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When All Else Fails, SNG Still Delivers

PADUCAH, KY.—With much of the broadcasting industry "abuzz" over IP content delivery for ENG over the past few years, SNG may appear to be the old guy in the corner. Improvements in IP infrastructure, encoding (H.264), and hardware allow live content to be delivered over 3G and 4G mobile platforms, tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers. But while the broadband trend has gained almost unbelievable traction, satellite delivery may not be the snail in the race.


With any type of content delivery, the chain starts at the acquisition point. According to Richard Bullock, head of C&D Compression Solutions, Solution Area TV for Ericsson, sat uplink operators are constantly upgrading their gear so that they have the latest.

The Sencore SMD 989 DVB-S/S2 platform handles both single or multi-stream modulation of MPEG transport streams.
"Business is strong, and with plenty of planned events coming up, providers are looking to the future and investing heavily in truck gear," he said. "With events like the Royal Wedding and Tour de France behind us, and the Rugby World Cup just around the corner, it's very encouraging."

Nicholas Bethard, product manager for Sencore, a Sioux Falls, SD-based provider of signal processing technology, says that the MPEG-2 market is kind of stagnant, while the market for H.264 products has grown at a fast rate.

"The newer H.264 encoders have lost most of their objectionable traits, including high latency, and H.264 is perfectly suited for SNG purposes," he said. "Truck operators want smaller, modular products that provide multiple features, such as our SMD-989 modulator."

Bullock agrees. "Ericsson offers a 1RU, 10-bit, six slot chassis, the Voyager II. Operators want reliability, compact gear, and ease of use. With all-in one performance, and a video confidence monitor built right in, the Voyager II is a very popular model already".

Above the clouds, satellite companies see the same trends. Tim Jackson, vice president for media products management for Intelsat, says business has been phenomenal. "We currently have over 50 satellites," he said. "I was expecting other technologies to gain ground on satellite delivery, but I just haven't seen it."

When broadcasters covered the 2010 Copiapó mining accident in Chile last year, they used a combination of fiber and satellite to transmit coverage. Henry Carlos, Canal 2, San Antonio, Chile Back on earth, Orion, Mich-based Dawnco is staying busy, according to John Joslin, director of sales & marketing. "Although overall antenna sales are down over the past decade, and some big names have gone out of business, the strong do survive," he said. "System antenna sizes are increasing and system designers are being more careful about cable lengths and quality."

Although fiber and IP are becoming widely accepted for media delivery, along with the old reliable microwave, there are some places that are still under-served.

"The World Cup in South Africa for sports, and the recent tragedy in Japan [tsunami] are examples of how SNG works around the world, every time," said Jackson.

"When really big news falls out of the sky, satellite signals can't be overloaded like broadband, cell, and Internet connections," said Bethard. "In remote locations, such as Chile when the miners were trapped, even fiber would have been useless, given the geographic location."


On the uplink side, one of the latest technology trends is the anticipated adaptation of 16APSK/32APSK.

"Advances such as DVB-S2 8PSK have yielded about a 30 percent bit rate savings, and newer modulation schemes such as 16APSK/32APSK should yield another 20 to 30 percent savings as well," said Bethard. Of course, this new modulation scheme may come with a price. "The receive dishes could typically need to be in excess of 6m," said Bullock. "However, we recently did some tests in Spain where we managed to receive 45 Mbps over an 18MHz link using a 1.5m dish."

Ericsson Voyager II For receive sites, "a couple of years back the hot spec on LNB's was frequency stability," Joslin said. "Now the spec to watch for is >1db gain compression point. Dawnco's new LNB's offer +10db gain compression point, where industry standard is 0db. In some cases EbNo [energy per bit to noise power spectral density ratio] sees improvement with just LNB changeouts, especially with marginal systems [long cable lengths, smaller dishes]."

While much of the acquisition hardware can feed either satellite or fiber, companies are diversifying. Intelsat has expanded into the fiber distribution market with its Intelsat ONE, with worldwide teleports. When asked about QOS, Jackson indicated that their sat services reach the "5 nines", while their fiber products achieve "4 nines" of reliability.

Bandwidth hogs such as 3D are also on the minds of satellite vendors. "Ericsson has been working with a number of customers since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on 3D solutions culminating in dual left and right channel time stamped encodes from a single encode chassis, such as the new CExH42 encoder," said Bullock. "Our recent 3D innovation is 'Simulsynch 3D,' which is designed to ensure that the exact temporal and spatial relationship is maintained on both left and right channel feeds. Currently this solution is available in the RX8200 and the CExH4 encoder but will shortly be available in the Voyager II."

With technologies such as the latest sat phones and BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network), the toolset for broadcasters and newsgatherers is more powerful than ever. From an earth station the size of a PC, pointing toward a satellite, you can check e-mail, download a file, or stream real time audio/video. Considering the dollar investment that service providers and manufacturers are making, combined with the fast evolution of the technology, it appears as though the satellite industry is alive and well, and is prepared for a long future.