Mobile Video: So Far, It's a Fuzzy Picture

Carl Weinschenk

People and companies that invested in 3G networks and are mapping out the road to 4G can breathe a sigh of relief -- to some degree, at least, since this is based only on the results of one Infonetics study -- because it seems that mobile video phone sales are set to take off.

 

It's true that mobile video phones are mostly a consumer play. Generally, the success of such services is of limited interest to enterprises. It may be a bit different in this case, however, as the success of the category would offer great hints about the acceptance of the broader category of broadband wireless.

 

The study says sales of mobile video were $58 billion worldwide last year and will more than double to $125 billion in 2010. Subscribers will rise from "a few million" last year to 58.6 million in 2010. North America, which traditionally isn't at the forefront of cellular and wireless developments, was second to last in market share in 2006 at 16 percent, only beating out Central and Latin America's 7 percent. Europe, the Middle East and Africa led with 42 percent of the market and Asia Pacific followed at 35 percent.

 

A big piece of news -- the release by Google of Android, an open source platform for the creation of mobile phone applications -- certainly buttresses the Infonetics assessment that mobile video will grow. This is an IDG News Service Q&A posted at PCWorld.com with Rich Miner, a member of the Android development team. Miner concedes that other Linux-based mobile initiatives exist, but often lack key elements -- and he mentions video codecs specifically.

 

The writer of this EE Times piece concedes that 3G video had been a disappointment in Europe and tries to get a handle on whether it will succeed in the United States. The story focuses on video calling, which must be an integral part of mobile video distribution if it is to succeed. The challenge is to get users past the initial reluctance to use the technology, which is driven by a distaste for unexpected and intrusive calls. The story is upbeat, but it seems that video calling is starting at a deficit if the first task is to combat a negative image.


 

These raw mobile video numbers -- amassed by M:Metrics and posted by eMarketer -- suggest that mobile video success in the United States is no sure thing. According to the firm, only eight million people watched video on handsets in August. Most of those users -- seven million -- watched "viral videos." This represents a 36 percent increase in that subcategory since January. The piece offers an interesting chart of what people are using mobile video for (the top three were music videos, movie trailers and weather information). The good -- and not surprising -- news is that 18-to-24 year olds were by far the most common users.

 

The landscape for mobile video is complex. There are more ways to skin a cat -- or to broadcast video to mobile devices -- than 3G networks. The study described in this In-Stat press release says cellular operators have a fight on their hands: Three of five ways to provide mobile video bypass their networks. The study says free-to-air video from broadcasters and time- and place-shifting services bypass cellular providers. The study concludes that offerings from mobile operators' "walled gardens" of unique content have not succeeded.

 

IT folks and corporate decision makers need to understand which forms of mobile video are hot in order to best communicate with customers, partners and even employees. In the bigger picture, however, the fate of mobile video will be a good indicator of the broader success or failure of mobile broadband.



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