File transfers going for a ride

Digital Fountain this week announced it is taking its file transfer technology mobile, signing deals with automaker Honda (a financial backer of the company) and XM Radio.

Both Honda and XM are licensing Digital Fountain’s Meta-Content technology as part of plans to deliver more in-car entertainment to customers. "They believe cars are becoming information appliances in their own right," says Charlie Oppenheimer, Digital Fountain’s CEO. "They need reliable ways to broadcast data to many automobiles that are in motion and turn on and off randomly."

Currently, Meta-Content is used in wired networks where a file is broken up into unique chunks using XOR algorithms and multicast on a network. A client looking to download a copy of the file only needs to grab a certain number of random packets to receive it, rather than having to download packets 1 through 10 exactly.

The same principle applies in mobile. For instance, an XM subscriber that wanted to download a 5-minute audio program would only need to collect any 5 minutes’ worth of packets to create a local copy.

"It’s like taking a cup to the water fountain; you don’t care which molecules fill the cup, you just want it full," Oppenheimer says.

XM is not publicly stating what its intentions are for the Digital Fountain technology, but in-car video is a high probability once the right hardware is available.

"As soon as we get XM radios out there in vehicles that have memory in them, we can use Digital Fountain to transfer files to them from our servers," says Neil Eastman, senior vice president of advanced applications for XM Radio. "In those files could be music videos, cartoons, book-of-the-month - all kinds of things could be sent and stored in the vehicle."

By storing locally, users can pause, fast forward, rewind and play content as many times as they want, something they can’t do with today’s real-time XM broadcasts. But the technology is still a ways down the road, Eastman says. He expects aftermarket equipment with local storage to being appearing in 2005 and vehicle manufacturers to start building in the capability in model year 2007.

In one test done by Digital Fountain, a 2.5M-byte file was sent to 50,000 receivers, each with an 8K byte/sec pipe and 60 minutes per day of connect time. It took just over two-thirds of a day to reach all 50,000 users while a normal file transfer system took 7.8 days.

In addition to automobile entertainment, Oppenheimer sees his company’s technology being used in the mobile phone world for delivering software updates more efficiently.

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