Seeing is believing in the video age

Recent developments in mobile technology have shown the viability of video phones, writes Antony Savvas.

Recent developments in mobile technology have shown the viability of video phones, writes Antony Savvas.

There must be many potential customers of future, faster mobile technologies who question whether it really will be possible to use video on mobile phones.

But the promise of real-time video and video-on-demand services, promised as part of the third generation (3G) mobile revolution, seems to be taking shape.

The speeds promised from 3G are as high as 2megabits per second and it would be fair to ask why anyone would need a link as fast as this just to read e-mails on the move.

Of course, cynics may point out that when general packet radio service (GPRS) was previously marketed, we were promised speeds of about 115kilobits per second (kbps), not the 10-20kbps we are now looking at in the near- to medium-term.

Whatever speed the final 3G service actually delivers, it will offer greater bandwidth than e-mail and Web-browsing alone require and something like video will move in to fill this mobile headroom.

There have been three recent developments in mobile technology that illustrate how businesses could advertise to their customers with video clips on a phone, or hold a videoconference with their employees on a mobile network.

  • Toshiba has just introduced a new type of handset display material which promises to increase standby time on the phone and is able to handle full-colour video transmission.

    The company claims this as a breakthrough that integrates static random access memory (SRam) with the LCD of a mobile phone.

    This could significantly improve the display's performance by cutting the power consumption of the display by half and will extend the overall standby time of the phone by 25%, which is particularly useful when using battery-draining applications like video.

    Toshiba says its technology will soon be embedded in the next generation of mobile phones. No one can really argue with the need to cut power consumption, considering the problems handset manufacturers had in building GPRS phones which were supposed to offer higher speeds than the ones which will now be commercially available.

    Toshiba will initially make the technology available to 2.1in mobile phone screens, and will then extend this to larger formats, which are expected to also cover personal digital assistants (PDA) screens.

    This latter solution is particularly important if the next generation of PDAs are going to be in a position to offer full colour HTML, while being wireless-enabled with 3G capabilities.

    After all, the bigger the device running these applications, the more juice that will be consumed running them.

  • The next development to encourage businesses that there really is a unique marketing and organisational opportunity on the horizon, is a video chip from an Israeli company called GEO Interactive Media Group.

    The viability of its solution has been demonstrated by One2One, which has signed up to use GEO's Emblaze chips to offer its customers a video messaging service before the first 3G networks even appear.

    One2One has held trials with a group of "heavy airtime" subscribers with a view to offering a commercial video messaging solution on both existing GSM and the soon-to-be-rolled-out GPRS networks.

    Subscribers to such a service would be able to send and receive video messages with audio via video-enabled phones or wireless-enabled PDAs.

    The first 3G chips will rely on technology developed by US company Qualcomm, whose CDMA chips will support the US and parts of the Far East, and variants of which will support Europe.

  • What Qualcomm is now doing with video is the third development which illustrates the potential of mobile video. The company says it intends to provide its solutions to the initial 3G Korean market by the end of this year, and on 3G networks in both Japan and the US during 2001.

    It says its chips, which will be available for use in the UK market when 3G appears in 2002, can already offer two-way multimedia applications, including video, at speeds of 307kbps.

    These fledgling services, two years before a commercial 3G launch in the UK, show that video may become a stable and popular medium for companies.

  • Read more on Wireless networking

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