T-Mobile patent points to efforts to improve video call quality

A patent filing from T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) shows that the nation's third-largest wireless carrier is working to make video calls over its network more efficient. Such an effort by the carrier is not surprising considering video chews up dramatically more bandwidth than most other types of communication.

T-Mobile's patent, initially filed in 2012 and recently made available, outlines "techniques to optimize video-call communications." The carrier also said in the filing that "the link quality capability of a wireless video-call session and the requirements of the video-call session are determined [in the patent]. The link quality capability determination is based at least on measurements through the entire communications chain, including user, client device, operating system, application, air interface, cell sector and backhaul parameters."

In the filing, the carrier said that most existing video-calling technologies use software to throttle data throughput for video-calls, which T-Mobile said "makes extensive use of processor resources and battery power."

"Accordingly, there is an opportunity to optimize video calls by adapting data transmission rates without processor intensive in-software transformations, and thereby preserving processor cycles and battery lifetime," the carrier said, in explaining the reasons behind its patent. "Furthermore, the efficacy of present video-call adaptation techniques is based on measuring link quality capability for a call. However present video-call adaptation techniques are optimized for wired communications, rather than wireless communications. Accordingly, present video-call adaptation techniques do not take into account link quality fluctuations caused by interruptions in the wireless communications stack, resulting in sub-optimal adaption."

It's unclear whether T-Mobile's patent resulted in technology that the carrier is actively using. A representative for the carrier said only that "we're always looking at new technologies that could help our customers," and declined to provide further information. Moreover, wireless carriers -- and technology companies in general -- routinely file a wide range of patents on technologies that never see the light of day. Thus, patent filings like T-Mobile's "techniques to optimize video-call communications" offer only a glimpse into the work conducted by technology companies and are not necessarily an indication of actual products or strategy.

Nonetheless, T-Mobile's efforts to improve video calling on its network come as little surprise. Although it's unclear how much traffic American mobile phone users actually generate through video calls, video transmissions in general -- including watching Internet videos -- comprise a significant and growing percentage of data traffic. For instance, Cisco in its latest research said consumer Internet video traffic globally will account for 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2019, up from 64 percent in 2014.

In the wireless industry, a range of companies currently offer video calling services. Apple's FaceTime service is perhaps the best-known video calling offering, but there are similar services from other third-party vendors. AT&T, then called Cingular, was the first carrier to offer video calling services in 2007. More recently, Verizon late last year said its new Voice over LTE technology would support a range of services including video calling.

For more:
- see this T-Mobile patent filing

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