BitTorrent Inventor Granted P2P Live Streaming Patent

BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen has earned a spot in the Internet hall of fame already, but he is not yet done with disruptive peer-to-peer technologies. This week Cohen was granted a patent for his BitTorrent-based streaming technology, which may be the start of a new breakthrough.

bram-streamHoping to revolutionize live broadcasting on the Internet, Bram Cohen started working on a new protocol for live streaming video more than half a decade ago.

At the time BitTorrent was believed to be responsible for a third of all Internet traffic. However, streaming services were quickly gaining momentum.

The problem with streaming, live streaming in particular, are high latencies. It can sometimes take up to a minute before a “live” stream reaches the audience.

Cohen solved this problem with a new BitTorrent Live protocol that has a much lower latency while sharing the bandwidth costs among users. This allows anyone to stream to an audience of millions at minimal cost.

This week Bram Cohen’s patent for the live streaming patent was awarded (pdf). According to BitTorrent’s inventor, who still works at the company, his technology can shape the future of live broadcasts.

Two years ago BitTorrent Inc. first demoed the technology in a web-based player, but this project was later discontinued. The company is now working on a new release that will come in the form of a mobile application.

“We’re working on using the technology for a new application, focusing on mobile,” Cohen tells TF.

Mobile live streaming has taken off this year with the release of Periscope and Meerkat. Both apps allow users to start live streams instantly and Cohen says they could make good partners for BitTorrent Live.

“Periscope and Meerkat are applications which use live, where what we have is underlying technology. We may work with them in the future,” he notes.

That said, the true strength of BitTorrent Live becomes apparent when there is a huge audience, not just a few viewers. This means that it will excel at streaming major events such as sports games and breaking news.

“The amount of utility of BitTorrent Live is based on how many people are watching something simultaneously. Big events where everybody is watching the same thing at the same time, like sports, are the best applications,” Cohen tells us.

Since BitTorrent Live shares the distribution costs among viewers, the bandwidth investment for these streams will be minimal compared to current solutions. In addition, latency will also be much lower making these broadcasts ‘more live.’

“Ironically in addition to being much better on bandwidth costs BitTorrent Live also has much lower latency, five seconds instead of 30-60 seconds, which is bordering on tape delayed instead of live,” Cohen says.

Previously BitTorrent Inc. suggested that it could help Netflix to increase its performance. Not with BitTorrent Live, but with the standard BitTorrent streaming technology which will allow Netflix to offer higher quality streams for a fraction of the current costs.

It appears that Netflix realizes the power of BitTorrent-like streaming, as the company is currently working on its own P2P streaming technology.

Eventually Cohen believes that all streaming will go over the Internet, both live and pre-recorded. It is much cheaper than the cable approach, especially with BitTorrent under the hood.

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