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The Mobile Video Evolution

February 22, 2016
3-Minute Read

With Mobile World Congress starting this week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the evolution of mobile video. Mobile video has gone through a transformation over the past several years, it started as a standalone service by Mobile Network Operators (MNO) using Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) technologies, while displaying on feature phones. This was called “on deck” or a “walled garden” service as the content was created by the MNOs and could only be watched on their network. Those services got limited success partly because of the networks (not yet 3G), but also because of the user experience, as devices were only capable of QVGA resolution.

The real shift came when the iPhone and Android entered the market. They were capable of offering a decent video experience with HD rich screens, using adaptive streaming technology pioneered by Apple with the now famous HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) protocol. This was the turning point for the mobile industry for several reasons.

  • First the network (migrating from 3G to 4G) was becoming suitable for video applications without relying on the capability to stream over Wi-Fi
  • Second, the user experience on the device was really good, thereby creating demand
  • Third, because it was based on Internet technology, a new class of OTT services could now address those phones using the broadband connection (Wi-Fi or wireless). Netflix has been the most popular service, but others like Amazon, Hulu, Google Store and iTunes (offering download) have followed very quickly in Netflix’s footsteps.

Then came TV Everywhere (TVE) provided by Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs), some of which had a mobile network (MNOs), while others used a pure OTT mechanism to deliver content to their subscribers’ mobile devices.

We are now seeing content offerings especially designed for mobile such as the Verizon Go90 service targeted to millennials. In the case of Go90, when the phone is LTE broadcast enabled, Verizon will broadcast to that phone and use unicast for the other ones.

Reliance Jio, a mobile telephony and broadband services company in India, is another provider that will offer a brand new service that will be launched on mobile before being delivered on fiber. We also see Spotify, a music-on-demand service that is now launching a new video service to mobile & PC devices with tier-2 content. My question is, is video a good business for mobile operators at the end of the day?

We know that mobile video is taxing on the networks, as highlighted by a Sandvine report which measured that more than 40% of worldwide traffic was real time media (YouTube, Netfix, Hulu, etc.). But mobile video is consumed largely on Wi-Fi (estimates talk of 80% but is highly dependent on the country and 4G deployment), which provides a better QoE, as well as offers unlimited usage. MNOs in the past have used video optimization techniques (e.g. Bytemobile/Citrix) aimed at rate shaping and pacing the traffic whenever full network capacity is reached. With the use of HTTPS, now used for over 50% of web traffic, this will prevent the use of video optimization techniques. On the other hand, with adaptive streaming, operators can now decide which profiles are to be transmitted. The recent T-Mobile US launch of Binge On, explicitly mentions that after a certain quota has been reached, the user will be limited to a certain level of quality (480p instead of 1080p). Binge On has shown twice more usage vs other operators to date.

Does mobile video scale for live content? Well, the first thing we should say is that mobile video is mostly consumed on demand. In this specific case, unicast streaming does not scale and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has defined a mechanism to deliver Live over LTE, called LTE broadcast. This is deployed today at a very small scale for some national channels as well as for high-density stadiums, where cells are quickly saturated (e.g. Olympic events). We have seen a few operators (Telstra, KT, Verizon) deploy LTE broadcast in stadiums.

Is there a better way to use mobile networks for video? Absolutely and this is what we see with the download and go model, used in emerging countries where mobile connectivity is still using EDGE technology as well as in very dense commuting areas (such as highway corridors). Note that content providers (e.g. Canal+) and MSOs (e.g. Comcast) have already deployed such services, which is not offered by Netflix due to rights issues.

So what is the future of mobile video for service providers? They first need to offer strong network connectivity while having the tools to shape the traffic according to network capability, type of device (a tablet will require more bandwidth then a smart phone) and level of service the subscriber has signed up for. Integrated operators like telco’s can offer service continuity to all the screens, while cable and DTH operators will have to use OTT to deliver a similar experience on mobile. We have not yet seen the telco’s leverage their quad play to challenge the cable or DTH operators, but this could come very soon in an increasingly competitive environment between operators.

The author wants to thank Patrick Lopez for providing some background information on his blog www.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum

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