Send video files over slow, rural connections?
January 17, 2013 1:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm coordinating a project that involves sending participants to remote communities in the Canadian North. The communities have varying speeds of internet connection, but in general, I've been told it's pretty slow, and sometimes bandwidth is restricted. The participants need to record video of themselves and send it to their evaluators back here in the city. What is the best (free) solution?

The videos will be about 45 mins-1 hour long, and the quality does not have to be excellent. By physical mail is not an option. How to make the video files tiny? Most reliable uploading method if the connection gets cut off in the middle? Dropbox? (which I don't really know anything about?)
posted by MissSquare to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
The best option is to have them bring their own internet access with them, satellite phone or the like.

The best way to compress videos depends on how they're taking them. I'd suggest shitty cell-phone level compression but it's important to know just how crappy the video can be and still be acceptable. What technology will they have available?

The best way to share/upload probably do this is via bittorent which will break the file up into many small packets and then allow it to be reassembled on the other end. If you set this up correctly, your participants will not wind up hogging all the available bandwidth for the duration of their upload, but a lot depends on what technology they're likely to have access to.

Please keep in mind that if your participants are using the community's bandwidth for this and the bandwidth is restricted, the requirements of this project may be creating real-world problems for this community especially if participants need to upload large files since upload speeds are often slower than download speeds. I assume that this is something that is actively understood, but I feel the need to mention it in case it isn't.
posted by jessamyn at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you contacted the local public libraries/community centres/educational institutions/municipal government? I am not sure if your "remote" is the same as "tiny", the larger remote centres have libraries (in NWT for example: Aklavik, Behchoko, Deline, Gameti, Fort Good Hope, Fort Liard, Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Hay River Dene Village, Inuvik, Norman Wells, Tuktoyaktuk, Tulita, Yellowknife, Ulukhaktok, and Whati). Of course, it may depend on the purpose of the visits and whether they are non-profit/gov't funded.
posted by saucysault at 2:12 PM on January 17, 2013

The best option is to have them bring their own internet access with them, satellite phone or the like.


satellite telecom professional here...

handheld type satellite phones have very low bandwidth and cost a great deal either per minute or per megabyte. iridium is incredibly slow. thuraya coverage doesn't exist over north america. the inmarsat isatphone will function up to about latitude 79-82 but is very expensive per megabyte and also slow.

every town in nunavut/nunavik has internet access through qiniq/nbdc/ssi micro/nwtel but it will be very slow. this is generally accomplished through a single 4.0 to 5.0 meter size C-band satellite earth station which is in each community and a local point to multipoint wireless modem system (similar to motorola/cambium canopy).

what this person is looking for is some way to reasonably split a large-ish file into small pieces that can be downloaded incrementally and re-assembled. if the person on the receiving end has some technical knowledge, a batch download tool that can run on a nightly schedule and RAR or 7zip (which can split files into 5MB to 50MB chunks) may be sufficient.

I can help out a lot more if you can specify the sizes of the files...
posted by thewalrus at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dropbox would be the easiest way to do it. A free account can hold up to 2GB, so as long as you don't need to transfer more than that you're golden. I'm pretty sure it automatically resumes interrupted uploads. It's also dead easy to use -- installing it simply creates a "Dropbox" folder on your computer. Put any file there and it will automatically upload it when you have Internet access. You can right-click the file and get a public URL that someone else can use to download the file.

The Dropbox app also features an option to automatically transfer photo/video files from a digital camera when it's connected. I think they also offer a bump in your storage quota when you do this.

The catch would be that they can't remove the file from their Dropbox until you download it on your end, and until then it's taking up part of your 2GB quota.

It seems that YouTube also resumes interrupted downloads. You could just have them upload the videos as "Unlisted" on YouTube, send you the link, then you could download them on your end using a YouTube downloader app.
posted by neckro23 at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having lived in Northern Canadian communities with limited bandwidth, I'd suggest using something like dropbox, and leaving the computer on late at night.

It's been my experience that bandwidth rates are much better after midnight.

So the student could record a video, compress as much as is reasonable (use something like Miro Video Converter), and put it in a dropbox public folder. Turn off the dropbox client (or computer) in the day, and fire it up just before going to sleep.

