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Satellite Networks For Education
By David Leichner, Vice President Corporate Marketing, Gilat Satellite Networks

The Modern University of Humanities (MUH), Eurasia’s largest open university with 170,000 students, provides higher education to 830 towns and cities that include some of the most remote regions in Russia. Gilat’s SkyEdge, through the company’s Teleport Services, provides the communication network that powers MUH satellite e-learning applications.

LeichnerFig4 The Modern University of Humanities is the largest open university in the world, providing educational services to students that cannot attend conventional universities. MUH serves students all over Russia, including some of the most remote regions of the vast country; enabling citizens to receive higher educations that otherwise would not be possible. Studies include law, management, economics, psychology, computer engineering, linguistics, philosophy, political sciences, and pedagogy, and are provided for Baccalaureate, Specialist’s Studies, Master’s Degree Studies, and Post-Graduate education. In addition to serving students in Russia, MUH also serves 14 other countries as shown in the inset graphic.

Teleport Service realized Gilat could provide:

1. Common outbound for multiplexed video and data transmission
2. High performance broadband network, supports video conferencing, e-learning applications, the Internet and more
3. Excellent Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) takes into account satellite capacity, operations as well as the equipment costs
4. Reliability and availability for remote regions

LeichnerFig1 Distance learning is based on standard solutions such as Video broadcasting, Internet, email, VoIP and video-conferencing; however, MUH has also developed specific education applications that improve the learning experience covering a range of student needs, such as:

Tele-lectures that can be viewed both online and recorded
Electronic text books
Training applications and computer simulations
Q&A applications allowing students to receive assistance from remote teachers
Access to databases and an electronic library

All of these applications need to be provided to MUH’s
education centers.

The Challenge
Providing distance education to the huge student body of MUH, dispersed throughout the largest country in the world, is a challenging task. MUH needed a communication network that would deliver broadband rates as well as cost efficient.

KramerCallout1 As the communication network had to span all of Russia, broadcasting video transmissions on a terrestrial network would be extremely expensive. Each node in the network needed to receive very high throughput and this would have translated to high connectivity costs, especially when taking into account the large distances and scarcity of fiber connectivity in Russia. Also, as not all sites have broadband connectivity, especially in the remoter regions of Russia, the complexity of a terrestrial network is even greater.

MUH’s communication requirements also mandated interactive learning—not only did the network need to provide high throughput and efficient broadcast, it also had to provide connectivity from remote sites back to the center. Applications such as Internet, training applications, network-based simulations and others needed to be supported by the network.

LeichnerFig2 Students also needed to be able to interact with their teachers, either using VoIP technology to ask questions or video conference sessions for an even more interactive learning experience. All this meant that standard TV transmission was not a viable solution, as this is not an interactive medium.

Lastly, MUH wanted a communication network that, cost effectively, enabled reliable services in and outside Russia. Terrestrial networks depended on interconnectivity with other national carriers, which would have complicated the network and increased the operational costs. Reliability was also an important issue, as support in remote regions, especially in the more distant locations within Russia, can be quite difficult.

MUH already operated a mix of one-way and two-way satellite solutions—based on Gilat’s 360e platform, together with standard PCI DVB-S receivers.

The DVB-S receivers were installed in PC’s and used for broadcasts while the 360e VSATs were used for interactive services. While MUH was happy with these solutions, the newer educational programs and network, called Platon, required higher performance and more capabilities.

The Solution
MUH decided that satellite technology was the best choice for their complex and diverse needs. They are now using SkyEdge VSATs for the communication network. A SkyEdge network provides efficient broadcast and multicast services—transmitting content only once, to be received by all the remote sites.

In addition, satellites provide coverage outside of Russia and can be used for international sites as well. Due to the huge size of Russia, two satellites are required to provide complete coverage.

In order to operate the satellite network, MUH established Teleport Services as a satellite-based communication service provider. Teleport Services can then focus on its expertise in satellite communication, delivering the highest quality communication services at the most competitive cost.

Following a detailed market survey, Gilat’s SkyEdge was found to be the best available platform for MUH’s needs. Gilat’s SkyEdge network enables MUH to operate all applications for broadcast and interactive requirements on one platform, benefit from the reliability of satellite technology and provide for future expansion. In addition, SkyEdge’s efficiencies meant that the operating expenses of the network would be minimized.

LeichnerFig3 The SkyEdge platform is based on the industry standard DVB-S. This enables MUH to work with the standard MPEG-2 video format running over IP. The video programs are multiplexed with the interactive data, resulting in efficient use of satellite capacity. When there is no video multicast, the bandwidth can be used for other IP applications. SkyEdge’s large capacity of more than 66Mbps and scalability to encompass 32,000 VSATs ensures any increase in MUH’s network requirements will be more than adequately covered.

SkyEdge’s high inbound data rates allowed the addition of video conferencing capabilities to the remote sites. While most of the interactive sessions are based on VoIP, the ability to see the students at the remote sites improves the learning experience tremendously.

In order to make this real-time applications function well, an advanced QoS solution integrated with the inbound access scheme is required. SkyEdge’s QoS is based on the full DiffServ definition, and ensures that real-time applications receive the required throughput. Latency and jitter are minimized and other less time-sensitive traffic does not interfere with the real-time applications.

Teleport Services has already deployed a SkyEdge hub, installed the SkyEdge VSATs in MUH’s facilities, and the network is now operational.

About the author
David Leichner is the Vice President of Marketing for Gilat
Satellite Networks.