Should you live stream over mobile networks?
How often does it happen to you? You’re in a Skype, Facetime, or the latest app video call on your mobile and the picture or audio drops in and out. Or the call becomes so distorted you decide to hang up.
There are lots of reasons video calls can fail, or be of poor quality. Many of those reasons will affect a one-way mobile live stream as well. Poor signal in particular can cause havoc with any function that requires a steady connection, but it can be a total disaster if you’re live streaming.
Though mobile networks are much better than ever, they aren’t perfect. In last week’s blog I looked at a recent report from Ofcom that examined the largest mobile network companies in five major UK cities. That same report can shed some light on how live streaming and mobile work together.
Why mobile might be a problem
Even when you have a good strong signal, your live stream can still fail. All the networks that Ofcom analysed had about 3-4% failed download attempts. That means it never even started. There aren’t any specific breakouts of how often an upload failed (just average upload speeds are included), but I imagine there is at least some times when they failed. It happens. And if you can’t get your connection to even begin uploading, you’re not going to be able to do a live stream.
For many things, that might not be a big deal. If you’re just streaming the local sights to your family back home, it won’t be the end of the world if you have to try a few times before it works. But if you’re trying to stream something for your company, or doing some kind of PR work with customers “live” on the spot, then a failed upload means failure for you.
On average, all the mobile networks had upload speeds that would support live streaming. But there isn’t any detail beyond the average. This means the speeds could vary significantly over time (and depending on time of day) so that you may be streaming fine, then hit a spot where you lose quality or drop the stream.
And all of this assumes you have a strong signal. If you’re in a spot with a poor signal, it only gets worse.
Is there any hope?
Mobile network companies spend billions of pounds to improve their networks. Just last year EE pledged £1.5B for improvements and they were the top performing network in all of Ofcom’s tests. But most of the others weren’t too far behind.
So the good news is that in the coming years performance should be better – more bandwidth, faster speeds, more reliability. Until then, live streaming on a mobile network involves some risk. How big and important that risk is depends on what you’re streaming and why.
What to do about it
If you must stream over mobile, always ensure you have a strong signal at the location you’ll be using. It’s important to test it out before hand, especially if it is inside a building or outside of a major urban area (where coverage may be spottier).
Ideally, a good Wi-Fi connection is better than a mobile network connection. But that may not always be the case with public Wi-Fi. Just like mobile networks, public hotspots can be overloaded as well as spotty. Performance is likely to vary by time of day and location as well.
For those important, have-to-be-perfect, live streams you’ll still want to go with a wired Internet connection good enough to support your stream. Always investigate the site first and see if it has everything you need – and that’s always true no matter how you choose to live stream.