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BW Businessworld

Video For The Rest Of Us

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Why should the good stuff be limited to glitzy expensive smartphones that are only in the hands of the elite few who can afford them? No reason at all, thinks Canadian-Indian mobile video-streaming startup Jigsee, which is determined to get fast, good quality streaming video to the masses. Price: no bar. 3G: no bar. Type of network: no bar. And to cap it all — it's free. You do, however, need a GPRS connection, and the streaming won't cost too much at less than Rs 100 a month.

Jigsee was set up in 2008 by Ray Newal, and his partner and CTO, Areef Reza. Newal has worked with Internet companies and wireless technologies, (including Microsoft, Yahoo and Doubleclick). Reza has worked with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and Nortel, and knows all there is to know about developing countries, having come from Bangladesh. He's more than familiar with how bandwidth works (or doesn't) in developing countries, and how, in this region, everyone wants video.

Newal and Reza were excited by the challenge of reaching an audience of mobile users who wouldn't otherwise have access to video content — at least not easily. That's why, at a time when everyone is talking smartphones, they are focusing on the basic phones — it's the bigger chunk. In India, that slice is about 500 million users. The company's mission is to "bring down the borders that prevent video from being accessible to everyone." Nice thought. Newal had earlier been backpacking his way through India and was taken with our intense involvement with our mobile phones and how they were used as a whole entertainment device.

Jigsee was set up with a series of funding from Sequoia Capital and the Indian Angel Network. There may be a second round of funding in the offing, but eventually, the goal is to include premium content channels for which providers can charge a fee. Other sources of revenue such as ads and royalties can also be explored in time. Basically, Jigsee is a free-video application that delivers continuous video streaming on basic-feature phones. From 15 August, the beta is available for download at half a dozen app stores, including Ovi, Cellmania (Tata Docomo, Airtel). Appia (Opera, Mobile2Day) and at its website: It's available mostly on Nokia phones right now, but the list of audience phones will increase from the 220 models currently supported, says the company. It is not on Android yet, but it will be.

For video content, Jigsee is working with partners UTV, 1Take Media, Khan Academy to begin with. You can stream music videos, movie clips, television shows, health and fitness routines, cartoons, educational videos, etc. The library of videos is growing rapidly. Everything from Bollywood to yoga to TED talks to fashion. Unlike on YouTube, there are no nasty shocks with iffy content. And the video content is already available in many local Indian languages.

I saw Jigsee working on two no-frills phones on both 2G and 3G networks. The initial loading up was a bit faster on 3G, but once the videos got going, you couldn't tell which was which. All those who have been through the annoyance of YouTube videos stuck forever will know how unpredictable video can be on a 2G network. But imagine what it's like for those in far flung areas where connectivity is still more inconsistent. That's the issue Jigsee is addressing.

The several videos I watched were smooth, with no buffering. Sound and picture were both clear. Jigsee claims to be able to deliver continuous video flow on wireless data networks as slow as 50 kbps (the average speed of GPRS data-rates across India is estimated to be 60 kbps).

Watching videos with this application isn't a feature-starved experience. With auto-bookmarking, viewing takes up where it left off if interrupted, for example. A collection of videos will play when you begin. It will even continue to play when your phone switches from GPRS to Wi-Fi. Unlike watching regular video on phone, Jigsee's application communicates with the server to assess ups and downs in speed and precise breaks in connection that interrupt the video. The application doesn't use compression, which, as Newal explained to me, can't always be handled by simple phones. Instead, it uses the dips and spikes in wireless connections to optimise the speed on the fly — that's what's smart about it.

The larger portion of our population will only have access to the Internet via mobile phones, for the foreseeable future. So the opportunity for Jigseee is big. Also, it's nice that it can bring entertainment in a way that they will find easy.

mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 29-08-2011)