Mobile video: A killer app or a network killer?

Phil GoldsteinMobile video is nothing new, but wireless carriers are having to deal with greater volumes and higher quality content than ever before. And all signs indicate video traffic is set to explode in the coming years.

Thus, carriers have to figure out how to optimize the video traffic on the network so it isn't overloaded. They're working on it, but are they doing enough?

There are a variety of techniques to optimize video traffic, and a host of vendors--Vantrix, Ortiva, Openwave, Dilithium and others--are eager to reap the business. But all agree: There is no silver bullet to deal with the issue.

Complicating matters further, the number and kinds of devices that enable rich mobile video experiences are increasing, and so are consumer expectations of them. Additionally, the move toward usage-based pricing, which is being led by AT&T (NYSE:T), is another hitch. The problem, of course, with the collision of rising mobile video traffic, improving devices and usage-based pricing is that if subscribers burn through their data allotment watching choppy video with their new smartphone, they won't be pleased--and might churn.

AT&T seems to understand this. Indeed, a few months before the company unveiled its tiered data plans, Kris Rinne, the company's senior vice president of architecture and planning, called for collaboration among carriers, content providers and application developers to create standards for efficiently delivering mobile video. The problem, though, is the hodge-podge of standards for video-delivery techniques like adaptive streaming.

Check out this special feature on mobile video for details on the interlocking solutions carriers are employing to work through the issue.

The onus will be on carriers to get ahead of this problem. If they don't, they will not be able to effectively monetize the coming rise in mobile video traffic. And that's a movie I'm sure they don't want to see. --Phil