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Video calls: Cool at last?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

Video calling has been the next big thing in communication since the 1960s - and has never really caught on. But is this long-awaited revolution finally about to happen?

Apple's Face Time


You might think so from the huge sums Apple has poured into promoting the Face Time feature on the iPhone and the iPod Touch which allows users to see as well as hear who they're calling.

Or could it be Skype which will finally make video calling commonplace, perhaps via your TV rather than your computer or mobile phone?

The internet voice company is launching the latest version of its software today. It is making a lot of noise about its integration with Facebook, with the promise that you will be able to Skype your social-networking friends, but I am more interested in its latest video calling innovation.

Already 40% of Skype calls involve video, and now if you're on a Windows PC you will be able to have a video conference with several friends at once. Each time one of them speaks, they pop to the top of the screen.

It looks as though it could be useful both to groups of friends and to businesses wanting to hold meetings between people at several locations without making them travel.

But when I met executives from Skype earlier this week I wanted to know when it would bring video calls to the mobile world. For a decade, first with 3G phones and now with the iPhone 4, companies have told consumers that seeing as well as hearing will become a key feature of mobile calls. It did not happen with 3G and, as far as I can see, it's not happening with the new iPhone.

To use Face Time you have to find someone else who has an iPhone 4 and who is, like you, on a wi-fi network when you call. It is such a limiting set of circumstances that even when I tried to make a Face Time call to a couple of Apple executives thus week I failed to get through.



But what if you could integrate Skype's iPhone app with Face Time and use it to make video calls over 3G - surely that would be a winner? The people from the internet telephony business smiled ruefully when I asked this question and refused to be drawn.

It appears there are several sticking points - notably that the Face Time software isn't quite as open as it might appear, and the reluctance of mobile operators to allow even more video data to clog up their networks.

So it's indoors, in front of our computers, that video calling is going to grow - or perhaps in front of our televisions. Skype is already built into a number of televisions, and as the process of hooking up TV to broadband gathers pace, more and more of us may be sticking a webcam on top of the set and sitting down for a chat with friends and family around the world.

And here Skype may well have some serious competition from a giant of the internet world. Cisco is already building a decent business offering high-end HD video-conferencing to multinationals. Now it's beginning to offer a similar service to domestic users, though at what currently looks like a prohibitive price right now.

It's clear that at least three businesses - Skype, Cisco, and Apple - are now betting big sums that face-to-face communication over the internet is at last going to become commonplace.

Perhaps it might make sense for Skype and Cisco to get together to make sure that Apple does not dominate this market in the way it does digital music sales. Skype has recently hired a former Cisco executive as its CEO, so watch this space.


  • Comment number 1.

    I heard an interesting statistic in a Mobile Company's engineering department the other day. 30% of data traffic on mobile networks is now video. 50% of that (so 15% of ALL data on mobile networks) is from YouTube.

    Mobile Companies are terrified of video because that is what is killing their data networks at the moment.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm a regular user of both Skype and Facetime.

    I have to say that an iPhone paired with a mifi is a great combination. I can call my wife at home (or in many of the malls in HK which have wifi) and we can catch up. Most importantly, I can see my little boy growing up.

    There's nothing quite as surreal as being able to participate in reading him a book while on my commute home.

  • Comment number 3.

    The real deal is not on mobile networks - despite years to deliver customers the capacity and coverage they want no UK network can consistently deliver. All of them deserve to lose business to free wifi, Skype or other VOIP to landline calls.

    As for Skype it is great I speak often to my family in Australia on video. The only thing holding its adoption back is that not all Laptops have a camera, while the quality of some Netbook cameras is only 0.3mp.

    Once Apple get with the program and realise they cannot have everything in a closed garden and now Skype is on Android the market will really open up as it should do. Unless Apple open up, why not buy Skype guys? They will miss the next big thing.

  • Comment number 4.

    Video calls are so 90's. It is gimmicky know. Besides it uses lots of bandwidths and will rack up your phone bills in pretty much no time

  • Comment number 5.

    You need to be able to video call any on any phone that has the hardware capable, as simple as that, ie a cross platform/open standard. Where would we be if landline phones would only work if you had to use a Phillips phone to talk to another Phillips phone. Not only would it be ridiculous, but it would not be accepted.

    The networks currently dictate how much we can use our smartphones with flaky 3g, the irony being mine works best at home on my wifi, hardly "mobile". Still early days I suppose in the mobile computing space so maybe expect to much, look forward to better things going forward.

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    "Video calling has been the next big thing in communication since the 1960s - and has never really caught on. But is this long-awaited revolution finally about to happen?"

    is there any progress you can report on an increased uptake of video-conferencing and tele-commuting? so much time, money and fuel gets wasted in business on unnecessary travel and our daily commute, we have had the technologies (and infrastructure) for years and years, yet, all we get to hear about is 'new' consumer-level stuff.

    well, at least mother can wave at her gandchildren, great. ;(

  • Comment number 7.

    the Face Time software isn't quite as open as it might appear

    Um - what? It's a restrictive, single platform, proprietary system from one of the most aggressively proprietary, anti-interoperability software companies around. How open did it ever appear to be?

  • Comment number 8.

    "Video calling has been the next big thing in communication since the 1960s - and has never really caught on. But is this long-awaited revolution finally about to happen?"

    No, that is the short answer.
    I've recently used it because my girlfriend was in hospital. I video called her, went "ooh, look the dogs OK etc etc" then hung up and called her properly.
    It's useful for one off calls, or calls to relatives thousands of miles away from the comfort of a computer but anything other that that i can't see it being used...

    I'm not going to video call Dave to see if he's going down the pub tonight!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting timing of this article.

    With O2s free data expriring this month all Networks will be looking to profit from data. The question is how much value do consumers put on face to face communication when out and about. When my wife calls me to ask when will I be home I can expect her to trust me that I'm on the bus and not need to see me.

    Video calls are a luxuary item (except for the deaf) and will continue to charged as such.

  • Comment number 10.

    Your direct access to company officials provides great insight distinct from the standard blogposts, thanks Rory.

    "But what if you could integrate Skype's iPhone app with Face Time and use it to make video calls over 3G - surely that would be a winner?" The real winner would be the first service to integrate a cross-platform service across all PC OSs (not just windows, skype), all smartphones via 3G and/or wifi and broadband-connected TVs, reliably and cheaply. Cisco, Skype, Apple and Google all have the potential, but have some failings in their current offerings.

  • Comment number 11.

    FaceTime is useless unless you jailbreak your phone and install the patch to make it work over 3G.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello, NOKIA N900 has had video on skype over 3g/wifi for ages and lots of us told you that when you wrote a piece about Apple products recently (you write lots of those don't you?!).

    It seems we read you but you don't read us!


  • Comment number 13.

    At one point earlier this year you could install fring on your iphone or ipod touch and make video calls to skype users. Take up was so great that the fring network got overloaded so they stopped it working with skype. Now the two company's have fallen out which is a great shame.

  • Comment number 14.

    Connectivity has been and still is the failure. If you have a phone you can call all countries all networks. If you have video calling it only works if you have the same system from the same provider. You cannot even call from one network to another using the same technology. We need two things, a worldwide open standard that all operators in all countries use (albeit with different quality and service levels) and full interoperability of wifi, land and cellular phone networks etc. But at present no one in the industry seems to have the foresight to develop a business model to harvest this.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think video calling is useful but ultimately niche considering more people prefer to text than call each other.

    Video calling has been around for years on phones even though Apple would have you believe they invented it. Regardless of whether it's been used over WiFi or 3G it simply hasn't been popular. I'm not sure that's going to change.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ah, another story aimed at the neo-luddite masses. If journalists could step back from the Apple plateau and see the bigger picture you would notice that there other mobile phone manufacturers out there! They might not make devices as simple as the iPhone but that doesn't make them any less relevant.

