HTN Communications taps into DTM technology for new sports network

By Carl Lindemann

HTN Communications is set to launch
an all fiber-optic network to transport sports programming throughout
the United States in October. The initial rollout is to existing HTN
customers in time for the 2007-2008 NHL and NBA seasons. The network
will connect to all the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball (MLB) venues
in the United States to HTN customers.

The arrival of the HTN service marks
a new phase in the ongoing evolution of wired services as they take
on satellite transmission. What’s key here, according to HTN Chairman
and CEO Joe Cohen, is that the new service is not IP-based. Yes, it
is a 100% digital fiber-optic network, but it operates on a fundamentally
different technical infrastructure than packet-switched IP communications.
HTN’s service is based on Dynamic Synchronous Transfer Mode (DTM).
This is a ‘best of both worlds’ hybrid that combines traits of dedicated
circuit-switched systems and packet-switching setups.

“We believe this is a really forward-thinking
initiative. Customers get what they ask for when they place an order.
This is designed for broadcast view transmission and so deliver 100%
quality of service,” Cohen said.

To understand what sets HTN’s DTM
network apart, begin with what’s been problematic with Internet-based
transmission schemes. Regardless of the Internet’s culture-changing
success, it is not designed for real-time broadcast use. It is primarily
built for asynchronous communications like e-mail. Making it work for
the broadcast transmission requires significant work-arounds.

Addressing the challenges of adapting
IP-based systems for broadcasters is like taking a prosumer camcorder
and outfitting it for professional use. You can add lenses, lens adapters,
battery packs, hard drive capture – a wide variety of accessories.
Also, you need to be completely aware of the shortcomings of the prosumer
format and work around them. Expect to have to invest time in post,
too, cleaning things up, too. After all this, you will be able to achieve
something like what you get with a real-deal pro rig.

In much the same way, IP-based Internet
connections can be used, albeit with great effort, to serve for real-time
broadcast transmission applications. Still, it is fundamentally unsuited
for this regardless of the availability of bandwidth. Why? Content is
broken up into packets of data that are reassembled on the other end.
This provides an incredible flexibility that maximizes network resources.
With asynchronous communications, it does not matter that the packets
don’t arrive at the same time or in order. But a massive effort is
needed to make up for this jumble if you want to deliver acceptable
quality video in real-time.

The opposite of packet-switching schemes
is circuit switching. Circuit-switched networks are basically dedicated
lines that guarantee transmission capacity. The downside here is a loss
in economy and flexibility. It takes time to setup the connection, and
if it is only used a short time, that setup time becomes a major part
of the investment. Also, when the circuit isn’t in use, the bandwidth
cannot be used for other purposes.

What DTM offers is a combination of
the real-time transmission power and guaranteed bandwidth of circuit-switching
with the dynamic resource handling capabilities of packet-switching.
Like an IP-network, DTM networks adapt to traffic conditions. It can
dynamically alter the bandwidth available to optimize performance of
the overall network.

According to Cohen, another important
difference between IP networks and DTM is the number of switches signals
pass through and the distance between them.

“It’s like the difference between
talking a local train and the express. Data runs through a switch on
an IP network every 10 miles. With DTM, the signal goes 500 miles before
hitting a switch. That cuts packet loss and jitter,” Cohen said.

Aside from quality, HTN’s service
will also significantly increase the quantity of bandwidth available
at the venues offering multiple HD and SD video backhaul capabilities.
The trick for Cohen is marshalling resources to get in on the ground
floor of what may be a major transformation in the industry.

“We’re a small, flexible operation
in the business of leasing and releasing, not in the business of owning.
There’s a premium for us being smart. We’ve been working on this
for well over a year and the time is right for this,” said Cohen.

The first challenge for HTN’s service
will be in advancing the technology for widespread acceptance and adoption.
Rather than provide an immediate price advantage over other transmission
services, Cohen sees this as an investment in the future.

“We are giving our existing customers
the benefit of this upgraded service,” he said.

Cohen’s plan is that, as other broadcasters
sign on, HTN’s investment in the new network will payoff as it achieves
an economy of scale to best other transmission technologies on both
price and quality. With the ability to burst up to OC48 size capacity,
the future’s wide open for the new service. The question is whether
the DTM future is now.

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