been streaming HD videos. According to mobile news source Circa, Verizon Wireless’ network is typically seen as the more reliable of the 4 major carriers, but the decline in speed in cities like San Francisco and Seattle has caused customers to look for other carriers as alternatives, including T-Mobile and AT&T. So is 4G LTE built to handle video streaming and can it handle video in the long run?

Before we analyze this question, it is important to make a subtle, yet very important distinction between the two types of video-over-wireless applications. One is the usual downlink video streaming, where the video content can be either in the form of VOD (Video on Demand) or can be a live video feed. In this setup, the cell phone subscriber is a viewer of the video and all heavy traffic is from the network towards the cell phone (also known as cellular downlink). The 4G LTE downlink channel from the base stations to the cell phones is rarely going to be the problem other than the usual cellular coverage issues such as slow and fast fading, i.e. bad reception. However, this is not what Verizon Wireless is complaining about. The choke point in their current network is at the base station backhaul, where the base stations connect with wired Internet to the core Internet network. With the increased video watching on cell phones, the cell tower backhauls are stretched to the limits and network traffic shaping and/or increasing backhaul capacity is essential to maintain a satisfactory user experience. 4G LTE downlink radio channels are good enough for this video application, given that this is usually a consumer application and it is not mission critical to watch the most popular YouTube video or your favorite show on Netflix.

The other video streaming application over 4G LTE is related to upstream live video delivery. In this application a broadband bonding appliance is used to combine several 4G LTE (or any other cellular data cards) to create a fat and reliable wireless Internet connection from a remote location to a studio (or a video server in the Internet) in order to deliver live video feeds from the field. This is a fundamentally different application, where the majority of the traffic will flow from the mobile 4G LTE sticks towards the base station (also known as cellular uplink). Usually, cellular uplink capacity is one-tenth of the downlink capacity and is also less reliable. Given the mission-critical application of bringing live video from the field (mostly for news gathering and live event coverage type applications), a single 4G LTE cellular data card will not have the reliability and sustained capacity to accomplish the goal. However, technologies such as Broadband Bonding that combines 2 or more wireless modems to enable HD quality live video delivery will bridge the gap.

Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.

Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.


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