Bundling Internet content and digital TV via satellite
By Arduino Patacchini
Figure 1. Later this year, Eutelsat is launching a satellite called e-BIRD, which is optimized for asymmetrical Internet traffic. It allows high-power multicasting with saturation of the 36 MHz transponders for reception by small terminals. Information requests are sent to the Internet via 108 MHz wide transponders.
Now that the technology for the delivery of Internet content and digital TV by satellite exists, this year will see the first consumer-priced commercial services and applications come to market. Substantial development work has been done with hardware and software partners as well as content and service providers in order to prepare a compelling experience for consumers that will combine the interactive nature of the Internet with the broadcasting experience. The elements now are assembled for combining the Internet and TV so that consumers have access to an infrastructure that brings them rich media content and speed at affordable prices.
Technology for the consumer market
Satellite operator Eutelsat, for example, now is finalizing its multimedia offer for operators that will include ISPs, telcos and broadcasters. Based on open standards, the concept that has been developed enables end users to access content through a DVB/IP receiver connected to the same direct-to-home antenna that delivers satellite television to the TV set.
This receiver hardware, which is manufactured by companies such as Broadlogic, Pentamedia, Technisat and V-box, can be connected either to a PC or a browser-enabled set-top box (STB) and now is retailing at under (US) $138. This type of configuration is a hybrid solution whereby the subscriber requires a dial-up connection for the return channel.
In addition to high-speed Internet downloads at speeds comparable to those offered by ADSL and cable, this type of service enables users to watch MPEG-4 video streaming on their PCs and to receive push services that can be stored on the PC or STB hard drive for later retrieval. Indeed, satellites have a significant advantage when it comes to video streaming and push services. Unlike ADSL access, which is limited to 512 kbits/s to the consumer and high contention on the backbone, satellites can provide multiple uninterrupted 4 Mbits/s streams to a PC and scheduled file downloads to the PC hard drive, without the need even for a return path connection.
Using current transmission technology, it is generally considered possible to load between 10,000 and 12,000 subscribers per average transponder and provide a level of service equivalent to most cable and ADSL offers of 512 kbits/s @ 50:1 contention. Unlike ADSL and cable, with satellite, burst speeds of up to 8 Mbits/s per subscriber are possible. In fact, new transmission methods to be introduced this year could support up to 20,000 subscribers per transponder, thus reducing the cost per subscriber even further.
Consumer-focused services based on DVB/IP open standards have just been launched in Italy and will be offered to end users by a number of service providers. The service is running through a Eutelsat multimedia platform, which offers hosting, encoding, multiplexing and uplinking services for ISPs, broadcasters, telcos and other service providers. The platform uses the company’s W3 satellite that is positioned six degrees away from the HOT BIRD television satellites used for most Italian satellite broadcasts. This in-orbit spacing means that a single antenna fitted with a twin low-noise block converter can pull down services from both orbital positions.
The ability to transmit IP using the DVB standard adds true broadcast ability to the Internet for the first time. Any number of users can receive the content once they log on to the same stream. Just like television broadcasters, Internet content and service providers can send out a single broadcast service that they believe is of interest to a sufficient number of end users and that can be configured for consumer or closed user groups, such as for micro-broadcasting a chair-person’s address, company training programs or distance-learning.
For this sort of hybrid multimedia solution, end-user subscription costs of approximately (US) $37 a month, including ISP dial-up account, will be competitive with equivalent services provided by ADSL and cable companies. In addition to providing end users with rich media content to their PCs, it also offers broadcasters additional opportunities for generating revenue and controlling churn.
Technology for the broadband market
There also is a market for fully satellite-based solutions in enterprise and small office/home environments, where users need always-on broadband connectivity. Two-way satellite terminals using the DVB-RCS standard now are available in Europe at (US) $1380, with blanket licensing enabling users to send content as easily as to receive it. This provides full video conferencing capabilities thanks to data rates of more than 512 kbits/s on the return link and 2 Mbits/s on the forward link.
In order to serve this growing market, Eutelsat is set to launch later this year a satellite called e-BIRD that is optimized for broadband access and aims to provide the lowest cost per subscriber available. (See Figure 1 on page 16.) e-BIRD’s 20 transponders have been designed for 2-way satellite services using small terminals. The four 108 MHz return link transponders are in the frequency band covered by blanket licensing and are designed for multi-carrier operation. The sixteen 36 MHz transponders are designed for high-power single-carrier operation for the forward link.
Arduino Patacchini is director of multimedia at Eutelsat.
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