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Hey, European Mobile Operators: What About Streaming Video?
Barcelona's Mobile World Congress is full of hype about 5G and VR, but doesn't care about video. Why the blind spot over small-screen viewing?

I recently returned from GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and was disappointed by the complete lack of vendors and messaging to address streaming video. None of the operator booths had sections set up to talk about streaming, or video delivery, or solving network congestion to ensure a great end-user video experience. In contrast, there was lots of 5G technology and messaging, lots of PR around the Internet of Things (and, guilty by association, lots of talk about edge computing), but almost nothing about streaming. Oh, and yeah, and there was some occasional stuff about VR thrown in. This, despite the industry being littered with indicators that the small screen is where viewers are most interested in watching streaming video. Look no further than Cisco’s annual Visual Networking Index report, the most recent installment of which predicts that by 2021, 78 percent of all mobile traffic will be video. Punctuating that is Openwave Mobility’s “Mobile Video Index” research, which indicates that nearly 40 percent of that mobile video traffic is HD.

So why aren’t European mobile operators putting more emphasis on the streaming video experiences that subscribers can get through their networks? Why aren’t they touting LTE Broadcast? Why aren’t they looking to better network management to alleviate traffic congestion and to promote higher bitrate delivery? Where’s the talk about streaming? I couldn’t figure out the answer at first, especially in light of the stark contrast to their North American counterparts who seem to have made a major commitment to online video, evidenced by the proliferation of unlimited data plans designed to cater to consumers eager to stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other over-the-top (OTT) alternatives. In fact, many of the North American mobile plans specifically call out capabilities to stream HD-quality video (although most carriers will throttle video speeds when the network is congested, or when a user consumes an egregious amount of data). Many operators, such as T-Mobile (with its acquisition of Layer3 TV), AT&T (with its acquisition of DirecTV and the launch of DirecTV Now), and Verizon are making acquisitions and infrastructure commitments to ensure they can meet viewer demand for streaming.

Perhaps European consumer attitudes about online video are different than North Americans’? But, again, industry predictors seem to speak to the growth of video consumption on smartphones. As an example, according to the report “Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey: The Nordic Cut 2017,” approximately 80 percent of Nordic smartphone users are watching short-form videos weekly, while 38 percent are watching movies and TV. And I did find that some European operators, like Deutsche Telekom in Germany, are specifically touting their services’ ability to provide live TV, sports, and on-demand video. But others, like EE in the U.K., hardly mention it. Again, this is in sharp contrast to North American operators that often put live TV, HD-quality video, or other streaming service capabilities right on the front pages of their websites.

And then I came across an interesting CNBC article indicating that Europe could fall behind the U.S. and China in the race to deploy 5G—a much-heralded solution to the mobile streaming video congestion issues plaguing mobile operators today. According to the author, Arjun Kharpal, Europe’s sluggishness regarding spectrum allocation might delay rollout. This, again, is in stark contrast to the North American launch of 5G—AT&T, for example, has already announced plans to launch in a dozen test markets in 2018. T-Mobile and Verizon won’t be far behind, putting the North American operators in an even better position to provide great streaming video experiences to their subscribers.

Consumers worldwide are demanding streaming video from their mobile devices and networks. That much is clear. European operators can’t fall behind in how they position their networks to meet this demand if online video is truly to supplant traditional broadcast. We all need to be on the same page.

[This article appears in the April/May 2018 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Hey, European Mobile Operators! What About Streaming Video?"]

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