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The standard H.264/AVC defines an efficient coding architecture both for coding applications where bandwidth or storage capacity is limited (e.g., video telephony or video conferencing over mobile channels and devices) and for applications that require high reconstruction quality and bit rate (e.g., HDTV). Since its main applications concern video communication over time-varying bandwidth channels, the bit rate has to be controlled with scalable algorithms that can be implemented on low resource devices. The paper describes a rate control algorithm that needs reduced memory area and complexity compared to other ones. The number of coded bits for each frame is accurately predicted through the percentage of null quantized transform coefficients, which is related to the quantization step via the energy of the quantized signal. It is possible to design a rate control algorithm based on this model that provides a good compression performance at a low computational cost.