Suggested Topics

Please Tweet with any suggested topics for future blogs.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

4G Applications and Services Update

In this paper, we are going to describe the current environment for 4G applications and services.  These would be defined as services and applications that drive 4G adoption and usage.  Primarily we will focus on services for tablets and mobile handsets. 

With 4G services typically ranging at 3Mbps or higher, most of your typical home or office connectivity needs can be met with a USB styled device or internal wireless card.  As long as you are not concerned with the download limitations of your service provider, you can download and upgrade software programs for your laptop on the go and purchase downloadable movies and music just like you would on your home wired service (cable, fiber, or DSL).  Our point of comparison is our 12Mbps/2Mbps cable modem service typically runs between 3-4Mbps in the evening when the network is loaded.  The only reason to queue traffic to be done on your home (wired) network would be due to usage (tonnage) concerns.

Primarily the services and applications that demand and utilize mobile 4G speeds, fit into 4 categories:
  1.         Video Conferencing
  2.         Live Content – Cloud Streaming
  3.         Live Content – Relayed Streaming
  4.         Queued Content – Cloud Streaming

Before we examine each of the services, we need to examine the speeds necessary for these 4G services to operate with an acceptable consumer quality.  All of the streaming video applications that we have tested, peak at about 2Mbps for maximum quality either on an iPad, mobile handset, or PC.  On our 802.11n WiFi network (capable of more than 100Mbps), the video streams are limited within the applications to not exceed 2Mbps.  Since the required speeds for these applications is well within each of the 4G network’s capabilities (HSPA+, LTE(FDD), and WiMax), we believe that too much focus is being diverted to the peak speeds that a network delivers, rather than whether that network will allow the user to use the 4G applications to truly unwire the internet experience.  To recall, cellular voice service adoption increased once carriers included large enough buckets of minutes so the user could take their eyes off the minute meter and truly unwire their voice usage.  The same will be necessary on mobile 4G data.  None of these services are going to unwire if we can only use them 4 or 5 times a month before we start bumping against a usage cap  requiring either the purchase of additional bandwidth (Verizon Wireless or AT&T), or being throttled (artificially limited) to EDGE speeds (300kbps) if the user is a T-Mobile customer beyond their 2G monthly limit.  Either unlimited or much higher usage limitations must be in place before consumers will begin to use their mobile 4G services for the entertainment and business services we discuss below.

Speed Tests:
All of the demonstrations that are presented in this article took place at an office location .4 miles from the tower which supports both Clearwire/Sprint’s WiMax network and Verizon’s LTE network.  This test location would be considered a strong RF environment for both networks.  To characterize how each of the 4G networks is operating, we performed a speed test on each of the devices and the 4G network it was operating on.

In this demonstration, the Evo on Sprint’s downloaded at 8.33Mbps and uploaded at .98Mbps.  The Thunderbolt on Verizon’s network downloaded at 7.74Mbps and uploaded at 31.53Mbps. The PC on Clear’s network downloaded at 9.39Mbps and uploaded at .79Mbps.  The Clearwire and Sprint WiMax network is capable of upload speeds greater than 1Mbps, but each carrier limits the upload bandwidth at 1Mbps.

iPad connected to Clear via a ClearSpot 4G: 

Examination of 4G Services and Applications:
To examine each of these services, we will first discuss the framework of how the service is delivered and then provide a link to a video demonstration of the application running on one or more 4G networks.  We consider the Sprint and Clear WiMax networks to be two different 4G networks.  Although both networks utilize the same cell site base stations and backhaul network, each company has different customer offerings that may affect the actual user performance.  In fact, running a simple trace route command indicates that Sprint and Clear each take their market traffic to the internet over different pipes, so their system results will be different. 

Video Conferencing:
Video conferencing to portable devices is still in its stages of development.  One of the reasons for slow adoption is the lack of tie-in with existing video conferencing providers, namely Skype.  Skype is used extensively as a PC video conferencing application with the 45 and under crowd, especially amongst high school and college students.  When the Sprint Evo 4G was first released, we attempted for over 8 hours to get it to work with a Skype PC users contacts list.  A Skype app was not available for Android yet, so we used the fring application which allows you to connect to Skype users, without success.  Skype is developing a video conferencing app for Verizon, but the version for all other carriers will not include the video conferencing capability.  Video conferencing connections were supported by the Evo but it was with the on board Qik application and could only connect to another Evo with the Qik application.  In the meantime oovoo has released an application for android that enables portable devices to connect to their existing PC user base.  In our demonstration we created a three-way video conference between an Evo, Thunderbolt, and PC.  As you can see from the video, there are compatibility issues with the Thunderbolt which prevented the front facing camera from being used for the video conference.

Demonstration of oovoo video conferencing:   

As the video demonstrates, handset and PC video conferencing is absolutely available today on 4G networks with oovoo.  The shortfall with the oovoo application is its lack of reach into the living room so a consumer could connect from their living room TV, their PC, or their handset with the same application and login.  The living room environment is developing slowly, with Logitech providing video conferencing to GoogleTV set top boxes and with Skype building their application into a very limited number of web enabled televisions.  Microsoft is rumored, even prior to its Skype purchase offer, to be developing video conferencing solutions through the Xbox360 platform.  With all of these options the key component to success will be an application layer across the living room, personal computer, and handset devices that provides a singular login and seamless ability to determine if your contacts are available and can be easily connected to a video conference.

