Transmission Vendors Discuss Challenges, Opportunities of Ever-Evolving Industry
5G, at-home production, increased bandwidth are among next-generation demands
The Vendor Perspectives panel at SVG’s annual TranSPORT event always provides an opportunity to see what is top of mind for professionals working to meet the signal-transport needs of sports-content creators and distributors. Today, they are under more pressure than ever to meet next-generation needs while ensuring that expanding client needs are met, often without any new revenue opportunities.
Peter Ostapiuk, head of sales, Americas, Tata Communications, opined that managed services are the future of the business.
“The goal,” he said, “is to provide effective video services that are not just transport but the processing of the streams, so costs can be lowered by using one vendor. Several types of networks —satellite, fiber, internet — can be in use to support a client as, increasingly, clients need a signal to be processed over a CDN for OTT applications.”
Managed services are also increasingly important for smaller events looking at global distribution via OTT. One key is to evaluate those based not on their status as a Tier 1 event in the home nation (for example, the Super Bowl in the U.S. or darts in The Netherlands) but rather on their revenue potential in a given market.
“The revenue potential can be weighed with the cost of getting content from the venue to consumers and managed services can often help meet those goals,” added Ostapiuk.
Alex Beach, director/head of product development, media, Intelsat, said his focus is to look to new business opportunities, including developing a managed-services strategy. He recently joined Intelsat after three years as senior director, digital video strategy, at Discovery and has been working on those solutions and figuring out a long-term strategy for managed services from Intelsat.
“We don’t have in-house yet,” he said. “But it is front of mind and something we want to get involved with in the near future.”
Intelsat is part of the C-Band Alliance, which exemplifies the pressures to do things in new ways. Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, and Telesat have partnered to propose to the FCC a market-based proposal to clear portions of the C-band spectrum to support introduction of 5G services. And Encompass uses C-band to distribute more than 300 cable networks in North America.
“5G is going to be a major effort for us,” said Jay LaPrise, SVP, global transmission operations, Encompass Digital Media, noting, “Everyone on this panel will be involved one way or another. It’s going to be the biggest change since the first satellite launch, as we will lose a third of our capacity on the receive side, never mind the uplink side. It will be time-consuming and customer-consuming for the next three to five years.”
Keith Buckley, president/CEO, The Switch, expects 5G deployment to be a big thing for providing additional ways to get feeds out of a venue. But it remains to be seen whether 5G-service providers think that using 5G as the backbone of a 100- Gbps backhaul is wise, considering that the same amount of bandwidth could be used to reach millions of consumer internet of things (IOT) devices.
Added Bill Wohnoutka, VP, global internet and content delivery services, CenturyLink, “5G is probably the most important thing in our business right now as we are building out 5G in over 90 markets. But there are still a lot of unknowns and things to be worked out.”
Ostapiuk believes 5G will be additive to Tier 1 event services and also as a replacement for fiber for hard-to-reach locations.
“5G is a great technology,” he said. “On the network side, we are investing in IOT companies and machine-learning companies, and 5G can access all the devices across the globe. For media, it is another reliable high-speed option for local-mile access that can feed the global fiber network. There is a great use for those of us in the fiber business.”
He also noted that more and more events are adding telco services to ride on the same pipes to and from a venue. Formula One, for example, relies on Tata circuits for all its communication needs. And, as that philosophy grows and more and more clients look to provide multiple services via one pipe, some clients may find themselves challenged.
“It’s not just the cost of the network or service but the complexity of integrating multiple providers in one solution: the network, the cloud, SaaS,” said Ostapiuk. “And then, internally at the media company, someone has to pull it all together, sign the contract, and make sure it all works together.”
The Impact of At-Home Production
The growing interest in new remote-production methods, most notably the at-home approach with a control room not located at the venue, is also impacting the transmission business.
“We have dual diverse 10-Gbps circuits into every pro stadium in the U.S. and North America so we have plenty of bandwidth,” said Buckley. “At the same time we are investing in the core network and connectivity, we simultaneously are acquiring production studios and control rooms to feed and utilize the network. At present, we have nine control rooms and studio, and there is more interest in us as a managed-services provider to take it end-to-end, including keeping the studios within our own Switch environment and then handing off to content distributors.”
Wohnoutka said that a major use of at-home production is to enrich Tier 1 events. For example, at the UEFA U21 Championships last year, 100-Gbps circuits between Warsaw, Poland, and London transported eight uncompressed UHD feeds.
“We expect to see more of this brought into Tier 1 events, but fault tolerance becomes more important, especially as everything is heading towards the same topology,” he explained. “We have cloud data centers in the network, and, with the occasional-use nature of sports production and the suitability of AWS for bursty traffic, it makes a lot of sense.”
That is especially true as OTT services grow in popularity. As customers look to the open internet as a means of primary delivery, there is still the need for a low-cost backup that can offer consistent bitrates. The problem is that, for the service provider, deploying reliable backup systems may be more expensive than the primary circuit.
Added Buckley, “There is a point at which the open internet is good enough for some things but not good enough for everything. You have to stand by with services that may not be used.”
Looking to 100 Gbps
With next-generation UHD and HDR services on the horizon and at-home productions gaining interest, there is constant discussion among everyone involved in transmission as to what type of circuits needs to be deployed to keep up with demand. Moore’s Law is still in effect, with capacity doubling every 18 months.
Buckley pointed out that some clients want more bandwidth but, he added, the challenge for providers is that the vast majority of them, at least currently, don’t need things like a 100-Gbps circuit. That leaves vendors weighing the costs of deploying such circuits vs. the return on investment, something that remains to be seen.
The good news, added Ostapiuk, is that those circuits will be used. “The return on investment can be stretched out, and the useful life can be 50 years. It’s a simple decision if the capitalized electronics improve every 18 months. It may sound like a lot, but, trust me, in five or 10 years, 100 Gbps won’t be a lot.”
LaPrise said that, despite all the changes from satellite to fiber, etc., Encompass is doing the same amount of work for its clients as before but in different ways.
“Budgets are not going up, and what they want to pay per service is not going up,” he explained. “But we continue to be focused on the best solution for the same number of services because the number of service providers has decreased.”