Trend watch 2010: Mobile movies

Streaming movies will become more common to mobile devices as more people switch to smartphones. Can wireless networks keep up with the demand?

Dave Rosenberg Co-founder, MuleSource
Dave Rosenberg has more than 15 years of technology and marketing experience that spans from Bell Labs to startup IPOs to open-source and cloud software companies. He is CEO and founder of Nodeable, co-founder of MuleSoft, and managing director for Hardy Way. He is an adviser to DataStax, IT Database, and Puppet Labs.
Dave Rosenberg
2 min read

As we move toward 2010, there is little question that mobile devices and smartphones will continue to have a huge impact on the market. Research firm Nielsen predicts that smartphones will dominate market share by the end of 2011, with the iPhone and Android-based phones taking the lead spots by a wide margin over traditional cell phones.

As devices mature, Wi-Fi connections become more ubiquitous, and 3G networks become more reliable, consumers will start looking for new ways to use their smartphones as replacements for other larger devices, such as PCs and TVs. One area that has been called out for growth is mobile video and TV, as well as streaming movies directly to a mobile device.

MSpot CEO and co-founder Daren Tsui made the case to me recently that full-length streaming movies will be important to consumers in 2010 because people want entertainment on the go and on demand. Research suggests that the adoption curve will be lead by young males 18- to 24-years-old and parents with young children looking to keep kids distracted.

Not surprisingly, mobile carriers are very supportive of mobile movies. According to Tsui, MSpot has been powering mobile movies on the Sprint wireless network for three years and is currently working with other carriers to bring the service to their user base. Realistically, carriers will always be happy about services they can offer and charge for, but the real question is if they could handle an influx of users sucking down huge amounts of bandwidth.

The obvious obstacle to be overcome is the strength of the data network. Streaming full-length movies to a phone is data-intensive, and therefore relies heavily on a strong, consistently reliable network. Assuming WiFi is available, this is a non-issue, but, as an example, AT&T's 3G network has struggled with the data usage of iPhone users and you can just imagine what will happen when millions of people start streaming movies.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that my wife and I bring an iPod Touch out with us to entertain my 2.5-year-old with various games and movies. Pocket-size mobile devices, iPod or otherwise, can be great learning tools as well as distractions when things are going sideways or when you just want to go to a restaurant and not chase a kid around. That said, my iPhone/AT&T network experience has been so spotty that I would likely opt to keep the content local, though in an ideal world new content could be downloaded in the background.

Assuming bandwidth is not an issue there are many possibilities for mobile content to take the place of traditional PCs or print media but in the near term mobile content will be only as good as its data connection.