Live Content – Cloud Streaming:

Since a majority of the current 4G applications and services involve video streaming, we have broken down the categories by the type of content and the source of the streaming video.  The sources of video streaming are cloud, relayed, and home media sourced.  The types of content will include live and queued content.  The primary limitation in streaming live content from the Cloud is the required match between the consumer device application and the available cloud video content.  Here is an example: NCAA March Madness content was accessible using iPhone/iPad directly from the internet with an application from the Apple App Store.  Direct streaming of this content was not available to any Android, WebOs, Windows Phone, or Blackberry devices.

Demonstration of NCAA March Madness on an iPad on Clear:

Demonstration of NCAA March Madness on an iPad on Sprint 3G:

A similar application is MLB at Bat 2011.  Rather than providing statistics and live video feeds just for a tournament, this application provides statistics and live video feeds for each game of the entire Major League Baseball season.  In addition, this application has both iPhone/iPad applications as well as Android, and web based streaming capabilities.

Demonstration of MLB at Bat – 2011 on a Sprint Evo 4G:

Demonstration of MLB at Bat – 2011 on an iPad on Clear:

The final live video streaming application is Ivy TV.  Ivy TV is a Windows PC application that provided access to all of the broadcast television channels in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle.  The video was accessed using a television guide similar to your cable or satellite provider’s guide.  The user can pause programming and there are plans in the works to provide recording capability and an application for handsets.  Ivy TV is currently reduced to a few educational channels because of a lawsuit over their rebroadcasting rights, but we are highlighting the service here because it demonstrates what the available technologies can accomplish; unfortunately, in this case the technology is limited by the media rights.

Demonstration of Ivy TV:

The last applications in this group are live streams that play in a Flash player.  These could be sports games, news clips, and video games.  Android and WebOs browsers support videos and games that play in flash.   Blackberry, iOS, and Windows Phone browsers still lack Flash support.

Live Content – Relayed Streaming:

Relayed Streaming applications typically require that the video content is delivered to the consumer at their home and then the content is rebroadcast to mobile devices.  This methodology resolves the media licensing issues, but it puts additional delay into the system and limits the streaming speeds to the uplink speed that the customer has from their home.  In this category, we are including Play-on TV, Slingbox, and TV Everywhere.  Play-on TV is a monthly service that provides access to Netflix, MLB, NHL, NFL, Hulu, ESPN3 and many other free and subscription channels.   Play-on TV has device applications for Android and iPhone/iPad devices.  Slingbox and TV Everywhere are both applications that are based on the Slingbox technology.  Slingbox enables the consumer to control their cable or satellite set-top box and stream the output of the set top box, either live video or a DVR (digital video recorder) video, out to the internet for remote viewing.   TV Everywhere is a Dish Network product that uses the Slingbox technology, integrated with their satellite receivers.   The primary difference between the two applications of the Slingbox technology is that the Slingbox technology requires mimicking remote control keystrokes to control the DVR from a remote location, while TV Anywhere product provides direct control across the internet.  Play-on TV is supported on Android and iPhone/iPad devices.  TV Everywhere is supported on Android and iPhone/iPad devices and is beta for Blackberry devices while Slingplayer is supported on Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, and Windows Phone.

Play-On TV Host Setup:

Demonstration of Play-on TV NCAAA March Madness on an iPad:

Demonstration of Play-on TV ESPN3 on an iPad:

Demonstration of Play-on TV Netflix and NCAA March Madness on a Sprint Evo 4G (Android):

Demonstration of Play-on TV ESPN3 on a Sprint Evo 4G (Android):

Demonstration of Slingbox with an iPad on Clear:

Demonstration of TV Everywhere with an iPad on Clear:

Comparison of Slingbox on a Sprint Evo 4G with TV Everywhere on a Verizon Thunderbolt 4GLTE:

Queued Content – Cloud Streaming:

This category of video streaming provides stored video content to be streamed from a cloud location.  The stored video content can be previously recorded sporting events, movies, and TV shows.  The most well-known providers of this content are Netflix and Hulu.  Netflix has an application for the iPhone/iPad, Window Phones, and an application for the HTC Android phones was released last week.  Prior to the Android app release, you could play Netflix content on an Android device using the Play-on TV application.  Hulu only has an application for the iPhone/iPad at this time.

Comparison of Netflix on an iPad on Clear and an Evo 4G on Sprint utilizing Play-on TV:

As you can see in the demonstration, cloud streaming presents a much better user experience by delivering the desired movie to the screen much quicker and with fewer user interventions (screen touches).

Demonstration of Netflix on an iPad on Clear:


In the attached report, we explored two areas that will drive 4G adoption; applications and the service requirements.  We concluded that too much focus is being spent determining which network is the fastest, since all of the current video conferencing and video streaming applications run at 2Mbps or less for maximum quality.  The key differentiator for 4G adoption is having enough bandwidth (tonnage) to run the 4G applications and services that users desire for an entire month without needing to count the bits or change the desired usage behavior.  Next, we provided demonstrations of the key applications and their delivery methods.  We demonstrated video conferencing applications utilizing 4G networks, services providing live video from the cloud to mobile devices, services providing live video relayed through a home setting to mobile devices, and services providing queued video from both the cloud and relayed through a home setting.  From these demonstrations, we concluded that delivering services directly from the cloud provided the best performance, but it required that specific applications (Netflix) be written for hardware platforms (Android).  There are a few applications, Play-on TV, Slingbox, and TV Everywhere, that resolve the media license rights by delivering the legal content to your home, then relaying it out to their mobile applications.  This is a good interim solution, but it increases the delay and increases the complexity, and subjects the service quality to the typically uplink-limited capacity at the user’s home.