I recently put together a piece on user experience innovation on the mobile browser side for Wireless Week, which highlighted what we've done to make the Skyfire Horizon mobile browser extension platform a robust innovation tool for operators and their customers. The platform is now live with two of the largest mobile operators in the United States, and is showing tremendous traction in other regions of the world as well. We thought you'd like to read my piece on what's driving innovation right here on Skyfire's blog as well.
Device Innovation Is Passé: Why UE Is King in 2013
It’s getting increasingly difficult for smartphone and tablet makers to “shock and awe” the media and the buying public with groundbreaking, “never before seen” hardware. While each high-profile device launch brings hardware advancements over previous models, the discussion tends to quickly shift to experience-centric items like Facebook integration and pre-loaded Instagram.
If this year’s CTIA show is anything like the recent Mobile World Congress and CES events, the “coming out parties” for the newest and sleekest devices on the market will really just be more of the same when it comes to form factors and features. So, if the innovation isn’t to be found in the mobile device design itself, where is it? It is in the mobile user experience, and in helping consumers easily reach the services that enrich their lives more quickly and more elegantly than ever before.
We’re only beginning to see what a mobile-first design philosophy can bring to the devices that have become such an integral part of daily life. The world of apps started us on this path, and the evolution of mobile browsers, HTML5-rendered websites, and the clever embedding of services within the OS (such as Android’s and later iOS’ pull-down notification screen) furthered it.
The next wave in innovation, as I see it, relegates the device itself to a secondary position as a platform for bringing both native and web-based applications and services together. This is likely to play out in the mobile browser first.
The browser is the most popular “app” on any device. It’s also rapidly becoming the place consumers go first to discover content, to digitally socialize with friends, to share, and even to shop. In some countries this phenomenon has completely leapfrogged desktop usage. In India, for instance, total mobile browsing surpassed desktop browsing way back in May 2012. Other countries are certain to follow this trend.
Simply re-creating the desktop “surfing” experience won’t work on mobile, but that’s what we’re working with today. Consumers deserve better. What the comparatively small-screen mobile user truly needs, and what they’ll rapidly begin to find as the concept of “mobile browser extensions” hits the mainstream, is the ability to dip in and out of content rapidly and as needed, without ever leaving the page they’re on. Extensions allow them to do this in an eye-pleasing, minimal-clicking manner. For example, finding a discount code for a shopping site you're browsing, or a downloadable app related to a topic on a blog you're reading shouldn’t mean interrupting your browsing session. Instead, a simple overlay should allow you to link straight through to that parallel experience and be done with it, or instead easily return to the page at hand.
Moreover, a rich mobile user experience becomes possible when the user’s context is transparently discerned by a rich, algorithmic combination of URL, keywords and browsing history. This allows the user, should they choose to call up the embedded extension toolbar within their browser, to easily find shopping deals or promotion codes on the retail site they’re perusing, or a list of related apps to download that are contextually recommended based on the page URL and other characteristics. Picture a user on the REI site who clicks a toolbar button called Apps, and calls up an overlaid list of hiking, skiing, running and sportswear applications in a matter of seconds.
The browser can now elegantly behave like a single app, or a vast collection of apps. Rather than being the same browser that every other Tom, Dick & Sherri uses, it’s personalized, infinitely customizable, and it evolves to meet each user’s very unique social and browsing habits. This is the sort of innovation that actually enriches daily user experience in 2013.
We’ll absolutely see plenty of me-too devices at CTIA and the rest of this year, and many of them will be amazingly cool. The real quantum leaps, however, will come from a marriage of value-added apps and services with a mobile-first, browser-based user experience that greatly values each consumer’s time, their appreciation for elegant design, and above all, their individuality.
Today, March 14th, we are happy to announce that the merger between Skyfire and Opera Software has closed. The transaction combines Skyfire, a Silicon Valley-based leader in mobile video optimization and cloud solutions for mobile operators, with Opera, the European-based global pioneer in cloud acceleration and compression to improve mobile user experience.
