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The satellite industry: onwards – and upwards

SNG, DVB, LNB, OTT, ACM, DRM – for fans of satellite industry three-letter acronyms (TLAs), there was no better place to be than this year’s NAB.

SNG, DVB, LNB, OTT, ACM, DRM – for fans of satellite industry three-letter acronyms (TLAs), there was no better place to be than this year’s NAB.

According to some estimates, one in three homes will receive TV signals via satellite by 2017 – up from one in four in 2012. In regions where an existing TV infrastructure is less well developed, such as the Middle East and North Africa, Eutelsat believes that the number could already be as high as nine in 10. At NAB this year, it was those prospects for growth – and what that growth might look like – that were top of mind for satellite companies.

For many visitors, faced with a future that isn’t entirely predictable, ‘flexibility’ was high on their list of careabouts – along with the need to drive profitable revenue. Exhibitor 2wcom was responding with four new products on its NAB booth. The company’s new AIC audio-over-IP encoder/decoder is described as a multipurpose solution for in-house distribution in broadcasting centres, with multi-service infrastructure and centralised administration. The FlexNsert DAB+ Distribution Inserter is claimed to offer versatile distribution options via satellite with advanced bandwidth saving and regionalisation, while the FMC01 is, according to 2wcom, a ground-breaking compact codec for high-quality FM MPX contribution and distribution via IP or E1 (G.703). The company was also highlighting a new solution for SFN FM networks that is said to provide assured microsecond-accurate synchronisation for implementing FM SFN networks with existing analogue transmission infrastructure.

Swiss Army knife
“Our product development is driven by the increasing need broadcasters have to make use of a wide variety of infrastructure options, and to increase revenue through effective regionalisation of content and advertising,” said Werner Drews, managing director at 2wcom. “Our SIRC (Satellite In-band Remote Control) technology provides a very effective regionalisation capability that allows networks to drive up income streams.”

“All our products combine a big range of capabilities,” continued Drews. “This means they can be used in widely varying ways, giving customers a lot of infrastructure flexibility and backup options, while still enjoying the benefits of using the same device, from one supplier. In fact some customers use the phrase ‘Swiss Army knife’ to refer to 2wcom products. This multi-role versatility of the product line is highly regarded by today’s broadcasters.”

Also focusing on flexibility at NAB was Globecast. “Flexibility, scalability and suitability – those are the three watchwords that are central to being able to create bespoke packages for our customers,” noted the company’s vice president of marketing, Christine Jecko (pictured). “The company enables tailored solutions for content providers of all shapes and sizes, creating the technical foundations that power monetisation.”

New monetisation tools were featured extensively on the company’s stand, which Globecast said help broadcasters maximise their revenues while handling the technical complexities associated with providing content to multiple platforms, in multiple formats, across multiple territories.

NAB also saw the first major launch of Globecast XN, which the company said is a key element of its portfolio. Globecast XN is said to allow users to quickly, easily and cost-effectively expand their content to new market audiences around the globe using the public internet network, and enable the delivery of live channels to IPTV and OTT platforms. It also allows those users, according to Globecast, to expand into new markets while limiting risk; significantly reduce backup link costs; collect feeds from event sites and deliver to the broadcaster; and quickly set up a last mile solution where dedicated fibre is unavailable.

No longer just linear
“Of course, linear channels are still a major part of our business, but our sector is no longer simply about contribution or supporting linear channels with playout and delivery services,” continued Jecko. “It’s about the logistics involved in getting content from wherever it’s coming from to wherever it’s going to, and managing media through often complex, multi-party workflows and enabling internal and external specialists to collaborate in the preparation, packaging and delivery of content.”

Many visitors to NAB were also talking about consumer demand for high bandwidth services, and what that might mean in terms of the transition to IP – and, it seemed, trying to prepare accordingly. For many, that meant heading to the WORK Microwave stand, where the company was demonstrating its DVB-S2 Broadcast Modulator which integrates both DVB-S2 multi-stream and TSOIP to deliver what WORK describes as an advanced self-contained solution, with service providers able to transport up to six simultaneous video and data streams via a single TSOIP carrier. In addition, the DVB-S2 Broadcast Modulator platform supports next generation DVB-S2 extensions, providing satellite operators with a future-proof device.

Other technologies being showcased by WORK included carrier ID support for the company’s DVB-S2 Broadcast Modulator. Through carrier ID support, WORK said that operators can define the modulation, channel coding, and signalling protocol intended for the identification of the host carrier to eliminate or reduce radio frequency interference between satellite signals and deliver a higher quality of service to customers.

WORK Microwave also used the opportunity provided by NAB to introduce its Video ACM System, which can transport multiple MPEG transport streams — up to six — and IP data into a DVB-S2 multistream, enabling simultaneous transportation of data (network connection) and live broadcasting (video content) over a single satellite carrier.

