Several cable interests have thrown their support behind a
Cambridge, Mass., start-up claiming to have developed technology that will jump start
delivery of multimedia content over high-speed data networks.
U S West Media Group, @Home Network and cable modem pioneer
Rouzbeh Yassini are among the backers of Arepa Inc., which has claimed to have developed a
means by which the vast base of material available on CD-ROMs and other multimedia
platforms can be used as a broadband content foundation.
@Home looks on the possibility of using Arepa's technology
to turn CD-ROM material into broadband content and to perform other functions as well as
making it a key factor in this year's content strategy, officials said.
'Of all the things we're doing, CD-ROM has presented one of
the major technical challenges, but we think we have it solved,' said Charles Moldow, vice
president of @Home's media development unit.
'We are presently putting together the financial structure
in the form of a holding company that will allow us to move forward into the marketplace,'
said Yassini, the founder of LANcity Corp. -- now owned by Bay Networks Inc. -- who has
assumed a role as chairman of Arepa.
'The problem we're addressing is the fact that, because so
few people are connected to high-speed data networks, it's hard to get developers to
invest resources in content that really takes advantage of the broadband platform,' said
Ric Fulop, founder and CEO of Arepa.
'With our technology providers, we'll be able to take the
existing multimedia content and leverage it to ensure there's enough high- quality content
to draw people to broadband networks,' Fulop said.
The limited market base of customers connected to cable's
high-speed networks has, indeed, been an impediment to content development, noted Halsey
Minor, CEO of CNET: The Computer Network.
'The current numbers are just not significant enough for us
to focus on developing for broadband,' he said.
Cable data service suppliers such as @Home, U S West's
MediaOne Express and Time Warner's Road Runner have made headway in persuading a handful
of media suppliers to tailor their content to the high-end audio/graphics capabilities of
their networks. But the willingness of some developers, such as Cable News Network, to
play ball hasn't created a stampede among others to get involved.
At ABCNews.com, for example, which is now using
video-streaming technology to deliver news feeds from its Web site, CNN's move hasn't had
much of an impact.
'We have our hands full serving the existing user base,'
said Katherine Dillon, vice president of ABCNews.com.
Suppliers of video-streaming software, who have much to
gain if broadband takes off, have had to be content with pursuing opportunities in the
narrowband and higher-speed business markets, owing to the slow pace of activity on the
consumer media side, noted Asaf Mohr, chairman of streaming technology supplier VDOnet
'We're doing a lot of work in high-end applications with
our partners, including U S West and Microsoft, but it's slow going,' he said.
The solution to the CD-ROM problem -- now undergoing
technical tests and soon to enter market trials -- will open an 'absolutely incredible'
reservoir of material for operators to use in distinguishing the value of their services
from what's available over dial-up lines, Moldow said.
'We can deliver this material without having to reprogram
or reproduce it,' he said.
One of the key aspects of Arepa's technology is that CD-ROM
material can be directly copied, encrypted and stored on servers for on-demand
distribution, thereby protecting copyrights while avoiding the need for any involvement by
programmers, Fulop said.
Officials said another important aspect of the technology
allows users access to multi-gigabyte multimedia files on a piecemeal as-needed basis.
Using 'BLOBs' (binary large objects) and a broadband
transport protocol known as Random Access File Transfer Protocol, the technology supports
access to and interacts with discrete components of very large files.
They said the firm's compression system reduces storage
space by a factor of 10-to-one, making it possible to transmit as well as manipulate and
combine huge files among network data centers and end users at speeds far in excess of
commonly used file transfer technology.
A typical application made possible by this technology is a
fast-action multiplayer game, where the full game file sits on the server and users play
each other using components of the game that are downloaded piecemeal in high-speed data
'We're running on your hard drive, basically using the
Internet as your storage system,' Fulop said.
@Home's use of the technology will allow it to set up
online software stores where users can sample wares before purchasing them or access just
those parts of a program they want without having to purchase the whole package, officials
The technology will also facilitate business applications,
allowing a software infrastructure to be upgraded or replaced without requiring a
changeout on every desktop.
Arepa, now consisting of 15 staff personnel and expanding
rapidly, has drawn a number of Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni to its ranks,
including Fulop, who founded the company in his dorm room in 1996. Officials said they
were preparing to go public with more details about the company and its technology in