Mobile Video

Altnet Rewinds to VoD Downloads

Startup Opanga Networks will get a real-world test of its video-downloading technology soon, with Mexican competitive fixed-line carrier Axtel S.A.B. ready to use it for a new video-on-demand (VoD) service.

Axtel isn't the biggest, or most famous, of carriers (744,000 customers generating quarterly revenues of around US$220 million). But if its VoD offering is successful, it would suggest that downloading -- which, to some, sounds like a step backwards from streaming -- is a pragmatic way to deliver video without hogging a network's scarce bandwidth, whether over a fixed or wireless connection.

Opanga isn't confirming Axtel's plans. But considering the carrier invested in Opanga, you'd assume Axtel is hoping to deploy its software at some point. One source familiar with the schedule says Axtel intends to launch a service possibly this month and definitely before year's end.

Opanga laid low for four years before debuting its mobile product at last month's CTIA Enterprise & Applications event. Its NetRover Mobile software detects available bandwidth on the network and adjusts video downloading speeds accordingly. This way, a download doesn't hog all available bandwidth. (See CTIA 2010: Startup Pitches Mobile Streaming Alternative .)

Axtel would be using a different product: NetRover VoD, which extends the concept to full-length movies, adding necessary functions such as digital rights management (DRM) and billing.

The problem Opanga will likely encounter is that some parties are extremely wedded to the idea of streaming video, says Colin Dixon, an analyst with The Diffusion Group (TDG) .

"Content providers don't want people downloading video," even in the presence of digital rights management (DRM) and other safeguards, Dixon says. "They're much happier with it being streamed."

Part of what makes Opanga interesting is its background. The company's founders are wireless-industry veterans, including former AT&T Wireless CTO Dave Gibbons, who noticed that operators were trying to find ways to exploit the mobile network's unused bandwidth.

"We learned, throughout our careers, that as much as we fight to meet demand at these peak moments, we also have a tremendous amount of excess capacity," he says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:19:06 PM
re: Altnet Rewinds to VoD Downloads

I can see this working for VoD, although I agree with Colin's belief that the studios would rather see streaming get perfected.

Going back to Opanga's NetRover Mobile case, though ... it's like an RSS feed for videos from one site, and while the idea sounds clever, do people really watch that much video off of one site?  I'm thinking of ESPN -- how many little highlight or news vids would you watch on your cellphone at one sitting? (Maybe people would want to load up on 'em, I don't know. Any ESPN or CNN online junkies out there?)

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 4:19:05 PM
re: Altnet Rewinds to VoD Downloads

Download vs. streaming might also depend on the type of content...  Studios might be more amenable to their non-premium assets being downloaded (given DRM, etc).  And for segments of customers that are not subscribers to premium channels, such as ESPN, there might be a customer preference for downloading highlights, or accessing other web-delivered content from networks, such as CNN news highlights and podcasts, etc.

DaveGibbons 12/5/2012 | 4:18:02 PM
re: Altnet Rewinds to VoD Downloads

I thought I could add a couple of quick comments into the mix.  First, streaming will be significantly impacted by data caps that are being imposed by network operators - even if streaming is "perfected" - which is a way off. AT&T now charges between $15 and $35 for every 200MBytes consumed - it does not take long for a streaming video applications to chew through that. This means that the majority of subscribers are going to be more judicious about what videos they stream if they are worried it will exceed their data cap. The "All You Can Eat" buffet is running out and will be replaced with network friendly pre-positioning content solutions that work in compliment to data caps.

Second, regarding Craig's question about "do people really watch that much video off of one site," we have found that yes, they do.  People are already paying for video-based apps, like CNN and local TV stations for example. When someone downloads and pays for a CNN app for example, they are making a decision towards using CNN and their news views will be biased accordingly. And based on feedback from many different people, this can be very attractive for long-tail or niche content, such as subscribing to just the video highlights of favorite baseball players or soccer team.  We feel consumers are willing to pay for what they want and have it delivered to them - especially if the quality is perfect every time without any freezing and if it can be viewed offline.

Finally, we believe streaming will always have Quality of Experience issues because playback quality is not guaranteed due to variable network capacity constraints. There is simply no way around that. Imagine if you are a major content provider and you want to offer a day and date release for a premium movie to a smartphone via streaming, you have absolutely no control over the subscriber's QoE.  The movie will likely wind up buffering and freezing at least several times throughout the course of the movie and this simply is not acceptable to a Hollywood studio.

We expect that as subscribers become increasingly disgruntled with the quality of the video that is available to them, and as they have to "pay to play" they will increasingly turn to more consistent lower cost alternatives, such as apps and services that utilize content pre-positioning techniques.  I actually just posted on this exact topic on our blog at http://opanga.com/home/company/blog/ .

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