Skyfire will remain Skyfire, as a brand, as an independent subsidiary, and as a cloud vision. The leadership team at Skyfire has made a multi-year commitment to make this combination a powerful success.
Together, we are stronger in three important ways, and over the coming year, as we launch new products together, the combined vision will become apparent:
- Leveraging the world’s leading ad network, Opera MediaWorks, to allow operators a turnkey solution for heightened monetization in Skyfire Horizon.
- Developing disruptive new products for operators and their consumers that leverage the cloud to solve big challenges.
While the focus of the combination is to develop a leading Mobile Operator solutions business, there is an additional side benefit: As Opera’s consumer products business over time incorporates Skyfire’s world-class video and other capabilities into Opera’s consumer products, there is a chance for consumer browsing to take a giant leap forward in ways never seen before.
Let me elaborate on the three big advantages above.
First, Opera and Skyfire are a natural fit. Skyfire adds capabilities to Opera around video, app optimization, smartphones and tablets, and strength in North America (with three Tier 1 operators as current signed Skyfire customers). With video expected to consume over two-thirds of global mobile bandwidth by 2015, and as time spent on Android and iOS apps explodes, this adds high-growth product lines to Opera’s portfolio.
The merger was attractive to Skyfire as a way to accelerate our global business plan. Opera’s 120+ carrier relationships, global sales team, and worldwide delivery organization can speed up the global adoption of Skyfire’s technology. Opera’s solidity as a public company should give network planners who love Skyfire technology greater confidence in making a long-term vendor selection of Skyfire.
This will particularly be true for Skyfire’s Rocket Optimizer™ software, currently in final deployment testing for a broad nationwide rollout at a Tier-1 US carrier. Rocket Optimizer allows mobile operators to leverage cloud computing to optimize virtually any video and other multimedia on crowded cell towers, including 3G and 4G LTE networks. Rocket Optimizer on average provides mobile networks a 60 percent boost in capacity by reducing the size of video and other multimedia content as needed to fit the available bandwidth. Skyfire can detect when specific users are facing poor quality of experience or connections that need assistance, and intervene in milliseconds. The approach aligns with the trend toward SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network function virtualization) among telecommunications operators, thanks to its elastic and virtualization-friendly cloud architecture.
Opera’s global footprint and many co-branded Operator distribution deals will also pair well with Skyfire Horizon™, a mobile browser extension and toolbar platform that allows users to personalize their smartphone browser and operators to gain new monetization opportunities. Two US Tier-1 Operators have signed on to shipping Horizon pre-installed across all Android devices, and other operators are soon to be announced.
To make sure these synergies happen, I will assume two roles, both EVP of the Operator Business for Opera, as well as CEO of Skyfire. Skyfire will remain an independent entity as a wholly owned subsidiary of Opera, and become in many ways Opera’s go-forward brand for products and services for mobile operators.
Second, the Skyfire Horizon monetization platform will be immensely strengthened by building in the option to leverage Opera's MediaWorks advertising unit. Opera MediaWorks is the largest mobile ad network in the world today, with over $400 million in publisher revenue driven through Opera’s AdMarvel, Mobile Theory and 4th Screen Advertising units. Leading publishers such as Pandora, the Wall Street Journal, CondeNast, and the National Hockey League entrust their mobile ad platform to MediaWorks. This same yield optimization, ad targeting, big data analytics, and premium brand ad sales capability is now going to be an option that gives Skyfire Horizon carriers the choice of a “turnkey” solution to drive high effective CPM in the Horizon real estate on smartphones and tablets.
Thirdly, the two companies envision a powerful new set of joint products to be released over the coming year by combining their talents and know-how. In particular, we look to solve some big problems using the cloud.