By the morning, it will be on a dropbox server, and the student could e-mail the link.
posted by MiG at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2013

Andrew S. Tanenbaum once said "never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." Depending on how slow their connections are and how much data they need to push (and how much they need to pay to push it if they're on a metered plan), you might be better off with a CD (or DVD) in the mail, either parcel post or some sort of (near-)overnight service.

If their connections can handle it, everyone can get a Dropbox account.
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:55 PM on January 17, 2013

Also, most student e-mail accounts qualify for extra space on Dropbox -- usually double. If you do referrals and stuff like that you can get it significantly higher. I'm at 23.9 gigs of a free academic dropbox account, for example.

You can also set the dropbox bandwidth usage to be low during the day, to be a good network citizen, and turn it up at night.
posted by MiG at 3:04 PM on January 17, 2013

Andrew S. Tanenbaum once said "never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

The OP specified that "physical mail is not an option." They presumably have good reasons for this; many remote communities do not have a lot of physical traffic in or out on a regular basis, and so getting mail out with any kind of timeliness is often prohibitively expensive.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:08 PM on January 17, 2013

pretty much every community in northern canada has one canada post employee and a tiny post office, but you can still send a 300MB file at 128kbps a lot faster than you can send a piece of mail which will take at minimum 4 days to reach its destination...

300MB at a steady 128kbps = 5 hours, 7 minutes, best case scenario.
posted by thewalrus at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2013

Video editor here, just popping in to say video files can get extremely large if you are using the wrong compression, prohibitive even for people with reliable connections. They will want to use a free file converter like MPEG Streamclip, convert it to .mp4 files, and drop the dimensions, data rate and quality down as far as it will go without being impossible to view.
posted by yellowbinder at 3:15 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

What will they be showing in the video? Audio is far smaller than video, file size wise and may work better.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:34 PM on January 17, 2013

300MB at a steady 128kbps = 5 hours, 7 minutes, best case scenario.

Saturating a shared Internet connection for five hours a day may not be doable. Even five hours a week might annoy people. I remember reading something about the Nunavut driver's license offices having to send photos on USB keys through the mail to Iqaluit because it was faster and more reliable than using the Internet.

So is this 45 minutes to an hour of video per day? Per week? Per month? Per participant?

If you can stomach it, my suggestion would be to set up a server and have them use rsync, something like rsync -zrt --partial --bwlimit=16 /path/to/videos/ to limit the bandwidth and preserve files that get cut off part of the way through the transfer. You might want to add -vh and --progress so that people can tell how it's going. If they're using Macs, they should already have rsync installed.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:39 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding rsync. Rsync is extremely good at resuming interrupted downloads without wasting space—with something like BitTorrent or segmented RAR files, you will generally have to restart the existing block if you're interrupted, but rsync will keep whatever you have. If the connections are error-prone as well as flaky, rsync will also repair any damage in the destination file.

(You probably want to not use the -z (compression) option for videos though, they don't compress well.)
posted by vasi at 7:20 PM on January 17, 2013

Google Drive (freely available with a gmail account) can store up to 5 Gb. You can upload a video and "mail" it (you actually mail a link to the uploaded video but this is transparent). The recipient sees it like a streaming YouTube video or can download it. That's my favourite way to send large to very large videos right now. I'm quite sure that the upload had a resume option.
For compressing the video, ffmpeg could do the trick but you'll have to set it up for them so that they only need to run the procedure without bothering with video options (in Windows, this would need only a single ffmpeg command line put in a batch file called "CompressVideo.bat" copied on the Desktop).
posted by elgilito at 1:55 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some good technical answers here already so I'll ask a really obvious question, just in case: assuming these aren't insanely long trips, would it be possible for the participants to just wait until the end of their trip and bring the videos back to the city with them? Or just one person returning to the city could bring them.

It's unclear how time-sensitive this is, and how many videos are involved, but maybe the evaluators could be persuaded to wait until the participants return? I'm not sure if mail isn't an option because it's slow or for other reasons.
posted by randomnity at 10:09 AM on January 18, 2013

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