Friday, March 20, 2009

Live TV - When I Want It - on My Phone

On my way back to Silicon Valley, I spent some time reflecting some mobile trend data recently posted in blogs, twitter updates as well as in articles on popular web sites.

Cellular-news reported that “Mobile TV will reach 472 million by 2013” (source: Cantab Wireless). Until now, TV on mobile devices was strictly limited to video clips (downloads) or special devices embedded with tuners, etc. Sprint and Verizon were the early adopters using Qualcomm’s MediaFLO. To add complexity to the TV application, Qualcomm cleared the path for its customers by negotiating TV rights from ESPN and others while buying up spectrum in key markets in North America. This is a costly proposition and is most likely is why TV over Mobile did not take off as predicted in 2006 and 2007.

Recently, I’ve been talking to friends who live in the Bay Area, Boston, San Diego and New York, probing their TV over mobile experience. Most of them make use of 3G PC cards (USB) for wide area connectivity and subscribe to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Here’s what I found out:

  • 1) 25% subscribed to an operator’s TV/video service. Usage was minimal (less than 1 hour per week) because the service was “cumbersome” and limited to the channels and programming supported by the operator.
  • 2) 50% did not make use of any TV over mobile. Why? “Not interested” or the service options “too expensive and too limited.”
  • 3) 25% did not subscribe to any service, but was indeed watching live TV (FREE) using their 3G device or 3G USB/PC card (laptop). These people either had Comcast, DirecTV or Dish Network DVR service at home or were users of freeware or beta software from Sling for use with iPhone, Blackberry Storm, Blackberry Bold and/or Samsung Android phones.

Here’s the big surprise. Usage was 300% higher than the people who paid for TV over mobile service. Note, these people have unlimited data plans and sure made use of every bit. Usage examples cited.

  • ·        Watch news or sports while at airport (using WiFi or 3G)
  • ·        Listen/watch news while driving in car
  • ·        Keep the kids quiet in car while driving (let the kids watch kids shows)
  • ·        Watch news while waiting for: dentist/doctor/car service/etc.

Note: where Wi-Fi was available, the laptop users used free service or service roaming partners of AT&T or T-Mobile to avoid buffering issues.

So, the big lesson for mobile operators and application developers is: do not make people re-learn how to watch TV or video. Much like Nokia found out in the early nineties, it takes 6-7 years for people to re-learn a new format (handset design where # actions button placements is critical). Make it simple. By allowing access to home services (DVR, cable, satellite), more people will watch TV in more places – thus requiring more capacity and better network services. The big question is…why on earth would operators allow this?  Because it will happen no matter what so they better prepare for it. I’m sure subscribers would not mind paying a small service fee to access home services or a higher fee if TV channels were provided by the operator’s own servers.

So, building upon my last blog, I’m now convinced that as more people start making use of TV/video services that we are faced with a barrage of data usage where TV, video and personal video casting (IM) will make use of every available bit and spectrum within a service area.

Some mobile data for consideration:

  • By 2013, 80 percent of global mobile traffic comes from 3G/4G mobile broadband handsets and laptop users (PC cards).  A single high-end phone like the iPhone/Blackberry generates more data traffic than 30 basic-feature cell phones. A laptop aircard generates more data traffic than 450 basic-feature cell phones. 
  • Almost 64 percent of the world's mobile traffic will be video by 2013. Mobile video has the highest growth rate of any application category.”  
Source:  Cisco VNI Forecast January 29, 2009.

Video, TV and personal video-casting will happen no matter what we do. 3G and LTE will enable more subscribers accessing more services and using more bandwidth – because they can and will make use of every bit and spectrum available.

So what did I learn?  I will use this weekend to download some freeware and start watching TV over my unlimited data plan and if all goes well, I will be watching Duke go to the final four during 'March Madness' – on my 3G phone.


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