AT&T to follow T-Mobile, enabling users to downgrade mobile video


AT&T will take a page from T-Mobile’s playbook – well, kind of – by enabling customers to minimize their data usage by viewing mobile video in 480p.

The carrier announced Stream Saver, which will stream most higher-definition video at standard quality for viewing on phones or tablets. The free service will go live early next year, and customers can turn it on and off at will.

“We know our customers love to be entertained while mobile, and Stream Saver lets them enjoy more of what they love, whether it’s video or something else,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T Entertainment Group, in a press release. “And they are in control – it’s their choice on how to use this innovative feature.”

AT&T said it will inform customers when Stream Saver is available and will offer instructions regarding how to turn it on and off.

The offering is somewhat akin to T-Mobile’s Binge On service, which allows customers to view video from specific content providers without taking any toll on their monthly data allotments. Rather than zero-rating the content, though, AT&T’s upcoming service allows users to reduce their data consumption rather than negate it.

AT&T said the service will be available on its most popular data plans, including its prepaid GoPhone service. Unlike some other offerings that deliver “optimized” video for mobile viewing, AT&T won’t require that customers be on more expensive plans to access full-resolution video.

The service highlights the growing trend among carriers to downgrade the quality of video for mobile consumption as they hope to ease traffic on their networks. That strategy obviously risks angering customers, but Binge On has been a hit with T-Mobile: CTO Neville Ray said recently that less than 1 percent of customers have turned off Binge On since the service launched last year, while the offering has reduced the overall volume of data on T-Mobile’s network by 13 to 15 percent.

Binge On has drawn flak from critics who say it violates net neutrality principles, however, because it favors some content providers over others. Similarly, AT&T said Stream Saver can’t detect and optimize all video because of the way some content owners deliver their streams to the operator. The FCC said this week it has “serious concerns” over AT&T’s strategy to zero-rate content from its upcoming DirecTV service for its wireless customers, and Stream Saver may come under scrutiny as well.