Gartner Analyst Akshay Sharma Talks Mobile Video

With CTIA2014 quickly approaching and Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead set to moderate a panel on mobile video, Akshay Sharma, Research Director in the Carrier Network Infrastructure Group at Gartner Research, shares his views on the current state of mobile video and where it is headed.

Recent reports indicate that more than two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2018. The reports also show that mobile video will increase fourteenfold from 2013 to 2018, accounting for 69 percent of total mobile data traffic in that time period. Below, Sharma weighs in on what is driving that growth and whether carriers are prepared to meet customers’ rising expectations and seemingly insatiable appetite for all things video.

Why video?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video must be worth so much more. With video, you can go beyond the picture, you can see emotion, and through video with music or audio – we can understand much more readily, have a richer experience and explore much more easily. We are used to having things fed to us. Who wants to read when you can watch a video? I don’t even read manuals anymore. I just go on YouTube and watch the demo. Same with recipes; I watch a video to see how to make the meal.

Why now?

Consumers drive the demand and the carriers fill the capacity. Whenever I see the opposite – when the infrastructure and device are ready first – I see flops. I think we are still a consumer-led marketplace:  If they buy it, the expectation is to fill it and the carriers need to provide the infrastructure to support it.

Is the industry ready for this?

That is the big question. For video you need 10 megabytes per second (Mbps) or higher [speeds] to a device. Not too many applications need that amount of bandwidth, but video does. T-1 lines used to be enough to handle the capacity but they now get flooded and SONET and Optical networks get flooded too. When we went from 2G to 3G we saw a big jump, and another jump when we moved to 4G with LTE, but we also continue to see an increase in use and demand. 

When you start to multiply the need for 10 Mbps by thousands of devices in a neighborhood and take into consideration the impact that has on the base station, core networks and backhaul, I would say that we are getting there, but it is still a work in progress. Video gaming, video sharing, HD Video or Ultra HD are going to require even more bandwidth, and that is what 4G LTE and beyond provides.

How can carriers meet customer expectations when it comes to video consumption?

To be blunt, I don’t think people are going to tolerate a subpar experience. The expectation today is a Wi-Fi like experience in the macro network. In other countries the 4G LTE experience is pretty bad, but for those of us in the United States, we may have gotten a bit overly demanding, or our expectations are a little high, because we are getting good bandwidth from the U.S. carriers. 

What started the mobile video movement?

You could argue that the iPhone 3 was the game-changer. It enabled users to see video in an easy-to-use manner.

What does this mean for carriers?

Carriers want to be part of the equation, and will need to try and monetize the network in better ways.  They may add location-based services or an HD experience on demand, like a turbo experience, that enables them to increase revenue and deliver a better experience to their customers.

The industry is getting to the stage where the infrastructure will support software-defined networks and a dynamic, on-demand approach. It is still a work in progress, but this is how carriers can achieve the new paradigm of how they can support things like video. The industry is getting to an elastic model where you can do services on demand or cache services on demand all based on predictive analytics.  The infrastructure is getting there; it’s not there yet, and that is part of the challenge.

What changes will we see in 3-5 years?

Having a carrier that is multi-network-oriented is something that is going to be interesting as consumers move to an expectation of multiple devices and multiple access methods. For example, I may want to have the same video flow from one device to another as I move around. I may start watching the game on my TV, move it to my tablet as I walk to a different room in my house, and then move it to my cell phone when I leave the house. People will probably be willing to pay a premium to not miss a play in the game and to avoid paying to view that same content on different devices. There is a tremendous opportunity for the carriers who can connect the dots and provide that seamless experience. I think that will be a differentiator: A carrier that owns the network and can control the experience will be the winner.