iPhone vs iPlayer : 3G capacity planning

by @edent | #

The Internet is abuzz with the on-going spat between the BBC and the UK ISP industry.

In short, the iPlayer is now responsible for 5% of all data traffic in the UK. That figure is growing.

The problem is that the ISPs have been selling "unlimited" internet connectivity when their capacity is severly limited.

The ISPs are trying to make up for their lack of investment in their systems by getting the BBC to pay to upgrade the ISP's networks. That's not going to happen, nor should it.

So, what does this have to do with the iPhone and mobile networks?

Well, simply put, mobile networks are next in the battle for bandwidth.

Currently the BBC iPlayer works on the iPhone via WiFi - EDGE just isn't fast enough. But once a 3G or HSDPA iPhone appears, the iPlayer will work over the network's infrastructure.

iPlayer streams weigh in at about 250MB per hour. Watch one half hour programme a day and you're close to 4GB per month. That's either a heafty bill for you or for your network provider.

Now, so far, this is just an issue for O2 and the other iPhone carriers, right?

Wrong! Wrong on two counts.

Firstly there are a huge number of unlocked iPhones. They're running on every network from here to Beijing. Unlocked 3G iPhone users are going to want to use their phones to access services like iPlayer - they are going to be very data hungry.

Secondly, more and more mobile devices will be able to access bandwidth intense streaming video. The Nokia N95 already has a Flash player built in which can access full YouTube videos. Firefox Mobile has Flash built in. Future devices will have high quality Flash or h264 players as standard. The BBC could release an RTSP service - that would give them access to virtually every 3G customer.

Mobile network providers need to make sure they're ready to handle the demand that their users are going to place on the system.

If they don't, we're going to end up with a busy tone on the mobile Internet - and that will just drive customers away.

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