Opera WebPass is one disruptive idea. Today, mobile users around the world usually pre-pay in small purchases for mobile data, but the average consumer has no idea what “100 megabytes” actually means, and no way way to know if clicking on a video will cost them 2 rupees or 20 rupees (or pesos, remninbi, etc.). All this confusion creates anxiety and uncertainty for consumers. This is bad for operators too, as it holds back mobile data purchases. Buying data should be more “human”, we believe. Users should be able to buy what they really want, with peace of mind. What if you could buy an unlimited day pass to Facebook, or a week-long pass to YouTube?
With Opera WebPass, version 1 of which is live with several operator partners, Opera provides a hosted, complete solution that allows operators to become data retailers instead of wholesalers, with segmented offers and discounts, yield optimization, and creative merchandising and packages. Opera provides a transaction exchange for carrier billing; compression to keep the strain on network economics to a minimum; and an easy user interface with WebPass that makes buying a data top-up as easy as buying an app on a smartphone. WebPass can enable new business models for operators, such as toll free data, ad-supported data, and more - and all without having to endure a multi-year deployment of proprietary PCRF or EPC or RAN equipment, or OSS/BSS changes to make it possible for legacy networks to do new things. With Opera, the operator enjoys a trusted cloud console for package provisioning, enforcement, and upsell - all hosted.
Future versions of WebPass will extend beyond Opera Mini data plans into smartphones and tablets. That’s where Opera Boost comes into play.
Opera Boost is expected to launch in Q3 of 2013. This will be a novel kind of app that lets users accelerate and compress data device-wide on smartphones and tablets, including on any app or browser, and including video compression that can stretch a user’s data plan by 50%. Particularly for roaming, or for users who often encounter spotty connections, it will not only save money, it will also make for faster downloads and browsing and app experiences. The same Skyfire cloud technology that major mobile operators use to improve their network performance can also be at the finger tips of individual users to dial up or down as they wish.
And we’re just getting started.
As for Skyfire consumer products, Skyfire’s web browser products for iOS & Android and Opera's globally-beloved mobile browsers, including Opera Mini, start out with different audiences: smartphone video junkies for Skyfire, speed and data savings lovers for Opera Mini (all the way down to feature phones and 2G connections). Skyfire consumers who have bought apps from Skyfire will be able to continue enjoying those apps, and the 2013 roadmap for Skyfire direct-to-consumer products continues to include many innovations and investments. Over the long run, we will evaluate how we can bring the best of both companies' products together for the benefit of consumers and their operators.
This will be a chance to do more of why we joined Skyfire in the first place. We're passionate. True inventors and innovators want to build great things, and then they want millions of people around the world to use them— that's their pride and motivation. Opera’s over 100 operator customers, and their 311 million active monthly users provide a chance for Skyfire technology to seek a big global stage.
Stronger together. Onward we go.
I'm very excited to announce that the Skyfire team will become part of Opera Software. A few moments ago we signed a merger agreement for Opera to acquire Skyfire, and expect the deal to close before March 15. Skyfire will remain Skyfire, as a brand, as an independent subsidiary, and as a vision, with the same great team, same disruptive products and the same market leading cloud solutions for mobility.
This is a major milestone for our Skyfire family and validation of our vision for cloud computing and network function virtualization (NFV) to solve huge problems on mobile networks, from handling the explosion of video over cell towers, to finding ways for mobile operators to regain relevance and monetize in an over-the-top world. Back in 2007, when Nitin Bhandari and Erik Swenson started Skyfire, the idea that Tier One mobile network operators would entrust the cloud for core network roles was considered bleeding edge. Now it’s a topic everyone is talking about, and Skyfire is making NFV combined with Software Defined Networking a reality.
Opera and Skyfire are a natural fit. Both companies have extensive focus on operator products well beyond our well-known consumer web browsers, with complementary geographic strengths (Skyfire in North America, Opera globally and especially across the entire developing world). Skyfire brings cutting-edge products like Rocket Optimizer and Skyfire Horizon that are proven in commercial deployment, and signed customers including 3 of the largest U.S. wireless operators. Our technology in video, app optimization, and mobile browser personalization for smartphones and tablets extend Opera’s portfolio into high-growth areas.
