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Faster video for wireless devices?

An engineering professor at the University of California, San Diego, says he is improving the quality and speed of video sent through the airwaves.

Armed with a new grant from the state of California and a wireless semiconductor company, an engineering professor at a San Diego campus said he is improving the quality and speed of video streaming on wireless handheld devices.

Truong Nguyen, a professor at the Jacobs School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, is working on technology intended to be robust enough for live video applications such as videoconferencing and surveillance, as well as smoother streaming of movies and other video clips over a wireless connection. He has received more than $200,000 in the course of three years from Skyworks Solutions and the state's Industry-University Cooperative Research Program for those development efforts.

U.S. wireless carriers are searching for ways to entice consumers to new data-intensive services as rates for cellular voice calls drop precipitously. This week, Lucent Technologies said it was ready to license new technology that could allow carriers to build faster cell phone networks, which might help wireless carriers sell services for streaming video. And Thursday, Intel officially unveiled an all-in-one processor intended to help cell phones run advanced features such as digital photography, Web surfing and color screens.

These data-intensive wireless applications are forecast to create $20 billion in total revenue by 2006, according to Gartner Dataquest.

Many carriers have built wireless networks that handle data functions such as wireless messaging, photo swapping and game downloads. However, the industry is finding to its chagrin that the public isn't yet ready for applications that require greater bandwidth. Late last year, Verizon Wireless ditched plans to build a next-generation data-only cellular network for complex tasks such as videoconferencing.

The jerky quality of the video is likely one of the major impediments to adopting gee-whiz video applications for wireless devices.

"The advent of the wireless Web makes it possible to stream video, but at current data rates the quality of video is not sufficient to promote widespread adoption," said Nguyen, an expert on video processing and compression.

Nguyen said his work focuses on improving the way video streams are decoded at the level of the mobile device. In his early experiments, Nguyen said he managed to manipulate a video decoder to generate additional frames to produce a smoother video sequence. For example, at a rate of 65,000 bits per second, Nguyen said his early prototype achieved 20 frames per seconds, which he said is double the number of frames streamed on the same device without his modifications.

Skyworks, based in Woburn, Mass., but with executive offices in Irvine, Calif., provided $120,000; the University of California's Digital Media Innovation program provided $86,000 through its UC Discovery Grant. The Industry-University Cooperative Research Program, begun in 1996, invests about $20 million a year in UC Discovery grants to encourage research at state university campuses in collaboration with California-based companies.