Tech and Devices Converge

Will Jones
We have all become so accustomed to the immediate gratification of the Internet; we can’t live without it at our fingertips. This desire to have all the data offered by the Internet on hand at any time, any place has led to the development of the next generation in web access: mobile devices. Mobile quickly has become an indispensable item in an age when instant communication is a must; at least that is the perception of most users.

Driven by consumer demand, technology is evolving to meet the perception of universal access with a plethora of portable and mobile devices available. These devices are increasingly capable of handling expanded capabilities beyond traditional concepts of voice transmission and are becoming a platform to which all kinds of data transfer are possible.

Convergence is a concept frequently mentioned in discussions about new technologies. What does it actually mean? Convergence is the consolidation of multiple data sources into a single infrastructure where one device can provide access to voice, data, video and audio. Originally, the television set-top box was the proposed point of convergence, combining the television’s video and audio capabilities with Internet access to meet both media and communication needs.

However, with the rapid development of mobile technology, many in the industry agree that the mobile device is where it actually will happen first. Some say that with this new trend, the definition of convergence also has changed and that the primary focus lies not just on interactivity but also accessibility. Consumers want all their needs met instantly, no matter where they are or what kinds of data they crave. Access must be anytime, anywhere — and mobile is best fit for that job.

Early in the emergence of the mobile infrastructure, the development of WAP, or Wireless Access Protocol, allowed mobile phones to expand capabilities beyond the traditional use as voice communication devices. It was the first step in demonstrating the potential that mobile devices had for the convergence of data transmission. WAP 1.0 was the first implementation of access to data protocol for mobile devices to display data in a weblike way, though what WAP 1.0 actually would showcase was severely limited. It was not a true web experience on a mobile device.

With the introduction of WAP 2.0, the experience for end users was better — one that was even closer to the experiences they had with Internet browsing on their home computers. Not only was the protocol improving, but new mobile devices were being built that could utilize the new technology, allowing for a wider range of experience. These new devices included new features such as larger screens with better screen resolution or more memory, adding to the possibilities already inherent in the mobile phone. Improvements continue today in this area as content providers and device manufacturers strive to create a seamless mobile Internet experience.

Just like the computer on your desk that may use browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Netscape or Apple Safari, mobile devices also have several different browsers. These are known as micro- browsers and are available for communicating over the Internet. Some are very simple and do not provide for a true web experience, but some are specifically designed to target the peculiarities of browsing the web on a mobile device. One such browser is Opera Mobile, whose SSR (small screen rendering) feature for phones can take any website and render it onto your cellphone in as close a facsimile as possible. It reformats the page’s HTML and makes it viewable on your cellphone screen by resizing images and stacking frames. Others run on less-capable phones by off-loading memory-intensive renderings to a proxy server to compensate for a shortage of memory space.

Building Infrastructure
Regardless of the browser used on the mobile device, industry leaders are building infrastructure, encoding content and creating websites already formatted so that mobile users are guaranteed the best experience, no matter what device they use to access it. This makes the experience a familiar one, one that is so much like regular Internet browsing that less savvy users feel comfortable with it. However, this is no small task. It takes careful planning, a strong capture and encoding infrastructure as well as well-thought out designs to build sites and deliver content that looks good at all times, across multiple browsers and screens, including those of mobile devices.

Even though it is currently possible to access the same Internet from a cellular phone, portable computer or tethered desktop computer, there still are some barriers created by cellular carriers in an attempt to control the free flow of data behind a “walled garden.” To protect this control, many cellular carriers offer hot-button links to Internet material built into a cellphone’s menu, making them readily available to their customers. This requires the particular cellular carrier to allow the content provider behind the walled garden through licensing or other arrangements. This also means the carrier will charge exorbitant fees for inclusion and most of the revenue stream will be eaten away. “On-deck” is the current buzzword for this situation. When an application is on-deck, the content is accessible through a carrier’s portal as part of its service, making it instantly accessible to its users.

While in the past it may have been true that a content provider was prohibited from delivering content to the walled gardens of many cellular carriers, that is no longer the case. With advancements in device and data transmission technology, there now are other ways to access Internet-based information from your cellphone or other mobile device that is not dependent on any carrier’s individual network or device type. When content is “off-deck,” it must be accessed through an interface like a browser. While on-deck service offers more direct access to content, the content is mediated and brokered by the carrier. This is something that doesn’t happen with off-deck content where content goes to the public unfiltered.

One issue that arises when adult content companies approach carriers is that many carriers are still working on age verification systems that will help monitor the control of adult content to minors. Once such a system is in place, the carrier most likely will be more open to facilitating the adult market — a market that already exists and has the potential to thrive once the doors are open.

At least one carrier, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., has embraced adult content from the start, and it is seeing tremendous success with this model in the markets they serve. While most of the mobile operations in the adult industry may remain off-deck, better relationships with the carriers will come once the proper safeguards are in place. Still, off-deck distribution is only beginning in the U.S. and has a long way to go before it matures. It already is thriving in the European markets, giving us an idea of what is ahead in terms of mobile technology.

Independent of the standards carriers choose to adopt, convergence is taking place in small steps as devices gain multiple features. This means fewer devices are being used for more purposes, but there is still not one single device for all communication and entertainment needs. Camera phones were the first mass-market example of a basic convergence device, but now you can easily find camera phones storing more music than the iPod Shuffle.

Wi-Fi Connections
Some mobiles use Wi-Fi network connections now, allowing for streaming media experiences comparable to your desktop PC. Some devices work as portable media players, allowing you to transfer downloaded movies and music from your desktop PC to the device. Bluetooth-enabled devices can play music from their built-in speakers, through headphones and through a car stereo or other Bluetooth-enabled stereo systems, all without wires.

As devices converge to one platform for all needs, adult content providers will see mobile devices being used not only for phone calls, text chat and instant messaging but for any combination of surfing the Internet, downloading and streaming videos all pulled across any of the various 3G networks, Wi-Fi networks, or transferred via a wired connection like USB or other PC-to-device connections.

Will Jones is mobile specialist/sales executive at the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network.