Together, we’re stronger. Opera has an incredible global distribution network, beloved global brand, and customer relationships with Mobile Operators and consumers around the world. Furthermore, Opera Mediaworks will give us access to a world class mobile monetization and ad network sister company. Together we can accelerate the commercialization of Skyfire technology, and build new joint products that will be cloud-based and disruptive.
When I came aboard as CEO in 2009, it was my focus to help extend the vision of our founders, and work closely with them to build a team that was passionate, inventive and devoted to solving access and connection problems for the world's wireless users. I’m proud of our team… with only 53 employees here in Silicon Valley we’ve built products that routinely outperform legacy competitors by two-fold to ten-fold in scalability and performance. It’s the team’s hard work and ingenuity that brought us to today.
After closing, I will assume the role of EVP of the Operator Business Unit for Opera. I'll also remain the CEO of Skyfire, and will oversee the joint offerings for Opera across Opera Mini co-branded solutions for operators and Skyfire’s product lines.
As for our consumer products, Skyfire’s web browser products for iOS and Android and Opera's globally-beloved mobile browsers including Opera Mini start out with different audiences—smartphone video junkies for Skyfire, speed and data savings lovers for Opera Mini (all the way down to feature phones and 2G connections). Skyfire consumers who have bought apps from Skyfire will be able to continue enjoying those apps, and the 2013 roadmap for Skyfire direct-to-consumer products continues to include many innovations and investments. Over the long run, we will evaluate how we can bring the best of both companies' products together for the benefit of consumers and their operators. We have long shared an ethos with Opera, which practically invented cloud-based compression and server-side acceleration. Now we look forward to building new products together.
This will be a chance to do more of why we joined Skyfire in the first place. We're passionate. We’re innovators. And true inventors want to build great things, and then they want millions of people around the world to use them. Opera’s over 100 operator customers, and their 300 million active monthly users provide a chance for Skyfire technology to find a larger global stage.
Earlier in my career, as some people may know, I worked for years on economic development in emerging markets. When I joined Skyfire as CEO almost 4 years ago, I had a vision that school kids in a village or a megacity in Africa or India or South America could gain access, on a cheap smartphone, to all the same learning, knowledge and entertainment available to their more wealthy equivalents in the developed world. They might never own a desktop computer, but they could likely own a smartphone. Thanks to Skyfire's video compression technology, they could get double the usage for their rupees or pesos, and watchable video even on crowded networks. They could participate in the wider world.
By joining forces with Opera, that dream now becomes in reach. Opera is a brand that shares that philosophy. Opera has tremendous reach in so many countries, especially places like Brazil, Russia, India, and China. In some of them, half of all mobile internet usage comes via Opera products. The next billion Internet users will be mobile users. We share the belief of Opera's original founders and employees that access to the web should be a universal right. As so much of the value of today's web comes via video and audio streaming, that belief just gained fresh and renewed relevance for a Web 3.0, mobile-first world.
This is not the end, but the start of a new chapter… Skyfire 3.0. Onward we go.
Today marks the launch of a very important product in Skyfire's evolution, and I have to say, I could not be more proud of Team Skyfire as Rocket Optimizer 3.0 is launched. I want to recognize the team – the many engineers, quality assurance pros, the product managers, the solution architects and the many others at Skyfire who have worked so hard to bring a truly innovative, next-generation mobile video optimization solution to market.
We think Rocket Optimizer 3.0 answers a huge need for a powerful, infinitely flexible and dramatically lower-cost video and image optimization solution, in an era when mobile networks live and die by their ability to cope with the massive amounts of data being pulled across them. Moreover, it arrives at a time when Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) move front and center in how the modern-day operator seeks to solve traffic management problems. We talk regularly with wireless operators all over the world, and it's clear that the cloud, and the SDN and virtualized services that run on top of it, are fast emerging as building blocks for next-generation carrier networks.
