RealNetwork combines MCI's bandwidth and Progressive's RealAudio and RealVideo technologies for streaming audio and video over the Internet. Sound and video require a lot of bandwidth, which is one reason they're not widely deployed on the Net today.
MCI is the first carrier and ISP to distribute RealAudio and RealVideo capabilities throughout its backbone. That could boost the number of people who tune in to Internet broadcasts while introducing better audio and video quality over the Net.
The IP multicast protocol, blessed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, is a method to send TV-quality video and other data-intensive transmissions over the Internet.
"Video streaming vendors are basically emerging from unicast into multicast businesses," said Martin Hall, chief technology officer of Stardust Technologies and cochair of the IP Multicast Initiative.
"You cannot get large amounts of data to large numbers of users with unicast technology," said Hall, whose group promotes IP multicasting.
The MCI deal follows a Progressive announcement last week with @Home, the cable-based Internet access provider, in what they called the first broadband multicast pilot.
Initially, the MCI-Progressive service can reach simultaneous audiences of up to 50,000 and daily audiences of 10 million to 15 million through a combination of live and on-demand broadcasts. The service can be expanded for larger audiences.
MCI and Progressive are targeting media companies to use the video service from their Web sites and major companies for internal employee training or posting news announcements on the Web.
The Internet broadcasting feature also will be available to firms that lease Internet capacity from MCI. To view Internet broadcasts, PC users utilize Progressive's free client software. RealNetwork prices will start at $8,500 a month.
In July, Microsoft bought a minority interest in Progressive Networks, saying it would use the company's broadcasting technologies in the software giant's products.
Hall predicted that ISPs and access providers will turn to multicasting to get more content onto limited network bandwidth.
The IP Multicast Initiative is preparing a pilot of its own this fall, designed to showcase multicasting for both corporate networks and potential consumer-oriented broadcasts over the Net.