The Ovum View: Wireless streaming - with strings attached

Industry awaits the arrival of widespread 3G...

Industry awaits the arrival of widespread 3G...

Wireless streaming is still some way away, contrary to what some players may have us believe. Handset and bandwidth restraints will hold the market back, and realistically, streaming will not be available until 3G becomes widely deployed. Here, Dario Betti from leading consultancy Ovum looks at how this market will develop, stating some realistic strategies for market players. Streaming, the quasi-simultaneous delivery of audio and video over IP networks, and the new value-added services it provides should drive the increase in use of mobile networks for services other than voice communication. Interest in streaming is evident. Various trials of streaming video on mobiles have occurred recently. The three largest companies in this area have taken the lead, developing solutions to improve wireless streaming. Nevertheless, wireless streaming is dependent on the deployment of 3G or 2G+ networks and the introduction of video-enabled phones, and there will be few of those on the market in the early years of introduction. All in all, most countries are still two to three years away from the launch of the first wireless streaming services. Testing the waters
Solution vendors would have us think we are on the brink of the introduction of wireless streaming. However, their laboratory tests are just an indication of a few elements of a complex supply chain. Wireless streaming trials are currently being deployed by the three leading companies in this area - Packetvideo, Emblaze and Luxxon. Packetvideo offers a wireless streaming platform that includes software for encoding, serving and decoding. On 18 June 2001, Packetvideo signed a deal with Siemens to license its wireless streaming platform. Under this deal, Siemens will test Packetvideo's products over 19 of its UMTS networks worldwide this year. This deal comes after a trial over Airtel's GPRS network in Spain at the end of May. Emblaze Systems, previously known as GEO Interactive Media, developed a solution consisting of content management software, an encoding platform and a handset player. On 12 June 2001, the company announced five unnamed European mobile operators had signed agreements for paid trials, and will test the systems over GPRS networks during the course of the year. Emblaze had already signed deals with other operators - France Telecom in France, Pelephone in Israel and Sonofon in Denmark. Californian-based Luxxon provides streaming media technologies, including transcoding gateways and multimedia processors for handsets. One of its recent demonstrations featured video, scores and team statistics of NBA championship games beamed to Compaq IPAQs running PocketPC on a wireless LAN in a Staples retail store. Barriers to the flow
Despite the activity in the market, the promise shown by wireless streaming technologies is dampened by the presence of several barriers. Handsets provide the biggest obstacle to the introduction of wireless streaming once packet-based networks with sufficient bandwidth are in place. They are expected to develop at a slower rate than the rest of the market. There are already handsets with music capabilities on the market - video, on the other hand, presents a greater challenge due to screen size, screen definition and battery life. On the positive side, streaming will be a more attractive solution given the high cost of storage and the diffusion of Bluetooth-compatible devices. There will not be a 'device for all', instead there will be many devices to meet the needs and tastes of all. They will also remain mostly voice-centric rather than becoming video-enabled phones. In terms of definition, some early devices may use Super Twisted Nematic. This uses only a small amount of power, but also offers less definition than Thin Film Transistor, which currently allows only 296 colours, but will allow 4,096 colours in the future. Battery technology is unlikely to improve dramatically in the next few years, while a larger colour screen will be using more power than a traditional phone used for voice and text services only. Mouldable lithium batteries will not be available in quantity until 2003. As a result, the rollout of video-enabled phones will be affected. On the positive side, streaming requires only buffering and not the download of an entire file, cutting down on the decreasing, but still high cost of storage. In addition, the use of different terminals will be facilitated by the introduction of Bluetooth connection, enabling small devices such as mobile handsets to be used in conjunction with a larger screen-based device, such as a PDA, for viewing a video. The wait for bandwidth
On the network side, it is commonly accepted that there will not be video streaming over 2G networks, even if some of these networks provide sufficient speed for a minimal video service (better defined as a series of still images). Current networks are still too expensive to run video services, and voice is already filling the networks. The introduction of data packet networks will make video services more economical. Video streaming will be possible on GPRS, even if the speed will be limited (around 50Kbit/s at first). Operators will use 2G+ networks as a test bed for these services. These networks will be aimed at the business market for around the first two years, and so there will be low user interest in video services. Third-generation networks represent the biggest opportunity for video streaming. They will provide higher speeds, more capacity and better quality-of-service management. However, as delays have shown, the introduction of 3G is not as easy as some were expecting. Strategies to tackle the currents
There are several ways for players in the wireless streaming market to ride out the initial uncertainty. They can position themselves favourably to make the most of the opportunities once the market is ready. Mobile operators should prepare themselves for wireless streaming by participating in trials with different solution vendors. They should also educate themselves on the potential services that could be offered. However, it is still too early to commit to one streaming solution, and so operators should play the field. They should also influence handset manufacturers to stimulate the production of terminals that can support the kind of streaming applications desired by end users. Handset manufacturers should join operators and wireless streaming solution providers to reinforce standards and best practices in the industry. They should also strive to increase the market for mobile terminals and meet the various needs of end users through differentiation. Handset manufacturers should also consider forming partnerships with manufacturers of video cameras, PDAs and portable stereos to develop hybrid devices. A wireless streaming provider needs to be seen as the leader in the field to drive adoption quickly. Hence, wireless streaming providers should first initiate a relationship with operators and handset vendors for trials, and then persuade them to go into exclusive partnerships. http://www.ovum.com