Feature Article

February 26, 2013

Will Mobile Video Explode?

Will mobile video trends develop as most now expect, with explosive increases in consumed bandwidth? And, if so, what form will that consumption take? The question might be somewhat harder to answer than most would suppose.

It is easy to predict that as consumers get access to faster access networks such as Long Term Evolution, they will start to consume more data, as that has happened virtually universally as access speeds have grown, on either mobile or fixed networks.

LTE launch in Korea, for example, showed significant differences in the amount of data consumed by 4G customers, even though 3G is sold on an “unlimited” basis and 4G is sold only on tiered plans.

It also is easy to predict that a greater percentage of users will migrate to 4G LTE as those networks are made available. In 2011 and 2012, for example, U.S. mobile video users increased 77 percent to 36 million viewers, according to Business Intelligence.

More mobile devices mean more mobile video consumers, and more mobile video consumption. 4G subscribers in the U.S. are 33 percent more likely to watch a video on their smartphone than the average mobile user, according to Business Insider.

The obvious conventional wisdom therefore should be that increased accessibility to 4G LTE and faster 3G (HSPA+ and other “4G” networks extending GSM)  should mean more mobile video viewing.

Mobile video already accounted for more than 50 percent of global mobile data traffic for the first time in 2011, and by 2017, 66 percent of the world's mobile data traffic will be video, up from 51 percent in 2012, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index.

But those trends will be powerfully affected by the level of service provider tariffs and consumer willingness to shift consumption to Wi-Fi. As with any other product, higher prices will lead to lower usage. And the easiest way for a user to effectively lower the price of mobile video consumption is to shift to Wi-Fi.

By some estimates, as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of mobile traffic could be offloaded to Wi-Fi. It is a fair bet that mobile video consumption will grow, perhaps quite a lot. But whether it grows exponentially might depend on how service providers price the access.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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