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Satellite technology is rising to new challenges

There is an extent to which IBC 2013 didn’t see the emergence of a key technology theme in the same way as the past three IBCs have done with 3D, ultra HD and multi-screen. If anything, IBC 2013 saw general acceptance that 3D needed autostereoscopy to become a reality before it could succeed – and, equally, a consensus that Ultra HD (and its successors) were now an integral part of the future of broadcasting, and that multi-screen was no longer ‘nice to have’ but rather ‘must have’.

There is an extent to which IBC 2013 didn’t see the emergence of a key technology theme in the same way as the past three IBCs have done with 3D, ultra HD and multi-screen. If anything, IBC 2013 saw general acceptance that 3D needed autostereoscopy to become a reality before it could succeed – and, equally, a consensus that Ultra HD (and its successors) were now an integral part of the future of broadcasting, and that multi-screen was no longer ‘nice to have’ but rather ‘must have’.

Which was music to the ears of the satellite industry, who see increasing quantities of bits that need to be delivered to more devices in more places than ever before.

Core infrastructure

“Higher resolution screens, technologies supporting greater consumer control, multi-screen viewing, the continuing transition to a fully digital environment were some of the overriding trends on everyone’s agenda at IBC,” said Jean-François Leprince-Ringuet (pictured), chief commercial officer of Eutelsat. “Satellite is playing a role in all these fields and is developing new technologies and partnerships to expand its position as a core infrastructure.”

Ultra HD was the focus of attention at IBC for Eutelsat. In January this year, the company launched a dedicated Ultra HD satellite channel designed to benefit players in the broadcasting chain looking to acquire expertise in 4K. The channel operates in progressive mode at 50 fps, encoded in MPEG-4 and transmitted at 40Mbps in four Quad HD streams. At IBC, Eutelsat took the next step with the launch of an Ultra HD channel with HEVC encoding that will be multiplexed with the existing Quad HD signal in the same Eutelsat 10A transponder. A third channel has been launched with Samsung broadcast 4K content to retail outlets displaying Samsung’s new range of Ultra HD sets.

Eutelsat also showed for the first time the ‘smart LNB’ that was announced in the summer. The ‘smart LNB’ is described as a new-generation electronic feed connected to a satellite antenna equipped with a transmitter for interactive applications such as HbbTV, pay-per-view, social networking, personal subscription management and audience measurement.

According to Eutelsat, it meets increasing consumer expectation to manage and interact with content and prepares the ground for machine-to-machine and home automation applications. The ‘smart LNB’ is expected to become commercially available in 2014.

“Eutelsat is a core capacity provider to broadcasters and pay-TV platforms and the new satellites we are launching will provide improved footprints, increased capacity and greater flexibility,” noted Leprince-Ringuet. “Broadcasters and carriers are also looking for broader expertise and this trend is driving the expansion of our platform competence.”

He went on to describe how Eutelsat’s KabelKiosk platform enables local and regional cable and IP network operators to optimise their fibre infrastructure by bolting video services onto a portfolio of telephony and internet services. It now comprises comprehensive linear TV and nonlinear services in addition to solutions for secure distribution of content to connected devices including iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, the FRANSAT platform the company operates in France for broadcasting DTT channels to homes beyond the range of terrestrial reception is a blueprint that, according to Leprince-Ringuet, can be easily applied to other markets in the throes of analogue switch-off.

Not the only show in town

Satellite may well be a core broadcast infrastructure for Eutelsat – but GlobeCast is clear that satellite is not the only show in town. “If there’s one word that sums up the technology of the broadcast market today, it’s ‘diversity’,” said Philippe Rouxel (pictured), chief marketing officer at GlobeCast. “In terms of technology, satellites are just one distribution method among many. They are still an essential part of any major broadcast strategy and are the most reliable method of point-to-multipoint distribution, but we’re at IBC to say that broadcasters have so many more possibilities – we’re discussing all of them with our clients.”

GlobeCast’s focus at IBC was the company’s new positioning as a fully-fledged content management and delivery company, with the ability to provide a range of services from content preparation to tools that enable monetisation and, especially, its OTT solutions that include LIVE, LIVE-TO-VOD and VOD.

“It so happens that OTT is a major area of interest because it allows for easy rollout of channels on multiple devices in a cost-effective way,” continued Rouxel, noting that his company is able to provide fibre- and IP solutions as well as satellite, “so we’re confident that our solutions are very much in line with broadcast requirements today and tomorrow.”

For Rouxel, one of Globecast’s most significant strengths is its sheer worldwide reach – together with making its customers lives easier.

“We stand for providing simple responses to the increasing complexity of delivering a high quality broadcast experience,” he said. “Beyond that, broadcasters today are looking for solutions that cover more than one region and in most cases that use more than one product, more than one technology,” he said. “So it’s extremely helpful for them to have a company as global and network-agnostic as we are.”

Efficiency, reliability

It seems clear that a continuing focus for satellite companies will be to both expand the bandwidth available, as well as to make more efficient use of what they have – and to make it even more reliable. For Newtec, IBC was all about demonstrating what the company believes is its leadership in two key areas of satellite technology: S2 Extensions and Carrier ID.
S2 Extensions, which are claimed to deliver up to 37% efficiency gains (up to 64% or more when applied to 72 MHz wideband transponders) and which were the subject of an extensive market survey by the company earlier in the year, are now implemented across Newtec’s product range.
The S2 Extensions, which have already been deployed in a couple of projects, work in a number of different ways. They have lower roll-offs, advanced filtering for improved carrier spacing, support different network configurations and increase the modulation and coding granularity.
“Newtec was a key player in the development of the new standard which, with the advent of 4K and HEVC, will deliver much-needed greater efficiency,” said Thomas Van den Driessche (pictured), chief commercial officer of Newtec. “It will allow more content to be handled by the same satellite.”

SES was an early adopter of S2 Extensions, using Newtec MDM6000 satellite modems to increase the efficiency of its African SES-5 payload, and at IBC, Newtec was showing off its latest hubs, modulators and modems that are compatible with the soon-to-be-updated standard.

Carrier ID addresses the long-standing problem of identifying the source of satellite interference — a problem that Newtec, working with the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (iRG) discovered is a continuous problem for one in five operators.

“We’re one of the first manufacturers to include Carrier ID support in our products,” said Van den Driessche. “It’s that kind of innovation on behalf of our customers that allows us to continue to grow our market share and to maintain our leading position in the industry.” Satellite operators are required to begin the transition to implementation of Carrier ID by January 1, 2015.

DVB-Sx – and beyond

Also demonstrating its capability in this field was TeamCast, who announced new features for the Vyper DVB-S2 modulator, including Carrier ID, low roll-off values, multi-stream, ACM and opportunistic data insertion. Field programmable and with what the company describes as unique signal purity, TeamCast believes that it can provide a direct path to ‘DVB-Sx’ enabled professional solutions.

“For us, it’s all about DVB-Sx and beyond,” said Gerard Faria (pictured), chief technology officer, who is also co-chair of the FoBTV Network technical group. “We also launched SaTurn, a compact OEM dual DVB-S2 demodulator board that allow pro IRD manufacturers to switch easily to the high-end side, including the use of low FEC rates for low C/Ns, or 16 and 32 APSK modulation, for high bitrates.”

“Our long and proven expertise in digital modulation technologies allow us to offer innovative and powerful solutions to the satellite industry,” continued Faria. “Furthermore, our involvement in the current DVB-Sx standardisation body is a warranty for our customers that we will continuously help them to optimise their transmissions.”

For the industry as a whole, there can be little doubt that satellite technology plays a key role. That’s no less true for certain segments of the industry. In newsgathering, for example, competition is typically fierce to be first with the story – and new products at IBC were designed specifically to support that goal.

On the Cobham stand, for example, the focus was on the company’s ability to provide a range of portable satellite solutions, each offering different combinations of size, weight and power. Perhaps most notable among these was the Explorer 710 BGAN terminal. First ‘soft launched’ at NAB, it received its European debut at IBC in Amsterdam, where Cobham was demonstrating it live for the first time. The 710 provides streaming rates over 650Kbps out of the box, when using the new high datarate streaming service from Inmarsat.

Smallest, lightest

“This is the world’s smallest and lightest Class 1 BGAN terminal,” said Henrik Nørrelykke, vice president, land at Cobham SATCOM. “It represents a step change in what’s possible – a real tipping point in terms of the capability it provides to the first guy in. For any application or environment in which timing is critical and there’s a need for high bandwidth, the Explorer 710 provides an outstanding solution.”

The size of a laptop, the Explorer 710 weighs less than 3kgs. Advanced new features include the ability to bond the signals from multiple terminals via Ethernet and achieve IP streaming rate of 1 Mbps or even higher. “You can use two, for example, to provide a full frame HD image,” said the company’s Dave Provencher, general manager, Orlando land. “That’s never been possible before.”

Over on the Vislink stand, the Advent Motorised MSAT satellite data terminal was on public view for the first time. Earlier this year, the company launched the broadcast specification Mantis MSAT one-man portable satellite terminal .
“In response to growing demand from broadcasters for a larger automated version, the Motorised MSAT with its 120cm reflector is perfect for instantaneous high-definition satellite newsgathering,” said Mark Anderson (pictured), marketing operations manager at Vislink. “The Motorised MSAT is a solution specifically designed for first on scene reporting, that provides the perfect balance between the functionality of a full vehicle mounted satellite terminal, and the speed, mobility and versatility needed to make sure you can deliver the first high-definition video images from the scene, before anyone else, which is highly sought after.”

The Motorised MSAT is capable of supporting either a 90cm or 120cm reflector and also offers data throughput rates of up to 10Mbps, making it, according to Vislink, the ideal system for a first on scene broadcast uplink. With simultaneous three-axis motorisation and one button auto acquire, the MSAT data terminal is said to offer full support for two-way video, voice and data communications, and is designed for rapid deployment and one-man operation in a variety of scenarios.

A full tri-band optioned system that can support X, Ka and Ku band configurations with feeds that can be swapped on location, the Motorised MSAT is also claimed to be highly customisable and can be tailored to include the Advent DVE5100 H.264 encoder or a customer-specified IP modem fitted into the body of the unit. It meets IATA weight limits, weighing less than 25kg.

If the prediction that 2016 will see no fewer than 1.8 billion in-home devices turns out to be accurate, there can be little doubt that video distribution will continue to grow — more content to more people, however it gets there, from wherever, to wherever. A broadcast world in which satellite technology does not continue to play a central role is, frankly, unimaginable. Doubters needed only to visit IBC 2013 for irrefutable proof of that.

By Ian McMurray