Latest GPRS deal gives 3G sleepless nights

The latest streaming deal reinforces the fact that you don't need to use a third-generation network in order to get real time video on a mobile -- 3G licence holders must be Shattered

3G's future prospects took another knock this week with the news that Endemol, a pioneering television production company known for breaking new ground, is broadcasting continuous footage of its latest reality TV show over GPRS, rather than using third-generation mobile technology.

Viewers of Shattered, a programme running on Channel 4 in which contestants have to do without sleep in order to win, can now access a realtime continuous stream of action from the show -- if they have a compatible GPRS device.

Vemotion, the company that is providing the streaming technology, said this week that this is the first time that a television programme has been streamed directly onto mobile phones in Britain. Video streaming and clips are one of the main features promoted by advocates of third-generation mobile services, but it's clear that 3G doesn't have a monopoly on mobile video.

According to a Vemotion spokesman, there are currently around one million GPRS handsets -- including those based on Symbian or Pocket PC software -- being used in the UK that are capable of receiving the service.

Vemotion's service is based on a technology developed at BT's Adastral Park labs, called Fastnets. Unlike other video-streaming technologies, it does not suffer from buffering problems 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.

Shattered fans could find, though, that watching by mobile phone is an expensive way of catching up with the action -- or such action as there will be in a TV show populated by increasingly drowsy contestants.

A 24-hour pass to the service will cost £1, but on top of this users will also have to pay their mobile phone operator for their data consumption. GPRS costs vary between operators, but typically start at around £1 per megabyte of downloaded data.

As ZDNet UK reported last year, Oplayo -- a small Finnish company -- has developed a Java-based technology that can stream audio and video to any Java phone. Its service is already being used by several companies, and was used last spring to broadcast news updates on the Iraq war.