Mobile video is expanding fast, and problems with it are growing even faster. Video accounts for more than half of the world’s mobile data traffic, and that share is increasing. Every day the number of mobile video devices—including smartphones, tablets, and laptops—grows, accelerating the demand for streaming video and real-time video chat and conferencing.
According to a forecast by Cisco Systems, per-month mobile data traffic will surpass 10 exabytes—more than 10 billion gigabytes—by 2016, and mobile video will account for 70 percent of it.
But that growth is creating bottlenecks for wireless networks, problems with downloading, and poor-quality images. To address such challenges, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) in January launched a mobile-video initiative that already has yielded three interrelated standards projects, with more to come.
Besides making communication between different systems and devices possible, the standards provide tools for measuring and enhancing system performance. The three projects approved in January address such varied challenges as improving the quality of real-time mobile video communications, supporting better methods for downloading or streaming video to mobile handsets, and measuring the quality of the 3-D video experience.
“Congestion and other fluctuations in mobile networks make it very difficult to predict or control the quality of real-time video,” says IEEE Member John Ralston, who heads the working group for one of the three mobile-video standards in development. “Video packets are constantly being delayed or dropped altogether, leading to a user experience which can be very good one minute and then very bad the next.”
VIDEO CHAT, CONFERENCING
Ralston’s group is developing IEEE P1907.1, "Standard for Network-Adaptive Quality of Experience (QoE) Management Scheme for Real-Time Mobile Video Communications," for applications such as video chat and conferencing.
“Mobile networks constantly fluctuate in bandwidth, delay, jitter, and packet loss,” he says. In mobile television, those problems are alleviated by buffering—holding up the signal at various stages to let errant data packets catch up with each other before they’re forwarded again. “You can’t do that in video chat,” he explains, “because your eyes and ears recognize even small delays. Data that arrives too late must be ignored. These problems have a huge impact on real-time video services’ quality and, ultimately, their profitability.”
To counter that, IEEE P1907.1 will provide metrics to measure or estimate network fluctuations as they happen, and algorithms to compensate for the corresponding video degradations, Ralston says. Today, he says, “each of the many component networks the video signal passes through typically has its own system for measuring network quality, often independent of the rest. The plan is to pool all these measurements and make them available to every mobile device on the network so they can adapt to the state of the end-to-end network at that instant.”
A second standard, IEEE P2200, “Standard Protocol for Stream Management in Media Client Devices,” will make downloading and streaming of high-quality video more efficient and reliable by defining mechanisms for queuing and caching video content for later delivery and for time-shifting streams to avoid poor network conditions. It aims to improve the user experience and relieve congestion on wireless networks.
“Mobile networks are not optimized for streaming of high-quality content,” says David Koren, who chairs the IEEE P2200 working group. “This usually results in degraded quality of the stream, hiccups, and pauses for buffering. We’re trying to improve perceived quality by prefetching content to a local cache during the network’s idle time or over alternative channels such as Wi-Fi or broadcast networks.”
An average data plan today allows about 3 gigabytes of content per month—less than enough for one high-definition movie. But the movies can be cached via Wi-Fi or other networks. Content that will get viewed repeatedly, such as video clips for kids, can be cached just once rather than streamed repeatedly. For example, if you watch Episodes 1 and 2 of a show, the provider can push future episodes during network idle time. The main thrusts of the standard will be managing cached data while it’s being stored, managing the queue itself, and determining policy about when and under what conditions data can be downloaded.
The third effort, IEEE P3333, “Standard for the Quality Assessment of Three Dimensional (3D) Displays, 3D Contents and 3D Devices based on Human Factors,” covers methods for measuring what aspects of 3-D systems and content can cause viewer discomfort, visual fatigue, motion sickness, and photosensitive brain seizures. It is taking into account not only content and equipment but such viewer variables as age, gender, posture, and viewing distance so as to find ways of reducing risk to users.
STRENGTH IN PARTNERSHIPS
“These projects really play to IEEE’s strengths in bringing together entire ecosystems to solve common problems,” says Edward J. Rashba, IEEE-SA’s director for new business ventures. “These are grassroots efforts where companies and organizations come together and leverage the platform we offer.”
IEEE-SA’s relatively new entity-based platformspeeds development of new standards, allowing organizations and companies to engage in standards development on an equal footing. Services to accelerate the timeline to completion are provided. Formerly, two to four years would have been a reasonable time frame for a standard’s development; now, with product cycles accelerating, it has been reduced to 18 months or less.
Rashba adds that IEEE is bringing in more constituents such as content providers in the IEEE P2200 WG, and international companies are leading the IEEE P3333 standards drive.
“There are few organizations like IEEE that have the ability to address cross-disciplinary tech areas,” Rashba says. “There is more and more convergence where all these disciplines come together.”
Adds Ralston: “There are lots of incredibly smart people out there from companies large and small, spanning the whole mobile industry, who are willing to pool their intelligence and resources to tackle problems that are bigger than any one company or product.”
IEEE P1907.1, for example, pulls together handset makers, network-infrastructure providers, developers of mobile apps that support video chat and conferencing, and network operators.
“When engineers from such a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines collaborate,” Rashba says, “you find IEEE is the ideal home for such a standards effort, unique in its breadth of membership and ability to support that kind of system-focused standards making.”
This article has been edited since being published.