Wi-Fi and IP Video, Like “Peanut Butter and Chocolate”
It’s hard to miss the fact that Wi-Fi and IP Video are two mega-trends that are enjoying a fast ride up the steep side of the technology adoption curve. In fact, you could make an argument they are in fact the two fastest growing technology trends of 2010.
This year alone, hundreds of millions of new Wi-Fi chipsets will ship inside devices, including not only the traditional laptops, but huge numbers of smart-phones, TVs, DVD players, game systems, appliances, automobiles – pick any electronic gizmo, and chances are it has Wi-Fi or soon will. By the year 2012, the number is estimated to grow to 1 billion new Wi-Fi devices per year. The world loves Wi-Fi because it fills the dual needs for connectedness plus mobility, and because it just works.
The growth of IP Video has been equally impressive. Free Internet sites like YouTube and Hulu now constitute a significant amount of time people spend watching video. And paid services like NetFlix and TiVo are offering over-the-top video services to compete with Cable providers. A study by Cisco showed that in the relatively near future 90% of all the traffic over the Internet will be video. The world loves IP Video because it gives users control over what they watch, when they watch it, and where they watch it.
But while these technologies are well discussed separately, one area that gets less discussion is the convergence of these two technologies, that is: IP Video running over Wi-Fi. Does the lack of discussion mean that there are few use cases for combining the two technologies? Well… here are four killer use cases that demonstrate how well they indeed go together:
Killer Use case 1: In the PC world, as already mentioned, consumers are increasingly using IP video on their laptops as a replacement for the TV screen and the old broadcast TV viewing models. A similar trend exists in the Enterprise– but instead of entertainment, workers are watching company broadcasts, educational materials and other specialized content sourced from internal servers. But whether it is a consumer or enterprise user, what is consistent is that users need and expect IP video to their laptop to work just as well over a Wi-Fi connection as it does with a wired connection. They don’t think about how they are connected, just that they are connected – and in a growing percentage of cases that connection is Wi-Fi.
Killer Use case 2: In the Mobile world, streaming video to your phone is clearly a growing trend. Whether it’s YouTube content, or specialized videos that were made specifically for small screens, people have demonstrated a desire to watch video on their mobile device when they are out and about. While some specialized radio technologies for distributing video to mobiles (like MediaFLO and Mobile DTV) have emerged, those require adding a new radio into the phone device. Wi-Fi is already present in virtually every new smart phone, and that’s a trend that can’t be reversed. Wi-Fi has copious RF spectrum and corresponding capacity, and so is an excellent fit for mobile video. (In fact, Wi-Fi is arguably a better fit than 3G for video, at least in indoor environments, allowing 3G to concentrate on covering the outdoor case). And because Wi-Fi is a “local” service, it’s easy to imagine specialized video content at public venues — such as camera angles, replays, and alternate games offered at a sports stadium. Just look at the focus that Apple has put into the iPhone’s ability to stream high quality IP video over Wi-Fi, and you’ll see that the cat is out of the bag. Video over Wi-Fi to mobile phones is a reality.
Killer Use Case 3: In the CE world, it has become clear that other than the rare case, users want to distribute IP throughout the home without having to run wires. Since they saw it was possible with their laptops, they expect that TVs, DVD players, game consoles, etc. will all have the ability to connect via Wi-Fi. And for many of these devices, streaming video is a significant (if not the most significant) use of that internet connection. For ex., many Blu-Ray players (including Playstation 3) now ship with Wi-Fi, and have the ability to stream video content directly from one or more Internet-based services.
Killer Use Case 4: Telepresence to the home (or office). Cisco has announced upcoming releases of Home Telepresence – bringing this revolutionary enterprise technology to the consumer market. These Home Telepresence systems will make use of low-cost high definition cameras and existing HDTV screens. But consumers aren’t going to be willing to run wires from their IP router to the room with their HDTV set. It’s going to have to work over Wi-Fi.
Of course, the fact that these use cases exist doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to be solved. Video and Wi-Fi both suffer from the technical complexity of variable bit rates, and it can be challenging when both connection speed and required bandwidth can vary at the same time. And of course packet loss and jitter which are somewhat inherent to Wi-Fi and the unlicensed band can cause issues with IP Video. But these problems are being solved, both with pre-standard solutions like Cisco VideoStream, and eventually with standards such as 802.11aa.
So, Wi-Fi and IP Video have become two mega-technology trends because they provide real end-user value. When combined, the two technologies enable killer applications that really hit the spot. To put it simply — as someone discovered many years ago in the case of Peanut Butter and Chocolate — they taste great together!