Level 3 Communications State of Transmission Report, Part 1: Not All Data is Equal…

If you ask a broadcast engineer and a telecom networking engineer what a router is, you’ll get two very different answers. This was a fun oddity in years past, when the worlds of broadcast and telecoms still operated within distinct and somewhat siloed technology domains. Today, however, these worlds have collided, and language and technology definitions matter.

Case in point is the often loose language associated with ‘data’ or ‘IP’ services. With few exceptions, sports broadcasters today almost always have ‘data’ service provisioned as part of their standard transmission requirements. But what exactly does ‘data’ mean, and what questions should broadcasters be asking their transmission services provider to ensure the right network service is delivered to support their needs?

Over the past 20 or so years, as sports broadcasting has moved heavily to fiber-based technology to support primary transmission requirements, ancillary data services started being used alongside video services. Initial use of these data services was in the form of relatively low-speed internet access connections (T1 speeds of less than 2 Mbps) that were used to provide simple Web connectivity to the truck, and support the occasional file transfer to and from the main broadcast center. Add to this analog phone lines and clunky IFB boxes, and here you had everything needed to address all your data and communication needs.

Today, the latest generation of outside broadcast trucks look more like sophisticated IT and computing environments than traditional television technology setups that relied heavily on base-band SDI video routers and vision mixers. These changes have also had a profound impact on what fiber-based network services are provisioned, with two dominant technologies: Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP).

The value in today’s Ethernet and IP networking technologies and services is that a single physical Ethernet interface can provide discrete service instances for all applications. Simply put, a network provider could deliver the connectivity requirements for services over a single RJ45 or optical Ethernet interface. But this flexibility also adds potential complexity (i.e. if each main service – say two video transmission paths from the venue, one return video path back to the truck, one internet access connection, and six phones lines – is provisioned and delivered as stand-alone services).

Old World: Each service is provisioned with one physical connection. For example:

  • Each video transmits on a discrete BNC connection over coaxial connection
  • Each phone line service is on an RJ11 connected POTS line
  • Internet access is on a simple RJ45 ‘plug-and-play’ port

None of the things we deal with today, such as VLANS, latency, and oversubscribing, were issues in the native-SDI world. Video transport architecture was a straightforward deployment over SONET/SDH, satellite, and ATM technology. But now, the complexity of Ethernet and IP transport networks introduce a multitude of new areas of concern.

In today’s world of broadcast next-gen network services, we talk loosely about ‘data’ services. With this comes the need for the vocabulary and definition of those data services that will meet the needs of what broadcasters are trying to accomplish.

New World: Data VLAN protocols employed in broadcasting

1st-Gen

  • Internet – First phase of introducing IP- and file-based solutions into the broadcast workflow
  • Non-critical communications such as email and land lines

Next-gen

  • As technology caught up with new approaches to remote broadcast setups, more attention was required on how these applications started to converge on Ethernet-based systems.

Using the public cloud for your content distribution is acceptable when you are trying to reach as many platforms and eyeballs as possible. However, relying on a public internet connection to acquire the contribution-grade, high availability, and live content is another matter. Mainly because all “INTERNET” access is NOT created equally.

The reliability and resiliency differs greatly on a market-by-market basis. At the ends of the spectrum are these options – putting all your content on a temporary fiber circuit connecting back to a public access point in a rural area next to a golf course versus using a private fiber network at a purpose-built venue with a proliferation of capacity and municipal infrastructure – and each needs to be weighed according to the circumstances

This whole idea of IP-operability has many perspectives and inherent complexities. Hardware-to-hardware within an OB vehicle or throughout a temporary broadcast center is just one aspect of a remote production. There is then the long-distance interop capability when introducing a network – or even multiple networks, depending on how remote you are. When you are depending on a first-mile fiber connection to carry your high-value content from the point of origin at a stadium to your home broadcast facility – or even as a fully produced program feed ready for distribution to the end-user, the SLA is all that matters.

With the public internet, the SLA is highly dependent on the ISP in the market you are operating in. With a private cloud connection, you can increase your resiliency and dependability while decreasing your risk. Using a managed service provider gives you more control over content feeds and transport streams while giving you an “extra set of eyes” and trained expertise in monitoring and issue resolution.

Part 2 of 3 of the Level 3 Communications State of Transmission Report will post to sportvideo.org on Tuesday. Look for Part 3 on Friday.

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