The commercial communications-on-the-move (COTM) market has expanded to support virtually anything that moves, including aircraft, trains, ships, automobiles, trucks, farm and construction equipment and shipping containers. COTM technology, which was originally developed for military applications, eventually migrated to the commercial market and has now made the jump to the consumer market. The objective in today’s mobility market is clear: If it moves, make it communicate.
An important part of the overall COTM market segment is communications-on-the-pause (COTP), which is a relatively new term that was coined to add a bit of specificity to the overall COTM market segment. While technically not “on the move,” COTP hardware and services are mobile, but they require vehicles to come to a complete stop for them to communicate.
The COTM market segment is one of the few where both MSS and FSS operators compete for market share. MSS solutions can communicate from a few bits-per-second to more than 400 Kbps. FSS solutions, which employ some type of VSAT platform, range from 128 kilobits-per-second to multiple megabits-per-second.
The broadcast, transportation and energy industries rely heavily on COTM solutions, as well as state, national and local governments around the globe. Satellite communications is a mainstay of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and is always the first communication option that relief organizations look to after a major disaster. Each of these segments has different needs, throughput requirements and budgets, and COTM solutions have been specifically crafted to meet their requirements. This has led to an amalgam of hardware manufacturers, hardware integrators, satellite operators and service providers.
From a business perspective, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is unique. The association is the sanctioning body for a number of stock car races, and unlike other sports, individual teams are not associated with specific stadiums. “As an example, we hold 38 Sprint Cup events in 23 different venues,” says Steven Worling, NASCAR’s senior director of Information Technology. “It is a very mobile sport. NASCAR is the sanctioning body for all the races and we must move with the teams. We rely heavily on satellite communications to make our business operate and have for some time.”
NASCAR has a small fleet of semi-trucks that haul all of the gear needed to support the business infrastructure at a race. Once on-site, the trucks turn into temporary offices. Typically there are 80 - 100 NASCAR employees at an event and a majority of them need Internet access and e-mail. “Some of the tracks, like Talladega, Ala., are remote and we are there for only three to four days at a time. With so few events scheduled at the track, it is a hard for terrestrial carriers to economically justify laying fiber to it,” Worling says. “Of the more than 45 different teams, roughly 20 have auto-acquire VSATs. The teams need to get information back and forth to their race shops, partners and sponsors, as well as those outside the racetrack. A team’s prime responsibility is getting their car ready for racing.”
NASCAR uses an AVL auto-acquire antenna that is housed in a custom built recessed area in the roof of one of their haulers. “The recessed area allows the antenna to stow below the roofline so it won’t get damaged while we are driving from location to location. The antenna is less than one meter in diameter but we can uplink 512 Kbps and downlink speeds up to 1.5 Mbps,” Worling adds.
In addition to carrying a portable IT infrastructure to every event, NASCAR transports a complete video production system to support broadcast partners, such as FOX, ESPN, SPEED and TNT. The broadcast trucks have their own VSAT to transmit a race. “We do everything on-site, from production to editing to graphics to distribution to broadcasters from the track,” Worling adds.
The lack of a “home stadium” may be challenging for NASCAR, but the company and the teams have developed ways to create a home base utilizing satellite communications, no matter where they are.