BingeOn

Upsetting The Video Apple Cart: T-Mobile USA’s Binge On

November 11, 2015 - Written By David Steele

In some use cases, 2015’s high performance LTE networks are very much overkill for the duties we perform on our devices. Streaming music, online mobile gaming and downloading applications or software updates is not the most taxing of use profiles. However, streaming video does use more network bandwidth and for customers with a capped data allowance, watching YouTube video clips or streaming movies from Netflix over a high performance network connection is an easy way to go through your data allowance. Most video services adapt to suit a combination of the device screen resolution and the network speed. On a fast network with a HD screen, where the service can it will stream video at a high quality HD resolution and mode. Capped data allowances (and battery life) when downloading a lot of data are two of the main reasons why mobile video growth is somewhat stunted. Yes; carriers have dabbled in the technology with a view to using it to encourage customers to buy larger data packs but T-Mobile’s Uncarrier X has the potential to change this. Uncarrier X is all about video in the shape of “Binge On,” which is an optimized video streaming service offered free to many customers and launching on the 15 November. Binge On will allow customers to watch as much mobile video as they want from certain providers as the material is excluded from their data allowance.

Binge On is built over T-Mobile’s proprietary video streaming service. The company has said that “its video optimization technology essentially allows customers to stream three times the amount of data while using the same network resources as before the carrier launched the technology.” The business is expecting a 10% reduction in network payload following the introduction of Binge On. Chief Technical Officer, Neville Ray, explained that T-Mobile’s video optimization technology represents the several years of work, “And much of it is unique to us.” T-Mobile’s system identifies incoming video streams and then optimizes these for video at 480p, described as “DVD-quality.” There are twenty four video streaming services being incorporated into Binge On but Jefferies’ analysts said in a research note that these only cover some 15% of the video streaming bandwidth: Facebook Video and Google YouTube, both excluded from the service, carry more data. T-Mobile’s Binge On will reduce the data payload of a relatively small part of video streaming services. In discussions with video streaming services, T-Mobile discovered that streaming businesses were sending large video streams because they thought this is what the operator wanted, as it could then charge more for a higher data package. Grant Castle, T-Mobile USA’s Vice President of Engineering, explained that video streams contain a lot of waste.

On the subject of Google’s YouTube, T-Mobile have negotiated with Google but one of the difficulties is that YouTube streams using a number of different technologies and T-Mobile’s streaming service needs to be able to ientify the type of streaming service such that it can modify it. YouTube need to work with T-Mobile in order to tag video streams so that the service will recognize them: the ball in is YouTube’s court.

Net neutrality has been a hot topic for a couple of years and the FCC have enacted to ensure that all Internet traffic is treated equally. T-Mobile’s John Legere said: “We fundamentally believe in a free and open Internet” and that Binge On is a “highly net neutrality friendly.” This is because all video providers can use the service and it is free for everybody. Customers can also disable Binge On streaming if they with. Elsewhere around the Internet, some pundits have disagreed with John’s statement, such as Matt Wood from the Free Press, who said this on the subject: “T-Mobile wants to suggest it’s saving customers by exempting video from its data caps. But we have to remember that T-Mobile imposed these caps in the first place. It’s a cheap sales trick: First you fabricate a problem for customers; then you make that problem go away and act like you’ve done them a huge favor. Exemptions for selected streaming-video services prove there’s no legitimate reason to impose data caps. Data is data. There’s nothing about a gigabyte of Netflix content that makes it more or less of a drain on the carrier’s network than a gigabyte of some other data.” John’s rather simplistic approach ignores the wider network issues that any and all carriers face, but he goes on to add: “The real question is why T-Mobile would discriminate in favor of its customers who watch a lot of video, and against those who don’t – especially when we’ve heard excuses so many times about the supposed strain that video puts on networks.”

Finally, Wall Street adds a note of caution on T-Mobile’s announcement. A Wells Fargo analyst, Jennifer Fritzsche, said: “In our view, if customer usage soars, the benefits in terms of customer adds and lower churn could be offset if the network does not live up to expectations.” In other words, if customers use the service and no other carrier does something similar, then T-Mobile’s customer numbers and data use could dramatically swell.

T-Mobile USA’s Binge On move is another Uncarrier move that could prove highly disruptive to the industry. The traditional carrier way of business is to offer customers a video service, but then to charge them for their extra data used in accessing this. T-Mobile’s Binge On turns this on its head. It’ll be interesting to see what the other carriers can produce to compete with this over the next few months.