Industry Blog

Gone in 6 Seconds: Mobile Video in the Middle East

What if Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie remade Gone in 60 Seconds and swapped flashy cars in Los Angeles with smartphones in glitzy Dubai? In that case they might have to call it Gone in 6 Seconds! Why? That’s how long subscribers in the Middle East will tolerate buffering when they are streaming video on their handset. After that … they are gone.

That’s just one of the findings from a survey we commissioned in the Middle East. We asked Censuswide to poll mobile data users in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon and Jordan. We looked at attitudes to mobile video, tolerance to poor Quality of Experience (QoE) and how much subscribers were willing to pay for unlimited video.

The magnificent six (seconds)

Middle Eastern subscribers were patient when it came to load times. The study found that on average, most subscribers were happy to wait for around 15 seconds for a video to load (start). But once it had started – six seconds of buffering was enough for them to abandon the experience.

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Buffering is the bane of mobile users. Our study a few months ago in North America and Europe found that buffering frustrated subscribers more than even dropped calls.

How to lose a subscriber in 6 seconds!

Network congestion can cause buffering. Many operators in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) have experienced phenomenal growth in traffic. Data over mobile networks increased 117% last year in MEA. According to estimates 300,000 Terabytes are flowing each month. With network congestion, subscribers can suffer poor QoE. That’s not good news for operators.

The survey asked subscribers “who do you blame when you experience poor streaming quality?”. They did not blame the content provider or the handset manufacturer. The vast majority placed the blame at the mobile operator’s door or more aptly, the network. The onus is with the operator to boost subscriber QoE.

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The research revealed how much subscribers in the Middle East enjoyed streaming videos on their handset. They were even prepared to ditch their existing operator – and pay more. On average, 1 in 2 mobile subscribers would “definitely switch” to another carrier who offered free streaming video services.

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Now for payback…

But (and it’s a big positive “but”), for forward looking operators who want to be innovative and launch unlimited video streaming, there’s money on the table. We asked subscribers if they would pay extra for unlimited streaming on top of their monthly bills. The vast majority would pay extra. Lebanese subscribers would pay just over US$ 9 per month, over S$5 in Jordan and just over US$4 in the UAE. That’s an impressive ARPU boost for any operator.

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When every second counts

So, what strategy can operators adopt to monetize mobile video? Take a leaf out of T-Mobile USA’s playbook. They launched Binge On, an unlimited mobile video service that offered uncapped streaming. From Netflix to ESPN, T-Mobile offered unlimited videos at 480p. That’s standard definition and subscribers loved it! The service won T-Mobile more customers and it boosted ARPU. What is T-Mobile’s secret recipe? It is mobile optimization.

Feeling inspired by T-Mobile? Middle Eastern operators have a great line up of streaming services available in the region.  They include Netflix, OSN, Icflix and Starz Play. Optimization technology available today allows operators to launch not just innovative video plans, but also to reduce network loads. It took T-Mobile a few months to launch YouTube. The popular video service has Google’s encryption and secure data as a whole has given operators a rather nasty headache.

Mobile networks are going “dark” because of encryption. Traditional optimization technology can’t manage secure data. This impacts QoE. In some of the parts of the world almost 80% of data is encrypted. We are proud that our award-winning optimization technology can manage encrypted traffic. Operators can launch unlimited video streaming services, including YouTube and reduce network loads. Why not go one step further? With our solutions operators can launch unlimited gaming, music streaming and even roaming.

Middle Eastern mobile subscribers are discerning. They love streaming on their handsets and have low tolerance to poor QoE. What’s more, they will jump ship to enjoy uncapped videos. The good news is that there is extra revenue for mobile operators who want to be innovative with their data plans.

There are six crucial seconds to get mobile video right. If you don’t, that subscriber could be gone just as fast as one of those supercars steered by Nicolas Cage.