    Take Android for instance. It is a true Operating system (unlike iOS which is single platform and proprietary) and can have any number of applications installed both from it's application store and free applications distributed over the web. It works on various hardware platforms by most of the major manufacturers and is developed by a company that is more about being open and free than Apple ever will be.

    The only negative point about Android is the version fragmentation but this is something that the carriers need to address as they are the ones holding it up.

    There are video calling application piling up from all of the big players ready to take Android by the scruff and finally get video calling to the non-Apple masses. Whether this will actually breathe life into a service that most people intentionally forgot about is yet to be seen, although talking to any Apple sheep you'd think that Steve had invented video calling!

  • Comment number 17.

    There's one small problem with video calling, in the UK at least; bandwidth. We've been on this for a while now, and just today the technology headline news on the BBC is how Britain is lagging behind in broadband speeds.

    There are also other issues with Skype which may or may not be due to lack of bandwidth. The other day, an old mate decided we should catchup on Skype, after a long while, and I reluctantly (to the technology) obliged. I fired up my Skype which went through an update because I hadn't used it for a while, and we were in the video call for a few minutes until the inevitable but not unexpected occurred. The video call dropped. The first few attempts to re-establish the call failed, even though my friend's status suggested he was online. I sent him several IMs; no reply. He eventually sent an SMS on my phone to say he was trying the same. We got back on to the video call once again for another 3 or so minutes until it dropped again. We ended up saying our byes on phone SMS.

    It would take a lot for one to persevere any more than that. I have had better moments with Skype before and I can only hope the new update Rory speaks of will bring consistency, (while I await my home broadband to get a much needed speed boost).

    From tech history so far, it's very possible that technological breakthroughs may well come from the small and unexpected start-up. The big guys are very good at commercialising existing technology. So while Apple, Cisco and Skype are battling each other, a nonentity may pop up and say they've done it!

  • Comment number 18.

    I only occasionally check out this blog but every time, it seems to be Apple-related! Surely, there's more to 'technology' than Steve Jobs and co?

    There's so much you could explore; Touch technology, cloud computing, augmented reality, where AIO PCs will sit in the market, what the Korean-EU trade deal will do for business etc etc...

  • Comment number 19.

    Why do tech blocggers insist on thinking that video calling, and face time are a new thing

    I was making video calls on my Nokia N95 almost 4 years ago,
    2 years ago video calls from my N96 were part of my T-Mobile bundle

    Skype and Apple are johnny come latelys to this technology,

  • Comment number 20.

    FaceTime works just great when the network connection is good enough because the same hardware and software combination is being used at both ends. However the network connection has never been good enough for me on the few occasions when I really wanted to use it to speak to close family members whilst travelling. Even if I could reliably place a video call to anyone no matter where we were, there would be very few circumstances when I would wish to do so.

    Video calling is a niche requirement in my opinion. I don't see that changing even if the technology evolves to make it possible to place video calls simply and reliably no matter what phone you own or where you are.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's disappointing that any mention of Apple in one of these blogs brings out the anti-Apple brigade. I don't believe that anyone who follows these things seriously believes that anyone at Apple claims to have invented video calling. I won't even bother to answer the muppet who believes that iOS is not a "true" operating system because it is proprietary and runs on a single manufacturer's hardware!

    Rory's point was that, by making video calling easy, and making it available on millions of devices, this is perhaps the best opportunity yet to popularise video calling. Interoperability is clearly important (though not essential, as we discovered during the instant messaging wars of a few years ago), and it may yet happen. Apple have made a gesture in the right direction by making their facetime standard open. Of course, other companies may well have good technical or commercial reasons not to use this standard. However, from my own experience with Skype video calling, which always works well for me at a technical level, I don't think video will be compelling enough to become truly mainstream.

