Mobile multimedia fun
1 April 2005 | 0
In November, Vodafone became the first mobile operator in the Republic of Ireland to launch a 3G service. For those of you who aren’t familiar with 3G or UMTS, this technology brings broadband-comparable data speeds of up to 384Kbit/sec to the mobile phone network and its arrival allows Vodafone to offer its subscribers a whole new range of content services through its Vodafone Live! WAP portal.
Vodafone’s 3G population coverage currently stands at 62%. when a user moves out of a 3G-enabled area, the new 3G multimedia phones are intelligent enough to be able to switch back to GPRS and continue to download information including pictures, audio and in some cases, depending on the size of the download, video.
Martin Wells is Head of Content Services with Vodafone Ireland and he is extremely excited about the potential of 3G for the improved delivery of multimedia content. “3G offers an increase in speed and an acceleration in data transmission that makes it possible to shift large data files over the network.” He says as a result, Vodafone can offer exciting new types of content across four key areas: sports, entertainment, news and music.
The star in the sports portfolio is the reality of video highlights from the Barclays FA Premiership. For the first time, 30 minutes after the end of each Premiership match, 3G subscribers can download an edited highlights package of each match in the form of a 2 to 3 minute video clip.
Wells estimates that it will take about 25 seconds in best conditions to download one of these clips over 3G. He also says that if the main weight of the video footage has been downloaded to the phone within a 3G cell, then should the user move back to a GPRS cell, they should still be able to continue with the download. The footage is encoded in high quality MPEG 4 and can be enjoyed on 3G multimedia phones that offer pristine LCD screens and stereo sound.
The FA Premiership isn’t the only soccer offering that Vodafone has for its customers. It has also done a deal with UEFA to get access the Champions League. This means that once the second phase of the competition begins in February, subscribers to Vodafone’s 3G football package will be able to watch edited highlights of all the two legged ties from all over Europe. Vodafone’s team of content editors will be able to go “in-match” and grab goals highlights from the first half and deliver them at half time to subscribers. For Wells, it’s a great breakthrough in dynamic content delivery. Vodafone also has a deal with Sky Sports to repackage value added football content for the 3G phones. This content takes the form of player and manager interviews and bulletins from the Sky Sports newsroom.
With the arrival of 3G, Vodafone is also striving to deliver high quality entertainment content to mobile users. Its star feature on the new Vodafone Live! 3G platform is the “Movie of the Month” offering. Having completed pan-global content deals with the major movie studios including Warner Brothers, Sony and Disney, Vodafone can now offer Irish subscribers a wide range of value-added video and audio material to complement a major cinema release.
Outtakes, bloopers and star interviews are available on the 3G portal in video format, and Wells describes the format as being very similar to the additional content you get on a DVD except that this content is delivered to your mobile phone just as the move hits the box office and not months after the event as with DVD.
Already, Vodafone has offered 3G subscribers access to material related to the Bridget Jones sequel “The Edge of Reason”, and it gave similar treatment to “The Invincibles” and “Polar Express” in time for the festive period.
In addition to outtakes, subscribers are also able to download wallpapers, ringtones and java 3D games in relation to the profiled movie. They can also take part in special competitions related to the movie in some way.
News bulletins are also an important part of the initial Vodafone Live! 3G mix. In a deal with Sky News, subscribers to the 3G service can download compact news bulletins in video form four times a day. The bulletins are packaged in clips that range from 30 seconds to a minute in length.
In a separate service, a live TV stream of Sky News Active is also available and it includes a five minute loop of all of the major new headlines. Vodafone is working with Siemens and Irish company DV 4 to deliver this innovative mobile service.
Martin Wells feels that it is important that Vodafone offers a high percentage of Irish content over 3G and this is epitomised by its commitment to carry the work of Irish musicians in its Access Music service in Live! Wells comments: “Across Access, 20 to 30 per cent of the content is Irish.”
Having worked out deals with the major record labels including EMI, Sony BMG and Warner, the mobile operator can now offer music video clips from local acts such as Damien Rice and Ash. Content from The Devlins and The Frames will be available to subscribers soon. There are also international videos from the likes of Mike Skinner aka The Streets.
While the music videos may come from the major labels, a range of additional value-added content is coming from MTV and these include “the making of the music video”-style segments and unplugged performances by artists that have been previously recorded in MTV studios.
