The present-day Internet infrastructure is not designed to support broadcasting, or the simultaneous transmission of live events to millions of people. Conventional server configurations dictate that a dedicated stream of data must be sent to every single user. Millions of users means millions of streams, and hence, network traffic congestion. An early solution to the problem was “multicasting
,” whereby the data stream is distributed to many local servers that subsequently “re-broadcast” the content to local users.
Now, however, the European Union has committed €14 million (£10.5 million, $22 million) for a four-year project to create an open source, peer-to-peer BitTorrent-like client called P2P-Next. This client will hopefully become a new standard way for broadcasters to use the Internet as a low-cost distribution platform. Users will have the option of either downloading material or viewing live video streams. The peer-to-peer system will be able to pipe TV programs to set-top boxes and home TV sets. Indeed, the core technical goals of the project are to foster an open standards-based “next-generation” Internet TV distribution system, employing P2P and social interaction.
Another €5 million (£3.7 million, $7.4 million) is entering the project by 21 other partners, including the BBC, European Broadcasting Union, Lancaster University, Markenfilm, Pioneer Digital Design Centre Limited, and the VTT Technical Research Centre.
P2P-Next is based on a technology called Tribler, developed at the Delft University of Technology. Tribler is programmed in Python, an amazingly simple (programmers jokingly refer to it as “executable pseudocode”) computer language selected for its portability, cross-platform execution abilities, and rapidity of programming.
The P2P-Next team successfully pitched the EU for funding as part of the 7th Framework project, designed to encourage Europe-wide cooperation and technical excellence. The four years of funding will be used to develop a number of enhancements to Tribler, covering live P2P streaming, an improved user interface, inbuilt friend/taste recommendations, and much more.
Ultimately, there will be P2P-Next clients for the Mac, Windows and GNU/Linux, as well as a dedicated hardware Set Top Box client.
Some parts of the system will be available by August 2008. A more complete test version may be finished within 16 months that can transmit programs to set-top boxes.
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s (News - Alert) IP Communications Group. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
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