Voicemail, text messages, ring tones, now tv and video: Cell phone carriers are doing their best to increase the popularity of video and television on cell phones. Right now, features such as tv and video are only available in a limited capacity, but in a few months that may change as carriers are continually adding new programming to cell phones in addition to the brief video clips currently out there. Carriers are looking at adding full-length shows to cell phones, even adding these shows so they can be viewed live. Here’s a sneak preview of what some of the major carriers are doing:
Verizon Offers Variety
- Beginning March 31st, will start to offer CBS, MTV, NBC, and Fox programming on their cell phones in major cities. Will offer these tv shows on their phones after these shows appear on regular television.
- Plans to offer live broadcast tv on their cell phones.
- Likely to be granted exclusive rights from ESPN to offer its programming on their phones.
- Would like to expand its Fios tv service to wireless handsets, which would let users control their DVRs from their phones without having to be at home.
- Has a service called Vcast, which offers short video clips for cell phones that has been available for 2 years.
- Customers can get calling, wireless, Internet, and video services as part of a package for $160.92 per month. Or Verizon users can pay $15 per month or $3 per day for the multimedia available on its phones.
- Owns a video service available on cell phones.
- Offers tv news clips from channels like Discovery and CNN.
- Has not announced whether it plans to offer a live tv broadcast service to cell phone subscribers.
- Provides same-day video coverage for the Mercedes-Benz fashion week in New York among other fashion events on their cell phones, allowing subscribers to see just as fashion designers, buyers, and celebrities do in person, the latest clothing designs for the upcoming fall season over their cell phones. Subscribers can feel like they are there in person while watching the shows and viewing the back stage reports.
- For access, interested customers can subscribe to a $19.99 monthly media package, which includes video clips, Internet, email, messages, news, weather, sports scores, and movie times.
Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications, and Advanced Newhouse
- Will offer a cable tv guide and some video content on their phones.
- For Comcast users, to get access to the cable tv guide, users have to pay an extra $15 per month for a data package. For an extra $25 per month, Comcast will give access to the cable tv guide, video content, and Internet access with email.
Vring, Vring From Vringo.com
- Can record a cell phone video greeting by using your cell phone’s camera or by choosing your favorite movie, music or tv content, then sending it to your phone.
- If your friends sign up for it, they will see your video when you call their cell phones and you can see theirs when they call you.
- Best of all, though users do need to pay for any licensed content they select, the Vringo application itself is free.
Disadvantages of Mobile TV and Video Features
The features listed above sound great for consumers, and seem to ensure profits for carriers, but if carriers do not predict ahead, they could be faced with a major downside to their efforts. Because video takes up 10 times the bandwidth voice does on cell phones, capacity on the network could be exceeded in 2007 if enough people watch just 10 minutes of video per day.
The 3G networks carriers have in the U.S. now cannot handle a lot of video traffic. The networks are divided into cells and users in the same cell share the same bandwidth. Content is delivered when it is requested by the individual subscriber, meaning signals are transmitted to users one at a time. So if 300 users request the same ESPN video highlights from the weekend to watch, the network has to send a copy of the video clip to each user individually. The same process happens when subscribers are talking on their cell phones or sending text messages but these actions are relatively insignificant in terms of capacity because they take up very little bandwidth. Video, on the other hand, takes up about 10 times more bandwidth. Too much traffic is precisely what happened in South Korea. To solve the problem, a separate network to broadcast mobile tv was built.
Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and AT&T’s phone service (formerly Cingular Wireless) all deliver content when it is requested by the individual subscriber. This makes delivering high volumes of tv programming difficult. Unlike those carriers though, MediaFlo network broadcasts video to cell phone users all at the same time like regular broadcast television. MediaFlo’s service will be available on LG’s VX 9400 and one phone from Samsung.
Thus, far video on cell phones has not been popular with consumers. However, wireless carriers are doing their best to stress the convenience of mobile tv. They are accumulating more content and doing their best to improve image quality. Companies are also restructuring their usability component too, planning to offer customers a single bill for all services including tv, wireless, broadband, and voice, training sales and support staff to handle new services, and simplifying cell phone interfaces so that users can easily navigate and feel comfortable using their phones. Consumers have not seen the last of video availability on cell phones and are certain to see even more in the coming months, so stay tuned.