Japan’s Porn-Obsessed Highlight The Need For New Content Delivery Models

You’ve probably already seen the story about how Japan’s mobile networks are creaking under the strain of mobile porn. While Japanese operators say they can’t look at exactly what their users are downloading, the booming business of porn providers, plus a nightly spike in data traffic around midnight, gives them a pretty solid idea.

Certainly the story is good for a chuckle, but there’s more to it than that: if Japan is a bellwether for mobile, what’s in store for the rest of the world as mobile data traffic continues to grow? New technologies like LTE are often seen as a savior, wringing more throughput out of available spectrum, but some say that those gains will simply be offset by increased usage.

There’s growing talk about the unsustainability of flat-rate data plans, and that eventually operators will have to shift back to usage-based pricing. That seems like the easiest solution, but also the one most likely to undo all the gains the industry has made in getting people to use mobile data. It’s undeniable that flat-rate plans have played a key role in sparking the growth of mobile data services; it similarly seems undeniable that taking two steps back and trying to charge users per KB or MB would not just stifle that growth, but knock the leg out from under the table.

So it’s time to come up with some other solutions — in particular, new ways to deliver mobile content. Certain content could be downloaded during off hours, such as “streaming” radio like Pandora or Last.FM. If those services are building a stream based on a user’s preferences, it doesn’t necessarily need to be streamed; it could be put together and downloaded overnight, then stored locally on the device and ready for playback the next day. This could even be done at home over a femtocell, cutting the mobile network out completely.

Another obstable: the lack of seamless mobile/Wi-Fi switching in most devices. This is another area that the iPhone’s gotten right, while other vendors have — for some unknown reason — twiddled their thumbs. Perhaps old operator objections to Wi-Fi in handsets had something to do with it; but now, if anything, they’ll be happy to offload the traffic from their networks.

These are just a couple of quick thoughts that I came up. What are some other ideas? It’s important to remember that none of these will (or should seek to) completely cut out the mobile network or the ability to use it to access live data. But what can be done to offload non-time-sensitive content, or use other available networks, to free up capacity for that live traffic?

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