Technology that lets CD-ROMs play smoothly over broadband
networks passed muster in recent lab tests, and heads for live field conditions next,
Arepa Inc. reported.
Arepa, the Boston-based start-up founded by 24-year-old
entrepreneur Ric Fulop, initiated technical tests with @Home Network earlier this year.
Raj Kapoor, manager of media development for @Home, said
last week that @Home engineers conducted "baseline tests," such as removing
cables while data was flowing and unplugging the cable modem entirely. Then, they made
sure the Arepa "RAFT" protocol -- which runs atop TCP/IP (telecommunications
protocol/Internet protocol) didn't interfere with other TCP/IP applications.
Following that, 25 @Home testers connected to an in-house
hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network tested a mixture of CD-ROM titles, ranging from
educational software, such as "Cat in the Hat," to reference titles and
entertainment software, such as "Beavis and Butt-Head."
To simulate the effect of multiple, simultaneous cable
modem users on Arepa-encoded CD-ROMs, @Home and Arepa created a sort of "throttle
switch" that backed bandwidth levels down as low as 300 kilobits per second,
unbeknownst to users, as they played or used the CD-ROM software.
The point, said Kapoor, was to discern at what point, and
in what types of software, users saw a noticeable performance degradation. The results
varied depending on software type, he said.
Kapoor said the tests showed that CD-ROM titles fall into
three bandwidth-consumption categories: low, at zero to 400 kbps; medium, at 400 to 800
kbps, and high, at 800 or more kbps.
Titles with high levels of video content fall into the
latter category, he said.
"That doesn't mean it's an 'uh-oh,
we're doomed,' " said Kapoor of the more bandwidth-intensive titles.
"It means you have to go back to the software publisher and ask them to re-encode the
software at a lower bit rate."
Kapoor said the tests show that Arepa's software --
viewed by analysts as a powerful content tool for broadband network operators -- is
"technically feasible; it works."
Now, Arepa needs to find out whether people want to
essentially rent and play CD-ROM titles without actually purchasing or downloading them. A
marketing field trial in an undisclosed @Home affiliate system is scheduled for early next
year, Kapoor and Fulop said.
Two weeks ago, Arepa said it will pursue a future not only
as a technology company, but as a service provider. Fulop described Arepa as "the HBO
of broadband content," because Arepa will aggregate and ready CD-ROM titles for the
exclusive use of broadband-network operators.