I'm especially proud that our team is introducing revolutionary software that can detect in real-time, bandwidth congestion or poor performance for every subscriber session on the network - and then restore the user experience and QoE score by an instant optimization response, adapting all forms of media to fit the available throughput for the user's session. I'd certainly encourage you to read more about QoE Assurance on our Rocket Optimizer section of our website or in our white papers, but this is a real game-changer. For the first time, wireless operators can now easily deploy software – rather than expensive, difficult-to-scale inline appliance or RAN probes - that will detect when a user with a poor connection is trying to stream high-quality video; then automatically invoke our cloud-based Rocket Optimizer cluster, and then adapt that video to fit the existing capacity. The end result is an insurance policy for operators, and a far better viewing experience for their users – and something that's repeatable over and over, all over the network, day in and day out for every single user and every single session on that network.
There'll be more announcements in this space and from Skyfire very shortly, and we hope you'll be following what we're building for operators and their customers (please subscribe to our newsletter, and we promise to tell you). In the meantime, I'd love to hear from global operators who have questions about moving traffic management and video optimization to the cloud – feel free to reach out to me here.
Jeff Glueck, CEO, Skyfire
One question I'm frequently asked by mobile operators looking to move many of their network functions and services to the cloud is, "Aren't cloud and virtualization just the buzzwords of the day? At the end of the day, is it really going to be more efficient and save us money?" We certainly respect why they ask. After all, these mobile operators have only known a legacy model for traffic management and data and video optimization that requires in-line appliance boxes be installed in every single distribution center on their networks. This is a model that has been rendered antiquated by Skyfire's Rocket Optimizer, and our cloud-based video and image optimization software.
We know, and have proven, that centralizing your compute pool in a limited number of IP data centers which each network distribution center (GGSN/P-Gateway, etc.) can steer to on demand, provides greatly increased scale and coverage at a far lower cost than traditional vendors have provided. Having all of that compute available in a small number of geographically-appropriate data centers (whether carrier private cloud or public cloud) that can point anywhere and optimize where congestion is actually occurring is a new weapon in the operator's network management arsenal.
Skyfire relies on intelligent steering and pre-filtering of traffic from the intelligent routers already in the network, which avoids the duplicate DPI and light traffic inspection done in every single box in the traditional in-line "mobile internet gateway" model. Rocket Optimizer identifies only those HTTP requests/responses that can benefit from optimization, and the CPU-intensive process of video optimization is done in the cloud.
Here's how it plays out: One North American operator we're closely working with has chosen to deploy our solution at three logical points in their country of operation – one in the West, one in the Central and one in the Eastern geography of the country in question. Now they can dynamically target congestion according to known network patterns, and adjust those on the fly on a daily, or even minute-by-minute, basis. For instance, on a given Friday, the operator can deploy optimization weight to rush hour in the East; big events at stadiums including operator-managed WiFi in the Central; and a large music festival in the West. As the busy hour or as weather events roll across the country, so can an operator's assurance that they can target and effectively manage their customers' quality of video streaming experience accordingly.
With an average of 64% savings on optimized video, being able to point that kind of network boost to any congested node in seconds is pretty powerful. It's like adding 30-35% extra capacity to the network at any point with only software - no truck rolls, tower zoning approvals, forklifts, or the like.
Who deploys optimization in 40 distribution centers when you only need 3? Not savvy mobile operators in 2013. I'd call that the department of redundancy department.
Until a certain announcement of a certain new device last week, LTE networks in the US and worldwide had not been especially capacity-challenged. There's a common consensus forming that this will start to change when the iPhone 5 starts hitting operator networks like AT&T's and Verizon Wireless' next week (to say nothing of other popular LTE-enabled devices like Samsung's Galaxy S III). After the holidays and throughout 2013, the LTE pipes will begin to fill up with fat multimedia of all stripes – video, audio, and images – and the data speeds that we've been previously measuring with 1 or fewer users, close to metro center towers, will not last. Speeds of 6-12mbps will undoubtedly begin to drop.