The second phase of the Access Music service will be launched in the spring and it will offer full music track downloads, according to Wells. Live! 3G Subscribers will be able to browse through a range of song titles in a 15,000-strong music catalogue. Subscribers will be able to browse through it by genre whether their tastes run to chart, electronic or alternative rock. This part of the service has already been launched in the UK, Germany and Spain and is described by Wells as a hero service in that it has proved extremely popular with 3G subscribers from its launch.
Vodafone is installing platforms that will adhere to digital right management requirements and protect the content from piracy.
This sophisticated technology is scheduled to arrive by the middle of next year. By then, there will be five types of music services available via Access Music on the Vodafone Live! 3G portal: music videos from the labels, value-added video content from MTV; real tones of songs which are CD quality and last for 10 to 12 seconds; polyphonic ringtones of hits and full track downloads which will, Wells says will deliver an “iPod-like experience” to music-loving mobile subscribers.
Perhaps the highest profile service on the new 3G platform is video calling and this new service combines video and audio in one call. Depending on the mobile phone, you can have picture in picture, meaning that if you place a video call to another 3G subscriber, you can see yourself on-screen in the corner as well as the recipient of the call. With some of the models, you also pan the camera to give a live video demonstration to the person at the other end of the line.
Of the four mobile phones launched so far for 3G, three of the models from Sony Ericsson, Sharp and Motorola integrate the video calling module into the body of the camera. The Nokia 6630 requires a separate cradle to sit in to facilitate a video call.
With 3G, Vodafone will now be able to being your favourite TV series to your mobile phone. The mobisode is a new concept and it involves Vodafone lining up with major TV studios to produce miniature video previews of the best TV series to hit satellite and terrestrial TV. In a one minute video clip downloadable to the phone, you will get a preview and a look behind the scenes at your favourite American sitcoms and dramas. “24” will be the first to get the mobisode treatment on Vodafone Live! 3G to tie in with the airing of the new series in Ireland in January.
Right now, if you walk into a Vodafone retail store, you can get a Motorola V90 3G mobile phone for €69 as part of a special deal. It’s currently free to download the football and music content, and the live TV news stream. To download a real tone, Wells says it will cost you €5, €4 for a polyphonic ringtone and €5 to €7 to download high profile 3D games such as Tiger Woods Gold and FIFA Football. News clips cost €1 while a pricing structure has yet to be announced for the launch of the mobisodes service.
Individual football clips are free at the moment and will be available after February for €2 per clip but the company wants to encourage subscribers to sign up for monthly bundles to suit their particular interests. The football bundle of Premiership clips and value-added content will cost €9.99 for an “all you can eat” package, representing excellent value for money.
3G phones in focus
Available from early 2005, this slick clamshell handset can send MMS messages up to 300k in size and can play MP3, MPEG4 audio and video files and stream 3GPP video files. An SD card slot is on-board for saving downloaded multimedia content while an built-in swivel camera facilitates video calling while a 2megapixel main camera with a 2x optical zoom should give good quality photos.
Sony Ericsson V800
Available from early 2005, this clamshell phone supports MMS up to 300k, instant messaging, e-mail, 72 poly for audio and plays Real, AAC, MP3, MPEG 4 audio and video files. The camera is a 1.3 megapixel model with 4x digital zoom, and the phone sports 5Mbytes of on-board memory and a Memory Stick Duo memory card up to 32Mbytes.
Available from €169, this candy bar with external video calling cradle, supports MMS to 300k in size, features 48-bit polyphonic sound and plays Real, AAC, MP3, MPEG 4 and 3GPP audio and video files. The digital camera is 1.3 megapixel and sports a 4x digital zoom. MMC memory cards up to 32Mbytes in size are supported although there is ample on-board storage in 10Mbytes.
Available from €99, this clamshell phone supports MMS up to 300k in size, supports instant messaging and e-mail, and plays Real, AAC, MP3, 3GPP and Flash audio and video files. Video telephony is supported on-board while the digital camera features an entry level resolution of 640 by 480 with a 4x digital zoom. Memory comes in the form of 2Mbytes internally and 32Mbytes in a flash card.
*Pricing was correct at time of price but is subject to change.