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The challenges of large-file transfer on mobile devices

Recently, I set about entering my expenses for a business trip. The limitations of my email outbox almost immediately thwarted me. I attempted to send myself 12 images of receipts, using my corporate email account on my iPhone’s native email app. The app capped out at a handful of images because of the large size of the attachments. Although it was only a minor annoyance that led to me sending three separate emails (#officeproblems), it got me thinking about large-file sharing.

Transferring large files — whether they’re images, videos or just graphics-laden documents — has been a problem for consumers and enterprise alike for decades. I remember back in high school praying for the progress bar to complete, waiting what seemed like hours for a single mp3 of music to send over my email account — and that’s if it worked at all. Think of the time you’ve spent saving documents to USBs and transferring content by physically walking (walking!) from one place to another.

We’ve come a long way since then, but mobile devices have put a brand new kink in things.

More employees use smartphones and tablets to get their work done — especially remote, contract and off-site workers who aren’t tethered to their desks. And just like me, they need to send large files back to their organizations to submit work, share with co-workers, etc. These are often much bigger files than my measly expense receipts.

A new iOS app from file-transfer software company Signiant aims to help workers send files as big as multiple terabytes. Its Media Shuttle hybrid SaaS offering now has a corresponding mobile app that lets users transfer files with no size limits straight from their iPads or iPhones. It targets common use cases in the media and entertainment fields: Think film production companies sending video footage to editors, or reporters in the field filing stories backed up with source interviews, or photographers covering big events getting their images back to their websites.

“It’s designed to be super simple for people to use just like consumer file-sharing tools like Box or Dropbox,” said Signiant CTO Ian Hamilton (right).

Signiant’s acceleration technology allows people to send files over cellular 4G LTE, Wi-Fi or basically any level of Internet connection. The exact speed depends on latency and available bandwidth, but it’s generally about 30 times faster to send a file through the mobile app than use a standard Web browser-based upload or file-transfer tool, according to Hamilton.

“The challenge really is taking advantage of available bandwidth as wireless networks get faster and faster,” he said. “Latency is a fundamental physics problem, so until we know how to go faster than the speed of light, it’s always going to be there.”

Users that have intermittent connectivity can be problematic, but the Media Shuttle mobile app has a checkpoint restart feature that completes your file transfer from where you left off rather than starting from the beginning, if you unexpectedly disconnect from the network.

Organizations transferring large files are also concerned about security, especially when those transfers occur over unfamiliar networks. The Media Shuttle app encrypts every file, authenticates users through integration with a federated login capability and allows for multi-factor authentication.

Of course, there are also plenty of consumer storage and file-sharing services like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive that you can use to share large files. Still, many of these services have file-size limits. Plus, huge files would hog a lot of the storage space, especially if you’re not paying for premium or enterprise versions that tend to offer more storage.

How do you transfer or share large files, and what types of files do you need to move? Share in the comments.