  • Comment number 22.


    Actually, Rory's article might start off talking about video calling in general, bit it then degenerates into a discussion as to why Skype can't integrate their software with Facetime. Despite the best efforts of the regular contrubutors, Rory and Maggie both appear unable to comprehend that there are large swathes of the population out there who don't believe that the sun shines out of Steve Job's every orifice...

    But being serious, why would Skype, or anyone else want to integrate video-calling technology into any mobile device? While it may sound like a good idea, the simple fact is that the mobile phone infrastructure is proving to be horrendously bad at coping with large amounts of traffic. Getting any 3G signal in my home is next to impossible and even in town signal strength is extremely random. Until the networks address this, or until free-access public wifi systems become commonplace any sort of mobile video services, be it TV, video calling or whatever are going to suffer.

  • Comment number 23.


    Since Apple are selling Face Time as one of the iPhone/iPod touch's USPs they do actually want people to think they invented it. It's just good marketing don't get stressed by it.

    Video callign has always been easy to do yet hardly anyone chooses to do it. That's the problem.

  • Comment number 24.

    The aim should be not for integration between, say, Skype and facetime, but for interoperability. If I choose to use Apple's facetime app and you choose to use Skype, we should still be able to call each other.

    But your second paragraph identifies the real reason widespread video calling won't happen for some years - the networks can't take it, and until they can, they'll always try to find a way to make it expensive.

  • Comment number 25.

    Glad to see you are neither fooled nor stressed by Apple's marketing!

    Actually, video calling has not always been that easy to do. In the days before we had webcams integrated into our laptops, it could be very awkward to get things going. And how many of us want to use a computer to make a phone call? The future, if there is one, is being able to make the call from a mobile phone. I know this has been possible for some time from some phones, but the premise of Rory's article is that this has patently not caught on. The iPhone 4 is the first phone I've owned that has the capability - but I've never used it!

  • Comment number 26.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong but video calling from mobiles has been around for years and video calls over the internet possibly even longer? My old Sony Ericsson had video calling capabilities (and I didn't have to take out a mortgage to buy one), long before the iPhone was even a concept so why do all the write-ups make it sound like Saint Steve has just invented something new? He's taken an old idea and made it worse! It's so restrictive that it simply cannot take-off. Video calls over 3G might be iffy but at least it's there for the masses to use and hopefully will be improved in the future. I bet +90% of iPhone users have never even used face-time.

  • Comment number 27.

    O2 in london still struggle with Voice calls - I'd rather they sorted that out before putting effort into video.

    I'm based in Camden Town and around 60% of all my calls get dropped. disgraceful.

  • Comment number 28.


    Apart from the trolls, the anti-Apple brigade only come out when Apple gets mentioned more than it really should. Especially so on the BBC (it is a public service after all and therefore shouldn't promote companies, but we've already covered this on here for years). Apple gets mentioned far too much (in my opinion) and therefore you see a lot of the anti-Apple brigade. It's logical. I think that by constantly mentioning Apple, Rory makes himself seem short sighted. Just because he uses an iPhone and other Apple products doesn't mean he should focus on them, especially as technology journalist. As for the audience, here. Well it is mainly people interested in technology, not the people who only like popular stuff (e.g. Apple products).

    In terms of video calling. Well, my smartphone can do it, but; I've felt the need to use it, no one I know wants to use it (other than on MSN (no phone support there), it uses too much data and it drains battery life. On laptops/desktops I can see the point and it is fun, though rather novel to use. I can imagine using it to contact distant relatives/friends is fantastic.

    Folling on from justarealist, mass mobile video calling would most probably degenerate current video calling (designed for laptops/desktops) and therefore users who would get a bad experience (more likely) would blame the companies involved and may even discredit video calling altogether. Hardly a sound business strategy.

  • Comment number 29.

