Technology

Improved Satellite Newsgathering Takes Flight

Stations are zeroing in on newer Ka-band services 10/22/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

When it comes to newsgathering, much of the press
in recent years has focused on the emergence of newer cellular
bonding technologies that use existing 3G and 4G cell
networks to bring back video from the field. But over the last year, there
have also been significant advances
in satellite technologies
that offer broadcasters new ways
to deliver high-quality video.

One notable development has
been the use of newer Ka-band
satellites to provide IP video.
Because these higher-capacity
satellites offer higher bandwidth
services, they can be used with
smaller dishes and terminals requiring
less power than the traditional
Ku-band satellites that
have traditionally been used in
large satellite news gathering
(SNG) trucks.

For example, On Call Communications
currently offers a compact QuickSPOT IP-based, automated
system that offers through-puts of up to 10Mbps. Meanwhile,
ViaSat is piloting its Exede newsgathering service that will be formally
launched early next year. Both use small light terminals and dishes
ranging in size from 85 millimeters to 1.2 meters that can be either
mounted on much smaller vehicles, such as a Ford Explorer, or used
as a " ypack that is small enough to be checked as airline luggage.

“We used to get a lot of resistance from people in IP video, but they are
getting very comfortable with it now. And we are seeing a lot more interest
in IP satellite solutions,” says Erin Ludden, VP of marketing at On Call.

One major advantage of IP video for newsgathering is its extreme
" exibility. “You can do video on it, and on the same system, while
you’re transmitting video, you can get Internet access and voiceover
IP phone lines so that you have a mobile office in addition to just a
video feed,” Ludden says.

Stefan Jucken, director of strategic business development, ViaSat
stresses the advantage of the Ka-band satellites offering higher capacity,
which makes it possible to use smaller, less-expensive terminals and
get more people in the field.

These systems are also relatively easy to use, making one-person crews
possible; they also offer two-way communications between anchors and
reporters in the field; and very importantly, they can be deployed in
ways that complement existing newsgathering tools, Jucken says.

Earlier this year, ABC successfully tested the Exede service at its WLS
station in Chicago and KTRK in Houston. “There is a lot of excitement
in the marketplace about these solutions,” Jucken says.

One particularly hot area is the use of IP video over Ka-band satellites
as a complement to microwave and cellular bonding newsgathering solutions.
For example, the smaller,
lighter terminals can be installed in
existing microwave trucks. “That is
huge in terms of turning the vehicle
into a mobile and remote office
with broadband connectivity and
voice capability,” Jucken says.

Broadcasters are also looking at
hybrid solutions combining cellular
bonding backpacks and IP satellite
systems that can overcome
some of the limitations of both
technologies. Ka-band systems,
for example, are more prone to
“rain-fade,” and cellular systems
can’t be used in many areas with
poor cell service. They can also be
unreliable when many people are trying to access a cellular network.

To overcome both problems, Gray Television recently deployed a hybrid
system using the cellular bonding TVU backpacks with On Call’s
QuickSPOT satellite system. The feeds go out of the camera into the
TVU unit and are then sent up to the satellite and back to the station
via the QuickSPOT systems.

“The biggest complaint that we hear from broadcasters [about cellular
bonding] is that they are relying on third-party networks that they
don’t control,” Ludden says. “So having the option to go with satellite
with a dedicated, reliable link is getting a lot of interest.”

In addition to the Gray stations, some Cox stations are also looking
at a similar hybrid solution, Ludden adds.

More advances are expected over the next year. On Call is currently
testing a system that will offer higher through-puts, possibly as much
as 20 Mbps, that would also make its system a potentially valuable
contributor to sports and live events coverage, Ludden says.

Meanwhile, other providers are also working to improve their satellite
newsgathering systems. In 2013, Inmarsat is planning to increase
the streaming speeds on its widely used BGAN terminals and is also
preparing to launch a Ka-band Global Xpress service that will offer
even higher speeds.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com
and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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