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September 2007 | Volume 10 / Nuber 9
Feature Articles

Multimedia on the Move

By Richard Grigonis

One of the tantalizing promises of 3G wireless network technology (made possible by the 3GPP and 3GPP2 standards), is mobile multimedia, which for most of us means Mobile TV. People over the age of 60 find it puzzling. People aged 25-60 find it useful for checking stocks, news and sports while on-the-go. Youngsters somehow consider it something absolutely necessary for their day-to-day survival.

At Accenture (, Arjang Zadeh, Managing Partner for Network Practice, Comms and High-Tech Operating Group, says, “We at Accenture are doing considerable work in DVB-H [Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld] mobile broadcast TV implementations for various service providers. Also, we are into managing content acquisition and management for service providers, since they sometimes obtain content from different sources, convert everything to a format useful for mobile devices, and then put it on the provider’s content management platform. We’re doing quite a bit of that in Europe.”

“Another big area consists of the handsets themselves,” says Zadeh. “Once a service provider is operating in a multimedia environment, there appear compatibility issues involving the software that must run in differing versions of a handset. Even device vendors can become involved. Thus, we’ve built a practice devoted to handset testing. For various service providers and some device makers, we are in effect doing rigorous handset testing. For each version of the multimedia software, hardware and type of content, we perform rigorous regression testing to ensure that everything works correctly before sale to subscribers. That’s interesting for us, and important for providers, device manufacturers and ultimately, consumers.”

“In all, we do considerable work in all areas: network, service platform management, content management, IT, CRM and handsets,” says Zadeh. “We also do a good deal of handset software development based on different operating systems.”

“In terms of where the industry’s going, there are different forms of mobile multimedia content that the industry currently delivers,” says Zadeh. “As I said, we focus on broadcast content, such as DVB-H. Bandwidth is of course the major consideration. Will the customer pay for a sufficiently long Mobile TV subscription to justify the cost of both the bandwidth and supporting infrastructure incurred by service providers? Obviously, some providers dwell in a paradise-like world of monopolies, but most of them aren’t and must keep an eye on their bandwidth expenditures. The bandwidth cost for many of them is significant and they must make a business case for it.”

“Then there’s the big issue of electrical power. DVB-H has been designed precisely with the selling point of allowing the handset to turn itself off-and-on automatically at opportune moments to conserve the battery charge and be more power efficient,” says Zadeh. “Even so, any time you actually tackle something like video you will inevitably be expending more power than for voice.”

“Finally, there’s the matter of reliability of the Mobile TV services. We know how difficult it is to achieve reliable video on normal broadcast TV platforms,” says Zadeh. “The same applies for such things as DVB-H platforms. It comes down to: Are customers willing to pay for a semi-reliable service that will be power hungry to boot? What will the churn rate be? Will the service providers find all of these costs acceptable? If video actually reduces churn, then it’s a no-brainer. But the jury is still out concerning whether adding video to the mobile services bundle will be as successful as IPTV added to a residential triple or quad-play bundle, since they are totally different propositions. After all, Mobile TV relies upon a very small device with a small screen. It’s not as compelling an experience as a 60-inch TV. Still, it’s probably okay for niche content such as news or sports. I hope I’m wrong that the churn reduction brought about by Mobile TV won’t be such a big differentiator as IPTV in a ‘normal’ landline services bundle. We’ll see in a year or two.”

Vancouver-based Mobidia ( is another company that helps wireless operators to control, manage, and monetize IP data traffic and offer their mobile subscribers innovative and hopefully churn-reducing services,

such as a live video sharing service supporting live, handset-to-handset video sharing on existing phones and networks.

Mobidia’s Wireless IP QoS and IP Bearer Management Services system software is used by wireless operators for the dynamic management of data traffic on the uplink and downlink.