“We believe that our Video ACM System sets us apart from the competition because it was the first technology of its kind available on the market,” said Joerg Rockstroh, product manager, modem technologies. “Ideal for point-to-point contribution links and Ku- and Ka-band optimisation applications, the Video ACM System offers a broad range of features and benefits.”

Manual becomes motorised
Also talking about Ka-band at NAB, and showing off its capabilities with the technology, was Vislink. The company was showcasing its manual and motorised MSAT satellite data terminals and announcing its 2.4m Newswift antenna, as well as discussing with visitors the implications of its March acquisition of Pebble Beach Systems which Vislink said allows it to offer its global broadcasting clients a complete scene-to-screen solution.

The company said that the 2.4m Newswift antenna has been created to meet demands from Vislink’s customers in the African, APAC and Americas regions where a larger reflector is often needed, not only for broadcast purposes but also use by government departments. The motorised MSAT is also the product of customer feedback.

“The industry is always looking for increasingly portable, yet high quality, broadcast equipment,” said the company’s marketing operations manager Mark Anderson.” After all the talk about Ka band and the ever-growing need for rapidly deployable SATCOM systems, Vislink has been working hard to meet these needs. Following the success of the manual MSAT and demand from our customers for enhanced speed and mobility, Vislink developed a motorised version. The motorised MSAT is again a full tri-band optioned system with one button auto acquire, designed to meet the needs of customers across America for instant HD satellite newsgathering.”

“The Motorised MSAT is a key piece of the puzzle for meeting the needs of broadcasters on the move,” he continued. “The fact that Vislink’s MSAT range can be easily transported anywhere in the world, and can be made operational within minutes, makes it ideal for transmitting a high speed data connection from any location.”

Another company with a recent acquisition to talk about was Eutelsat, who concluded a $831 million deal for Satmex (now Eutelsat Americas) in January.
“With the acquisition of Satmex, Eutelsat is significantly upscaling activity in the Americas to complement our strong presence in fast-growing markets,” said Markus Fritz (pictured), director of commercial development and marketing. “Satmex’s strategic orbital slots, which will be expanded in 2015 with two further high-performance satellites, bring Eutelsat a robust platform from which to access significant opportunities in this region.”

Encrypted content
Eutelsat also unveiled more of the unique features of its ‘smart LNB’. Leveraging the ability of the smart LNB to provide a satellite return link for Digital Rights Management, a live demo showed how encrypted content can be securely viewed in the home on fixed and mobile screens, enabling users beyond terrestrial networks to have a full Connected TV experience by satellite.

The ‘smart LNB’ is described by Eutelsat as a new-generation electronic feed connected to an antenna with an embedded transmitter for interactive applications such as HbbTV, pay-per-view, social networking, personal subscription management and live show participation (voting, comments and so on). It will, according to the company, transform mass market direct-to-home satellite services by enabling broadcasters and platform operators to bolt interactive value-added services onto broadcast platforms, circumventing viewer dependency on terrestrial fixed and mobile networks.

Over on the SatLink booth, the NAB focus was very much on OTT. “OTT has been talked about at length for a couple of years but it is only now that it is really coming to the forefront with broadcasters and other parties ready to adopt this technology,” explained David Hochner, CEO of SatLink. “This trend is by no means going to die down and we are expecting to see a real increase in the next 12 months of OTT technology deployments as the theory finally becomes a reality.”

Among the demonstrations offered by SatLink was the opportunity to see its OTT solutions in action. For broadcasters and operators, these solutions include an end-to-end cloud-based interactive TV platform for any device and any network. The end to end OTT platform is claimed to provide multi-channel live streaming, VOD and PVR features, creative monetisation solutions, wide analytics tools and more.

“What we believe we have is a solution that truly demonstrates the potential and benefits of interactive TV that is of a professional broadcasting standard and is easy to navigate, watch and, more importantly, sell on multiple devices and cross screens,” concluded Hochner.

The company was also promoting its new DVB-S2 platform on Hotbird at 13.0 East to Europe at the show. Providing access to more than 123 million homes across Europe, and in partnership with Sky Italia Network Services, SatLink said that the service has been developed to meet the growing demand for HD content on a premium satellite to reach direct to home and the cable, satellite and pay TV markets. Already in use by Fashion TV, the company believes that this platform will provide the highest audience penetration across Europe. It supports the Sky Italia Conditional Access (CA) system.

As ever, NAB provided an exciting insight into the satellite industry – from the perspective not only of what it has achieved, but also of what it still needs to achieve as it stands poised to become the dominant medium for bringing content to consumers, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.