Mobile video: Disappointment or delight?

Posted on September 24, 2015

As The Buggles lamented in the first music video ever to be shown on MTV, way back in 1981, “video killed the radio star”. Number one in 16 countries, the song dwelt on the inexorable momentum of new technology, and its power to drive fundamental change.  All credit to the Buggles for slipping a tech message into such a seminal tune.

For mobile operators the question is not whether video will kill the radio star, but what it will do to the radio network. Because, like the man sang, “We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.”

It’s long been understood that video will represent the overwhelming data burden on mobile networks — Cisco has forecast that video will account for 72 per cent of mobile data traffic by 2019, which equates to 17.4 exabytes per month.

But Cisco has also predicted that, by 2019, just four per cent of a working adult’s data consumption will happen “on the go” (oddly worded but surely suggestive of the cellular network). While half will be in the home, and 35% in the workplace, 11% will occur over public Wi-Fi hotspots, Cisco believes. That’s nearly three times that “on the go” consumption.

Also pertinent is the firm’s near-term forecast that more traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks than remains on cellular networks by the end of this year!

Aware of the huge appeal of mobile video, and the popularity of OTT video apps, services and providers, network operators are keen to get in on the game as a means of improving stickiness. As reported by Fierce here, Verizon is prepping the launch of its Go90 mobile video service for smartphone users, while AT&T has hinted at further development of its own mobile video offerings.

Meanwhile MVNO Rok Mobile (Disclosure: Rok is a Devicescape customer) has just announced plans to offer its US customers an all-you-can-eat video package in the first quarter of next year.

It looks as if some kind of mobile video offering will soon be table stakes for mobile operators and, given the data volumes involved, operators are clearly gambling on the ability of the network to deliver the content to every user who wants it. That’s quite a bet.

What happens to the user experience of these mobile video services when the mobile network is labouring under heavy load? Or when the user moves to an indoor location where the mobile network doesn’t cut it? Or when the customer’s data allowance is exhausted? These are very important questions for operators to address, because the effectiveness of video content as a customer retention tool is pegged directly to the quality and reliability of its delivery. Give a user a service that they come to love and their frustration at losing connectivity will be even greater than it was before.

Wi-Fi offers a solution to both the indoor coverage issue and the spectre of a capacity crunch that mobile operators, from bitter experience, will be desperate to avoid. It was interesting to see Comcast CEO Brian Roberts identifying U.S. mobile operators’ video ambitions as a potential opportunity for his firm’s Wi-Fi hotspot network. And while Rok has a number of wholesale cellular providers, we know from our relationship with the company how important Wi-Fi is to their strategy.

Operator-owned and commercial Wi-Fi networks will certainly contribute to the coverage and capacity that mobile video services will require. But that Cisco forecast of smartphone data consumption by location, in particular what it says about the increasing importance of public Wi-Fi, should not be ignored. Commercial, operator-owned networks are costly and therefore limited in reach. End users will routinely find themselves beyond both the cellular network and the commercial Wi-Fi network.

Free, intentionally shared Amenity Wi-Fi offers breadth and depth that represents the perfect complement to the other network resources at operators’ disposal. It is hugely fragmented, of course, with variable quality and highly dispersed ownership, and it is often characterized by cumbersome and obstructive access procedures. But it is the connectivity resource that most closely matches the movements of the mobile video consumer when they are out and about in public spaces.

The Devicescape Curated Virtual Network aggregates this massive resource into a single network, manages it for quality and accessibility, and uses crowd-sourcing to grow it in precisely the locations where end users congregate. Our policy controls let network operators move devices between the mobile network and a range of Wi-Fi resources according to which will offer the best experience according to the user’s circumstances and behaviour in the moment.

It may not be the operator’s network but, where these mobile video plays are concerned, the network is not what’s important to the end user. It’s the content that’s important, so the content had better be accessible.

If mobile operators are going to bet the farm on non-core services like video as customer retention tools they are going to need non-core connectivity resources to ensure the consistent availability of those services. Otherwise they risk delivering disappointment instead of delight.

Or, as the Buggles put it: “Pictures came and broke your heart.”