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Streaming start-up crosses 'middle mile'

A stealth company called EdgeStream is set to unveil technology that it says can as much as double the speeds of data delivery on the public Internet.

You've probably heard plenty about the "last mile," but soon you may be hearing a lot more about the "middle mile" if streaming media start-up EdgeStream has its way.

The Laguna Hills, Calif.-based company has operated in stealth mode for the past two years as it works out what it calls a new method for improving data delivery on the public Internet.

Whereas broadband providers aim to bridge the gap between the home and the high-speed Internet backbone, EdgeStream's turf is the open field that connects broadband users to the content they want to consume. The company plans to make its technology public on Wednesday, when it hopes to prove that it can guarantee streaming throughput at rates that exceed 1mbps--up to twice the speeds normally achieved on most high-speed connections.

"We are able to harness more bandwidth than is usually available over the public Internet," said Rajeev Sehgal, EdgeStream's vice president of business development. "We use client-controlled continuous route optimization to find the best routes that can carry the needed bandwidth to the client."

The routing is dynamic and changes throughout the session. The "result is that the client receives the needed bandwidth continuously during the session, assuring a stable and smooth near-DVD quality experience," Sehgal said.

The company's solution faces some hurdles. It requires consumers to download and install a client plug-in, for example, which could slow adoption. And its product comes amid a sharp downturn in the streaming media market, where delivery costs and content licensing problems have taken their toll.

Still, EdgeStream says its technology can reduce delivery costs for content owners while providing substantial improvements to streaming quality--and it has provided some impressive demonstrations to back up its claims.

The company aims to cut through the clutter and the traffic jams that frequently drag down performance during the delivery of high-bandwidth streams. Typical symptoms of such congestion include so-called buffering delays common on video and even audio streams carried on the Net.

Performance problems in streaming media have led to hardware-intensive solutions from networking caching companies such as Akamai, Digital Island and RealNetworks, among others.

Both Microsoft and RealNetworks have also recently announced improvements that herald the "end of buffering." RealNetworks last month launched its TrueStream product, claiming less latency in its video and audio delivery. In December, Microsoft announced its own solution, dubbed Corona, which it says will arrive in the market by the year's end. On Monday, it said it had lined up partners Adobe Systems, Avid and Creative Labs to support Corona.

Unlike these approaches, which aim to tap unused bandwidth in the broadband connection to improve performance, EdgeStream says its technology focuses on intelligently routing data through the Internet cloud.

"Even after the billions of dollars that have been thrown at the congestion problem by the first generation of delivery services, software developers and hardware manufacturers, the promise of reliable, quality streaming across the public Internet seemed so disappointingly unachievable," EdgeStream CEO Vin Sodhi said in a statement.

"Today, however, anyone from anywhere in the world can go to our Web site, and if they have enough bandwidth at the last mile, can stream a 1mbps video from our network."