LTE networks have 3 to 5 times the spectral efficiency of 3G – the fastest network supported by Apple devices before last week's announcement - and yet we're looking at a 26x growth in data projected through 2016. Operators can only keep up with this sort of customer-led demand (primarily for over-the-top video) by embracing next-generation solutions that can adapt and optimize multimedia in real time, on the fly. Operators will need to have the ability to deploy flexible, lightweight engines of enforcement that allow them to claw back control of their soon-to-be-increasingly burdened LTE networks, quickly straining in an OTT world.
The new breed of cloud-based services, such as Skyfire's Rocket Optimizer, provides operators newfound flexibility and freedom from network bottlenecks. Understanding, and having the ability to optimize, all video formats streaming through their networks – whether adaptive or mobile-friendly – is now available to operators who choose to deploy cloud-based services on top of their existing infrastructure. The alternative is simply spending, deploying, spending, and then deploying still more inline hardware throughout the breadth of the network in a race to keep up with users' entertainment consumption. We think it's an increasingly false choice, and just as the iPhone 5 is a step forward in disruptive, next-generation device design, so too is the new breed of cloud-based network architecture to support it.
Image Credit: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
Congratulations to the Skyfire Team.
Over the past week, Skyfire is honored to have won two awards recognizing our company as one of the Top 100 North American based Startups. Last Saturday, May 19th, Skyfire was among those selected as winners of the 2012 TiE50 Awards. TiE Silicon Valley's premier annual awards program analyzes thousands of technology startups worldwide via a process involving prominent entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, corporate executives and domain experts as judges. Following this award, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Red Herring Awards in Santa Monica, CA. where Skyfire was announced as one of the prestigious Top 100 Americas startups. The annual Red Herring awards recognize the leading private companies from Americas, celebrating these startups’ innovations and technologies across their respective industries. Red Herring’s Top 100 Americas list has become a mark of distinction for identifying promising new companies and entrepreneurs. Red Herring editors were among the first to recognize that companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Salesforce.com, YouTube, and eBay would change the way we live and work.
Skyfire is the talk around The Telecom Industry Watercooler Cell Tower
Beyond awards, Skyfire continues to gain accolades from the telecom industry. Skyfire’s Rocket Platform continues to impress in multiple Tier 1 datacenters around the globe, showcasing up to 75% savings for wireless operators on their video bandwidth traffic. It’s an exciting time here at Skyfire and I wanted to take a moment to thank the TiE Panel, Red Herring Awards and the entire Skyfire Team.
- Jeff Glueck
Mobile Mythbusters Series
Skyfire Mobile Mythbuster #1
MYTH: Use of Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) Streaming for internet video is spreading quickly and will dramatically ease wireless network congestion.
REALITY: ABR could help networks if widely and properly deployed by Publishers and CDNs, but the current trend suggests that’s not happening at a fast pace. Only 18 percent of publishers are currently using ABR.
December 14, 2011; Mountain View, CA: The mobile data “tsunami” has been much discussed in the media in recent months. A 2011 report from Cisco has projected that mobile video is driving much of the data load, and will grow at a 3,500% pace through 2015, eating up 66% of global wireless network bandwidth. This continues a trend since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 of data-intensive smartphones taxing cell towers. For instance, AT&T reported a 5,000% increase in data traffic on their network in the first three years of the iPhone.
Overloaded networks create user experience issues, like slow-to-load apps, dropped phone calls, and stalled video. Some commentators have looked to the App and Video publisher community to “self-police” and adopt smart bandwidth methods such as Adaptive Bit Rate technology in response. With ABR, each video is encoded in a variety of high and low bandwidth options, and depending on network conditions and device feedback, the video adapts the quality level to maintain playback and avoid pauses, hiccups, and re-buffering.
