Blog News, tips & advice from the UK's streaming experts

Why mobile video can be so hard

mobile video delivery challengesMy son loves movies. He’ll stream videos or movies using my hotspot while we’re driving around to his activities. I often hear a low growl emitted from the back seat while he’s watching. When I ask him what’s wrong, he usually replies that the video isn’t working. But then it will start working again, or it sputters and stops off and on.

The only thing I can say to him about it is, “We must not have enough signal strength. We’re in a bad spot.” It turns out that is only partially true.

Signal strength is only one of the many variables involved in delivering video content to mobile devices. A new white paper written by Frost and Sullivan is  called “A Billion Reasons for Inconsistent Mobile Performance and How to Solve For Them.” It details the many issues that occur with mobile video that don’t matter (or have already been addressed) in desktops or laptops.

The impact of these issues means that mobile content loads much slower than it will for desktop systems. On average, a mobile commerce site or app takes 8 seconds to load. That’s compared to just 2 seconds for a website on a desktop. That may not seem like much but it is when it comes to user friendliness and their ever shortening attention span it can be a problem.

Challenges solved for Internet

Anytime you have a large, distributed network there will be issues in how to get information from one point to another efficiently. As the Internet grew, those challenges were encountered and for the most part solved by the use of content delivery networks (CDNs). These points on the network allow content to be delivered to the end user (someone at their PC) by using the closest available source. This mitigates latencies introduced by the long circuitous journey content normally takes when it’s point of origin is far from the end user.

Then there are other optimisations that are used to accelerate the web experience such as caching. For the most part, an application or website owner can ensure their server is as optimised as possible and that will also help the end user. There are also other technologies web developers employ to reduce load times and create a better user experience.

Why mobile is different

According to the white paper, the solutions for optimising a typical website or desktop experience won’t work for mobile. It has a detailed explanation of the issues, but it all boils down to “the last mile.”

The phrase “the last mile” refers to the final leg of the journey content needs to take to get to a mobile device. That is usually from a cellular network tower to an individual device. Many people, myself included, assume that signal strength is a measure of the quality of the connection. And in one sense that is true. But there is much more complicated physics involved too.

The paper discusses how you can have a good signal, and still not be able to load your app or video. This is called volatility. And it originates from the laws of physics so it can’t be eliminated. But it can be compensated for according to the paper. You just need a different set of tools and algorithms than have been developed for the PC.

To make things more complicated, there are other uncertainties in the last mile as well, not just volatility. Thankfully the white paper also discusses one solution to all the issues. It’s a service provided by Twin Prime. It is designed to account for these uniquely mobile issues and to use your current CDN. If you’ve been struggling to provide a great mobile experience for your customers or audience, you might want take a look at the white paper and see if that solution might work for you. It’s good to know though, that our PlanetStream CDN will work with their solution.

Oliver Burt

Sign Up For Free Account