In a world where mobile phones are finding inroads into many different facets of our lives, a new study suggests a new usage pattern is about to emerge. According to Ovum, a telecom analyst firm, mobile video usage will soon gain traction.
Two main factors for this include: advancing the prospect of widely-used video usage including rollout of next generation wireless networks and a new carrier attitude of openness with regards to which applications can appear on mobile handsets.
A Wide Open Market
The United States has four major mobile network operators: T-Mobile USA, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint/Nextel. Of these four carriers, AT&T Wireless is the only mobile network operator to launch a video conferencing service. However, the Video Share service features only one-way video, meaning your meeting attendees can see your face, but you can't see their image.
According to the study released today, other mobile carriers have indicated that a mobile video offering is in the works and therein lies a vast opportunity for software vendors. A few software vendors have already begun rolling out video software including Qik, which allows a person to stream internet video live from their mobile handset. Similar applications include FlixWagon and kyte.tv.
Networks Coming of Age
With video usage comes the need to have a robust data network in place. AT&T's Video Share service, for example, is only available where a 3G signal is available. To respond to the need for increased data throughput, mobile network operators have been increasing capacity in their networks.
Specifically, AT&T and T-Mobile have expanded their 3G network footprint nationwide. In addition, Sprint/Nextel has rolled out their 4G network under the Clear brand name. The Clear service resulted from Sprint's acquisition of Clearwire and increased investments from Comcast, Google, Intel and other interested parties. Internet service from Clear provides very fast and robust Internet speeds thanks to the network's underlying technology: WiMax.
Once the mobile network operators have established a fast and robust data network, software vendors need to be allowed to launch their video products onto mobile handsets. In the past, mobile network operators have held tight control over which applications are available to end users. But in recent months, many networks have launched initiatives to have more "Open Platforms". Verizon is one such carrier, who has announced it's Open Development program that will make it possible for new applications to be used on Verizon handsets.
However, efforts such as the Open Development program have yet to be proven. At this point, these open platform promises appear to be just that, promises. Until mobile network operators truly allow handset makers and software vendors to bring their products to market, we won't see truly innovative applications and uses of these very exciting technologies.
Looking across the pond, Nokia makes many handsets that include the necessary hardware to conduct video conferencing including 3G and Wi-Fi network access and front-facing cameras. Video conferencing is available in certain markets in Europe, but the feature is carrier-dependent.
My hope is that North American cell phone carriers wake up to the possible uses these video technologies provide. The operators have a lot to gain, especially considering video usage may drive the sale of data plans, increasing revenue month over month.