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How do we deliver video to mobile devices?

Over the last two years the phrase ‘mobile video’ has been used with increasing frequency across the mobile, TV and internet communities. Depending on what you have to gain, or perhaps lose, in a move to mobile video, your exact definition of the phrase will vary.

From a neutral standpoint, there are three different facets of mobile video: l The delivery of video content using mobile telephone networks l The reception of video content on mobile devices l The reliable reception of video content while the viewer is mobile: that is, out and about and possibly moving.

The first meaning is easy enough to grasp: the era of, ‘I can’t show you the video, I don’t have Wi-Fi,’ is coming to an end. The advent of 3.5G technologies (HSPA and HSPA+ theoretically allowing connections in the range of 7 to 80Mbps) means that more often than not, we will be able to view that video clip without being tethered to Wi-Fi. As we are using IP delivered content services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer more and more, it makes sense for us to be able to receive these services on a smartphone without the app in question needing to be tied to a Wi-Fi connection.

The developments mean that if you find yourself in need of a Breaking Bad or House of Cards fix, you can get it. Well, until your data allowance is used up that is… I have personally found Wi-Fi on the move to be quite an annoyance and the ability to rely on mobile networking would be preferable. Yes there are a handful of networks that I can rely upon, at work and at friends’ houses for example, but there’s now a clutch of ‘free’ or ‘open access’ Wi-Fi networks that either simply do not work (poor antennae/signal, over-subscribed, not really connected to anything) or need you to take action to log in and use.

This puts mobiles into a blocked state of constantly trying to use a non-functioning network. Rather than attempt a fix, it’s much quicker to switch Wi-Fi off and download the emails you wish to see using a mobile network. At this point I have to confess to a degree of confusion. I read statements like ‘most mobile data will soon be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks’, or Wi-Fi offloading ‘rose by a whopping 875% in the US last year’. Global internet traffic is increasing, with Cisco predicting annual traffic of 1.1 zettabytes (or 1.1 billion terabytes) in 2016 and 1.6 zettabytes in 2018.

All predictions are that mobile networks will have more demands placed on them as users become more and more ‘data hungry.’ The Cisco prediction is that global mobile data traffic will grow three times faster than it has done previously from now until 2018. Using the switch from 3G to 4G as an example, operators have found that the more bandwidth you give a customer, the hungrier they become.

I daresay that a managed Wi-Fi offering in tandem with a mobile network can help. If your mobile operator can give you access to stable Wi-Fi when out and about and the handset can switch seamlessly between this and available mobile network services, then offloading should work as intended. One thing to clear up right away is that I don’t think any sensible person is imagining that mobile telephone networks (even 4G with eMBMS and all the bells and whistles) are a viable replacement for current broadcast TV.

Mobile video is a new market, with new devices, new services, and new routes to the existing, and dare I say, well-loved content. The second meaning of mobile video might be used by: a) those who care little about the actual means of transmission and just want to see TV on their tablet and b) those who care a great deal about the means of transmission and want to prevent the exclusion of existing broadcast technologies (e.g. DVB-T and DVB-T2). The issue here is that devices such as the iPad are global devices using global standards.

The 3G or 4G connection is standard, conveying standard Internet Protocol (IP) to connect to a standard HTTP server, giving you standard video. It’s simply not possible to build in a broadcast TV receiver (one that would take the same signal your TV at home does) that will work as globally. The answer has been: don’t put it in. It has to also be asked, is there value in trying to do this? Apple has never included an FM radio in an iPhone or iPad, and why would they? Is it any more likely they would install a receiver for DVB or ATSC?

The third sense of the phrase is interesting. I think it’s fair to assume that people will not be wandering around the streets watching TV. At least I’d hope not. It’s bad enough when people stop right in front of you on the pavement or on the stairs at the station to scroll a website or write an SMS. There would most probably be an element of self-eradication from the gene pool, fuelled either by accident or deadly assault, for those who want to ‘watch and walk.’ We can also, most likely, eradicate the mobile use of DVB transmission: the installed networks are not designed for handheld use, and there has never been a business case to make it so.

We are essentially talking about use synonymous with ‘delivery via a mobile telephone network, while out and about but not really moving’. Rapid movement, where the receiver is in a car or a train is a particular issue. Fast changing radio environments and handoffs from one cell to another always result in poor data throughput .

You wouldn’t, after all, take your DTT-compatible television on a train journey. Trains and planes have their own specialised problems and solutions, and the connected car is on its way to becoming an industry in its own right. The rise of video We have seen that overall global IP traffic is increasing with mobile network usage rising three times faster than wired networks.

Cisco predicts that globally, IP video traffic will be 79% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2018, up from 66% in 2013. The internet is becoming a video distribution network. Also, consider the rise of the smartphone and tablet, the targeting of these devices by OTT video applications and the desire of the public to watch mobile video.

One can readily see that mobile networks will be over-subscribed and quality of experience when watching video will vary. I think we are all familiar with buffering and, once the video has got going again, a drop in quality. (Temporary drops in quality where the video becomes quite blocky are an intentional means of preventing buffering known as Adaptive Streaming, e.g. MPEG DASH).

Where does the DTG fit in? The Mobile Video Alliance (MVA) was recently established and sits nicely under the DTG umbrella with players from a broad section right across the mobile video industry coming together to collaborate with the DTG’s more traditional members, such as the broadcasters.

The MVA is chaired by Rory Murphy (Equinix) and Matt Stagg (EE) and this last quarter has seen many new faces joining in discussions. In a sense, although the mobile video industry does not exist as a cohesive unit yet, many of the parts are there and many content service providers are active or at least interested even though the ecosystem is not fully formed.

At the DTG we intend to bring together that ecosystem and together we to tackle the issue of Quality of Experience. The DTG is currently looking at how to quantify and measure Quality of Experience, along with technologies that can improve, or even guarantee, a certain level of performance. OTT, on demand, catch-up and eMBMS/LTE Broadcast scenarios are all in scope. There is more on this at: n If you’re interested in getting involved please contact George Robertson, principal IP engineer, DTG, [email protected].