LONDON, October 19, 2010 – Convergence between fixed and mobile broadband services will be virtually complete by 2015, unified by standards originally developed for multi-room television in the home, according to analyst group IMS Research in its report “Convergence in the World Home Entertainment Market.” The researchers predict that mobile soon will overtake fixed broadband connectivity, with over 3 billion wireless connected devices in the world by 2015.
Currently, there are 477 million households worldwide subscribing to fixed broadband services, expected to rise to 548 million by 2015, according to analyst firm ABR Research. But most of these homes will by then be connecting a variety of mobile devices to these fixed services, blurring the dividing lines between them, according to IMS Research analyst Anna Hunt. This will create opportunities for both makers of consumer electronics devices and converged service providers. “As the number of CE devices with embedded modems grow, so will the opportunities for service providers to offer a variety of data plans and managed multi-screen services,” said Hunt.
IMS has predicted this proliferation of wireless enabled CE devices will stimulate convergence between fixed and mobile networks because the required high level standards needed to allow access to services are already in place. They have evolved for distribution of multimedia content around the home, driven by the pay-TV industry. There are two related groups of standards, one from DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), and Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP)/IP, which together enable secure transmission of data including premium video between devices connected by any medium including Wi-Fi, ethernet and fixed broadband.
DLNA is independent of the physical connection and enables devices to access and share multimedia content including TV services, home videos and photographs, with automatic discovery so that consumers can attach any supported devices without having to download any client software or take any other action. Currently, there are about 9,000 DLNA certified devices capable including TVs, Blu Ray players, smart phones and PCs. DLNA has specified DTCP/IP as the mechanism enforcing digital rights through encryption, enabling distribution of premium content among DLNA connected devices.
IMS Research estimates that 85 million DLNA certified client devices will be shipped in 2010, and that it will quickly become the key standard enabling fixed/mobile convergence. This will create interesting business dilemmas for many large operators, many of which provide both fixed and mobile services but keep them separate with different strategies for each.
In the United States, Verizon and Google announced support in August 2010 for network neutrality over the fixed internet but made it clear that these rules would not be followed for mobile services. This is likely because they want to exploit the rapid growth in mobile broadband for revenue generating services while excluding competitors. Similar sentiments prevail in Europe where providers of mobile services such as Vodafone block access to voice-over-IP services such as Skype in order to protect revenue from their own voice services. Mobile services tend also to be walled gardens when it comes to multimedia applications, with Apple for example continuing to exert tight control over its App Store distribution channel, and bar products that compete with its own.
But these practices may not be sustainable in the light of fixed/mobile convergence, making it impossible to maintain different approaches to net neutrality for each.