SPECIAL REPORT / Video streaming devices, apps and infrastructure featured high in this year's edition of the Mobile World Congress as the sector is expected to exceed 80% of global internet traffic in the next few years. EurActiv reports from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The European Commission reckons that video streaming accounts for around half of the volume of data transfers across the Web, as the surging number of internet users access movies, music and TV online.
This percentage is expected to soar further and go beyond four fifths of all Web activities while online video entertainment habits may increasingly be matched by new internet-based video services, such as high-quality video-calls or academic and medicine applications, such as distance-operations and advanced e-learning.
The 2014 Mobile World Congress, which ended yesterday (27 February) in Barcelona, highlighted the growing trend, featuring a great number of technologies aimed at making mobile video take off in the coming years.
At the moment, watching online videos at home benefits from the capacity for ultra-fast fibre-optic internet, while the viewing experience on smartphones is hindered by intermittent mobile connections. However, the existing gap may soon become memory, as new devices and infrastructure attempt to make mobile internet as good as domestic connections.
Handsets and network-driven revolution
One of the most successful stands in this year's MWC was LG's devices showroom where the South Korean company put on display its new G Flex smartphone which, as the name suggests, is a curved handset.
The key advantage offered by the new design, its makers say, is an improved video-viewing experience, where the display adapts to the shape of human eyes. The company aims at using its flagship model to beat competitors in the growing market for mobile video watching.
New applications for increasing the quality of the mobile video experience were also widely available at the Barcelona fair.
In a huge hall dedicated exclusively to apps, many companies presented their innovative solutions to improve mobile TV. Over 50 firms from Israel to the United States, China and Spain showed off their new software applications to increase the quality of images and tailor-made applications for Video-on-Demand or Live TV.
But perhaps the most important innovation for the future of mobile video came from the new infrastructure solutions aimed at making mobile internet as fast and efficient as fixed-network connections.
As the industrialised world moves on to the deployment of 4G networks, telecoms equipment companies are already discussing the new standards and requirements for the fifth generation of internet connection, the so-called 5G.
The stands of network developers, such as Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent, showed how far the technology had already gone. Micro-antennas are about to be deployed in all big cities to make mobile internet coverage ubiquitous.
Today, mobile internet is available mainly due to huge antennas located on top of high buildings. They are often disliked by citizens for being invasive both visually and in terms of radio interference.
Experts do not like them either, as their signals cannot be spread equally in cities due to physical barriers. Users complain of black spots where the signal does not arrive clearly, or hotspots, where the signal is clear but the high levels of usage often make the internet experience poor.
To cope with both problems, the solution is to deploy small antennas where the signal is hampered or disturbed. The new generation of antennas are embedded in small boxes, the size of a mailbox, which can be attached to street lamps, buildings and even trees.
This silent revolution is already happening as 4G becomes a part of daily life in many cities. With 5G, the antennas will be able to distribute larger amounts of data, and will easily switch frequencies to maximise traffic speed.
The radio spectrum allocation will to be adapted to cope with the greater volume of data being transmitted and will have to be more efficient than it is today.
Apart from the spectrum allocation debate, the European institutions have been watching developments with little interference over the past few years.
EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has been much quieter on the issue of mobile TV and streaming than her predecessor, Viviane Reding, who intervened in the sector with a number of initiatives, although perhaps when the technology was not yet ready for take-off in Europe.
The situation has now changed drastically, as Kroes also acknowledged by launching in January an advisory group to provide ideas on the future of TV and wireless broadband.
“The TV viewing habits of young people bear no resemblance to that of my generation. The rules need to catch-up in a way that delivers more and better television and more and better broadband," she said in announcing the new advisory group and a six-month deadline for advisors to provide results.
Although a bit in advance with developments in technology and consumers' attitudes, mobile TV used to be a hot topic in the previous Commission when the Internet and Telecommunications portfolio was in the hands of Viviane Reding.
In July 2007, she presented a communication aimed at strengthening the market for mobile television across Europe. A common standard, a dedicated portion of the radio spectrum and a light and harmonised regulatory environment were the main measures included in the document.
Reding's overhaul of the European telecoms sector included suggestions to member states for a balanced reallocation of the radio frequencies freed up by the 2012 switchover to digital. The UHF band was defined as "the most suitable" for mobile services.
Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has re-approached the issue in her proposal for a Connected Europe last September underlining the importance of allocating specific portions of the spectrum to internet mobile services. In January she set up an advisory group on how to use the UHF spectrum.
- European Commission: Press release on set up of advisory group on TV broadband - 13 January 2014
- European Commission: Streaming Video 2.0 webpage
- European Commission: Connected Continent proposal - 11 September 2013
- Mobile World Congress Website, 24-27 February 2014