Free kick: Telstra reveals AFL streaming plan after Optus FIFA fail
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Free kick: Telstra reveals AFL streaming plan after Optus FIFA fail

Weeks after Optus’ World Cup woes, rival telecommunications company Telstra has turned on a solution to live-streaming sport in the form of a new network technology for the AFL.

The new technology, known as LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B), aims to provider a faster video stream by serving multiple users in the one area with a single stream of data, as opposed to individually to each user. Typically, this technology has been used in places where lots of people watch the same thing at once, like stadiums.

Weeks after Optus' World Cup app failed to deliver, Telstra has launched a tech-solution for streaming on its AFL app.

Weeks after Optus' World Cup app failed to deliver, Telstra has launched a tech-solution for streaming on its AFL app.

Telstra group managing director of networks Mike Wright, who recently announced his resignation after 38-years at the telco, told Fairfax Media the technology “proves” live streaming can be done at scale on current networks rather than waiting for 5G to be rolled out.

“I mean, some markets still haven’t turned 2G off. We stopped investing in 3G in 2011. So 5G will take time to spread out and [telcos] are still working on the next generation of what this needs to be,” Mr Wright said.

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There has been additional scrutiny on providers' ability to provide live-streaming of sports content after lags and disconnections were experienced on Optus Sport in the first week of the World Cup in June.

Sources close to Optus say LTE-B technology was considered ahead of the World Cup, but it was deemed impractical as it is not yet available on the majority of devices.

Telstra’s LTE-B will be exclusively on the AFL Live Official App on Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy devices, but this is expected to reduce congestion overall for those streaming video on non-compatible phones. More mobile phone models and apps are expected to be added in future.

If 10 million [customers] decided to watch something at the same time we’d need a network with about 50 times capacity

Telstra's Mike Wright

“If we truly think about the potential demand of the network, we’ve got 17 million customers on our network and if 10 million decided to watch something at the same time we’d need a network with about 50 times capacity,” he said.

“The insight we get from that is the need to do something with technology is not just about throwing money at networks and building them with so much excess capacity because the economics just don’t become probable.

“And in fact if you don’t do that then you have this world where you have to apologise to your customers,” he said.

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Optus issued a public apology due to the problems users experienced during the World Cup, ultimately issuing refunds and allowing SBS to broadcast the matches.

An Optus spokeswoman said in a statement the telco "monitors technology developments" to improve customer experience.

"Optus has previously studied LTE-B and chose not activate this service because of its limitations including handset support, user applications and broadcast options," she said.

Mr Wright said cells in specific areas would turn onto LTE-B when they reached a threshold of a certain number of users streaming the same content.

“So the ability of the network to deal with a concentration of people no matter where there are is at the heart of why we’re doing this,” he said.

This technology could be used to stream episodes of television series, software updates or emergency alerts. It could potentially attract interest from News Corp’s Foxtel for a future streaming product, and subscription video on demand platforms like Netflix and Nine Entertainment Co and Fairfax Media-owned Stan.

Mr Wright said Telstra would be working “with the industry to find out how they’d like to consume this”.

Jennifer Duke writes about media and telecommunications.

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