Mobile Versus Internet Streaming: 5 Key Challenges
Music-based services should have advanced features like playlists, and TV services should allow users to quickly switch channels (known as ‘Fast Channel Switching’) to maintain a high-quality experience. These features should be supported as standard by the server, which allows operator to build a more attractive proposition to the customers.
Furthermore, handsets support many different media formats and display properties such as the frame rate, screen size and so on, requiring a mechanism to deliver suitable content (sometimes called media asset selection) based on the handset’s capabilities, without user intervention. Operators may carry out this function within the back-end systems, sending a uniform resource identifier (URI) to the mobile’s browser causing the media player to connect to the most appropriate stream once the user clicks on the link.
At a basic level even the video formats commonly supported by handsets differ to that used in the majority of internet-based applications. The most well-known video formats in the former case are MPEG-4 and H.263 (with the superior H.264 expected to have widespread adoption in future) and in the latter Windows Media, Flash and Real continue to be popular. This means the majority of existing internet content cannot easily be played on a mobile device, without first being converted into the correct format.
5. Integration with Backend Systems
Mobile streaming services are generally not free as are common internet services, and require integration with the operator’s existing billing and authorisation systems. There are many different scenarios involving billing logic, thus a streaming solution must provide a flexible API which can easily be connected to the back-end systems and supports billing logic such as pre-paid, post-paid, and subscription types.
Seldom considered is the integration with existing monitoring and reporting systems. A solution that has extensive logging capabilities and can link to the systems in the control cemter will be a huge benefit to the operator. In future, some handsets will send streaming quality of service information (such as the time to start a stream, and how many times it ‘freezes’ when congested) to the servers, allowing a real-time (and post-) view of the streaming quality delivered to customers.
Network operators also need flexibility to deliver third-party content to their customers, whether this is hosted by themselves, the content provider or an externally-hosted solution. In all cases there will be a degree of integration to the operator’s internal systems, and whoever hosts the servers must also appreciate the idiosyncrasies of delivering over wireless networks.
Wireless streaming is now maturing as a media delivery technology, and requires some innovative solutions to reduce the limitations associated with such networks. The operators must take an end-to-end approach and cannot simply apply the same principles of traditional internet-based solutions.
The highest quality best-of-breed encoding tools must be used to create the live and on-demand content, considering the performance requirements in terms of speed of encoding and the desired quality. Flexible solutions are required that can adapt the stream data-rate dynamically based on the network conditions and the available bandwidth, plus the ability to customize key parameters to achieve the best performance possible.
With the advent of even higher speed networks such as HSDPA, there are new possibilities to create higher quality services with an improved user experience, so it is also vital to have a clear and progressive roadmap to deploy new technologies to achieve this goal.
Content should ideally be tailored to the mobile device from the offset, rather than simply re-package made-for-TV and internet content; anyone who has watched TV news on a mobile will be familiar with the frustration of reading small text originally designed to be viewed on a larger screen.
Finally, the issues mentioned here can have a considerable impact on the effectiveness and success of wireless streaming services. One thing is certain; there has never been a more exciting and promising time to be involved in wireless streaming for content providers, network operators and solution providers.
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