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Instagram, Vine short videos causing explosion on wireless networks

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 5, 2013
'Younger users don't even think about the data they use'; and there's more trouble ahead as real-time wireless video chat emerges.

More than five years ago, Cisco began warning wireless carriers and consumers about the coming barrage of video traffic over networks. Now that barrage is here and there's more to come.

When Facebook-owned Instagram added 15-second video snippets to its iOS and Android apps in late June, the company reported that 5 million videos were uploaded in the first 24 hours by many of its 130 million active users.

At one point, users were uploading 40 hours of video per minute, Instagram said.

Instagram, like Twitter's Vine application, is focused on allowing video sharing for the masses. Both models allow users to take video and then store and forward it. On the plus side, Instagram and Vine are not as burdensome on networks as video conferencing (sometimes called video chat), which is real-time and two-way.

Undoubtedly, more widespread videoconferencing over wireless networks is coming, but "two-way video, like in Star Trek which is real time, hasn't really taken off yet" noted Steve Shaw, director of product marketing for mobility at Juniper Networks, in a recent interview. "Almost all the video we're seeing now is store-and-forward."

Even so, 15 second video snippets like those sent over Instagram represent an evolution in communications that most consumers take for granted.

Meanwhile, network providers and their hardware and software suppliers, like Juniper and Cisco, are sweating bullets in the background as they upgrade networks to prepare for another coming surge in demand.

"In the old days, we had phones and used them for real-time two-way communications, but now we have SMS and Instagram," Shaw reflected. "The natural direction is to move to video, which is an exponential increase in data when you move from 160 characters in a text [including 140 for the actual text] to high resolution photos and now video. Clearly that has a tremendous impact on the mobile network."

"There's a new generation of users who have grown up in the smartphone world. They choose to use their phone for social networks first and phone calls last. That's a dramatic impact for network providers and communications in general," Shaw added.

The biggest implication so far is that average wireless subscriber really doesn't know how much data they use, Shaw said. That's true, even as the major smartphone makers and the largest carriers offer data usage meters that show which applications are draining the most data.

Carriers can send messages to let users know when a monthly data limit is reached, but most analysts agree that customers are most likely opt to pay for another month's data quota rather than stop until the end of the month. It's unclear whether data meters and usage notifications have done anything to limit data usage, except sporadically.


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