by Peter J. Brown
The satellite industry is looking for new opportunities while trying to keep up with the demand for more services. A steady proliferation of robust fixed, portable and mobile terminals and the ongoing attempts by network operators and service providers to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of every link on the network are two of the elements impacting network management systems (NMS).
Convergence is ongoing, and as enormous amounts of voice, video and data traffic flow throughout hybrid networks, the NMS has to react quickly and grow with each new addition to the network at hand. Responsiveness, adaptability and agility matter when it comes to NMS. With more 802.11 wireless links in the mix in particular, the complexity of the networking environment as a whole is increasing.
"The satellite network operator has to have his eye on advances in network management for any communications network," says Mark Krikorian, chief operating officer at Atlanta- based ILC Corp.--formerly Industrial Logic.
"Customers want to minimize operational costs, minimize operator intervention, increase efficiency and increase reliability, which can only be found by utilizing specialized components and remote-capable systems," says Dewayne Gray, president of Plano, TX-based M&C Systems. "Customers these days are looking for networked systems that enable them to have a lights-out approach to monitor and control systems throughout their network. Customers want to have the capability of multiple, remotely operated systems controlled from one or more central locations."
In the background, developments are unfolding quickly with respect to digital video compression and Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), to name just two areas that could have a tremendous impact on NMS in the not too distant future.
How to best handle HDTV from the standpoint of video compression is definitely a network management issue for DBS providers and TV networks alike. A new video compression standard is about to be approved. It is known as H.26L, H.264, MPEG-4 Part 10, AVC (Advanced Video Compression), and even JVT, after the Joint Video Team, which is nearing completion of its work.
"Whatever the name, everyone agrees that the H.264 compression algorithm offers video quality equivalent to MPEG-2 at one half to one third the bandwidth," says Rob Robinett, CEO of Modulus Video Corp. "Satellite broadcasters know they need it, but not when."
As for MPLS, it has already been implemented on the ground, and now satellite network engineers and designers are scrutinizing it as well for a variety of reasons.
The phrase "IP switch" is sometimes used to describe MPLS switching because MPLS enables IP routing protocols to be used on Layer 2 switches, making the Layer 2 switch (ATM or Frame Relay) an IP switch, according to Tolga Ors, principal network/systems engineer at Intelsat. He serves as rapporteur for a group probing satellite and terrestrial interoperability at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is in the process of standardizing MPLS, among other things.
"It is not a big challenge any more to ensure the interoperability of satellite and terrestrial networks, but it is a challenge to do it efficiently," says Ors. "This efficiency is from a bandwidth and application performance point of view. ATM signaling, for example, is very heavy, so using it for IP/ATM over satellite generates much overhead. Standard MPLS signaling on the other hand is light.
"From a traffic engineering standpoint, MPLS could have a major impact. It is becoming increasingly apparent that satellite networks cannot exist in isolation," says Catherine Rosenberg, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Purdue University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "I think MPLS over satellite is a very good idea. If you want to migrate ATM over satellite to something with an MPLS flavor, this can be implemented quickly."