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The State of Mobile Video 2017
Mobile video traffic keeps rising at a rapid rate, leaving operators struggling to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the U.K. is falling behind on broadband connectivity.

When the president and CEO of cable giant Liberty Global declares mobile to be “strategically critical,” as Mike Fries did in November, then you know the pendulum has tipped decisively. Many would argue that the writing had been on the wall for years.

The seventh edition of Ericsson ConsumerLab’s annual “TV & Media” report underscored the enormous and rapid shift in TV and video viewing behavior toward mobility. According to the report, mobile video traffic is forecast to grow by around 50 percent annually through 2022 to account for nearly 75 percent of all mobile data traffic.

People are watching more content than ever before, but the proportion of viewing on fixed screens and viewing on mobile and portable screens is moving toward an equal split.

Ericsson said that the ratio between viewing on fixed screens (such as TVs and desktops) and mobile screens closed to 60:40 this year—compared with almost 70:30 in 2010.

The average viewing time on mobile devices has grown by more than 200 hours a year since 2012, driving overall TV and video viewing up by an additional 1.5 hours a week. The surge in mobile viewing is offset by a decline in fixed screen viewing of 2.5 hours a week, though the overall appetite for TV and video is not waning.

The weekly share of time spent watching TV and video on mobile devices grew by 85 percent from 2010 to 2016, while on fixed screens it has gone down by 14 percent over the same period.

“What is really happening is there is an addition because mobile viewing is done on top of everything else,” notes Anders Erlandsson, senior advisor, consumer insights, Ericsson ConsumerLab. “So people are doing more viewing than they have ever done before.”

Mobile data traffic continues to grow, driven both by increased smartphone subscriptions and a continued increase in average data volume per subscription, fueled primarily by more viewing of video content. In Q3 2016, data traffic grew around 10 percent quarter on quarter and 50 percent year on year. Social networking is the second biggest data traffic type after video; it’s forecast to grow by 39 percent annually over the coming 6 years.

The report forecast that in 2022, there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions, of which 90 percent will be for mobile broadband. At this point in time, there will be 6.1 billion unique subscribers.

The ratio of TV and desktop viewing to mobile has shrunk from almost 70:30 in 2010 to close to 60:40 in 2016, according to the Ericsson ConsumerLab “TV & Media” report. 

Cisco backed these trends up in its annual Visual Networking Index (VNI). It suggests that three-fourths of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2020. Mobile video will increase by a factor of 11 between 2015 and 2020, accounting for 75 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.

The Middle East and Africa will have the strongest mobile data traffic growth of any region, with a 71 percent compound annual growth rate. This region will be followed by Asia Pacific at 54 percent and Central and Eastern Europe at 52 percent.

Mobile networks carried fewer than 10 gigabytes per month in 2000, and less than 1 petabyte per month in 2005. By contrast, within the next 5 years, monthly global mobile data traffic will be 30.6 exabytes by 2020 (one exabyte is equivalent to 1 billion gigabytes, and 1,000 petabytes). The number of mobile-connected devices per capita will reach 1.5 by 2020.

This clear and unstoppable shift in consumer behavior isn’t lost on pay TV broadcasters, which have been launching SVOD over-the-top (OTT) bundles left, right, and center.

That said, Google warned that mobile’s disruptive impact was being underestimated by broadcasters. Speaking at IBC, Benjamin Faes, managing director of partner business solutions at Google, says, “Mobile is the biggest revolution broadcasters have faced—it is happening now, and we still do not see a huge, pressing desire to take advantage of this revolution among the broadcast industry.”

Perhaps the stat that concerned Fries most of all is that a third of Millennials aged 16–24 find portable screens more important for video consumption than their home TVs, according to Ericsson.

Liberty, the owner of Virgin Media in the U.K., is pursuing a quad-play bundle in every market and wants to more than double its mobile base from 15 percent to 40 percent of its 17 million broadband subscribers by 2022.

Liberty needs to compete with Sky which, perhaps more significantly than its launch into 4K this year, made video playback on mobile possible for the first time. A Sky Q app allows subscribers to watch on-demand and live streamed content regardless of the device in or out of the home. Features include a pause and playback of content on different devices.

Virgin Media addressed this by unveiling its own branded “TellyTablet,” intended to allow portable TV around the home. A revamped app permits recordings and live TV to be paused and continued room to room on a new V6 set-top box or on a mobile device.

Not to be outdone, BT is launching a new BT TV app (due summer 2017) with options to manage recordings and stream live and on-demand programs. YouView, the hybrid DTT and broadband TV service of which BT is a shareholder with the BBC and broadband provider TalkTalk, also has multiroom viewing under development after re-engineering its infrastructure to run over Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Though TV viewing is down 2.5 hours a week since 2012, mobile viewing has increased to 4 hours a week, for a net overall increase of 1.5 more total viewing hours, according to Ericsson. 

LTE Conflict and Competition

In November, Virgin Media launched its first 4G/ LTE tariffs, the last major U.K. network to offer high-speed mobile internet plans.

However, all major operators faced criticism from members of Parliament who believe rural areas of the country continue to exist in a mobile broadband blackspot.

EE lit up its 4G network in 2012 and has pledged to deliver 4G to 95 percent of the U.K. landmass by 2020; Vodafone and O2 launched LTE a year later (the latter claims to have achieved 93 percent outdoor coverage). Despite this, many services, such as 300Mbps speeds, are in the most profitable urban areas.

The Broadband Infrastructure Group (BIG) wants mobile users in rural areas to be able to roam across different mobile networks depending on which has the best signal, but industry body Mobile UK opposed the plan, claiming it is not only technically difficult to accomplish in a localized way, but is a significant disincentive to competitive network investment.

The BIG is also unconvinced the four major operators will meet a legally binding target to extend 2G coverage to 90 percent of the U.K.’s landmass by 2017. The latest estimates suggest that 28 percent of all rural areas in the U.K. remain without coverage.

Operator O2 ended the year with its future uncertain after European Commission competition officials in May decreed that Hutchison (owner of the Three network) could not proceed with a £10.3 billion takeover.

The reason given by Brussels was that the merger would reduce choice and ultimately be unable to compete effectively with BT-owned EE and Vodafone as the U.K. market becomes increasingly converged.

Hutchison had hoped to create the biggest mobile operator in the market, able to compete better with BT and Vodafone.

The move leaves Telefónica, O2’s Spanish owner, looking at floating a minority stake in the network, which has 10 million 4G customers.

In an attempt to halt BT/EE’s increasing dominance in the local market, regulator Ofcom blocked the company from bidding for more spectrum in the 2.3GHz band, which could be used to boost existing 4G capability.

BT currently holds 45 percent of the U.K.’s usable mobile spectrum, while Vodafone has 28 percent, compared with 15 percent for O2 and 12 percent for Three. At the same time, Ofcom granted BT permission to bid for a chunk of the 3.4GHz band—considered critical for the rollout of 5G services across Europe—when it comes up for auction in 2017.

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