3G threatened by BT mobile-streaming tech

A way of streaming high-resolution video clips over standard mobile networks, developed by some of BT's top researchers, is set for commercial deployment
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

A sophisticated method of mobile-video streaming developed by BT scientists is heading for commercial deployment, and could pose a serious threat to 3G.

BT announced on Thursday that it is working with video-hosting group Vemotion to develop a mass-market wireless-streaming service over GPRS. The service is already working over the UK's mobile networks, and Vemotion says it is close to announcing significant deals with TV broadbcasters.

Vemotion and BT Broadcast Services -- the telco's media services arm -- are aiming to supply GPRS users with video of a high-enough quality to appeal to people who might otherwise upgrade to a third-generation video phone.

These clips will typically be between 20 seconds and 4 minutes in length, and will cost from 30p each.

"Why wait [for 3G] when you can do live video streaming to mobile phones now?" Tony Antoniou, Vemotion's chief executive, said on Thursday.

Vemotion has licensed patents on technologies that have been created at Adastral Park, BT's research laboratories.

As ZDNet UK reported back in April, BT's technology -- called Fastnets -- does not suffer from buffering problems that can plague other streaming methods, because it adapts to changes in network conditions to maintain a constant stream.

The Fastnets server supplying the video has several different versions of the same content, recorded at different frame rates. It then monitors both the speed of the connection and the amount of data stored on the client's buffer. When the buffer is full, it switches to a higher frame rate -- giving the user a better quality recording. When the buffer is close to empty, it swaps back to the lower frame rate.

In an April demonstration, BT showed that Fastnets was capable of delivering video footage of a horse race to a handset.

According to Antoniou, several thousand users are already using its mobile-video service, which is the first one to be based on the H.264 video standard. "We're in healthy discussions with mobile operators, but effectively the deployment is already happening agnostically as people download the necessary software from our Web site," Antoniou told ZDNet UK.

Antoniou added that Vemotion is in talks with several television companies and would soon announce deals that "will cause significant interest", although he was unable to disclose any more details for legal reasons.

Vemotion's software works on many of today's high-end mobile devices, including the Nokia 7650 and 3650, Sony Ericsson's P800, the XDA and the iPaq.

A number of other companies, such as RealNetworks, also offer video streaming, but BT says its method delivers higher-quality results.

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