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Bringing BitTorrent to your Smart Phone
May 23, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) and cell phones continue their technological merger. Independently, PDA sales continue to decline due to their “extra baggage” characteristic. Most cell phones carry some basic PDA functionality such as web surfing and rudimentary instant messaging; however lack the processing power of an independent PDA. Those looking to take advantage of both characteristics with minimal space have opted to purchase “smart phones” such as the Palm Treo, Blackberry or Nokia series.

Smart phones are the evolving merger between PDAs and cell phones. Operating systems such as Palm and Symbian are powerful enough to allow for a wide rage of functionality, including word processing, MP3 support and GPS integration. But hey, what about file-sharing you ask?

File-sharing applications have been slow to arrive to the smart phone market, but progress is being made. One of the more recognizable clients to appear is Symella. Symella is a Gnutella client designed to work on the Symbian OS, which is utilized heavily by Nokia smart phones. Because of the large bandwidth requirements and dependency on the mobile carrier’s network, the client can only download from the Gnutella network. The project appears to be stagnant, as a new version of the client has not been released since July 2005.

But file-sharing development on other protocols continues to march forward.

While the concept and implementation of Symella is impressive, many people have found BitTorrent to be their community of choice. However options in this field are limited, as no client for the smart phone exists – until United Kingdom based programmer David Hulbert decided to change that.

Filling the void in the smart phone arena, David is nearing completing of Python based BitTorrent client designed for the Nokia S60 Symbian OS. His client, called WizBit, is actually part of a school project at the University of Exeter where he majors in Computer Science. At its current state of development, WizBit is far from complete, but has some basic functionality such as the ability to connect to a tracker and download peers. This is a significant step forward, and additional functionality should be readied by early to mid June.

“I should probably have a fully working prototype by then,” David told Slyck.com. “It will by no means be a finished product but should have basic functionality.”

One of the major functionalities of any BitTorrent client of course is the ability to swarm. As this protocol is an incentive, “tit-for-tat” based network, the inability to upload is a significant concern. Acknowledging this, David informed Slyck.com that immediate versions may not have upload capabilities, “but this is one of the main features I hope to get working as soon as possible.”

The current and future versions of WizBit requires the Python interpreter installed on the S60 based Nokia, David explained to Slyck.com, “which runs on all S60 platform Symbian phones including most Nokias. This is the largest percentage of the Symbian OS, but does not include UIQ platform devices, such as the touch screen Sony Ericsson phones.”

Once out of testing and ready for mainstream usage, some questions still remain. Primarily, how will one obtain .torrent files? Fortunately for the end user, the search feature is integrated into the client. Alternatively, the end user may opt to use smart phone's web browser.

“The client can either use a .torrent file (result of a search) that the user already has on the phone or the user can enter a search and WizBit will return (currently only the highest seeded) result from a BitTorrent search site. I've got MiniNova working with it, though it would be easy to adapt it to almost any other torrent search site and let the user choose which result to download.”

A significant factor that held back Symella is the client’s inability to upload. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the developers, as most mobile carrier networks limit upstream bandwidth. Although using WizBit on a mobile carrier’s network may face similar problems, times have changed – especially when it comes to Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) networks. If a mobile carrier’s network greatly inhibits the use of WizBit, Wi-Fi hotspots provide the cure.

“Music should be fine to download. It depends on what network access you have. It would take a long time over GPRS or EDGE but 3G networks or, better still, Wi-Fi (like the Nokia N80 and N91 support) should allow fairly quick downloading, almost as fast as broadband on a PC.”

As we’re talking about smart phone, the practicality of using your Nokia N80 to watch a movie is not particularly likely for most people. But WizBit may prove significant for small music files that would not inhibit the mobile carrier’s network or rely or hot spots.

“Memory cards are available in excess of 1GB so it would theoretically be possible to download a 700MB film, though phone processors currently cannot decode large videos. Some phones may be able to play films or TV episodes encoded for iPods or similar. I think downloading the odd mp3, zipped album or music video is more likely; at least until the next generation of media-playing phones arrive.”

David plans to simplify the installation process as to be accommodating to mainstream usage. He doesn’t anticipate creating any version outside the Sybian OS; however any OS that supports Python should be able to run WizBit.

As free Wi-Fi becomes more common, it will be interesting to see how the proliferation of WizBit and similarly oriented file-sharing applications interact with mobile pay-for-download services currently being offered.


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BitTorrent :: BitTorrent Clients

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