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'WING'-ing It for ENG

IDAHO FALLS, IDAHO In the mountainous area of Idaho Falls, Idaho, the capabilities of point-to-point microwave liveshots are quickly exhausted, and in that high ADI television market, a half-million dollar satellite uplink truck is not a reality.

Mark Danielson, general manager of KIFI, the ABC affiliate in the area, had been looking at wireless Internet solutions for several years. "It just occurred to me that with companies launching wireless Internet services, we ought to be able to send our video over that bandwidth," he said.

KIFI's WING truck He found that most such services offered ample download speeds, but not much upload speed. To send video over the 'net, he needed just the opposite.

Then WiMAX provider Digital Bridge Communications of Ashburn, Va. came to town. "They were in my office to tell me about what they believed to be the first commercial application for WiMAX in the country," he said, "in of all places, Rexburg, Idaho, 40 minutes north of Idaho Falls." Danielson explained to his guests how ENG worked. "They got very excited about it. They told me they never thought of this as an application, and they promised they'd work with me, they wanted to make this happen."

While Digital Bridge readied its system in Rexburg, KIFI shopped vendors for the right system to pair with the WiMAX service. They identified Streambox as a provider who could handle both live and file-based video over IP.

The station also coined the term "WING," for Wireless Internet Newsgathering, and built a WING truck, with a Streambox encoder housed within. "We tested it, we executed, and we got liveshots," said Danielson. "Rexburg, Idaho was our first one, even in a place where it had been impossible for us without a satellite truck."

KIFI's WING setup takes an upload speed of a bare minimum 1.2 Mbps, according to Danielson. "That's what we consider the bare minimum to execute a live shot that we consider acceptable for broadcast television," he said. "It gets better as you go up in speed, and they're working now to deliver 2 Mbps to us whenever we're up." Digital Bridge guarantees the station that uplink speed, a point that was critical to making the deal.

At the station end, the Streambox decoder received the data as a packet stream. "Sometimes there's packet loss, data gets lost and the decoder says to the encoder 'send that data again,'" Danielson said. "Of course it does it so fast you don't notice it, and that's what allows us to get a live shot."

Danielson said they've measured the total system delay at about three seconds. "In my opinion, it's usable," he said. "Your IFB has to be sent to the reporter with mixed minus. I believe our newsroom is cuing the talent just a little bit earlier, to make it seamless, as tight as possible."

To date, Digital Bridge has also now launched WiMAX service in KIFI's market in the Idaho communities of Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Chubbuck, and Twin Falls.