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If streaming music can be unlimited, why not streaming video?

James Careless | July 4, 2014
While a carrier like T-Mobile may have excellent reasons to offer unlimited audio streaming to its subscribers, that rationale doesn't necessarily apply to video.

Why video's different
So if offering unlimited music streaming on its 4G LTE network is a smart business move for T-Mobile, why not do the same thing with video? Because, put simply, video is a bandwidth hog. And while a wireless carrier could find ways to let users stream video without it counting against their data plan, it would be hard to make money doing so, even in today's 4G LTE network environment.

"When asked if T-Mobile would do the same for video, Mr. Legere said they are 'open to moving people to our unlimited plan' to handle demand for video," Welsh de Grimaldo said. "T-Mobile, like the other carriers, is monetizing video traffic by moving people to higher tier plans if they want to watch more video." To that end, she noted, T-Mobile increased the price of its unlimited 4G LTE data plan by $10 to $80 per month earlier this year.

What other carriers might do
So if unlimited video streaming isn't in the cards any time soon, can we at least look to other wireless carriers to follow T-Mobile's lead and free up streaming music from counting against your monthly data limit? It depends who you're talking about.

"Sprint can easily do this when they get their 2.5GHz spectrum deployed," New Street Research's Chaplin said. "At that point Sprint will have more capacity than any of the carriers and this is exactly the kind of offering they will launch to take advantage of this. I doubt we will see AT&T or Verizon do anything that didn't involve additional revenue from a different source."

But unlimited streaming video is likely out of the question, analysts say. "I expect U.S. carriers will be reluctant to adopt a similar approach for mobile video given it is more bandwidth-intensive than music," said Nitesh Patel, Strategic Analytics' director of wireless media strategies. And that's unlikely to change until wireless networks upgrade sufficiently to handle streaming video's demands as easily as T-Mobile can currently manage audio streaming's needs.


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