    The UK mobile companies need to invest large amounts of money in their core networks and base stations as they are all now struggling with data traffic especially with more and more video in use. Most new phones are setup to be able to give and get you the information you want while you are out and about. The speeds are really starting to suffer now as users are using more data than the networks can manage my company use Vodafone who are having a number of problems with dropped calls and slow data speeds as they can not cope with demand going back 18 months myself and others used to always to be able to get download speeds of 2.4mb plus on Vodafone now this has dropped down to around 1mb and often under which Vodafone and other networks have confirmed demand can not match what they can supply so its time for them to use them profits and invest in the networks before UK gets left behind is video calling takes off

  • Comment number 30.

    I'm currently working for a video conferencing company as part of my industrial year for a Business IT degree. Though a lot of our equipment isn't portable, and if it is it isn't the size of a mobile phone, we use it regularly for meetings and such like as it provides an easier and quicker way for a number of us within the company to discuss ideas. Also with a lot of our equipment being HD, its far better than using things such as Skype.

    The main aim of our company though is to install the systems throughout educational establishments such as schools and universities for a number of sites to partake in lessons and lectures together. As we are based in Wales there are a number of rural and remote schools which this feature is very useful for with them having small class numbers.

    I believe that video conferencing (internet based over ISDN or IP as we use) for the above reasons is very useful and can be very productive, but for someone to just say "Hello, so are we going out to the pub tonight then?" or something similar over a mobile phone video conference/call is completely unnecessary. People complain about the quality, but the main reason why its so poor is due to people doing this exact thing! The more that people that use it for calls such as that mentioned above, the more the system will become strained. Video calls shouldn't be implemented on mobile phones unless the companies can cope with the usage of them, which I feel won't happen for a number of years.

  • Comment number 31.

    For me all this misses the bigger point. I just don't think people are interested in video calling. I don't want to see who I'm calling most of the time.

    So even if all the kinks are worked out the the system and we had both the platforms and data networks to video call, I doubt I'd use it for more than 5% of my calls.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm a Network Engineer in a mobile company and can tell you that 30% of our data traffic is certainly not video, and it's not something we're concerened about when it comes to traffic congestion as we have the capacity to deal with it - mobile infrastructure includes fibre optic networking. The networks are modernised and upgraded to accomodate the evolving technologies and, like most people have said, the only thing that held up video calling on mobile devices was the launch of UMTS, back in 2003 and you didn't need WiFi as well to achieve it...
    Truth is, we don't see a lot of growth in video calling, and we're not worried about it. It's too slow and pointless, and I don't think fibre's going to help. The highest users of the data network are mobile broadband customers - fact!

  • Comment number 33.

    Interesting who decides how many mentions of a company are too many! I'm not sad enough to have counted, but we see facebook, twitter, ps3, xbox, and many other companies and products mentioned very frequently in the media, so it's not just apple who get a lot of mentions. Anyway, it's normally easy to avoid blogs that aren't of interest (for me, anything that appears to be about gaming or the third world usually get ignored, because I'm just not that interested). I guess the audience here is actually the semi-technical. Interested in more than just what appears in the news stories, but not so deeply interested or technically literate to go to the specialist blogs. That's what the BBC often seem to aim for. For example, I occasionally read the BBC football blogs, but as a committed Manchester United fan I wouldn't dream of looking for informed discussion of United on the BBC.

  • Comment number 34.

    Sorry, my post above seems contradicting on Fiber - I meant the extra capacity or awareness of fiber will not do anything to boost the popularity of video calling, whereas it's already doing great things for mobile broadband and other services.
    Being at the heart of Network Operations I can safely say that since testing of the 3G network, I've never seen anyone at any of our offices using video calling on their mobile.

  • Comment number 35.

