Via-Inmarsat Case Study Article

Via-Inmarsat Case Study Article
Fast, flexible and cost-effective, BGAN is
rapidly establishing itself as a must-have
tool for broadcasters such as CNN.
Richard Cheeseman has the story
REQUIREMENT: Fast, reliable IP connections for professional broadcasters
■ Guaranteed bandwidth of up to
■ IP or ISDN options
■ Simultaneous voice and data
■ Professional video transport solutions
■ Multi-user functionality
tailored to BGAN
■ Highly portable equipment
■ Ability to fine tune the service
e first on the scene and be first to
file. Anyone learning their trade in
journalism will have had this axiom,
or something like it, drummed into them
from their first day as a junior reporter. News
becomes less newsworthy as time passes,
so filing copy fast and getting your version into
print before the competition is crucial.
This rule applies equally to television news,
where broadcasters compete to be first to air
with live footage from the latest war zone or
disaster. But here the process is not as simple as
for the print reporter, who can always file copy as
long as he has access to a telephone. The television news reporter
requires heavy-duty technology, such as a microwave or satellite
connection, to broadcast outside the studio.
Until the mid-1990s, the only option for a television news team
rushing to cover a story in distant lands was to travel with bulky
VSAT equipment, which was cumbersome to transport and took
a long time to set up and dismantle. But for many reporters, with
the need to travel fast and light, it simply wasn’t an option, not
least because of the extra time required to source and transport
the unit. So reports of breaking stories would often feature only a
reporter’s voice, lamely accompanied by a head and shoulders
photograph, until a back-up unit arrived with VSAT.
The advent of more portable satellite solutions, such as GAN
from Inmarsat, began to change this. For the first time a reporter
and a cameraman could carry their own equipment direct to the
scene of a breaking story, set up quickly and broadcast live. While
the video quality via a 64kbps ISDN link was rarely better than a
standard videoconference service, it represented a leap forward
for television news – live pictures from the scene just hours, or in
some cases minutes, after a story broke.
Video over IP
Photography: Jonathan Fisher
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“GAN is widely used by the world’s largest television broadcasters,
but its limited bandwidth has restricted its role,” says Nadeem
Khan, technology solutions manager for Inmarsat. “By combining
two terminals, users can achieve 128kbps via ISDN, but even this
is not enough for high-quality images. At that bandwidth, the
image will degrade rapidly when anything in the frame moves, so
reporters are trained to keep their movements to a minimum.”
However, the arrival of BGAN, utilising internet protocol (IP)
and boasting up to seven times the bandwidth of GAN, has the
potential to kick start a revolution in television coverage of
breaking news. BGAN certainly presents a compelling proposition
to the professional broadcaster, because the terminals are small
and as easily portable as a laptop computer, while the service
itself offers greatly improved video quality over GAN.
vıainmarsat 17
CNN, one of the world’s leading broadcasters, has been an
early and enthusiastic adopter of live video over IP and the BGAN
service. “We have successfully and consistently filed more live
video over IP than any other news organisation and have
established CNN as the leader in live reporting with BGAN
technology,” said Tony Maddox, senior vice-president of news
operations for CNN International.
CNN used BGAN to file hundreds of live video reports during
the recent conflict in the Middle East. “The use of BGAN gave
CNN the added flexibility to move across and report from all over
the region, giving the network a distinct reporting advantage,”
said Maddox. “At the height of the hostilities, CNN had more than
100 journalists in the combat area – and BGAN was key for getting
the news out to the rest of the world.”
CNN reporters were located in all the main hotspots, as well as
in places more removed from the conflict, such as the Bekaa
Valley, Damascus and Tehran. News anchors operated from fixed
satellite dishes in more secure locations, such as Haifa and Tyre,
but journalists and war correspondents used BGAN to report live
right in the combat zones or from the Lebanon-Syria border.
If necessary, reporters
and camera operators
can set up BGAN and
use it to transmit video
while working alone
● Ensure you point your antenna accurately each time you
register on the BGAN network. Otherwise, although you may
have a connection, your streaming rate could be compromised,
causing greater drain on the battery
● Consult your service provider about how to configure your
dedicated line and other systems for receiving streamed data
from the BGAN network. Factors such as firewall settings and
the positioning of servers can affect the rate at which packets
are received
● The BGAN LaunchPad allows users to configure error
correction for streaming IP. Inmarsat recommends that it is
disabled for UDP applications (ie Streambox and Quicklink)
● Inmarsat strongly recommends streaming IP for audio/video
● Choosing a streaming IP connection that matches the data
requirements or settings of your application is vital. 32, 64, 128
or 256kbps are available on high-end BGAN terminals. It is
important to keep extra room for IP overhead.
