Until now, T-Mobile’s Un-carrier strategy has been primarily about creating disruptive new plans and pricing. But the company’s latest move also brings potentially disruptive technology into the mix.
In an offering known as “Binge On” T-Mobile said yesterday that it will give customers the ability to stream video to their mobile devices without having it count against their monthly data allotment. Underlying the offering is proprietary technology about which the company isn’t providing details. But a company spokesperson told Telecompetitor that the company is “proactively optimizing video streams for mobile screens and network management.” Picture and streaming quality will be excellent, the company said.
My guess is that whatever the company is doing involves content caching – a strategy that some content providers already use to minimize bandwidth requirements and maximize image quality. If caching is part of the solution, the big question would be how many caches the company is using and how close to end users those caches will be located. There may be other elements to the technology as well.
Initially Binge On will provide free streaming for 24 Internet-based video offerings, including popular options such as Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, Sling, ESPN, and others. (Customers will pay for their own subscriptions, where applicable.) But additional content should be available soon. T-Mobile CEO John Legere told reporters on a webcast yesterday that moving forward the company is willing to offer free streaming for any Internet video offering provided that the video provider meets certain requirements aimed at ensuring that T-Mobile can distinguish video traffic from other types of traffic.
Legere said some video content was not in the lineup because the content owner did not want to support Binge On. In a characteristic in-your-face move, though, T-Mobile will support Verizon’s Go90 over-the-top mobile video offering as part of the Binge On offering – a move T-Mobile made “just because we can,” Legere said.
Binge On is part of a broader initiative that the company is simply calling its “tenth Un-carrier move” and which also includes new data pricing policies. T-Mobile said it will double the data allotment for all customers and said customers on family plans will not have to share monthly data allotments but instead family members will get their own allotments.
By doubling customers’ data allotment and not counting video against their data usage, T-Mobile’s new offerings could make three times more data available for customers’ use compared to what the customers have now, Legere said – a comment that suggests about half of customers’ current data usage is for video streaming.
T-Mobile’s new higher-allotment data plans and Binge On will be available to new customers beginning November 15 and to existing customers beginning November 19, executives said on yesterday’s webcast.
T-Mobile Free Video Streaming Technology
How easy or difficult it may be for other carriers to reverse engineer the technology that T-Mobile developed to support free video streaming isn’t clear – assuming the other carriers want to duplicate it. Their desire to match T-Mobile’s offering will likely depend on how much T-Mobile’s video and overall traffic increases (which, in turn, will depend on demand and on how efficiently T-Mobile’s streaming video technology uses network resources).
All of that will determine how much T-Mobile has to invest to increase network capacity to support free video streaming. Some carriers not only may not be willing and able to make that level of investment; they also may not be comfortable with how such an investment might eat into their spectrum utilization.
The question then is what happens to their market share if they opt not to follow T-Mobile’s move. In making these decisions, carriers also have to think about the impact of one or two other competitors following T-Mobile’s move.
Considering all of this – and considering that video traffic as a percentage of total traffic was already climbing steeply and that Binge On is poised to accelerate that trend — Binge On could actually be the most disruptive move T-Mobile has made yet.