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May 16, 2012

Voice vs. Video - It's Not a Contest

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

In the aftermath of CTIA (News - Alert) last week, a lot of people are getting stirred up about video being the next "voice" in the mobile world. C'mon, seriously? Don't get me wrong, video has its uses and making steady progress, but there are many reasons why video isn’t all that. 

How much do I hate the idea of video as the next "voice?" Plenty. Let's start with the basics of the form factor and limitations of the smartphone. You can do video calling on a mobile phone, sure. You can also stream videos and play videos on something that fits in your pocket, but it's not a good experience. Tablets are a much better device for any kind of video, be it two-way videoconferencing or simply catching up on the latest Netflix movies.

Have you ever held a cell phone during a video conference? Everything gets hot very quickly as the CPU works to encode/decode video streams and shuffles them off down the broadband pipe. Part of the heat comes from the battery getting drained from all the work being done. If you're not near a wall outlet, you can pretty much kiss your device goodbye in less than 30 minutes -- usually less -- when the power runs out.   Add LTE (News - Alert) in, and the battery drain will only happen faster. Tablets have more onboard battery power to support videoconferencing, so you might actually get some real work done before you have to hunt for an outlet.

So, we've got two bad points and an annoying point for video on a smartphone: 1) Form factor/screen size 2) Battery life, plus annoying heat. Moving to the network, we get into standards -- more specifically, the lack thereof for interoperability between client A and client B.   There are a lot of islands and they don't talk to each other well.   Lead by HP, Microsoft (News - Alert) and Polycom, the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) is codifying and rolling out standards to get different videosystems to play well together, but it's an ongoing, long-term process.

Even if there are some standards floating around, more often than not people have to set up video bridges or use a third-party because the underlying SIP session between two callers are on different networks so it just doesn't "happen" seamlessly, unless you're the island of Apple with FaceTime on your iPhone (News - Alert) or iPad.

Carriers are ‘talking up’ video because it means more expensive calling plans and more data they can bill. Since few carriers, other than Sprint (News - Alert), offer unlimited data plans for high-bandwidth devices, there's the whole business of the chicken-and-egg case.   Customers won't use mobile video a lot if they have to pay a lot for it, instead opting for vanilla voice.

Out of all the problems listed above, the only near-term fix for video is coming from UCIF, with SIP/IPX interconnection between carriers just starting to come on line. Smartphone battery life will improve slowly at best, but there's no quick fix for it; clearly tablets are a better device for video of any type. And most large carriers are not going to offer low-cost and/or unlimited data plans that would encourage the large-scale use of videoconferencing.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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