In a deal with RealNetworks Inc., @Home Network is planning
to put what amounts to the first national broadband-media-streaming platform in place
starting this summer.
The move opens the possibility for a much richer content
experience for Web surfers, and it is pegged to two developments.
The first is new distribution technologies, starting with
the G2 Internet-streaming system that RN introduced last year. The second is the new
backbone network that @Home plans to deploy this year, using next-generation routers and
high-speed optical links from AT&T Corp.
"As a result of our exclusive development efforts with
RealNetworks, we will be able to create an advanced broadband-media-delivery network that
surpasses any other streaming-media network," said @Home chairman and CEO Tom
Jermoluk, in a prepared statement.
"We expect this advanced broadband-media-delivery
platform to stimulate entirely new content experiences, as publishers take advantage of
the platform's delivery capabilities and cost savings," he added.
@Home officials said media will be distributed across the
backbone in continuous real-time streams at rates of 300 kilobits per second to 500 kbps.
That's sufficient to deliver "near-VHS-quality" video at 30 frames per
second and full-screen resolution to personal computers.
Using RN's G2 technology, content-suppliers can set a
file to stream at rates matching the access speeds of users, meaning that the broadband
network won't require developers to create new content.
To avoid clogging backbone pipes with individual user
streams, @Home will implement new caching technology being developed by software supplier
Inktomi Corp., which provides the caching software that @Home uses to locally store and
distribute Web pages.
Caching a multimedia file locally after it has been
downloaded by a user in a given area served by an @Home regional data center is aimed at
easing Internet-traffic backlogs. Subsequent uses of that file in the service area are
streamed from the RDC, rather than from the original source on the network, explained Raz
Kapoor, director of applications and e-commerce for @Home.
"We're also looking at putting proxy servers [for
caching] at the local headend," he added, noting that this would further reduce the
volume of individual streams going out from any given RDC service area.
The headend proxies are to be equipped to support
multicasting, as well, assuming that the next version of cable-modem standard DOCSIS (Data
Over Cable Service Interface Specification) is suited to support multicasting, as
anticipated, Kapoor said. Multicasting allows thousands of users to be fed a stream
simultaneously from a single file.
The new broadband-streaming network will implement other
new techniques, too, including a new protocol known as WPAD (Web Proxy Auto Discovery).
This technique automatically discovers the next-closest source of content to the user.
Thus, if the local headend or RDC proxy doesn't have
the content that the user is seeking to download, it will be streamed from the
next-closest point of local storage, according to Marin Dunsmuir, general manager for
emerging technologies at RN.
A handful of companies -- including RN, Microsoft Corp.,
Inktomi and Sun Microsystems Inc. -- recently submitted WPAD as a standard to the Internet
Engineering Task Force
The new network will also track individual customer usage
from the caching points, providing content originators and RN with the data that they need
to collect ad fees, licensing payments and other per-use revenues.
Officials at @Home said they were not concerned that the
generation of high-quality video over their network would violate the agreement that the
company has with affiliates, under which @Home is required to restrict individual
streaming sessions of "broadcast-quality video" to 10 minutes.
"We're not going to get to that point [of
quality] with this technology," @Home spokesman Matt Wolfrom said.
"This technology will have the ability to block
certain things if affiliates find that there's an issue with encroachment on their
business," Kapoor added.
The new system will go into beta-trial in the second
quarter and begin deploying in July, Kapoor said.