On paper, T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ unlimited video streaming initiative might sound like a win for consumers and a win for the wireless industry at large, but there are two key issues that have critics questioning the plan.
The first issue is related to the quality of the streams that T-Mobile will be offering its customers free of charge. As CEO John Legere said during yesterday’s Un-carrier event, the videos will be optimized for mobile devices in order to limit the amount of data T-Mobile has to chew up in order to deliver free streaming.
In effect, this will force T-Mobile to stream at a lower bitrate, resulting in video of “DVD quality or better,” which amounts to 480p or slightly higher. Speaking with VentureBeat, a T-Mobile representative explained that “480p […] is approximately 2.2X more efficient than HD coming over the network, with minimal difference in viewing experience.”
This, of course, is an exaggeration. Although the difference between 1080p and 480p isn’t nearly as pronounced on a smartphone display as it would be on a 40″ television screen, you’re definitely going to be able to tell you’re streaming at a lower resolution, especially if you’re used to streaming Netflix or HBO Now over Wi-Fi.
That’s not to say that customers won’t be willing to compromise their viewing experience in order to save data, but that’s when we run into another major issue: ‘Binge On’ sets a terrifying precedent when it comes to net neutrality.
I won’t go too in-depth on the potential doomsday scenario that this sets up for future video services that want to compete with Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and other video services that meet T-Mobile’s technical standards to allow data-free streaming, but if you want to know more about how this could hurt future developers, be sure to read Brad Reed’s piece on the subject.
All in all, it’s hard to deny that ‘Binge On’ will save consumers money in the short-term, but it’s not quite the home run that we thought it might be when the information leaked a few weeks ago.