Cable television company NTL, the leading consumer broadband provider in the UK, is to trial a legal peer-to-peer video download service in association with BitTorrent and Cachelogic.

The small scale technical trial is expected to begin in April and will feature a large variety of licensed video material, including popular movies, music videos and television programmes.

BitTorrent peer-to-peer, or P2P, client software will be combined with content caches from CacheLogic to accelerate the delivery of downloads and offset network costs. The companies say that using the high-speed NTL network this will provide “ground-breaking download speeds of broadcast quality content”.

BitTorrent is the leading open-source file-sharing protocol, used by millions of users around the world, largely for distributing illicit copies of copyright material. The company of that name is privately held, now based in San Francisco, California. BitTorrent now aims to establish the software as a legitimate means of distributing media.

“As the world’s leading P2P application, we are engaging artists and ISPs to build a consumer-friendly ecosystem around our protocol that allows all involved to benefit from P2P,” said Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of BitTorrent. “We are pleased to announce our work with ntl and CacheLogic, as both entities share our vision for the future of content distribution.”

BitTorrent files constitute a considerable proportion of the network traffic carried by broadband service providers, according to CacheLogic, a company based in Cambridge, England. The company provides P2P caching products to help reduce the bandwidth requirements on service provider networks by storing popular files so they do not need to be retrieved from other users.

“Through this partnership, we can jointly evaluate how P2P distribution can be a highly efficient mechanism to deliver truly compelling licensed content to broadband subscribers, whilst satisfying the economic requirements of the content owner and the network provider,” said Andrew Parker, chief technology officer of CacheLogic.

With 1.7 million broadband customers, NTL is the leading supplier of consumer broadband services in the UK. The cable company is in the process of merging with Telewest, which also provides cable and broadband services.

“NTL is delighted to be working with its technology trial partners, BitTorrent and CacheLogic, in order to extend its high-quality video experience from the set top box to the media player,” said Kevin Baughan, their director of network strategy. “The trial will be a unique combination of BitTorrent’s P2P client closely coupled with CacheLogic’s network-based content caching and NTL’s deep fibre network in order to offer a transformational video downloading experience.”

The experimentation by NTL with P2P as a form of distribution of downloads is relatively progressive, recognizing that there is considerable demand for downloading large files.

The UK has been at the forefront of using P2P software for legal video downloads. The BBC has been trialing a broadband video download service known as iMP using proprietary P2P software from Kontiki. A similar system has already been rolled out by satellite operator BSkyB.