Audio Streaming: Probably Not What Your Mobile Carrier Had In Mind

from the so-much-for-that-unlimited-plan dept

Regardless of what you think of his ideas about net neutrality, Tim Wu is unequivocally right about one thing: Ziphone is downright magical. Thanks to it I’ve been in possession of an unlocked iPhone for the past few weeks, and I’ve been quite pleased with it. The variety of things this little gadget can do is truly amazing.

But for the mobile carriers the sensation it prompts is probably closer to worry. These newfound apps are bandwidth-hungry, and not only for WiFi packets. iPhone Bittorrent is a rather extreme example; EDGE-capable podcatchers are a more plausible threat. But perhaps most striking — and therefore menacing — is iRadio, a native application that brings Shoutcast-based streaming audio to the platform. It’s easy to imagine a lot of users wanting this functionality and using it heavily, particularly given how often I forget that I’ve left it playing.

Of course, the percentage of jailbroken handsets isn’t likely to ever get particularly high. But that won’t be enough to stop these applications. For one thing, most observers think that the SDK — which is expected to be announced today — will allow developers access to both the phone’s EDGE and WiFi capabilities. For another, streaming audio has already come to the platform without the need for any new code at all. FlyTunes offers a number of radio channels through an iPhone web interface; it works great. Similarly, WFMU offers a specialized domain for listening to the station on your mobile. More of these apps are almost certainly on the way.

It’s true that this is just one device, but it’s already setting a standard for what consumers expect from a smartphone — and proving that users and savvy developers will use every bit of bandwidth they can get to. This demand will only grow as Android arrives and the carriers’ grip on the mobile platform inevitably loosens. I’m hardly longing for the days of per-kilobyte data charges, but it seems likely that many carriers will soon be faced with choosing between a return to metering or a flood of customers upset by unexpected transfer caps on their allegedly-unlimited data plans.

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Comments on “Audio Streaming: Probably Not What Your Mobile Carrier Had In Mind”

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SRNissen says:

Streaming audio is _exactly_ what my carrier has in mind. If you go to their homepage and look in the bottom left corner, you’ll see “mobil bredbånd” (cellphone broadband) advertised. Digging further into the site is probably difficult if you don’t speak danish, but their advertisement is nothing but “you can stream this” and “you can be connected to that.”

In short, their services are specifically geared towards data-heavy transmissions like streaming video. That’s why I picked them in the first place.

moe says:

Check the Terms of Service

I’m moving back to the states from Germany at the end of the summer, so I’ve been doing some research of cell phones and data plans. The Verizon TOS specifically disallows this type of use. In fact, the TOS goes as far as stipulating:

“Data Plans and Features may ONLY be used with wireless devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). The Data Plans and Features MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (ii) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing; or (iii) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited. A person engaged in prohibited uses, continuously for one hour, could typically use 100 to 200 MBs, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GBs in a month.”

The part I find hilarious is the last sentence — if you used the services for prohibited uses all day, every day it would use a whopping 5 GBs each month! /sarcasm

To me, 5 GBs a month isn’t that much. I’m sure their networks have the capacity to handle this, especially since the majority of people wouldn’t be using it that heavily anyhow.

hegemon says:

Nothing New for the Carriers

This is nothing new. Bittorrent, Shoutcast, Usenet, and streaming media applications have been available for Windows Mobile devices since I started carrying one over 2 years ago. I have heavily used my phone for Shoutcast streams, even hooking it into an FM transmitter to listen to internet streaming radio on the road. It’s a great alternative to satellite radio if you are in an area with consistent EVDO coverage.

This is not to start a war over the merits of Windows Mobile vs iPhone. I just want to point out that these bandwidth-hungry mobile apps are nothing new, and carriers have not shut down in a panic over the last 2 years.

Tony B. says:

Another WM user

I also would like to add that ATT hasn’t given me a hard time about streaming music from Shoutcast. I also have an XM Radio client (free, it’s a dumb app with an easy workaround to get it for free) as well as MobiTV, and Sligbo player. I know that I’m probably one of their worst customers as I do pay as you go for the phone mins and pay $20.00 for unlimited data. I mostly have the data streaming for about 8 hours a day. No problems yet with the carrier!

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