Internet Protocol (IP) is far from perfect, but it has become the central rallying point for global entities, setting in motion the early homogenization of the electronics, telecommunication, electric utility and entertainment industries. The implementation of IP strategies is not new, but aside from a common transmission protocol, what impact will the buildup of IP networks have on the satellite sector?
What makes IP such a game changer is that it has been universally embraced by every facet of industry and provides a congruent pathway to the interconnection of a massive number of disparate devices. The ramifications are significant when you consider the sheer numbers of electric meters, television sets and electric appliances that could conceptually become consumers of telecommunication services. A common network interface and a common transport protocol not only simplifies the collection and dissemination of data, the idea of universal connectivity is changing the way companies do business.
John Ball, vice president of satellite distribution and technology for Turner Broadcasting, highlights an example of the positive effects that IP has had on the distribution of video content. “We recently completed a video distribution ring around our playout center in the United Kingdom. The ring is based on 2.5 gigabit switched Ethernet, and it is a much more robust network design than a hub and spoke architecture. We can now hand-off content to six different transport providers. The IP architecture allows us to grow up to 10 gigabits per second should we need additional bandwidth,” says Ball. “The shift to IP has also improved our network management visibility. We can now actually look into the network beyond our interface, giving us viewing privileges so we can now assess the integrity of the network.”
The network also has provided “some interesting technologies available for contribution links,” says Ball. “Fiber is still very expensive in many countries and has a lot of maturing to do in certain geographic regions. One interesting technology we discovered is the use of secure Internet delivery (IP SEC) to provide backup paths over the Internet for contribution links. There are risks involved, but these links are only used as backups to primary links,” he says.
Ron Mankarious, vice president of sales and marketing for PolarSat, a Montreal-based manufacturer of hub-less, mesh VSAT modems, says. “IP provides a common switching fabric. In the past, satellite equipment manufacturers would have to build one type of interface for voice cards that went into their modems and a different type of interface that went into the data cards. Now everything is Ethernet and all of the applications communicate through a common interface. From an equipment manufacturers’ perspective, this makes everything much simpler and allows us to reduce pricing to our customers,” he says.
Mankarious cites the wireless industry as an example of how IP can transform entire industries. “The mobile environment was built around dedicated circuits with point-to-point connectivity between the Base Transceiver Station (BTS) and Base Station Controller (BSC). Putting in an IP switching fabric allows wireless operators to handle multiple types of traffic, which allows them to drive additional services over the same network and create new revenue streams. An IP-based backhaul solution allows wireless carriers to push intelligence to the edges of the network rather than consolidating in a central site. By doing so, calls can now be routed from cell tower to cell tower via a single hop instead of going back to the central switching site. Not only do you eliminate double hops, creating a better user experience for cell phone users, we can cut the bandwidth a wireless carrier needs by half,” he says.
The advent of IP-capable systems has helped satellite technology become more of a mainstream networking technology, Mankarious says. “It has allowed the satellite equipment to be incorporated as part of the end user’s network since it is the same basic technology that is running in the IT closet.” PolarSat supports two groups of customers: satellite service providers which use their equipment to provide services and end users who integrate PolarSat’s hub-less VSAT system into their existing IP network. “We are finding more customers who are willing to do the integration themselves. The adoption of IP and the ease of use of the equipment are driving this commonality,” he says.
Mankarious feels that satellite technology is becoming accepted by IT organizations for several reasons. “Satellite isn’t seen as exotic now days. IT departments don’t need wires anymore to connect devices and it is only reasonable to ask ‘Why shouldn’t my long haul connection be wireless as well,’” he says.