● Do not leave the application (or the streaming connection)
active when not in use
Mastery of BGAN
“While CNN carried live shots over BGAN from wherever their
reporters were located, other networks were reduced to doing
phoners, losing the key element of live images as the conflict was
unfolding,” said Maddox. “Due to the combination of our
impressive newsgathering operation and our mastery of BGAN
technology, no other network could match CNN’s manpower.”
The broadcaster cites international correspondent Aneesh
Raman as an example of its ability to cover every important angle
of the story. “Aneesh was the only Western television reporter in
Iran for much of the time he was in Tehran,” said Maddox.
“We were able to cover the Iran angle because Aneesh wasn’t
tethered to a satellite dish, or the studios and crews of a host
broadcaster.” Raman often operated alone in Iran, setting up his
own camera, dialling in by BGAN and producing his own live
reports. “That kind of flexibility for a global news organisation,
particularly in a conflict, is a game changer,” said Maddox.
The BGAN service has two core video options for broadcasters:
live video, via streaming IP or ISDN, and store-and-forward video
via streaming IP, ISDN or standard IP. “Streaming IP offers
minimum loss of picture quality. Secondly, they have in-built
error-correction systems to recover lost packets and correct the
irregularities inherent in delivering video over IP networks.”
All Streambox systems include advanced forward error
correction (FEC), which detects, cancels and recovers lost video
packets. They also have built-in reliability and advanced
networking features, such as buffered variable bit rate and packet
shaping, to take advantage of streaming BGAN channels.
Another video transport system tailored to BGAN is provided
by UK-based Quicklink, which is supplying its laptop video
transmission system to Al Jazeera International, the 24-hour
news and current affairs channel headquartered in Doha, Qatar.
The system will allow the company’s journalists to broadcast live
video over BGAN. Quicklink’s MD, Richard Bolton, said it was
important to be ready to meet the challenges of new technology:
“The use of BGAN gave CNN a
reporting was key for
getting news to the world”
“The BGAN terminals are small
and as easily portable as a laptop
computer, offering great quality”
guaranteed bandwidth for live video of a significantly higher
quality than was possible with GAN,” said Khan. “When deadlines
allow, broadcasters have the option of using standard IP or ISDN
to transmit, via store and forward, much higher-quality prerecorded footage back to the studio for later transmission.”
Video over IP is still relatively new but, as the example of CNN’s
rapid adoption proves, it is already becoming accepted as a viable
alternative to analogue and other digital techniques in the world of
broadcast news. This is mostly due to the flexibility and relative
cheapness of sending data over the public internet.
The increasing quality and reliability of video over IP has much
to do with the work of companies that produce dedicated
encoding and video transport systems tailored to the requirements
18 vıainmarsat
of IP. One is Streambox, which lists broadcasters British Sky
Broadcasting, CNN, DirecTV and PCCW among its customers.
Seattle-based Streambox has worked closely with Inmarsat to
ensure that its patented ACT-L3 video transport solution works
efficiently over BGAN. “Inmarsat and some of our key customers
and distributors have performed extensive testing of Streambox’s
portable video transport system’s performance over satellite and
IP networks,” said Bob Hildeman, Streambox’s chairman and
CEO. “The equipment has also been tested for its ability to deliver
reliable and error-free broadcast video and data over low-data rate
networks. ACT-L3 is optimised for delivering broadcast video,
transmitting it over long distances using cost-effective broadband,
and serving it up over a variety of networks.”
At point of capture, a news team will use a Streambox ACT-L3
portable encoder, available in Mac and Windows versions, or a
Streambox SBT3-7500 encoder to encode live video and audio for
transmission over BGAN streaming IP. When these signals are
received by the broadcaster, they are decoded in real time by a
Streambox unit such as the SBT3-5100 decoder and are then
ready for live broadcast.
Ironing out the glitches
“Professional broadcasters use systems such as Streambox
because they are effective at ‘ironing out’ the glitches that can
occur when streaming data over IP networks,” said Khan. “Firstly,
they offer secure and excellent audio/video compression with
“Television newsgathering is undergoing fundamental changes
insofar as journalists can transmit their reports back to the studio
using an increasing variety of networks and software tools.”
Both Streambox and Quicklink utilize user datagram protocol
(UDP) for video and audio transport, a protocol well suited to
streaming IP over the BGAN network. With UDP, lost packets
don’t need to be retransmitted, so transfer speed takes
precedence. Unlike TCP/IP, which slows or even stops
transmission when data is lost, any dropped or lost packets are
ignored and compensated for or replaced by the transport
application. This application intelligence optimises transmission
speeds, and is particularly effective on a non-contended line,
such as BGAN streaming IP.
vıainmarsat 19
BGAN enables broadcasters
to send live or store-andforward video from almost
any location in the world
news stories whatever the conditions. M-Link H.264 AVC-based
products offer a major increase in video quality, higher compression
rates and faster delivery.”
The flexibility of the BGAN service compared to GAN is another
highly attractive feature for broadcasters. On high-end terminals
such as the HNS 9201 and Thrane & Thrane Explorer 700, users
can perform more than one task at once. For instance, the news
team can speak to the studio on a separate voice channel while
sending live video, with no loss of bandwidth over streaming IP.
Latest compression techniques
Another important factor in successfully transmitting live video
over BGAN is proper back-end integration of the terrestrial link
with the BGAN network. John Stoltz is business development
manager, media, for GCS, a New-York based solutions provider
that works with CNN, and other broadcasters such as Fox and
NBC: “As we have learned through BGAN testing with CNN,
tweaking the IP configurations, both on the satellite and terrestrial
links, is equally important for good-quality live video over BGAN
as is selecting the right IP-based video encoders.”
Recent advances in the encoding and compression of digital
video are contributing to BGAN’s rapid acceptance by professional
broadcasters. One of the most significant is the H.264 AVC
(advanced video coding) codec, the product of a collaboration
between the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) and the
ISO/IEC Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).
Recognised as a powerful tool for compressing digital video
(reputedly twice as efficient as MPEG-2), H.264 AVC has been
adopted by companies such as Apple, Sony and Intel, as well as
by video transport specialists. A leading example of the latter is
Livewire Digital – familiar to readers of Via Inmarsat as the provider
of communications solutions to vessels competing in the 200506 Volvo Ocean Race – which has integrated the standard into its
latest mobile video product, the M-Link H.264 range.
Film and file from the field
The Livewire M-Link Voyager H.264 is the high-end member of
the M-Link family. It caters for both professional live broadcast
and store and forward operations and is fully compatible with
either BGAN streaming IP or standard IP. Tristan Wood, managing
director of Livewire Digital, said: “H.264 AVC brings with it even
greater benefits for broadcasters in terms of both data
compression and providing more flexibility for applications to a
wide variety of network environments. We have designed our
solutions to make it easy for journalists in the field to film and file
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It is also possible to send pre-recorded and compressed video via
a standard IP channel while using streaming IP for a live broadcast,
so important footage can be received by the studio and edited
ready for broadcast at the earliest opportunity.
The level of compression determines the quality of picture
received at the other end and the time taken to transmit. The
latest compression techniques, H.264, MPEG-4 or a derivative,
typically allow one minute of broadcast-quality store and forward
video to be transmitted in as little as five minutes over a 256kbps
streaming IP channel.
“Streambox enables users to send store and forward files, and
it facilitates video playout before the files have been transmitted
in their entirety,” says Hildeman. “The Streambox store-andforward tool self-selects the best speed for connection and
resumes broken transmission without restarting.”
While basic news priorities never change, the race to be first
with a story is becoming hotter than ever. Because of BGAN, the
excuse 'we couldn't get a satellite link' no longer applies.
Broadcast-quality live digital video, at a few minutes' notice, is
now part of the picture for professional newsgatherers. ■
Inmarsat BGAN
Videoconferencing BGAN is compatible with many widely available
videoconference hardware and software solutions. These will
provide video and audio of acceptable quality over a 64kbps ISDN or
a BGAN streaming IP connection. Some broadcasters use them for
live ‘videophone’ reports. BGAN-compatible hardware solutions are
provided by Motion Media, Scotty Group, Tandberg and others, with
software offered by such as Livewire, Emblaze and Polycom.
Video surveillance This provides a remote one-way video feed, often
at a low frame rate but at high resolution, for situation monitoring.
Connections to the remote site can be either automatically triggered
via motion sensor or alarm trip, or simply ‘dialled in’. With an
expanded network of remotely steered cameras, it is possible for
security-conscious organisations to maintain a high level of
surveillance with a minimal on-the-ground presence.
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