Bandwidth needed to widen Road to Damascus

By Marcus Bicknell | February 15, 2008 | 10:31 UK


Marcus Bicknell sees the iPhone through young eyes and an end to the 3G debate

On a recent trip to Washington I experienced one of those Road to Damascus moments that define a career in media. I was invited to dinner with Stephanie and her son James, 10 years old, a way up the autistic spectrum, whom I adore even more for that. My nephew Titus, big wheel in NBC Universal, drew his brand new iPhone from his pocket as a rustler draws a Smith & Wesson, to assert his status. In a flash, James had picked Titus’s pocket, at least stolen his thunder. James was going to show us how it works, even though he had never touched one before. James said “I want to show you something on YouTube”. His little fingers danced over the touch screen, changing it first to landscape then to portrait to see the picture move as if with gravity, selecting his route to the web, then to the site, then to the video, in real time. We three adults were counting… eight, nine, 10! “Look!”

It took a kid 10 seconds to access a video clip on the iPhone. First time. Some credit goes to James, but even more goes to Apple. What a brilliant device. What humans have created a machine which is so intuitive that the instruction manual is superfluous, from which an uninitiated can derive such satisfaction in such a short time?

The moment was important for me because it ends the 3G video debate.

On the one hand, there is not sufficient bandwidth on 3G cellular networks to give definition to a hand-held picture that gives in-depth user satisfaction. And I always get the feeling that operators succeed in concealing the fact that cell network technology just breaks down when there are 10,000 people on one cell concurrently, or whatever the figure is. The network is the problem.

On the other hand, the mobile video by satellite rollout in Japan and Korea has been somewhat lacklustre, I think, because the screen is a bit small to give consumer satisfaction. The device is the problem.

Apple’s iPhone proves that the device is no longer the problem. Great screen. Great functions. Easy-to-use. All we need is broadcast bandwidth, ie a big fat stream of data (for real-time viewing, storing, buffering, podding or side-loading) to drive the device without falling over when it gets popular. And that, my friends, is called “satellite”. We can see coming, within a couple of years, video to mobile by satellite, with terrestrial repeaters to provide continuous service in and out of the urban jungle and tunnels on the motorways, driving iPhone-like devices.

Did it take a 10-year old to convince me? No, but it took a 10-year old to prove it.

Marcus Bicknell is a director of consultancy New Media Foundry Ltd., a non executive board director of SES in Luxembourg and partner in RainWater

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