This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2011 issue of NGN Magazine.
What a vexing problem video is turning out to be for the telecommunications industry. On one hand, it provides opportunities for network operators to engage in new revenue streams to offset decreasing pricing for voice and text services. It also provides a path to monetizing the increased network bandwidth of LTE (News - Alert) being deployed over the coming years. On the other hand, it presents huge challenges to current network capacity in both transmission and backhaul. On a paid service basis, video calls and broadcast to mobile video have not exactly been raging commercial successes either.
One thing is certain, use of video in a telecommunications context is growing, as evidenced by the popularity of mobile clients for YouTube, NetFlix, Skype (News - Alert) Video and, more recently, Apple FaceTime and Qik, among others. The challenge now for network operators is to monetize successfully video-based services.
In many ways, the explosion of video’s popularity bears a strong resemblance to the evolution of the audio (music) industry in the last 50 years. With the arrival of the transistor radio in the early 1960s, people could listen to news and music anywhere they went. Radio stations flourished and diversified in format as more people listened. Then came the era of the compact cassette player, giving people direct control over the music to which they listened. Soon people started making their own mix tapes better suited to their own musical tastes. These eventually became a way of expressing your personality and creating a shared musical experience. More recently we saw the arrival of the MP3 player, allowing people to carry their entire musical libraries with them at all times. People started sharing their playlists, recording commentaries, reviews, events and knowledge, and sharing these via the now ubiquitous podcast.
These last developments were not foreseen as obvious consequences of the mobilization of music. However, they do give a general idea of how mobility can change the context of an entire industry, from a pre-programmed mass market to a highly personalized form of experience sharing.
We are now seeing this process repeat itself in the world of video. Just a few short years ago, producing video required cumbersome and expensive equipment. Editing raw video into a viewable product took time and expertise. Getting your video to other people was slow and expensive.
Enter the mobile phone with video playing and recording capability. Just as with the mobile audio devices, being able to view, share or record video whenever the mood strikes is significantly changing the contexts in which video is utilized. Video has now become a key communications tool for individuals and enterprises alike.
In the telecommunications context, usage cases for video services can be classified in a similar fashion as with voice services: immediate and deferred. Immediate services include those where transmission and reception are simultaneous to create a shared space or experience among people, e.g. video calling, conferencing and telepresence, TV broadcast, live webcasts, interactive gaming and more. Deferred services allow the user to access video media on demand or store it for later distribution and viewing, e.g. YouTube (News - Alert), TV or movie portals, video blogging and video mail.
For example, many people prefer to look at their favorite TV shows or movies when it's convenient for them, even if it means viewing them on a small screen. People record significant events and share videos of their daily lives by posting them on YouTube and Facebook (News - Alert). Others engage in citizen journalism, publicize themselves, share knowledge or even check up on their homes while traveling. Video also is being used in specific markets, such as health care, to reduce significantly costs by enabling remote consultation and diagnosis, demonstrating treatments and procedures, tracking effectiveness and patient recovery, and facilitating access to specialists without requiring physical displacements.
Another factor contributing to the appeal of video is the meteoric rise of the smartphone and the accompanying increase in screen size and easy download of customized applications, including video clients. These technologies are creating new possibilities for integrating video with telecoms enablers to provide new value chains and both direct and indirect revenue models.
Overall, video can be both intimate and intimidating. Just as voice and texting have their places in people's daily communication activities, it is important to keep in mind that video is not suited for every purpose. However, when it comes to experience sharing, video is already playing a major role. With mobility, video becomes available for use anytime and anywhere. Coupled with convergent networks and the smartphone revolution, our industry is positioned to be the prime channel for delivering that experience.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi