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STN: the story of a Slovenian teleport

A visit to Satellite Telecommunications Network (STN) is more like calling in on family friends rather than a big corporation. There is a good reason for that; CEO Andrej Lovšin runs this advanced teleport with his two sons, Tomaž and Mitja, along with a small but efficient staff. Tomaž is managing director and also has a strong involvement in the engineering decisions. Mitja, the sales and marketing director, looks after the business side.

Andrej started out as a documentary filmmaker, but in 2004 took advantage of the opportunities presented by the new market of satellite television. His first step was to set up a modest teleport operation in downtown Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It soon became apparent that there was sufficient business in Eastern and Central Europe, and the Middle East region, to warrant investment in a larger operation.

A relaunch of the business was planned for May 2009, to be at a new purpose-designed facility outside the city. After a long search for a suitable location, Andrej came across some land outside the village of Dob. The region is mountainous, so it was essential that the site had a clear line-of-site to the geostationary orbital positions, plus readily available power feeds, which is not always possible in a rural location. The site has a satellite reach from 85 degrees east to 50 degrees west, which includes all European and most transatlantic, Asian, Middle Eastern and African satellites.

Once the site was acquired, most companies would have set about selecting a systems integrator. Instead, STN chose to design and run the project itself, a remarkably impressive feat for such a small team. It created a well-engineered project to the highest technical standards.

The new teleport and playout center at Dob lies at 14½ degrees east, some 20km outside Ljubljana. The total site area is 20,000m2 , with the initial development occupying 5000m2. Phase two, now under construction, will add 5000 m2, leaving the remainder for future expansion.

The new facility was designed with best-of-breed technology that would allow STN to offer a high-availability SLA, and the architect-designed building provides a complement to the advanced technology.

The facility operates with a mix of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 signals in SD, with the capability of HD operation if required by a client. The business is a mix of turnaround services, uplink to DTH satellites and channel playout. The turnaround operation is complemented with occasional use services, as well as an OB fleet that provides services for live events in the region, including satellite uplink.

Rows of racks

The first stage of phase one filled 64 racks with the receivers, turnaround, playout and encoding for about 150 channels. As the company gained more business, a second row of racks was installed, but even doubling the rack space has failed to keep pace with demand. STN has looked to more compact equipment. One example is on the receive side. It moved from conventional IRDs to modular cards from Miranda, where 10 cards occupy 3RU — one-third the space of the single IRD chassis used in the first installation phase. The recently-installed iTX playout platform also saves considerable space over conventional automation systems.

RF

The teleport has 39 receive dishes in the C, Ku and Ka bands. After signal processing and monitoring, channels are fed to the 16 fixed and steerable transmit dishes. Three Avanti dishes provide support for STN's data services. As well as the C, Ku and Ka band distribution services, the network also provides encoding, encryption and multiplexing for DTH services in K band.

The RF and MPEG transport streams are managed with Ericsson nCompass, with status aggregated into the Miranda iControl to give operators an end-to-end view of each channel.

Global connectivity

As well as the satellite reception, the facility has two-way fiber connectivity through two separate independent circuits, providing uninterrupted connection to major POPs in Europe, Asia and the United States, including London, Paris and New York City.

Control and monitoring

Rather than deciding to run the MCR with high staffing levels, STN installed an automated monitoring system. This proved to be a smart move, as the business has grown apace since the move to the new site. Rather than expanding headcount in proportion to the increasing channel count, monitoring by exception allows the existing staff to efficiently run the additional channels.

Working closely with Miranda, the iControl system was programmed to meet its monitoring requirements. The system provides a graphical representation of the health of all aspects of the operation from downlink to uplink. The iControl aggregates data from systems throughout the center and is programmed to highlight exceptions to the operator.

The system interfaces to the decoders, multiplexer and encoders, and baseband routing as well as the terminal equipment. Third-party equipment is monitored via SNMP, or via serial and GPI for equipment without SNMP interfaces. The nCompass system controls the configuration of the encoders and multiplexers.

Through the use of this smart monitoring, a single operator can supervise and monitor the network chain from receive dishes through to transmission. The operator can view essential parameters like temperature and the UPS condition through to the signal condition of the receive feeds. It can rapidly diagnose problems and respond appropriately via a number of views that can be called up on the multiviewer. As an example, one configuration displays all the downlink feeds; another is used for live events and monitors incoming feeds, graphics and playout status.

