Standards leadership in action: How Nokia transformed the way we view video
I have a thought exercise for you. Try to imagine what your daily life would be like without digital video services. It’s a very different world, isn’t it?
Without video services – or, more precisely, the video codec – there would be no streaming of our favorite shows and movies on TVs, tablets and phones. The social media revolution would have taken a far different turn, as there would be no means of sharing video of services like TikTok and YouTube. There would be no FaceTime with the family on weekends.
And the new reality of remote work would be far more difficult as we would have no access to video conferencing and video chat services that have replaced in-office interaction. And beyond our personal and work lives, video codecs have become ingrained in industry and automation technologies. Security cameras, autonomous and remote-piloted robots in factories and warehouses, and even our cars’ assisted driving features – they all rely on the video codec.
The video codec allows large data files to be shared across the internet. The ability to compress, easily transmit and decompress video through codecs has become a defining feature of our modern world, . The reason we have such powerful video codecs today is, in a large part, due to Nokia’s technical innovations and contributions. Working closely with the standards bodies and peers in the consumer electronics industry, Nokia engineers helped define the codecs and video streaming formats in billions upon billions of consumer, enterprise and industrial devices, appliances and applications – a fact we have been recognized for with numerous honors, including five Emmy awards.
Many companies are vying for the title of standards leader in the telecommunications industry by pointing to various metrics like essential patents and committee and working group memberships. But Nokia believes leadership can’t be measured through numbers alone. While Nokia has produced significant standards-essential intellectual property and is extremely well represented in the standards’ bodies, the measurement that really matters is impact on society.
The work Nokia has done to bring multimedia capabilities to the world’s devices, appliances and media and communication services clearly demonstrates our leadership in standards. We’ve helped reshape the way people – quite literally – view our world.
Re-envisioning the mobile phone
It all started with the humble feature phone. In the early 2000s when, mobile phones were primarily voice and SMS devices. Phones could access the early mobile internet, but they had barely scratched the surface of their multimedia potential. Nokia, however, saw the enormous potential for the phone to become a personal device for multimedia capture, streaming and playback.
To realize that vision, though, a radical change in video codec technologies was needed. Due to the limitations of 2G and early 3G networks, video coding needed to double the level of compression of then current multimedia codecs in order to achieve any meaningful level of fidelity on a mobile phone.
Nokia joined telecom and consumer-electronics peers in the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) and the Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG) to solve the problem, and in 2003 they created the H.264/Advanced Video Coding (AVC) standard. Nokia turned out to be quite prescient. H.264/AVC debuted right as smartphones began to emerge and the first High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) networks were rolled out. Consumers and businesses now had access to the video codecs, mobile broadband connections and device hardware necessary to kick off the mobile video revolution.
Nokia, however, wasn’t done anticipating future multimedia needs. Nokia and its partners foresaw the shift to user-generated content and real-time video communications. Content consumers would become content creators, adopting every manner of video sharing and social media app. Meanwhile video conferencing would become a major pillar of the modern workplace. To meet those still nascent demands, Nokia and its ITU-T and MPEG peers in 2013 hashed out the H.265/High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard, which laid the groundwork for any number of video conferencing and video sharing applications and took the quality and efficiency of video codecs to Ultra-High Definition 4K video. This is staggering achievement when you realize that a raw 4K video has an original bitrate of 12 Gbps at a framerate of 60 fps. H.265/HEVC compresses that bitrate to about 20 Mbps while maintaining excellent picture quality.
The impact of H.264/AVC and H.265/HEVC are hard to exaggerate. These codecs are embedded in virtually every smartphone, PC, TV, tablet, digital video player and consumer camera in the world. They are the backbone of video communications and broadcasting networks. And they are the underlying technology in nearly every cloud-based streaming service.
Multimedia continues to evolve
Nokia has already begun thinking about the next generation of multimedia, and it’s bringing the full force of its innovation and standards expertise to bear. Before XR, spatial computing and the metaverse became the hot trends they are today, Nokia began anticipating the need for 360° video and audio streaming, augmented reality overlays, and immersive multiplayer gaming. Those use cases are included in the new H.266/Versatile Video Coding (VVC) standard completed in 2020.
Our work in the video codec arena is a clear example of Nokia’s standards leadership and visionary outlook. We dedicated enormous resources to identifying future consumer, enterprise and industrial needs. Then we brought our expertise to the standards forums, collaborating with our peers, to ensure that a viable, yet innovative, standard is adopted by the world. In the process Nokia shaped the future of video for decades to come.
Multimedia represents just one of the many areas where Nokia has stood up as a leader in standardization. This summer we produced a series of blog posts detailing how Nokia has impacted society through its standards work. In June, Antti Toskala described how Nokia’s pursuit of RedCap in 3GPP opened up 5G to the internet of things. In July, Farah Sabouri and Ling Yu related how C-V2X standards are making roadways safter. I encourage you to read these posts to learn more about how Nokia is shaping our world through standards leadership.