ABR techniques have been around for years on the web, and are just arriving on some mobile platforms. What evidence suggests they will be widely adopted? Will the spread of ABR video “solve” the data tsunami problems for Operators, such that the Publisher community will naturally become network-friendly?
Skyfire, the cloud mobile video specialist, conducted a test of the Top 100 websites and Apps to measure how much ABR is used today. The publisher list was based on the top 100 of the Alexa Top 500 Global Video Sites.
The results may surprise.
*Based on Skyfire Testing in April, 2011 and November, 2011
• On the mobile web (iPhone); Just 10 percent of mobile publishers have adopted Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) streaming as of November 2011 when the testing was conducted, on iPhone web sites and apps where available.
• On desktop/laptop websites , 17% of the top 100 websites with video used ABR formats.(Laptops do matter for cellular networks, driving almost half the wireless data thanks to 3G/4G dongles, per Cisco’s study.)
• For iPhone apps, Skyfire analyzed the 30 most popular Entertainment and News apps in the Apple iTunes store in early December 2011 which offered video. Only 26% of these apps used ABR with multiple bit rates. The rest utilized MP4 or simple formats with only one advertised bit rate
• That puts an unweighted average across the above at 18% of top publishers using ABR.
• On Android, the percentage is much lower as the support for ABR on Android devices just was introduced with Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).
• Beyond the top 100, among small publishers,the adoption rate of ABR would be lower as well, since ABR requires more sophistication and expense. These smaller players from the “long tail” do add up in aggregate, as millions of web sites have added video clips to their content.
So why such low adoption?
First, implementing ABR is more work and more expense for publishers, many of whom face financial constraints given the low ad rates still common for digital ad-supported publishers. ABR requires multiple encodes and repackaging video into segments, which adds cost. Publishers do pay for outbound bandwidth, but at fixed network data rates, which are a tiny fraction of the cost of wireless data. They do not bear the much higher costs to pay for expensive cellular network build-outs to handle the explosion of mobile video. They thus have little motivation to add expense and time to their efforts by implementing ABR. Currently, non-adaptive formats such as MP4 progressive download are more cost-effective, since the same video file can be repurposed to run everywhere, across Apple iOS devices as well as Android, used in Flash players on any desktop browser, and for html5 video tags.
Plus, publishers tend to want to serve the highest quality video possible to their users, and tend to do much of their testing from offices with strong fixed-line or Wi-Fi connections. That leads to downplaying network congestion issues. Psychologically, moreover, users tend to blame their wireless carrier when videos stall and load painfully slowly, rather than the publisher, as it can be hard for an end-user to tell whether a crowded mobile network or publisher's technology choice is the root cause for a poor user experience.
Further, ABR is not something that a publisher can implement on their own without the end-device having a common standard to communicate back to the publisher servers. Standards for ABR remain in flux, with de-facto implementations such as Apple HLS and new emerging standards such as DASH. The rise of html5, which lacks a defined ABR standard, and favors the Progressive Download with the HTML5 video tag, further ads to the confusion and plays against ABR adoption in the coming years.
Therefore MP4 has come to dominate mobile and now desktop video delivery. Skyfire estimates that over 70% of iOS video, and 50% of web video bandwidth, runs via MP4—which is a non-adaptive format.
The adoption rates do not seem to be moving quickly. Skyfire conducted a similar study in April 2011 of the top 18 video publishers (the ComScore Top 10 and eight other top video players from Skyfire user data). For desktop websites, only 11% of the publishers used ABR delivery, even though ABR options have been available for years. On Android, none of the publishers used ABR delivery at the time. For iPhone apps and websites, 18% used the Apple HTTP Live Streaming ABR standard, which is available thanks to the Apple embedded media player. And these were the top sites – smaller players are even less likely to use ABR.
*Based on Skyfire Testing in April, 2011 and November, 2011
While Skyfire believes that ABR use will increase in coming years, these figures should make Operators pause before they sit back and rely on the hope that all Publishers and CDNs will “self police.”
