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Keeping streams flowing

Streaming-technology company Digital Fountain has improved its Transporter Fountain product to better meet the needs of media companies that use it for transferring large content and data files. The product is designed to help speed the transfer of large files without additional bandwidth.

"Getting more bandwidth is like adding another lane on the highway," says Digital Fountain President/CEO Clifford Meltzer. "It means more cars can go 65 mph, but, if there's a radar trap every mile, having more lanes doesn't help you go faster."

The new developments also point to the company's change in business strategy. Digital Fountain officially launched at the end of 2000, just as the sun was setting on round one of the consumer streaming experience. Its product was seen as a way to deal with consumer demand for streams by helping eliminate the bad experiences of consumers unable to access the content. If movie and television studios wanted to reach hundreds of thousands of streaming users, the Digital Fountain system was a solution.

Eighteen months later, meeting consumer demand is the least of the problems with streaming. Security issues have pretty much restrained demand because there is little content to demand. As a result, studios aren't looking to Digital Fountain to solve external problems; instead, the focus is on solving internal problems like moving gigabits of video, audio and data files through data pipes designed for megabits.

Currently, the main application of the technology is sending digital dailies back to a studio or to a post-production facility via Internet or intranet instead of by courier. But the technology can be extended to traditional broadcast organizations as well. Syndicators and centralized station groups can also use the system to move content via satellite or broadband connection.

Meltzer says the challenge facing broadcasters and other media companies is the cost of a dedicated line for transmission of large amounts of data. A dedicated T1 line that can send data at 10 Mb/s may cost $10,000 per month. But a shared line with a data rate from 2 Mb/s to 10 Mb/s burstable can cut that to $2,500.

"Typically, the studios are buying into burstable-type bandwidth," says Meltzer. "They don't want a committed 10 Mb/s because they don't need that much bandwidth all the time."

That's where Digital Fountain's technology—already being used by Disney and Warner Bros. as well as by post-production facilities—comes in. Based on the company's Meta-Content concept, it separates the content file into data packets, which are then sent over the connection to the Digital Fountain receiver.

The key is that the receiver does not need to receive the packets in a specific order; it just needs to receive them, in any sequence, to re-create the file. This approach removes the headaches related to packet loss or delay, allowing the packets to be sent much more quickly before they are reassembled.

"Latency has no impact on us, and our degradation in terms of performance is linear with the amount of loss," says Meltzer. For example, a 1% packet loss results in a transmission time that is lengthened by only 1%.

"If you give someone the ability to accelerate delivery but it varies in reliability, they can't use it," he adds. "So what we bring is predictability to the data and then accelerate it while maintaining predictability."

Transporter Fountain 2.0's ability to link with two or more Transporter Fountains to deliver content to a single receiver unit gives the system a redundancy helpful in dealing with a transportation medium as susceptible to hiccups and burps as broadband, T1 or even T3 lines.

Another new feature is tunable rate control and bandwidth cap. Digital Fountain Director of Product Marketing Mahal Mohan says it allows the user to set the amount of bandwidth used so that data transfers don't affect other wide-area network traffic on the same connection.