Air Time: Mobile Video: The Next Killer App

Mobile video technologies will be driven by consumer entertainment, but the technical advances required to make this happen will also pay dividends for enterprise users.

Dave Molta

September 29, 2006

3 Min Read
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Almost 60 years before Monday Night Football put large men on a small screen, inventor Boris Rosing built the first working television system. Few saw it as a breakthrough with mass appeal, and it took another 25 years or so to refine and commercialize electronic television transmission. Since that time, we've seen countless technical breakthroughs and an entire industry built around video content. It might be a stretch to put television at the top of a list of greatest inventions in history, but I'd bet it would make the top five.

Now, the communications industry is poised to deliver the latest breakthrough: mobile video over wireless broadband. Although television has relied on wireless broadcast technology since its earliest days, mobile video represents a true paradigm shift, and an incredible market opportunity. And though entertainment services will no doubt drive mobile video content, there are also many business applications for the technology, from security surveillance to product marketing.

In the new world of mobile video, broadcast-oriented high-definition television service is old-school technology. Today's market buzz is found in two mobility domains: in the home and on the road. In the home, multimedia entertainment and computer system manufacturers are poised to leverage the latest developments in wireless LAN technology, eliminating the rat's nest of cables gathering dust behind millions of home entertainment centers and providing limited range, but highly appealing, mobile video services. Battles for control of the HDTV remote will soon be a thing of the past. High-definition video will be available throughout the home on multiple portable entertainment devices, including PCs and a range of low-cost purpose-built entertainment devices.

Although few would contest the appeal or the imminent emergence of mobile video in the home, the quest for video on the road is a bit more controversial. Skeptics wonder whether there is a market for video on a three-inch screen. My answer is yes, provided the quality-to-cost ratio makes it accessible to a broad audience. Today, millions of mobile warriors make productive use of dead time using mobile voice and data technologies. Tomorrow, millions more will fill that time watching video. It's just a matter of time.The technical obstacles confronting mobile video are significant, but with all that gold in sight, the hurdles are worth scaling. For mobile video in the home to enter the mainstream, we'll need more speed, more coverage and enhanced traffic prioritization. Higher speed and coverage are coming soon, thanks to the emerging 802.11n standard. Look for 11n to find its way into computers, televisions, and set-top boxes in time for the 2007 Christmas shopping season. Although that prospect is exciting, it will take a while longer to optimize products for multistream video content and to provide certified interoperability between vendor offerings.

Mobile video on the road faces more significant challenges. System-capacity constraints make it extremely difficult to scale mobile video services in a cellular environment, where large cells and limited spectrum are the norm. With as few as half a dozen simultaneous users streaming video content using the unicast technologies that will be popular in the home, a cell's capacity will be saturated. That's leading carriers to consider alternative forms of off-channel broadcast-oriented mobile media services based on DVB-H and MediaFLO technologies.

Mobile video technologies will be driven by consumer entertainment services, but the technical advances required to make this happen will also pay dividends for enterprise users, through enhanced interoperability and lower prices. We'll be ready for some football--and a boost in productivity as well.

Dave Molta is a Network Computing senior technology editor. He is also assistant dean for technology at the School of Information Studies and director of the Center for Emerging Network Technologies at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected]

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