US lagging on mobile video streaming due to spectrum crunch

Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the UK, ranked their mobile video experiences as "very good," while Indonesia, the Philippines, and Russia joined the US in the "fair" category.

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Out of the seven leading industrial economies—Canada, Germany, the UK, Japan, Italy, France, and the US—the US had the lowest rated video experience from consumers, an Opensignal survey found. 

These frustrations can be attributed to wireless spectrum availability in the US. More than 70% of US consumers said they watch mobile videos at home on a WiFi connection, but a powerful network is required to support the delivery of high-quality mobile video at this scale. As demand continues to increase, current WiFi connections continue to struggle, the report found. 

SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Opensignal surveyed 1,000 US consumers in November to determine the most popular ways they viewed videos. The resulting State of Mobile Video Experience report is an analysis of the consumer mobile experience, using data collected from Aug. 1 through Oct. 30, 2019.  

The report considered picture quality, video loading time, and stall rate when determining each country's score for perceived mobile video quality. Testing mobile video streaming at scale, the report did not estimate video experience based on speed tests or other indirect forms of measurement. 

US mobile video streaming experiences

Increased use of apps and video streaming services have popularized mobile video viewing in the US. More than one-third (37%) of US consumers said they watch mobile video on their smartphones several times a day, with YouTube (77%), Facebook (51%), and Netflix (47%) leading the pack as the most used apps. 

Despite mobile viewing becoming a more favored way of watching content, US consumers are not completely satisfied with the experience. The majority of US consumers scored their viewing experience as "fair," with 44% noting stuttering or freezing when watching mobile video their smartphone. An additional 30% said if the stuttering or freezing occurs, they give up trying to watch, the survey found. 

To improve US mobile video quality, carriers must adopt an affordable new mid-band spectrum that can support high-definition video consumption. While 5G does have the potential to support this kind of usage, the mmWave 5G spectrum currently being deployed by US carriers is unable to improve the user experience, as it has a very limited reach of networks using those frequencies, the report found. 

The key bands for powerful 5G connectivity are in the 3 to 6GHz range, but most of these frequencies aren't widely used in the US yet. Currently, these 5G frequencies are being widely deployed in Europe, Korea, Australia, and select areas in Asia, according to the report. 

In 2020, 5G users worldwide will experience a consistent HD video stream in more locations than in 2019, however, only time will tell how much of the US will be included. While 5G is being deployed in some areas right now, the level of 5G necessary to support this type of streaming may take longer to completely proliferate throughout the US, the report found. 

While 64% of US consumers said they are most likely to watch shorter videos on their smartphones, longform content is becoming more popular. Longform content includes TV shows and movies, or videos longer than five minutes. Nearly 40% of respondents said they watch TV programs, and 38% said they watch movies on their mobile devices. This number jumps significantly with younger viewers: 55% of Gen Z users stream movies and 52% of millennials stream TV programs, the survey found. 

This spike in longform usage could be attributed to new and upcoming services like Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max, which all offer unique movies and TV shows, the survey found. 

Disney+, in particular, could be a contributing factor to younger generations' increased streaming. However, with the streaming service only launching on Nov. 12, the report's data doesn't yet reflect Disney+'s potential impact. With the survey being released in November, however, it did find that 70% of respondents were aware of the new video streaming service, indicating a possible warm welcome. 

The video experience worldwide 

Mobile video experience wasn't all bad: Over the past year, video experience significantly improved in 59% of the 100 countries analyzed, the report found.

Users in 22 countries, including major markets like Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the UK, ranked their mobile video experience as "very good." Twenty-one other countries moved into the "good" category, and France saw the biggest jump, rising fro, "fair" to "very good," according to the report.   

For the first time, six countries rated their mobile video quality as "excellent." These countries included Norway, the Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and the Netherlands. No country rated "excellent" in 2018, the report found. 

Accompanying the US in the "fair" category included other large markets like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Russia, according to the report. 

However, countries ranked at the bottom for video experience were ranked highly for mobile download speed. South Korea ranked first for download speed, yet 21st for video quality. And while Canadians had the third fastest download speed, it also ranked 22nd for video quality, the report found. 

As stated in the report, "This contrast between results in part reflects the way wireless operators routinely manage mobile video traffic differently to file downloads in order to prevent the vast quantities of video data hurting the experience of other mobile apps and services."

For more, check out Should 5G be in your 2020 IT budget? on ZDNet.  

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Image: Ted Soqui