IT Priorities Conference: CNBC Europe streams video to GPRS

CNBC Europe has launched a service that offers live streaming video of its TV news to mobile handsets. IT Priorities conference speaker Steve Flaherty sees it as the first of many future mobile entertainment applications
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

CNBC Europe plans to offer live news feeds to mobile phone users, the company said on Friday.

Live video services to mobile phones have been demonstrated before, and some operators already offer streamed video clips, but CNBC's new offering is believed to be the first commercial service that gives a mobile phone user access to a live streaming television station.

Newmediacom is owned by Phones International, which is providing the service for CNBC Europe. It is developing the technology used in the service, Fastnets, under licence from BT Wholesale. Eric White, marketing and communications director for Phones International, said the video signal usually runs between 11 and 17 seconds after the ordinary television broadcast feed.

White says that Newmediacom is also working with the Sky sports channel 'At the Races' on a pilot service that streams live horse races. The technology is also being used by Mymovies.net, which uses it to provide streaming movie clips and interviews, according to Andy Randerson, mobility business development manager at BT Wholesale.

According to Steve Flaherty, a partner at mobile data strategy vendor Keitai Culture, the launch of the service heralds the beginning of a trend, as mobile content moves away from personalisation services such as ring tones, and begins to offer content that looks a lot more like traditional entertainment offerings.

Steven Flaherty is a partner in Keitai Culture, which provides mobile strategy and services for the media and broadcast industries, and was a founder member of the 3G Consultancy. He will be appearing on the 3G panel at the ZDNet UK IT Priorities ZDNet UK IT Priorities conference on 28 September.

"As these new phones and technologies come out, I expect to see many more media companies doing this in the future. It's not just about TV stations. In fact, I think the cost means you won't be seeing many people watching, say, BBC1 on their phone. It's going to be about streaming specific moments - with CNBC it's stock quotes, but it could also be a horse race that you've placed a bet on," said Flaherty.

"I think you'll see improved video and multimedia services after Christmas. There are only about 600,000 3G phones but there are four million high end Symbian phones. The more high-end phones there are out there, the better the return on investment," said Flaherty.

CNBC Europe's service can be accessed from a range of mobile devices including the Nokia 3650, 3660, 6600, 7650, and N-Gage; the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900, as well as new handsets soon to be launched, including the Sony Ericsson P910. Subscribers can register online and pay via credit or debit card. It will cost subscribers €3.00 (£2) per day or €15.00 per month.

BT Exact demonstrated its Fastnets technology earlier this year at Adastral Park. The Fastnets system adapts to changes in network conditions, and maintains a constant stream. This is possible because the server supplying the video has several different versions of the same content, recorded at different frame rates.

When a video starts, the server transmits the content at a low frame rate to ensure that the stream can begin quickly, and starts filling the buffer with the next few seconds of video. The server 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.

According to Rory Turnbull, Fastnets Technical Leader at BT Exact, the technology also benefits from its implementation of the H.264 video standard, which is roughly double the quality of previous standards-based video streams. BT has also worked to implement its video compression to improve streaming performance over GPRS.

"The challenges that you face streaming video over GPRS are quite incredible," he said.

Additional reporting by Graeme Wearden.

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