3G or not 3G? That is the question

Paul Quigley


Mobile TV and video services could run up against capacity constraints on 3G networks within as soon as two years, according to a new report by Analysys.

According to the research, with currently under-utilised 3G networks, mobile operators are offering streamed TV and video content at highly-attractive prices to encourage consumers to use then.

However, Analysys warns heavy data consumption of these services needs careful management of usage, pricing and technology evolution.

The researchers said that although 3G networks could carry the vast majority of mobile TV and video services for the next five years, 3G had 'limited capacity to support the substantial network traffic generated by video streaming'.

'The capacity of a typical W-CDMA [3G] network could be exceeded as soon as 2007,' warned Analysys' Alastair Brydon. 'If 40% of 3G users take up mobile TV and video services and each consumes only eight minutes of video per day.'

Analysys believes that broadcasting technology will be essential to support the full range of mobile TV and video usage scenarios. 'Broadcasting technology will be the only realistic means of supporting peaks in demand such as those created by major news stories and extended periods of mobile TV viewing,' commented Analysys' Mark Heath.

And yet, according to Heath, the little-known 3G feature MBMS (Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Service), which could be available from 2007, has the potential to make 3G itself the most attractive broadcasting solution.

'MBMS is based on relatively small changes to the existing 3G standard,' said Heath. 'It does not require additional spectrum or licensing and, perhaps most importantly, MBMS has the potential to enable mobile operators to continue to control the mobile TV and video market.'

However, the report notes that MBMS requires operators to set aside capacity that could otherwise be used for voice, messaging or data services, and can only be justified if operators can attract mainstream audiences to a small number of broadcasting channels. Dedicated broadcasting technologies, such as DVB-H, DMB and MediaFLO, are vying to be deployed for the broadcasting of large numbers of TV channels to mobile devices and could become competitive or complementary solutions to 3G and MBMS.

However, mobile operators may be unable to exert the same control over these broadcasting technologies as they can over 3G and MBMS. The report added that all of these options face uncertainties and there is a risk that no single dominant standard may materialise.

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