HP, NTT DoCoMo make progress on 4G

Susie Wee, a researcher with HP Labs in Palo Alto, California, said during a press conference at the 500-employee research facility that the company is developing technology at various levels of the network to enable video and audio streaming to mobile devices.

The joint research project is based on so-called "fourth generation" mobile phone network technology, or 4G -- a system that is several years from launch. NTT DoCoMo, which offers its popular i-Mode Internet service in Japan, just last month became the first carrier in the world to launch public trials of third generation, or 3G, services which offer greater delivery of multimedia data than existing services.

"HP is building the network infrastructure and the server architecture, and making streaming content optimised for the network and the network optimised for the content," Wee said. "We are making networks friendly to media and we are making media friendly to networks."

HP initially started working with NTT DoCoMo on the project in November, company officials said, but a number of other carriers have shown interest in similar development partnerships. Representatives from HP and NTT DoCoMo are expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the project's progress.

Research is currently being conducted on devices such as digital video cameras to create content that is smaller and more suitable for use on a network. Most of the work, though, is going towards developing new functions for servers and mobile devices. The two companies are approaching the project to enable faster and steadier delivery of streaming media on the network level with two main technologies, Wee said.

The first includes "smart routers" that can send large amounts of data more efficiently through a network depending on what device it will be displayed on and where it is going. This can be done in part through HP's concept of "multiple description coding," in which content is broken up into pieces on a server and delivered through different network paths before all the data is rejoined on a device.

"That way at least some data gets through if one part of the network goes down," Wee said.

It also involves what HP calls "transcoding," or re-formatting data on the smart servers so it can be sent to various devices in different sizes. In the case of streaming media, thinner client devices such as cell phones would require smaller packets of data.

"For instance, content made for television can be reformatted in the network for a PDA (personal digital assistant)," Wee said. "What we want to do is take streams and deliver them to any device."

The network will also utilise more advanced versions of edge servers, which cache information as close to the end user as possible. HP said it is still working on adapting edge servers to work with mobile computing. There are a number of challenges because users continually change their physical location when working off of a mobile device, and the nearest edge server often changes.

Ultimately the network will allow mobile phone carriers to deliver better quality services based on the amount of money customers pay for these services, HP said. Through the developing technology, networks will be able to prioritise data before it is delivered so customers could potentially pay for the ability to be considered high priority on a network. The network will also call for the creation of middleware to run the smart servers. HP said it is planning on developing its own media server software as it continues with development.

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