I was stopped by someone between sessions at a recent conference, with a simple question: Would Verizon's new VCAST video-on-a-cellphone service ever appeal to anyone over 30? VCAST is small-screen full-motion video clips. It appeals to those with short attention spans and excellent eyesight and works on only a few handsets today. There's not much content currently available. The marketing is firmly Gen-Y. And it costs 15 bucks a month.
The answer to the above question, though, is a flat-out "yes." Eventually, there will be lots of content, and I expect many of us will use the built-in video camera on future (and even some current) handsets to record and send our own video clips as well. Video is the most important communications technology ever developed. Half the neurons in the human brain are devoted to visual information processing, so taking advantage of them is natural at worst.
Big bandwidth question
A bigger question, though, is where all the bandwidth required to offer services like anytime/anywhere video is going to come from. Getting more of it, and improving the spectral efficiency of radio applied to it, is the key. We might argue here that the cellular operators still need to get their acts together with respect to simple voice, let alone data. Dropped calls and no service are no longer even mildly amusing, and legislation regarding these points is a likely next step. Add in all that video competing for scarce radio bandwidth, and, well, we have an even bigger problem. Full-motion means just that, not jerkiness and pauses while the network sorts itself out.
If you've not yet looked at HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), now's the time. Cingular plans to deploy it. As is the case with wire, wireless WANs are slowly but surely moving to an all-IP, multimedia, broadband infrastructure. HSDPA, part of the UMTS/W-CDMA branch of 3G, is specified to peak at 14.4 Mbits/s. Of course, most of us will see a lot less than that, but the lowest peak throughput in the standard is still a hefty 0.9 Mbit/s. Spectral efficiency is only slightly improved over that of the next revision of 1xEV-DO (14.4 Mbits/s in a 5-MHz channel, vs. 3.1 Mbits/s in 1.25 MHz), so no big leap in technology is required to get to that 14.4 Mbits/s. There's also an HSUPA (uplink) in the works, so sending all that video you shot will be less painful as well.
And the implications for all this are staggering. One of the hottest topics in wireless today is fixed/mobile convergence (FMC). Most people employ this term to describe the eventual integration of both worlds into one, with a fixed infrastructure supporting fundamentally mobile end users. But there's a big leap beyond this, to a time when there just won't be fixed networks for a lot of us.
Just as many are abandoning land lines and moving entirely to a cellular-based lifestyle, lots of folks might in the future give up cable modems and xDSL for take-it-with-you-everywhere wireless broadband. Add MIMO to HSDPA, and we have the capacity, just maybe, to bring anytime/everywhere video, and a lot more, to everyone-even if you're over 30 and need glasses to see the screen.
Craig Mathias (email@example.com), principal at analyst firm Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.)