What Is The Real Threat To Wireless Video?
Over at FierceWireless, Sue Marek takes a look at the battle between the Unicast and Broadcast approaches to mobile video. Vendors on the broadcast side (Qualcomm, Modio, Hiwire) are arguing that Unicast distribution over 3G doesn’t scale, and if mobile video is successful, unicast video streams will clog the 3G pipes. MediaFlo is on this side, and has got Verizon and Cingular on board. But Sprint disagrees, saying that their experience with mobile video indicates that their 3G network has the capacity to meet mobile video demand even with unicast. Whether that’s a negative comment on the demand for video, or a positive statement on their network capacity is unclear. Certainly, with Sprint’s scads of 2.5GHz spectrum, the playing field isn’t level. Their WiMAX plans call for video to be moved to this new network.
But here’s where I really diverge from the Fierce piece: the unicast vs. broadcast debate is an important one, but it’s not “new battleground” for mobile video. We talked about this Mobile vs. Unicast paradox in 2004, and still neither approach holds all the right cards. There is more important battleground which seems to get overlooked at the conferences and boardroom strategy meetings: OTA vs. Sideloaded. That is, the carrier model vs. the iTunes or PVR sideload model. It’s like this: If I have content in my PC or PVR, which I’ve already paid for and chosen as desirable, why would I re-buy content over an expensive 700Kbps wireless network when I could use a free, 480Mbps network (a USB cable) to transfer it from my PC into my phone? Phones with flash memory are well-suited for this, and increasingly available. In fact, I seem to recall a rumor that Apple might even try something in this space…
The big threat to carrier video business models is that consumers will learn to move video to their phones without ever passing the telco toll booth. And Apple is about to educate the masses as to that possibility. Whether consumers buy an iPhone or not isn’t the point – the point is consumers will gravitate towards the cheap, simple solutions that are known to them.