Serving Citizens Abroad Through DVB-S2

Réseau Outre-Mer – formerly known as Réseau France Outre-Mer (RFO) – is the overseas broadcasting arm of France Télévisions that serves French-speaking communities in many parts of the world. Francophone overseas territories are spread across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, with a combined population of more than 2.5 million.

Late in 2010 we launched new digital television services to these territories, after constructing new specially dedicated headend infrastructure at our Paris headquarters.

Réseau Outre-Mer provides its overseas services through six separate multiplexes. Each multiplex is dedicated to its own territory, and all carried through DVB-S2 transmissions from Paris.

Each multiplex is built up with local channels and some national channels from France Télévisions, ARTE, and France 24. These national channels are common to all of the multiplexes.

The local Réseau Outre-Mer 1ère channels and the national channels from France Télévisions, ARTE and France 24 are encoded in MPEG-4 in either SD or HD, before being multiplexed together and delayed before transmission depending on their time zone.

The national channels are delayed to match the respective time zones for each territory; namely the French Pacific Islands, Caribbean Islands and Guyana, North Atlantic, La Réunion, and New Caledonia. This makes our headend’s specifications quite different from a traditional headend.

We selected our headend technology provider based on this requirement: the supplier had to deliver a superior quality compression solution because in digital transmission every kbps matters. We also wanted a supplier that could provide a flexible time-delay solution that was fully coupled with the management system.

Thomson Video Networks offered the best solution for meeting both of these needs. Its Sapphire MPEG server has become a key part of our architecture.

Our infrastructure includes Thomson ViBE EM1000, EM2000 and EM3000 encoders, NetProcessor 9030 multiplexers, and Sapphire MPEG servers. Redundancy management is provided by Thomson Video Networks Amethyst switchers, with delivery-chain monitoring capability supplied by Thomson Granite Sentinel digital TV probes. Reception of contributed feeds for rebroadcasting is handled by the firm’s RD5000 SD/HD MPEG-2/4 receiver/decoder.

Overall, the Thomson solution worked ‘out of the box’, with almost no need for customisation.

We have recently introduced DVB subtitling based on Thomson Video Networks and Cavena’s built-in teletext-to-DVB subtitling feature in the ViBE EM series.

It took around six months to discuss the complete solution and finalise the design. We signed the project in December 2009 and we did our first tests using the satellite distribution network in July 2010.

We had a firm date for going on air as a definite part of the project, and as scheduled, the new services went live on October 31, 2010. Now, after more than nine months in operation the solution has proved itself to be robust in operation.

Our experience with Thomson Video Networks has been very satisfactory, even though we were treading new ground in this project. We knew that the Thomson compression products are extremely efficient in terms of performance, but this is the first time that my team was directly involved in planning and operating such a large headend system.

The successful outcome is due to the good training Thomson Video Networks provided, and the easy and intuitive management solution included in the system.

Based in Paris, Christian Augereau is Technical Director of Réseau Outre-Mer.