There is a quiet revolution taking place in the global satellite services industry. This revolution has winners all around, and virtually no losers.
This revolution is a move toward hybrid networks. Simply put, a hybrid network combines both space and terrestrial connections to deliver customer signals efficiently and economically. Broadcasting and content service providers are now cashing in by using both terrestrial and satellite links to more completely serve their customers who are seeking a diversified, streamlined service solution for content delivery.
With hybrid networks, the emphasis is on service, not the technology through which the service is carried. In contrast, conventional satellite-only (or terrestrial-only) network operators put the delivery technology first, then try to fit the service into their technology's specific parameters and limits.
Today, customers are more savvy regarding the type of platform they need for delivering their content. If a satellite point-to-point solution costs more than the terrestrial alternative, they will buy terrestrial--and vice versa. Today's signal carriage customers understand that satellites are best for point-to-multipoint transmissions, while terrestrial networks (especially fiber optic) are superior for point-to-point transmissions.
Fortunately the global satellite industry is adapting to this truth by offering the best of both worlds, namely signal carriage through hybrid satellite/terrestrial networks. This advanced turnkey offering has increased revenues for those satellite executives providing hybrid solutions and has also opened up new markets.
Embracing Hybrid Networks
For many companies within the satellite industry, completely embracing hybrid networks has not easily come to fruition. But times and business attitudes are changing. As a company with historic roots in voice telephony, BT Broadcast Services (BTBS), for example, has long understood the value of terrestrial networks. So it comes as no surprise that BTBS is one of the pioneers not just in hybrid satellite/terrestrial networks, but also in making these services profitable.
"These days, it is relatively straightforward for anyone to buy time on either satellite or terrestrial networks," says Mark Wardle, director of technology and operations for BTBS. "Where we add value is by creating the best mix of both technologies for our clients and engineering it into an end-to-end solution that's easy for our customers to access."
Denver-based Crown Media International (CMI), for example, planned to extend its Hallmark TV Channel into the Asian market, using satellite uplink facilities in Hong Kong. Crown Media International, however, did not want the expense of building and manning a network operations center in the Far East. BTBS fulfilled CMI's requirements using hybrid network technology.
Specifically, BTBS carries the Hallmark Channel's Asian feed by fiber optic cable from Denver, CO, to Hong Kong. It then uplinks this feed through BTBS' Hong Kong teleport which then relays the Hallmark Channel to millions of viewers across Asia. CMI's Hallmark Channel is already delivered to Europe via BTBS' London Teleport, after being carried to the site from Denver via fiber. Company executives, recognizing the success this formula brought to its European business, made the decision to apply the same solution to its Asian counterpart.
"We expanded our relationship with BTBS, as it has the right combination of state-of-the-art broadcasting solutions and [the] industry experience necessary for servicing our needs in the dynamic and growing Asian market," says CMI Vice President of Operations Chuck Zabilski.
Making Many Networks Work As One
There are those fortunate companies, however, whose products just happen to fit within industry trends. When it comes to hybrid networks, ILC is one such company. ILC's Maxview network control software is specifically designed to integrate disparate networks--terrestrial or satellite, it makes no difference--and make them work as one.
"Maxview lets people monitor and control their networks regardless of the technology, software and transmissions systems being used," says Mark Krikorian, ILC's COO. "We work with satellite systems, telecom voice and data networks, broadcast DTV services, two-way data--whatever."
Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) is an example of Maxview's ability to create and manage hybrid networks. Headquartered in Lincoln, NE, NET operates a statewide public television and radio network, numerous distance learning systems for the state's K-12 schools and the University of Nebraska, plus the State of Nebraska's videoconferencing network. NET also operates an uplink facility used by broadcasters PBS, CNN and ESPN.
With all these responsibilities, NET's network operations center has its hands full. This is why NET integrated all of NET's disparate monitoring and control (M&C) functions into one system. Maxview has automated NET's network operations so that one operator can now perform tasks that once required several operators' time. Meanwhile, Maxview's network control software--with its ability to route all fault reports to the operator, whatever their source--has reduced network downtime.
"NET is just one end user that is realizing the advantages of a hybrid network approach," Krikorian says. "Many others are as well. In fact, given the mounting trend to communications convergence, we can expect a parallel move toward centralized M&C of hybrid networks."