Gary Tauss, CEO of Mobidia, says, “Several things are affecting the whole field. First, there’s the whole issue of multimedia and ‘openness’. Three big forces are pushing here: First are the carriers that have designed the way you use your cell phone to access the Internet using a sort of portal concept under their control. Their WAP browsers and everything else is all about pointing you to them and then controlling where you go on the network. Many cell phone users today don’t exactly enjoy that experience, particularly if they’ve used the Internet before. Secondly, there are the content owners such as United Artists, NewsCorp and Disney, who see big dollar signs at the mention of mobile multimedia. You’d expect mobile multimedia to be like using your PC to go out onto the Internet, but these guys want a channel model like TV, where basically there’s some premium channels that you see first and then maybe if they can’t get you to use any of their paid offerings, perhaps there’s a back door that’s hard to use but will lead you to Google.”

“Finally, you’ve got the Internet model,” says Tauss. “Google is investing a lot in this area to deploy a mobile phone and utilize the search model where you search for something and then the appropriate media appears. Questions such as ‘Is the screen big enough?’ and ‘Would you watch a long movie?’ and ‘Do you need a keyboard on your phone?’ are in many cases driven by the user’s past history. If you’re familiar with the Internet/search model, then you want a phone with a keyboard and open access. If you’re coming from the TV content world, you want a few drop-down menus to get to your favorite shows. And if you’re the carrier, you’re trying to drive all of this through your big site so you can charge either for advertising or a subscription model. I find that, as we talk to various people, particularly about the technology, we get a lot of blank stares because it all really depends on where you’re coming from and what you care about.”

“For example, if you’re a ‘content guy’ then you’re not concerned about how much bandwidth is available and all of that,” says Tauss. “Instead, you feel secure that something like Qualcomm’s MediaFLO System will take care of optimizing mobile multimedia delivery. Or, you probably believe that a separate broadcast network will be set up just for you and you’ll get your content out there and they’ll pay you for it. On the other hand, if you’re Google, you care a whole lot about available bandwidth, because you want to deliver websites and advertising dollars for hits. So you’re very concerned that portal data may take 40 or 50 seconds to download. This, in turn, drives the whole argument over what’s really video. The ‘TV view’ is that video must be paid for; it would be mostly pay-per-view, video-on-demand, with premium content and channel-oriented. That’s opposed to the Internet guys who want everything to be free to the user, such as YouTube and MySpace. And finally there are the carriers, who are just trying to sell subscription-oriented services and items such as Verizon’s V CAST service.”

“Another division is - do you believe this world is heading toward a downstream-oriented scenario where you mostly just watch things being played on a mobile phone, or will there be a two-way, more interactive system?” asks Tauss. “Your belief system can drive the underlying technical problem, which is determining how much upstream bandwidth you need. That in turns leads to questions about whether the backhaul network is sufficiently big, and things like that. If you believe in video sharing, then you’re probably really concerned about that, because even though a Sprint or Vodafone is announcing great new edge networks, unfortunately their backhaul may still be only 64 Kbps, so even if the last mile is really fast, if one segment narrows to 64Kbps, then that’s all you can move.”

“Mobidia entered the field believing that carriers want to boost their revenue per customer,” says Tauss. “But it’s expensive for AT&T to steal subscribers from Verizon, and it’s not a very stable way to gain market share. So they’ve got to offer something new - video services. We focused on fixing the terrible video experience the customer gets today. Moreover, most systems are designed in such a way that they just don’t take advantage of what’s out there. So we developed our handset and server architecture to do what’s called IP Service Management over the wireless link. We can now get videos apps out there; even real-time, two-way video.”

“Other underlying long-term issues must be dealt with,” says Tauss. “One world believes everything should be IMS-based and all applications will be ‘controlled’, but unfortunately, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, SAP and Oracle don’t live in that world. There’s nothing that would allow all of these applications and the non-carrier and carrier-sponsored stuff to actually co-exist. So, we built a system where we could do that and perform the bandwidth management and prioritization necessary to support real-time communications applications. It allows lower-speed,

pre-upgraded networks such as GPRS to handle live video traffic between normal handsets. Carriers can now prove there’s a demand for these services, and use that to justify the billions of dollars that they’re looking to invest in enhancing their infrastructure and creating more services. And our aptly named CU Buddy is a live P2P video app that can conference up to five participants together using wireless phones or devices.”

Yours Truly finds that mobile multimedia does grows on you. But it would grow on me more at $10 a month than the present dollar per video clip. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

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