The implications of this data for Mobile Operators are clear. Operators need to explore all their options, including Wi-Fi offload, metered data pricing, 4G network build outs, and optimization solutions in the network. Every tool will be needed to handle the data tsunami.
Skyfire’s Rocket Optimizer platform allows Operators to providesmart capacity management in a way that can handle content from any publisher, and adapt the content at times of network congestion in real time, to ensure good user experiences. Skyfire’s Rocket Optimizer platform can optimize non-ABR video content (the vast majority of mobile video), based on network congestion, and it can further optimize ABR video content by making bit rate ceiling decisions using precise congestion awareness. This solution provides both cost savings for operators and a better user experience on mobile networks.
"Why the New look?”
This month marks a series of exciting milestones for the Skyfire team. For a long time, Skyfire’s strategy has aimed at developing technologies for Wireless Operators to deploy in their network infrastructures. Although most consumers have known us for the Skyfire consumers apps, our apps have served as a showcase and laboratory to learn about consumer needs and prove out the scaling of our video technologies. Last year we announced the availability of a carrier-grade suite of products under the name Skyfire Rocket Platform.
This week we’re in the deployment process in the network of a Tier One North American wireless operator for the Rocket Optimizer product, which marks a key step. We also are able to announce the commercial availability of Rocket Optimizer 2.0, our latest software solution, which is honed for both 4G LTE scale and 3G networks. And Skyfire has been selected for numerous trials across the US and Europe, so we are excited by the tremendous momentum. The technology will deliver game-changing cost savings for beleaguered wireless operators, as well as better user experience on mobile networks.
Meanwhile, a hearty thanks from the whole team here in Mountain View CA for all those users who have activated the Skyfire service, and particularly those whose suggestions and comments keep us focused on great mobile user experience, and getting better. Thanks to all those who have supported our vision for bringing full access to ALL video on the Web, even on the move, over increasingly crowded cellular networks. We believe in adapting video in a mobile-optimized way that saves money for users on limited data plans, and is better for overloaded spectrum as well. Not to mention playing more smoothly, without tears and rebuffering. Because who likes those rebuffering spinnies, anyway?
To describe where the company is focused more accurately, we have launched our new web site. You’ll find a lot of resources, briefing sheets, and a new white paper on our carrier-grade products for Operators. You will also see a clearer layout, and more information about our consumer apps, and company news. And we think it looks snazzier too. We hope you like it. Please send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gratefully yours on behalf of Team Skyfire,
On behalf of everyone at Skyfire, our thoughts go out to Steve Jobs and his family today as he announced his health no longer allows him to continue as CEO of Apple. We salute Jobs and all that he has done to remake our industry, and revolutionize the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
As a developer, Skyfire’s consumer success would not have been possible without great innovations that Jobs led like the iPhone, iPad, the App Store, iTunes for easy payments, and html5 browsing. And of course, Jobs’ famous opposition to Adobe Flash on the iPhone opened up a market need that one of Skyfire’s best-known products addressed: Translating Flash Video into Apple-friendly formats. In the process, Skyfire sold millions of dollars of Apps.
But in a larger sense, we all in mobile have lived in a world changed forever by Jobs from the invention of the iPhone in 2007, which changed people’s minds about what a “smartphone” could be. Jobs pioneered the belief, which is now a commonplace assumption, that everyone should have the FULL internet, and powerful personal computing, in your pocket, with you 24 hours a day.
Jobs was the archetype of the demanding, visionary, almost authoritarian CEO. What elevated him above all else was his uncompromising demand to put user experience first. All of us that champion great design, usability, and simplicity owe him a debt for showing that hardware should serve software, and software should serve the user experience. Too many consumer products start the other way around.
Apple will presumably remain a great company for a long time to come, but an era is marked today, and we all here in Silicon Valley tip our hats (our mice?) to one of the all-time greats as he steps down from daily leadership of the Valley’s (and the world’s) most valuable company.