You can watch streaming video on cellys in Japan, and it isn’t often that tech providers flip back the cover to show how it works. In October, NTT DoCoMo launched their V-Live service on 3G, powered by Fujitsu and US-based NMS Communications. We show the details behind the magic, then drop in on Gartner Japan to get the skinny on the business of mobile streaming. The provision of live or archived video and audio streams to mobile phones using the third-generation IMT-2000 network standard has yet to gain wide usage. Nonetheless, in October, NTT DoCoMo, Inc. strengthened its multimedia content offerings by expanding services provided under its “M-Stage” brand name. It’s still early days, but this stuff really works!
Comments from Wireless Watch Japan Editor-in-Chief Daniel Scuka:
M-Stage services comprise “M-Stage Visual” (MPEG-4 video clip download), “M-Stage Music” (MPEG-2 audio file download or stream), “M-Stage V-Live” (one-to-many video stream), “M-Stage Visual Net” (platform for FOMA-based videoconferencing), and “M-Stage Book” (download digitized books and articles to PDAs and personal computers).
Certain M-Stage multimedia services can be accessed via third-generation FOMA terminals, some may be accessed using a PHS terminal, and some may be accessed by both types of terminal.
Some industry watchers have indicated skepticism that such services can generate any profits considering the small number of subscribers. While no firm M-Stage usage numbers have been released by NTT DoCoMo, the carrier had 142,400 FOMA users and 1,805,000 PHS users as of October 31, 2002, according to the Telecommunications Carriers Association.
However, industry analysts believe that provision of multimedia content to mobile terminals will be important in the future. “In five years, [carriers] will need to have more value-added services,” says Gartner Japan senior telecoms analyst Akiyoshi Ishiwata. He believes that “TV phones” will be an important component of such value-added services.
“In five years,” says Gartner’s Ishiwata, “[carriers] will need to have more value-added services,” and he believes that “TV phones” are going to be key.
In support of carriers’ efforts to deploy multimedia, electronics vendors are actively developing hardware and software to manage and serve video content and services.
In August, Fujitsu Ltd. and Framingham, MA, USA-based NMS Communications announced that they had cooperated to create the GeoServe SDS wireless video gateway system for distributing multimedia content from the Internet to handsets supporting 3G. The system was deployed in October by NTT DoCoMo to power M-Stage V-Live, and comprises NMS Communications’ Convergence Generation media streaming platform combined with Fujitsu’s Primepower server. Both companies developed application software.
In addition, Fujitsu used its own streaming distribution software that ties in with the gateway system. The software distributes live or archived media over the network and provides large-scale, stable streaming capability, and excellent real-time performance, according to the companies’ press statement.
Senior managers from both companies and Gartner’s Ishiwata agree that this technology will see first usage in the area of surveillance, home and corporate security, weather reporting/monitoring, real-time monitoring, and vertical applications – like checking snow conditions at a ski resort before departing for the weekend.
And well the technology appears to work well, there are more barriers than simple lack of uptake. Gartner’s Ishiwata points out that quality of service is still an issue on bearer networks, and that digital rights management for archived video and audio has yet to be resolved.
Until this happens, there may be insufficient content available to compel new subscribers to adopt the services. “Broadcasters are worried about DRM,” he says, adding, “they still focus on traditional broadcasting. Mobile is still new.”