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Modeo mobile video

Modeo will begin delivering multichannel video servers to the top 30 markets from its new control room this year.

Seldom does a business get to start with a clean sheet of paper. Market opportunities that have been developing for several years offered Crown Castle International (CCI) just such an opportunity. CCI owns and operates thousands of broadcast and telephony transmission towers in Europe, Australia and North America. Its tenants include AT&T Wireless Services (AWS), Cingular, Nextel, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, as well as various state and federal government agencies, and broadband data service providers.

Part of its business includes CCI sites, a state-of-the-art tower inventory management system containing more than 117,000 co-locatable sites in the United States. As it turns out, the new business it is developing relies on the control center, which monitors their tower-related businesses.

Multicast network Modeo employs the OPAL IP encapsulator from Thales Broadcast & Multimedia.

All of us have seen demonstrations of video delivered to mobile devices. Much of that content has been delivered at extremely “challenged” bit rates. Such poor quality is unlikely to be a regular and satisfying viewing habit. But if the quality of the content is sized for the display and the channel bandwidth, it might well be possible to get committed consumers. CCI is doing exactly that.

The Modeo (a subsidiary of CCI) network will use 5MHz of unencumbered nationwide spectrum acquired by Crown Castle through the FCC auction in 2003. It is building a network that will distribute multichannel video and other services over that bandwidth. Beginning this year, the network plans to deliver live mobile TV to the top 30 markets across the United States. For several months, it has been operating two test delivery systems, in Pittsburgh and New York City. Both of those, as well as all of the markets in the commercial roll-out, are fed from CCI's headquarters in suburban Pittsburgh. The demonstration system has allowed the network to experiment with coding and transmission options without interrupting a commercial service later. The results have been encouraging.

Figure 1. Based on the DVB-H standard, Modeo plans to deliver live mobile TV to the top 30 markets across the United States beginning this year. Click here to see an enlarged diagram.

The system chosen for transmission is DVB-H, which uses COFDM transmission. (See Figure 1.) Compression is WM9. The delivered payload includes about five channels of programming regionalized to allow specialized programming tailored to each area. The central distribution facility in Canonsburg, PA, as well as the demonstration system, were integrated and designed by AZCAR USA. Monitoring and control is critical in such a national service. CCI has the ability to bring status information from all of the transmission sites already, including tower lighting information required by the FAA. By extending that network, Modeo will be able to bring extensive information about the deployment back to the central monitoring site.

Figure 2. Content is aggregated at the central distribution facility in Canonsburg, PA. Then it is compressed and delivered to a DS-3 Ku band satellite channel, which is downlinked at each transmission site. Click here to see an enlarged diagram.

Mobile video delivery has different requirements than other content. It would be difficult to deliver the full range of channels available to the general consumer audience, though not all would be of interest to mobile users. News and entertainment programming would be among the program offerings. The content is aggregated in Canonsburg, compressed and delivered to a DS-3 Ku band satellite channel, which is down-linked at each transmission site. (See Figure 2.)

The calculated link budget should provide in excess of 10dB fade margin and more than 99.95 percent availability in all markets served. In every market, all of the transmitters are tightly synchronized to allow users to move from coverage of one transmitter to another, which is a requirement of the DVB-H standard. The resulting system has been shown to provide a solid viewer experience on watching on PDAs, laptops and likely eventually in cars and other motor vehicles.

The Pittsburgh control center can even monitor tower lights throughout the entire system.

The operations center includes satellite and terrestrial receive capability, which brings the signals in. The monitoring center can view both inbound and outbound signals in a control room with access to information about the transmission sites as well. As each market is rolled out, the monitoring and control systems will be expanded to allow monitoring the reception of the digital satellite signal, as well as provide the ability to decode the transmitted signal and return it to Pittsburgh for analysis and troubleshooting.

The ingest subsystem receives content delivered by programmers either as conventional full bandwidth services or groomed services intended for low-bandwidth distribution streamed over VPNs on either the public Internet or point-to-point circuits. Full-bandwidth content is either processed and compressed live, or it is recorded to a local Omneon server for delay and broadcast. The Windows Media 9 encoders are Thales ARGOS, and the IP encapsulation hardware is Thales OPAL. The Thales subsystem includes DRM and failover redundancy protection.

Encoding equipment relies on Thales technology.

One of the capabilities in the system allows content to be downloaded to local memory (disk or flash) in the receiver. Using the program guide and user interface on the local display, a consumer can pick a program for delivery, which is then pulled from the transmitted carousel and locally stored for viewing in the future. Some of this content is stored on the Omneon video server. Delivery of these “file services” uses a FLUTE server, a protocol that might be thought of as similar in purpose to FTP. In addition, the system includes several channels of audio programming provided through a national service.

The transmission network delivers over a national 5MHz channel at 1670MHZ. The nationally delivered single 45Mb Ku satellite signal on AMC9 has the capacity to carry regionalized programming to approximately 30 markets.

The launch was announced formally at CES, though Modeo and AZCAR have been at work on the technical and operational plans for a considerable period of time. In addition to Pittsburgh and New York City, Modeo expects to deploy other markets during the balance of 2006.

AZCAR supplied design and integration services, including most of the origination center equipment. In addition to the package of Thales encapsulation and compression hardware (and support software systems), several other manufacturers' hardware was important to the project. Evertz provided terminal equipment and monitoring software.

As with any 24/7 commercial facility, Modeo has built backup power (UPS and generator) and has provided for disaster recovery and transmission redundancy as the network grows.

John Luff is the senior vice president of business development for AZCAR.

Design team

AZCAR, systems integrator

Technology at work

Evertz terminal equipment and monitoring software
Omneon video server
Thales Broadcast & Multimedia ARGOS encoder
OPAL IP gateway