    So there's plenty of capacity, but it's still too slow? If Skype video was higher quality, people would use it more. If video calling over the mobile networks was high quality (and people had handsets that made it easy to use) maybe people would use that more too. I thought the reason facetime was wifi only was that the networks weren't prepared to handle the load?

  • Comment number 36.

    Just out of curiosity, what about other video content? While I'd imagine people who use such things are in a very small minority, stuff like the sky mobile TV and other video streaming must use up an awful lot of bandwidth (certainly I only use it every now and again, else I'd be over my 500MB limit very quickly indeed).

  • Comment number 37.

    There is plenty of capacity and it is still too slow, yes probably more confusing... I guess what I mean is the capacity is there but it's too slow to show you seamless video - who wants to see a video link only 5 frames per second for example, and takes longer to establish the call as well. However, video calling is much cheaper then it used to be.
    I imagine the reason the iPhone must use WiFi as well is due to the size and picture quality on the handset, interesting point though...
    Perhaps this feature was too early for consumers and due to 3G disappointing launch it made bad first impressions - helped by the media of course ;) I honestly never attempt to use it and I don't I will. I think there's a certain feeling with telephony that you're just meant to speak and hear, not see.

  • Comment number 38.

    Data streaming is getting a little quicker thanks to HSDPA, but it's one way communication - you're only receiving it. With YouTube and other content it gets buffered as it does through a home network (only much slower). Again, Mobile TV is not very popular either but it's there if it's needed I guess as there's a premium to use Sky Mobile.
    As most of the traffic all goes over the same networks, Voice, Data and Transmission, then it's all the same OPEX to the business and little or no CAPEX.

  • Comment number 39.

    @ camyeoerfraefrance

    Apple have not made Facetime open source, they have said they will but it's not happened yet.

    Plus when they do it won't be because of any altruistic feelings on their part. It will be because Facetime is built on technology that is already open source and for them to use it they will have to to comply with licensing.

  • Comment number 40.

    @William Palmer
    I'm not sure that Apple would actually make facetime open source, even though this is one area where it wouldn't do much commercial harm. More likely they'll just publish enough to allow others to interoperate.

    And do you really suppose that any company has "altruistic feelings"? That just wouldn't be capitalism.

  • Comment number 41.


    Your posts are either outright erroneous or contain half-truths. Firstly, HSDPA is NOT one way communication. Within the HSDPA spec, there are provisions for BOTH downlink AND uplink channels.

    Secondly, you said "There is plenty of capacity and it is still too slow, yes probably more confusing... I guess what I mean is the capacity is there but it's too slow to show you seamless video...

    Without talking about the actual protocol issues, this is a half truth. Video conferencing applications require RTP which has different requirements to data.

    It is true that data packets outnumber video. However, it is a well known issue now that the advent of iPhone has caused a lot of strain on a lot of networks, most notably O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US. Up until recently, these two carriers had exclusive iPhone deals in their respective countries. And in case you hadn't heard, both of them announced major major network upgrades to help deal with the increased data traffic. O2 has managed to do so mainly in London, according to what was reported.

    Also the core network and the UTRAN have different capacity issues even though they relate to the same UMTS network. Having excess capacity in the core does not guarantee your Node Bs won't be oversubscribed.

  • Comment number 42.


    Interesting comments.

    It's no surprise that you don't see much video on your network. That's because end-to-end your networks are too slow to support it reliably in most places and it would cost too much to use them for that purpose anyway.

    Having loads of capacity in your core isn't much help if the weak link is the wireless part of the network. It's quite difficult to get a 3G data connection fast enough to browse the web effectively let alone conduct a video call using data over 3G.

    As EMC pointed out, all the carriers who have sold significant numbers of iPhones have needed to upgrade their networks due to the fact that they suddenly have large numbers of subscribers that can actually exploit the promise of a rich data experience on a mobile handset.

    Anyway, with the current data tariffs offered by the mobile industry you can continue not to worry about video calls causing you capacity issues. FaceTime video calls are purported to use data at 3MB/min due to the high quality video. I can't imagine many domestic users who would want to burn up their mobile broadband allowance at that rate. I can imagine even fewer international travellers who would be prepared to pay the extortionate data roaming charges to use it.

    If the mobile industry wants to encourage video calling over 3G data, they are going to need better wireless network technology and new tariffs for it. It will be interesting to see what AT&T cook up with Apple in the US when they work out how to get enough capacity and a way to charge for it.

    Even if video calling over 3G data became ubiquitous and cheap enough I still think there are significant cultural barriers to widespread adoption of the facility.

  • Comment number 43.

    Parts of the network are fine. It just depends on where you live.

    I was travelling from the south wales valleys to somerset on the weekend. On the train from home to Cardiff, I had good enough 3G signal on Orange to be able to watch the last half hour of the Everton V Liverpool game on my iPhone (using sky mobile TV) with only a couple of drop outs. Not bad for a part of the UK that stuggles with broadband speeds etc.

    However, I had to wait around an hour for a bus in central Bristol, and on trying to watch the Blackpool v Man City game, had no luck. My phone could barely load google, let alone stream video. And I was still on 3G.

    It seems strange that the network can be good enough in the valleys but not in a city centre.

    However, I do agree with your point about bandwidth allowance. Watching just that small bit of football probably used at least 10% of my monthly allowance (if not more).

  • Comment number 44.

    It is true that at present you are more likely to struggle with video in urban areas than rural simply down to the number of people using data and videos in built up areas the base stations and links back to the core network just can not cope so everybody gets the connection throttled back to give poor bandwith so all users can get on the internet although very slow. Where as when you are travelling by train or along a quieter road in a rural area you may be the only person using video and not many users on the local cell base station. All networks need to look at increasing the backhaul to their core networks for example the small town with over 10,000 residents where my sister lives is a 3G non spot so Vodafone come and upgrade the 3 masts around the town to support EDGE but as the engineer said you wont see any higher speeds as they are not willing to upgrade the backhauls all they want to do is show EDGE on the screen to make it look like they are trying to increase the network speed. It is true that O2 struggled when the I phone came out as the network could not handle it but industry lessons have not been learned as here we are 3 years down the line and Vodafone are having similar problems due to the amount of Android handsets they have got on the network along with I phones they are struggling with capacity with users getting low speeds and dropped calls this problem is especially bad in urban areas and in London is worst with many of its large spend corportae customers very unhappy with the degraded service and they are running high risk of losing large amounts of business due to lack of investment

  • Comment number 45.


    I agree, it does depend upon where you are. The number of people using it, the wireless coverage and the wireless technology are all factors. However, in my experience I get many more slow connections than fast ones on my travels and I have tried all of the networks including the one you mention.

    Admittedly I didn't do it very well but I was trying to make the point that video calling is different from most data applications including the video streaming one that you describe. Streaming a video can take more advantage of buffering to cope with fluctuations in download speed as you move on your train or the network becomes congested. That's why we often have to wait quite a while for the buffer to fill up and the video to start playing.

    Video calling is very different because it is very sensitive to other network performance characteristics than streaming a video. For a video call, you need a connection that is consistently fast and smooth in both directions. If either path get's even slightly out of tolerance, you get jerky video, audio/video synchronisation problems and even dropped connections. For this very reason, most corporate networks need to be specially engineered to prioritise this type of traffic (even if it is just voice) and stop it getting swamped by other less time sensitive but bandwidth hungry applications. I don't think that effort has yet been put into mobile telephony data and the current 3G networks can't be up to it otherwise Apple and their telephony partners wouldn't have stopped it over 3G.

    Even if you could legitimately attempt to use FaceTime over 3G, I think it would be pretty tough to reliably conduct a call on your train journey. With the current mobile wireless technology, I think both parties might need to sit under a mast that nobody else is using to make it work properly ;-)

  • Comment number 46.

