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Android, Meet iPhone: Mobile Video Becomes Platform-Independent

New approaches will let smart-phone users send video and video chat with any other smart-phone user, regardless of the network or platform



COURTESY OF BORKO ĆIRIĆ, VIA ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Thanks to Skype, Apple FaceTime and at least a half dozen other mobile video apps, the old-fashioned phone call is becoming passé. Why just speak to someone when you can engage them in video chat or use your handset to transmit what is happening around you in real time? The problem, though, is that owners of the handsets must share the same software to communicate: Both users need to have Skype client software, say, or an iPhone 4 with FaceTime.

This compatibility hurdle, however, is about  to fall, thanks to the introduction of new services that enable cross-platform mobile video. Skype recently announced a new service that lets users of certain Android phones make free video calls to Skype contacts, including those on Apple iPhones.

The expansion of Skype mobile video calls (currently for owners of the HTC Desire S, Sony Ericsson Xperia neo and pro, and the Google Nexus S) is also likely to be a boon for Microsoft, which announced in May plans to buy the Internet calling company for $8.5 billion. Microsoft is also trying to promote its Windows Phone smart-phone platform, which it is merging with Nokia's in an effort to compete with Android and Apple operating systems.

Mobile video will account for 66 percent of mobile data traffic by 2015 (up from 50 percent this year), according to network technology–maker Cisco, and wireless carriers are looking to tap into the demand. One option may be to work with service providers such as Tampa–based Syniverse, which is developing software to enable mobile video calling on 3G and 4G networks owned by the likes of AT&T, Sprint and Verizon without the need for specialized software running on the handset.

Syniverse offers a mobile video broadcast service designed to work regardless of a phone's operating system or software. The phone sending the video must run a Syniverse app, but the phone receiving the video does not need any special software. When the sender of the video opens the Syniverse app, it creates a Web link that is automatically transmitted to mobile numbers and e-mail addresses that the sender has previously designated. The receiver clicks on the link and is directed to a Web site where the live, streaming video feed is available. The service has been available since late last year in South Korea and is likewise available to North American wireless carriers, although none are offering it yet.

Korea Telecom (KT), South Korea's second-largest wireless carrier, is working with Syniverse to offer its subscribers with Google Android phones a service for capturing and sharing a live stream the way one would normally send a text message. KT made the decision to offer an Android app first because of the demand for mobile phones using Google's operating system—support for other platforms, such as the iPhone, will likely be added. KT subscribers can share user-generated (or peer-to-peer) video broadcasts with anyone who has a data-enabled mobile device or an e-mail address. Whereas YouTube videos can also be shared via a hyperlink, those videos are not live. Syniverse says it can perform on-the-fly dynamic transcoding to adapt screen resolution for each stream, optimizing performance for any network.

Syniverse chose South Korea because the country has an advanced wireless communications market and ranks as the world's leading country in terms of making high-speed broadband access available to its 50 million citizens. "We wanted to clear a very high hurdle first with that offer," says Charles Landry, Syniverse's senior vice president of global messaging.

Syniverse hopes that its mobile video broadcast service, which would be re-branded by AT&T, Verizon or any other carrier that wanted to offer it, will drive demand for the new 4G networks these companies are building. Syniverse also wants its service to open the door for the new video calling services. In this scenario, Syniverse would provide interoperability among mobile phones similar to the way it already does for broadcast video, SMS and MMS (short and multimedia message services).

Verizon's 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network is available in 74 markets throughout the U.S., with plans to expand to more than 145 markets by the end of the year. AT&T claims to offer a version of 4G known as HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access), which is four times faster than its 3G network, with even faster 4G LTE coverage to follow later this year.

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