The transmission path and the status of associated devices are displayed using schematics based on STN's original wiring diagrams for the facility. On the receive side, the L-band DAs and routing, as well as the IRDs are all monitored. A Tektronix MTM400A system analyzes and monitors MPEG transport streams. If a fault is detected by one of the probes, the controller generates and logs an alarm, directing the operator to the source of a problem. The operator can zoom in from facility-wide to device-level representation on the monitor wall/GUI.

Playout

STN has a legacy playout system based on the On-Air Systems Playcast. It was incorporated into the systems at the new building and is used to air four channels. To meet the requirements of a new client, STN recently purchased a new system from Miranda. The system, based on the iTX platform, was installed in early 2011 and airs eight channels for broadcaster SAT-7.

The original Playcast system used an ingest system designed and built by STN. It was based on Matrox video processing cards and encoded content as MPEG-2 4:2:2 at 30Mb/s (SD). STN uses Adobe Premiere Pro if programs need to be segmented or edited.

As part of the recent iTX installation, the existing ingest system was supplanted with iTX ingest. The system retains backwards compatibility with the original content so that archive files encoding on the Matrox platform can still be used without the need for transcoding.

The new channels include Miranda Vertigo XG graphics processors downstream of the iTX servers for channel branding and promos. Many broadcasters want to repeat live programs, so the transmission output with the overlaid graphics can be recorded for time-shifted airing.

Nearline storage for playout operations is provided by six Isilon IQ 36000X server nodes with a capacity of 216TB, and a Quantum Scalar i500 tape library provides backup and archive.

In any multinational operation, clients need services to support multiple languages. STN can provide subtitling and voice-over services. The facility has an audio area with six fully-equipped voice-over booths that can be booked by clients.

Phase two

As the number of channels they handle has more than doubled since the launch, the dishes are operating close to capacity. The solution was to invest in another group of dishes on adjacent land. Phase two broke ground in April 2011, doubling the area of the operational site. The new development will include another 12 transmit antennas plus a General Dynamics Torus full-arc receive antenna. These dishes can receive satellites in a 70-degree arc in the space footprint of two or three conventional parabolic dishes. The new site will incorporate a garage with space for two large OB trucks and office accommodation for Norkring, which operates the second multiplex for Slovenian digital terrestrial television.

To provide around-the-clock service in the rural location, STN has ensured it is self-sufficient for the majority of the maintenance tasks on the dish farm without the need for external contractors. The building has dual power feeds plus UPS and backup generator.

The team at STN has demonstrated that you don't need to be a large corporation to be a global player in the teleport business. Its operations reach from North America to the Asia-Pacific. The company has proved responsive to clients, moving to new format like DVB-S2 and MPEG-4, and continues to expand into other areas with its OB fleet.

The control room allows a handful of operators to manage 300 satellite channels as well as master control operations for the playout channels.

Design team

STN:
Andrej Lovšin, CEO
Tomaž Lovšin, managing director
Mitja Lovšin, sales and marketing director
Janja Justin, operations manager
Jurij Blazin, technical manager
Jus Selan, IT manager

Technology at work

Miranda:
Stephen Brownsill, product specialist, workflow and playout
Raed Al Tikriti, vice president of workflow and playout
Alex Gallico, product manager, solutions
Adobe Premiere Pro/Photoshop, editing and graphics
ASC Signal TX/RX earth station antennas
Cisco IP routing
Ericsson
E57xx series of MPEG-2 encoders
EN80xx series of MPEG-4 (SD and HD) encoders
MX8400 series of multiplexers
nCompass Control management system
TT1222/TT1260 and RX1290 IRDs
ETL Systems L-band router
Evertz SPG
General Dynamics Torus multiband RX antenna
Harris Videotek video monitoring
Isilon IQ storage
Jünger Audio Level Magic audio DSP
Miranda
Densité terminal equipment
iControl facility monitoring
iTX automated playout platform
Kaleido multiviewer
Vertigo XC graphics processors
Network Electronic
VikinX and Sublime routers
V/A routing
Newtec Azimuth DVB-S/S2 modulators
Quantum
Scalar i500 tape library
LTO4, 223 tape slots
Screen Subtitling subtitling
Sonifex audio processing
Yellotec Intellimix audio mixer
Work synthesizer and oscillator upconverters
Xicom amplifiers