This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
The numbers are staggering. ABI Research (News - Alert) says revenue from mobile video services is expected to top $2 billion worldwide in 2013. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, mobile video will be the next big growth area for mobile carriers and manufacturers and will likely represent almost 66 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic by 2014. In-Stat (News - Alert) predicts that revenue from mobile video calling will exceed $1 billion by 2015.
No one denies that the widespread use of mobile video is going to change the mobile landscape forever – if it lives up to consumers’ expectations. According to a study by TubeMogul (News - Alert).com, more than 81 percent of online video viewers click away if they encounter video clip rebuffering.
In other words, users will simply stop watching mobile video if the quality is poor. This in turn could cost mobile carriers big bucks because it could lead to device returns or increased churn.
In particular, there are three potential quality killers that mobile industry players need to consider to ensure that the 4G mobile video services they deliver meet customers’ expectations.
Potential Quality Killer #1: Choosing the Wrong Codec
When it comes to video quality, size really does matter. Quality requirements for mobile video displayed on a two-inch screen are quite different from the quality requirements of a 10-inch or 14-inch tablet or laptop computer screen.
Obviously, mobile video viewed on a tablet or laptop computer requires a higher quality codec, which requires more network bandwidth and other resources. But if you deliver video using too high quality of a codec to the two-inch screen, video quality also could suffer if the device is not equipped to keep up with the processing demands of the high-speed codec.
The trick is to support the video delivery on each device with the optimal codec and video bit rate, so that you are delivering just high enough quality to ensure that the picture is good – with no loss of frames or choppiness – without wasting network resources and bandwidth. And that means you need to uncover codec-related quality problems by evaluating different devices in the field before your customers discover these quality issues themselves.
Potential Quality Killer #2: Not Effectively Supporting Multi-RAB operations
Consider this scenario: Your customer is happily watching a streaming high-definition movie on his mobile device, and suddenly he receives a phone call. Immediately the video picture starts breaking up.
That’s a very real scenario if your mobile network or the device that the subscriber is using cannot effectively support the simultaneous delivery of both voice and data operations – also known as multi-radio access bearer or multi-RAB operations. One challenge with 4G networks is that their initial deployments will not be able to effectively process voice calls. So when a voice call comes in, the network needs to migrate the device’s operations down to an earlier generation of technology to process the call. When this happens, data speeds can fall from 5 mbps to 500kbps almost instantly, which can immediately cause video quality problems such as choppiness.
To avoid this, the mobile network and the mobile device must have the capability and the processing power to support both voice and video operations in parallel. So once again, if mobile operators are attracting customers to their 4G networks by touting their ability to watch movies and support video chat on their devices, they better make sure that the devices they’re offering those consumers can actually deliver on those promises – before the devices hit the commercial marketplace.
Of course, needing a device with greater processing power can lead to another issue, one that is going to become even more critical as mobile video grows in popularity: battery life.
Potential Quality Killer #3: The Battery Life Conundrum
All LTE (News - Alert) devices will contain first-generation chipsets – and these will typically have wider silicon tracks, non-optimized algorithms, reduced chipset integration and inefficient battery consumption. Plus the biggest battery drain on mobile devices is the screen display – which by definition has to be operating while users are watching video. Put together, this means that the biggest obstacle working against the success of mobile video could actually be battery life.
As an example, Metrico Wireless (News - Alert) recently tested the battery life of two mobile devices while these devices were supporting streaming video and turn-by-turn navigation. The specs of the first device claimed the device supported a talk time of 6.4 hours and a stand-by time of 270 hours; the other device claimed a talk time of 10 hours and a stand-by time of 290 hours.
Not surprisingly, the Metrico tests showed that when the devices were used to support video and navigation, the battery life of both phones was hours lower than the talk time battery life listed by the phones. In fact, both devices ran out of battery power in less than four hours.
However, the more interesting discovery was this: When supporting the video and navigation applications, the battery life on the device that claimed the lower number of talk time hours – 6.4 hours, to be exact – lasted more than 40 percent longer than the device that claimed 10 talk time hours.
This clearly illustrates that measuring talktime is no longer enough when it comes to quantifying battery life. Instead, mobile manufacturers and carriers needs to accurately measure the battery life of devices from the end user’s perspective – by mimicking real-world conditions and assessing the battery life of devices while they are running popular applications other than voice.
The bottom line is that mobile carriers need to understand and optimize the actual 4G mobile video experience users have on all types of mobile devices – before those devices hit the commercial marketplace. By fully testing the quality of mobile video services delivered by each device in the field – before those devices are delivered to consumers – both mobile operators and mobile device manufacturers can ensure that a customer’s actual experience not only meets but exceeds that customer’s expectations.
Simon Bone is director of product management for Metrico Wireless.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi