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PacketVideo marks mobile video's 10th birthday

Using mobile phones to snap pictures, surf the Web, text, play games and watch last night's TV clips sometimes makes it hard to remember that just 10 years ago mobile phones just made phone calls.

But 1998 was also the year newly-founded Packet Video (PV) demonstrated compressed video over a cellular voice network — and was told that widespread video on a cell phone was a "not in my lifetime" proposition, recalls Joel Espelien, Packet Video CBO. Not too many were seeing what PV's founder James Brailean was looking at.

In 1998, the mobile phone business was a totally vertically integrated industry, Espelien said. "Jim Brailean saw that the way that mobile phones were going to be built was going to change in the future. What was going to change it was application processors — specifically, the emergence of the ARM processor,* which powered the first real mobile operating systems like Win/CE and Epoch, which became Symbian.”

"This led us to the conclusion that the vertically integrated telephone process was dying, and what was emerging was a value chain," Espelien said. "Our goal was to become one of the first independent software vendors targeting the mobile phone. Back then, this was a fairly radical notion."

Today, PV's software has shipped on more than 250 million mobile phones, and the company expects that shipments for 2008 alone will top 100 million. Espelien expects that, when we look back at 2008, we'll recognize it as an industry inflection point.

"When the original iPhone shipped [in 2007], mobile video ceased being viewed as a fringe phenomenon," Espelien said. "When you look at some of the recent handsets — for example, LG handsets like the Verizon Voyager and Dare — they all ship with V CAST service enabled.

"When they tracked usage of the video service," he said, "the attach rate of V CAST on Voyager is about 80 percent; that's a stunning figure."

One thing Espelien sees for the next 10 years is a significant cohort of "younger people who watch most of their video on a small screen on a mobile device — especially categories like news." He also predicts that most video will be on demand and "huge portions" of it will be watched on small screens. Finally, Espelien expects that the mobile devices of the future will have massive amounts of video storage capacity.

"People will see the day when you have a terabyte of storage on your phone," he said. "You'll pretty much be able to store whatever you want."

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* Widely used in embedded systems, ARM architecture is a 32-bit RISC processor architecture developed by Advanced RISC Machines. ARM dominates in mobile consumer devices because of its high performance, low power consumption and low cost.