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July 2010 | Volume 2/Number 4
Mobile Services — Beyond Voice

Video Front and Center and Rear

By Ken Osowski

The recent iPhone 4 announcement has put the spotlight on personal video communications once again, along with HTC EVO 4G video services available on the Sprint mobile network. And there is a lot to get excited about, including front and rear video capture cameras that can be enabled to bring high-quality videoconferencing to users of these phones. Currently Sprint allows these services on its mobile network, whereas the new iPhones will only allow video communications when both users are on a Wi-Fi network. Apple is hoping that as demand for this service builds, this will encourage AT&T to move these video capabilities over to its cellular mobile network as well. Time will tell.

So Sprint has been the first to offer video communications over its mobile network and there have recently been reports of service interruptions and quality issues at service launch. That’s not surprising since many of the new EVO users became intrigued by the video app QIK and apparently ended up creating an extraordinary demand on the Sprint network to support all of this video traffic.

So what gives? These latest generation smartphones can do almost anything. And commercially- proven mobile network video technology called 3G-324M that enables interactive, two-way video services has been around for some time outside of the United States. This technology has enabled service providers to deliver scalable mobile video services at a predictable quality level. It leverages existing scalable mobile voice networks to provide video services whereas in the United States we are seeing these new smartphone-centric services running on mobile data networks. And the underlying transport technology for these brand new video capabilities is based on IP networking protocols. IP networks, especially wireless ones, are known to introduce unpredictable bandwidth loss and inconsistent latencies resulting in degradation of video quality, and inability to effectively synchronize voice, video and data entry.

But lessons learned and technology applied in 3G-324M networks can be readily applied to IP streaming video services. Right now the smartphone- centric services are very appealing because of improved accessibility and the promise of high-video quality. But today these services require the communicating smartphones to be from the same manufacturer, limiting access to other mobile users on other phones or in other mobile networks. 3G-324M was established as a handset and network standard allowing this and much more to be realized. Video call completion to voice, for example, allows callers on video-capable handsets to make calls to other mobile users without needing to figure out ahead of time whether or not they have a video-capable handset, transparently placing the call as a voice call if the called party has a voice-only handset. Also, expanded video capabilities such as interactive video and voice response enable the user to interact with video portals by entering data to select different video content, live or stored, during the video call.

In the end the challenges already met by implementing 3G-324M mobile video services can be carried over to mobile video services using mobile IP networks. Real-time media processing will still be a requirement in this environment with diverse code support – not only to handle the voice and video transport using a wide range of codecs but to also handle text and image overlays for IVVR, video advertising and other interactive mobile services.

The other opportunity is in real-time video format conversion. Today’s smartphone-centric video services are able to specify video resolution and format because the two communicating handsets are the same. But once services extend to heterogeneous device and network support this will not be the case. This will require real-time video format conversion to enable not just user-generated video from the handset but to enable diverse video format communications between different handsets and access to multiple video content formats. For example, the HTC EVO currently implements Flash video support but the iPhone 4 does not. So this may require video format conversion in real-time to enable services between these phones. Obviously other handset manufacturers will introduce other video formats, making solving this problem even more challenging for service providers. And the challenges expand as video interactions occur between smartphones and Internet-based users and content.

It looks like mobile video is here to satisfy all of our communication and entertainment desires. And in the end, successful video service deployments will require investment in mobile network infrastructure by service providers to match the increasing demand for video-capable smartphones. Once again, consumer video usage is center stage.

Ken Osowski is director of service provider product marketing at Dialogic (www.dialogic.com).

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