Nobody in our business could ever complain about being bored. To be involved in conceiving, designing, manufacturing and selling technology for the satellite and media industries is to be in a constant state of change and development. It’s like trying to anticipate and react to (or even help shape) massive tectonic shifts occurring millions of times faster than they do in the earth’s crust.
This makes the passing of a mere twelve months exciting, inevitably, but a year is in some ways an artificially short sample of time, unable to encompass the continuing shifts and trends that may only be detectable after a longer interval.
Even so, as we look back at the end of 2014 against the background of large regional installations wins with satellite operators in Europe and MENA, we can see that some movements that were once trends have reached their maturity and become standardised; other new trends are emerging, while still others don’t even deserve to be called trends yet…they are more like whisperings on the wind. These, naturally are where the most inventive minds are hard at work.
In fact there’s a dialogue of inventiveness between those who create the technologies the industry relies on, and those who put these technologies to use. This dialogue is unpredictable and it’s really where the most interesting ‘trends’ are born, as manufacturers find their technologies being used by customers in unexpected ways, and react by developing new technologies. These in turn prompt users to invent unforeseen applications, and so it goes on.
In this context, the availability of IP as an alternative to satellite in some applications could be seen in a negative light for the satellite industry, but in fact the way many broadcasters have responded to the potential of IP is creating new opportunities for involving satellite. The move towards decentralised infrastructure and multiple backup options is one way in which broadcasters and operators have combined IP and satellite to achieve new benefits in terms of robustness, flexibility and cost.
At Bridge Technologies we’ve been in a dialogue with one of Europe’s largest satellite operators to develop products that enable a new approach to infrastructure design and use. The introduction of our VB273 Intelligent Switch was the first in a new line of products that use the advanced analysis capabilities developed in our monitoring systems, to bring a new degree of utility and autonomy to redundancy switching. Having a more intelligent redundancy switch helps operators to make some quite far-reaching changes.
With greater in-built intelligence, it’s possible to decentralise the infrastructure: instead of the control centre monitoring how each modulator is performing and then doing triggered redundancy switching, operators can now deploy a more or less autonomous intelligence at each decentralised antenna site. The switched redundancy path can operate with a degree of independence from the central facility, resulting in the increased overall redundancy of the system as a whole. Failure in the central system will not affect data elsewhere in the production pipeline.
Redundancy switching is provided by the combination of full-blown ETR290 analysis, a high-performance RF monitoring capability, and a decision engine that compares error condition results against user-defined rules. The greater scope and subtlety of the analysis available allows a much more nuanced and flexible automated assessment of operating status and conditions. So while conventional redundancy switching tends to be triggered by much cruder conditions such as complete loss of signal, operators can now base switching on the detection of more complex errors. So for example, if CAS (conditional access) verification is lost on one of the production chains the redundancy switch can automatically check the redundant chains to see if the problem exists there too, and switch to one of them if CAS is intact. Switching is therefore available on the basis of services (such as CAS) as well as on simple hardware operation.
In the decentralised model, data is transported from the central production system via gigabit fibre out to the antennae, where duplication is built into the infrastructure, and there are also redundant IP chains. The structure is modular and if the operator wants to change configuration it can be done in a modular way and remotely, without installing more equipment, or patching in hardwired changes. For the operator, this means less reliance on specialised skills, and the ability to make more or less immediate changes remotely by uploading new configurations.
In keeping with the aim of decentralised resilience, an autonomous ability to override settings and make changes at any transmitter site gives the operator the option of overriding the network’s default redundancy arrangements. So it’s possible to control switching from the central NMS, or by intelligent automated switching, or by a completely manual override at the transmitter site.
A decentralised infrastructure that uses both satellite and IP in a number of configurations is theoretically more complex than an all-satellite setup. It’s a recognisable trend that operators now want to bring together all available technologies to achieve savings and operational efficiencies, and this complexity has to be handled carefully. In fact at Bridge Technologies, our major theme for 2014 has been complexity and simplicity. What we mean is that complexity (especially operational complexity) can create critical drag on an organisation’s business, while simplicity is almost always more efficient. And what we have been working on in 2014, even more than in previous years, is the refinement of our products so that they give users the power to deal with complexity in a simple way. The VB273 is not a simple product by any means, and it’s being deployed in some very complex infrastructure designs, but the VB273’s capabilities make it simpler for operators to handle this complexity.
In 2015 we’ll be taking this theme further with some sophisticated developments in data visualisation that will expand on our existing presentation layer technologies. The way our industry is going, the people who work in it are being asked to absorb and act on greater volumes of information, oversee more services, and take more decisions. For manufacturers, supporting businesses by presenting key information in easy-to-understand ways is vitally important.