Improved Satellite Newsgathering Takes Flight

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.

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