    #45 @Kampernaut

    Agreed! The mobile radio network is full of perils for sensitive video calling protocols, for a whole range of reasons. However, that won't stop the likes of Apple going ahead with FaceTime. It certainly didn't stop them giving O2 iPhone exclusivity when it was clear that O2 had the worst 3G coverage in the UK. Fact! Of course they've improved things since, in certain locations.

    So consumer beware!

  • Comment number 47.

    @ EMC - I don't have all the facts otherwise we wouldn't have a debate on here. Obviously, the UTRAN capacity is seprate from the Core - but if the Core doesn't have it, the RAN wont either.
    Blackberry's and dongles also utilise a lot of the network, not just the iPhone. Think about the 3G iPad if it becomes popular, heaven forbid!?!
    The biggest contributer is that a lot of tarrifs offer, with FUP's, unlimited broadband connectivity.
    With 2G and 3G networks being modernised it's not something consumers should be particularly worried about. Next generation programmes begun ages ago and are progressing very well :)

  • Comment number 48.


    I used the iPhone in my examples because it's THE mobile device that started the data avalanche we're seeing today. It's THE device that gave the likes of O2 and At&T mixed fortunes; huge popularity on one hand, and network headaches on the other. There's probably more data traffic on mobile networks that can be attributed to it than any other device today, at least in the UK. In the US, word has it Androids have surpassed the iPhone lately, in terms of unit sales. I have and HTC Android device.

    "With 2G and 3G networks being modernised it's not something consumers should be particularly worried about. Next generation programmes begun ages ago and are progressing very well"

    The irony here is that the very people that marketed video calling as the holy grail of 3G, failed to deliver on their promise, as we have said before on this forum. Video calling was expensive and rubbish, for the most part. It was just not cool! I think it's very clear that some operators had underestimated the data usage of the new generation of smart phones, pioneered by the iPhone, and are only playing catchup now with the upgrades you mention.

    I think it's a fair call that consumers should be aware of the 3G coverage and issues in their area before buying expensive 3G devices and services.

  • Comment number 49.

    You're opinion is noted, but I do work in the business. It's nothing to do with marketing - and most of the marketing you go on about was due to the launch of 3, whom boasted about video calling from day one; I didn't see much of this from the other 4 networks I think you'll agree.

    With regard to network upgrades it's called evolution and has nothing to do with catching up - hence the words 'Next Generation' - which involves new technologies by different vendors; I.E. Huawei...

    I don't think the Mobile Operators are the sole party guilty to underestimate this technology, and I would suggest smart phones have only become more popular since O2 lost exclusive rights - which makes the manufacturers guilty too.

    Capacity Planning meetings have been part a regular of the business long since before the days of GPR as well...

  • Comment number 50.


    I'll tell you something. The iPhone and other new generation smart phones are actually a god-sent opportunity for telecom vendors; to sell upgrade kit to operators.

    I know that, because I work for a vendor.

  • Comment number 51.

    there is one good reson why i do not use skype and that is if you read the licence agreement you have to agree to skype passing all the information that it gathers about you and how you use the internet on to their partners and you must agree with this as you are not given any choce to opt out or not to opt out you must agree are you will not be allowed to use the service they are holding people to ransom

  • Comment number 52.

    I was in London yesterday for business and visited a few different locations accross the city and have never had so many problems as i did yesterday with my phone and data dogle both of different networks, around Canary Wharf my phone with Vodafone kept dropping calls and not ever GPRS speeds mentioned it to my meeting appoitment and he said it is happening every day now and then while visiting clients in Soho and Brick lane my Orange data dongle only was giving speeds of 120kps-200 so tried connecting upto to handset again slow speeds although a little better at 500kbs it does make me wonder why i pay so much for data access when the networks clearly can not cope with current demand and it is getting worse it is all well enough networks going on about next generation but they need to improve speeds and service now


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