Department store chain JCPenney is a satellite-network veteran, having used the medium to deliver various content among widespread operating locations for more than two decades. Recently, JCPenney was looking to expand its satellite capabilities, as the retail giant wanted to find a more cost-effective and time-efficient model for distributing training to its employees.
While JCPenney has operated a satellite network for nearly 22 years, acceptance of the system — and the embracing of all that a satellite network can offer, has been a slow process, says Alan Langford, JCPenney’s creative production and network manager. “For years, we were strictly a DVB network providing just video [to stores],” he says. “We would go to our [information technology] group and tell them we could help them with some of their bandwidth issues, but at that time, we couldn’t get anybody to listen to us. Our [information technology] group said, ‘We do landline. We don’t do satellite.’ The excuses we always heard were ‘rain fade and weather problems made satellite unreliable.’”
Langford has been with JCPenney’s communications group since 1988 and started on the creative side as a producer. He assumed his current position, where he is responsible for the satellite network, videoconferencing network and television facilities, about seven years ago. “We’ve always known that wasn’t the case. It’s not any less reliable than when a backhoe cuts your landline in the middle of a broadcast. We lost a main circuit a couple of months ago, and it was a guy in a manhole with a chainsaw cutting copper out of the street to sell it.”
Today, the attitude toward satellite within JCPenney has changed, Langford says. “Our [information technology] group is all over satellite. We are full proponents of satellite and working with our [information technology] group to do more. They are buying some additional bandwidth to do some of the things they want to do like content delivery, testing digital signage in the stores and some other applications.”
JCPenney also considering using very small aperture terminals (VSAT) as a backup source for stores in case terrestrial lines are lost, and the company also is investigating the feasibility of using satellite to provide a communications network for new stores that need network connectivity, but do not yet have access to the terrestrial infrastructure that can meet their needs, says Langford. “We are looking at using portable dishes to use the satellite to provide that,” he says. “Times have changed for us, and we are getting a lot more support than we used to.”
The acceptance is going so well that JCPenney has begun construction of its own satellite uplink. For the past 10 years, JCPenney has relied on a company located 60 miles south of the retailer’s Plano, Texas headquarters to provide uplink services. JCPenney has spent a total of about $1 million on uplink services, and while prices have come down, the company decided to end the contract in favor of operating its own uplink facility, Langford says. “For what the facility will cost to build and operate, the payback will come in a short period of time,” he says. “We have had to send content along two 60-mile terrestrial lines to the uplink facility. Having our own facility takes away a potential point of failure.
“If you don’t have any type of production facility or knowledge, you may not benefit from this,” Langford says. “But we’ve learned a lot, and there is not a lot of technical upkeep required for the facility. Things have gotten to a point where building and having people maintain the facility twice a year will be very cost effective,” he says.