You may have read that this past week SlingMedia finally released its much anticipated SlingPlayer for the iPhone. It's an application that lets you remotely stream video and remotely control your home television, from your computer, mobile device, and now iPhone. However the app has been relegated to only working on the iPhone via WiFi, not the available 3G data network, at the request of AT&T. AT&T's justification for this is as follows:
“Slingbox, which would use large amounts of wireless network capacity, could create congestion and potentially prevent other customers from using the network. The application does not run on our 3G wireless network. Applications like this, which redirect a TV signal to a personal computer, are specifically prohibited under our terms of service. We consider smartphones like the iPhone to be personal computers in that they have the same hardware and software attributes as PCs.
That said, we don't restrict users from going to a Web site that lets them view videos. But what our terms and conditions prohibit is the transferring, or slinging, of a TV signal to their personal computer or smartphone.
The Slingbox application for the iPhone runs on WiFi. That's good news for AT&T's iPhone 3G customers, who get free WiFi access at our 20,000 owned and operated hot spots in the U.S., including Starbucks, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, hotels, and airports. AT&T is the industry leader in WiFi.”
At first it would seem that AT&T is being hypocritical. AT&T is saying it's just fine with streaming video — it doesn't prohibit streaming video from websites. And after all, AT&T provides it's own streaming video content, called AT&T CV, directly to smartphones, PDAs, and traditional mobile phones. Subscribers receive it for free when they pay either for the PDA unlimited data plan or the MediaNet plan (which there are conflicting understandings about whether such a plan even exists for phones on AT&T's 3G network). AT&T even enables mobile to mobile video streaming with its AT&T Video Share service over its 3G network.
So when is a video transmission over a network not equal to a video transmission over a network? According to AT&T, it's NOT when that application eats up too much bandwidth, but instead it is when the transmission is sent specifically in a stream from your home television over the Internet, on to the AT&T network, and to your mobile device.
Is there a difference between a video stream that's source is a website like YouTube or a person's home computer? What is the difference if the source is an AT&T server?
Where is the congestion that AT&T talks about in this equation:
If AT&T says it's at A, between the phones and the cell tower, then it should be prohibiting its own mobile to mobile video sharing because that's sure to cause congestion with the phones uploading and downloading video, as well as all the other video streaming services from the Internet and its own servers. If it's B, the network that connects a cell tower to AT&T's network, then still, it should be banning all video (I mainly wanted to include this intersection so I could drop in a pic of the Death Star!). If it's C, the connection that mates the AT&T network to the Internet, then presumably it'd say only AT&T CV video is available and it would be banning all Internet video streaming from websites or downloading videos from iTunes.
Right now, AT&T isn't saying where the actual congestion is in its network, it's just saying, “We don't like streaming video sourced from users' home TVs.” Well why?! Why specifically pick out where the video source is from, it's ownership, or its destination? (Yes, those words “source,” “ownership,” or “destination” should ring a “bell” (PDF))
Well, today maybe we have an answer to that. AT&T provides cable-like video service to subscribers of its U-Verse service — which is a video-over-IP service. Via Gizmodo, AT&T also has plans to offer an application / service called I-Verse, which allows U-Verse subscribers to stream video from their home DVR to their iPhone-like devices. Presuming that this service is provided over the data network, it would be in direct competition with the SlingPlayer application.
Since AT&T's data congestion arguments sound bogus, could it be that the crippling of the SlingPlayer app on the iPhone is due to a yet-to-be-announced competitive service provided by the network operator? Is this the same reason why Skype, the voice-over-IP application which uses much less bandwidth than streaming video, doesn't work on 3G on the AT&T network–because it competes with AT&T's own voice service offerings?
For applications that connect to the general Internet, in which an operator itself provides similar competitive service, how much longer should we lay down to these arbitrary and anti-competitive prohibitions by a wireless carrier? When are we going to say enough is enough?