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Magee Research Leads to 'Sound' Improvement

Research being carried out at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster to improve the sound quality on wireless networks could have significant commercial potential.  

Jonathan Doherty, from Knightsbridge, who was awarded his PhD in Computing at the University of Ulster summer graduation ceremonies in Derry’s Millennium Forum this week, is part of the research team, lead by Dr Kevin Curran and Professor Paul McKevitt, who are investigating "Improving Audio Listening Experience on Radio Networks".  

Laptops, netbooks and mobile phones are all vulnerable to the unreliable nature of bursty connections on wireless networks, especially at the outer limits of the signal. Time dependent data, such as music broadcast on Internet radio stations, make this issue more evident to the listener.  

Jonathan explains: “The traditional packet level Forward Error Correction approaches can limit errors for small sporadic network losses but listening quality becomes an issue when dropouts of large portions occur. Many existing systems exist based on packet loss and replacement but none attempt repairs of large dropouts of five seconds or more.  

“We have developed software for automatic detection and replacement of large packet losses on wireless networks when receiving time-dependent streamed audio. Our system also works at the content level - rather than the lower network level – which makes it applicable in a range of existing streaming services. 

The team has applied to have the technique patented and are currently working with the BBC to bring their novel idea to market.  

“Our patent pending approach utilises the repetition of music in western tonal format, allowing similarity comparisons to be made. This identifies previously received portions of the audio that are used as replacements when dropouts do occur. By replacing missing segments of audio with previously received similar sections, the dropouts are less apparent to listeners.” 

Streaming media – the transmission of digital audio and video files over an IP network or wireless network in real time or on-demand - is expected to be a major source of revenue in the next five years. It is estimated that the media business segment will generate more than $78 billion in revenue in the United States alone over the next six years (Insight Research Corp, 2010). 

Dr Curran says the technology being developed at the IRSC could be integrated into the DAB radio standard for the UK to improve quality and that all online streaming audio providers could benefit.   

“This particular innovation represents a foundation technology which enables unique and/or enhanced applications and services.  It has obvious potential to enable new streaming media opportunities for mobile providers.  The music streaming market is proven and widely deployed worldwide and this innovation could offer a unique solution to wireless digital audio content providers.  

Jonathan has taken up a full time as research assistant with the Ambient Intelligence Research Group in the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at Magee. 

A demonstration of the patent-pending work can be accessed on YouTuhe at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSJkjQZfZBw