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Focus: HD Video Over Satellite: High Quality + Affordability
by Tom Luketich, Emerging Markets Communications

For many years, videoconferencing over satellite has had a reputation for being of poor quality and expensive. However, with the high levels of growth currently taking place in regions like Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, the overall difficulties presented by travel in those regions (cost, unreliability, time-consuming, danger) and the relative lack of terrestrial communications infrastructure, market interest is growing in videoconferencing over satellite (which can deliver lifelike, face-to-face communication and collaboration with colleagues, partners, suppliers and customers in hard-to-reach areas) — as long as it can be delivered in high quality and at an affordable price.

emcFig1 Market Drivers
Many Western multi-national corporations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to expect the ability to communicate face-to-face with remote teams, and they expect to have it in emerging regions as well. However, the lack of communications infrastructure in these areas makes the deployment of terrestrial-based videoconferencing systems in, and to, these regions difficult, if not impossible.

While an obvious alternative to terrestrial-based videoconferencing might be satellite, when organizations think of this option, they often think “poor quality”, “difficult to use” and “expensive”, based upon what has been traditionally available.

Fortunately, recent technology developments are enabling a new era in high definition (HD) videoconferencing over satellite. One where the quality, usability and cost challenges are being met and overcome.

High Quality
Anyone who has seen traditional videoconferencing over satellite knows that the experience to date has left a lot to be desired. This is primarily due to high and fluctuating conditions around three main factors: Latency, jitter and packet loss.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about the latency challenges with regard to satellite communication. It takes a certain amount of time for a signal to travel from the Earth, up to a satellite and back down again.

ComtechEF_ad_SM1211.jpg However, innovative satellite communications companies have discovered that, while you can’t do much to reduce or eliminate the latency inherent in satellite-based communications, you can make it relatively unnoticeable by ensuring it is predictable and steady.

By combining steady and predictable latency with levels of packet loss and jitter that are near to zero, a latency range of 475-525 ms is almost imperceptible. In fact, many people that have seen the new HD videoconferencing over satellite have remarked that they cannot tell the difference between it and a videoconference conducted over a terrestrial link.

Ease of Use
With the ease of communications available to us from modern technology, our level of patience with anything that presents extra work or complexity is short. To that end, it is crucial that any new communications technology be quick and convenient to use and that any complexity be hidden from the users.

With new HD videoconferencing over satellite technology, great efforts were made to ensure an easy set-up, use and disconnect process. With a goal of being frictionless, and as easy to use as any land-based videoconferencing system, new HD videoconferencing over satellite systems are portal-based, where users simply log onto a portal, request service and see their circuit turned on in approximately 30 seconds. They then operate the videoconferencing system of their choice for as long as they like. Or, they connect a location with their global scheduling and management system and that system turns off and on as any managed system on their network. The fact that the circuit is actually a satellite connection is completely hidden from the user.

emcFig2 While a great deal of very complex things happen once a person requests service (the video on demand (VoD) server determines which spectrum is available to use; the VoD server then selects the correct satellite and transponder; and the VoD system then connects both end points), those activities are mostly concealed from the user’s view. All they know is that within a short time span, they are speaking face-to-face with teams and colleagues located in some of the most remote, hard-to-reach regions on the planet.

One aspect of ease of use that organizations interested in HD videoconferencing over satellite should look into is a single supplier’s ability to handle the planning, set-up and management of the service. Especially in hard-to-reach countries and areas of the world, it is important that a supplier be experienced with the unique and often challenging requirements for shipping, customs, logistics, construction, licensing, etc. in these areas. The ability to deliver a service level agreement (SLA) with service response in hours, rather than days, is an important consideration for such a mission-critical communications service.

For many organizations with a need to communicate with remote regions, costs are a key factor. To date, videoconferencing over satellite has been prohibitively expensive for many organizations because of the dedicated bandwidth necessary to conduct sessions. However, a revolutionary new ‘on demand’, ‘pay as you go’ model is emerging, offering HD videoconferencing over satellite for a fraction of the price of a typical dedicated satellite data circuit.

By maintaining a small, always-on signal to keep the videoconferencing system active, and listening for service requests, and by deploying an innovative single carrier per channel (SCPC) model, a non-shared, on/off model specifically designed for videoconferencing, it is possible to make the cost of HD videoconferencing and telepresence over satellite affordable for a broad range of organizations.

Combining on-demand capabilities with a usage-based, ‘pay as you go’ model, where users only pay for the bandwidth that is used and receive bundled hours of monthly usage (like a pre-paid cell phone), makes HD videoconferencing and telepresence over satellite available to organizations that could never afford the technology in the past.

emcFig3 Case Studies
Organizations interested in HD videoconferencing over satellite come in a wide spectrum of sizes, vertical markets and business objectives. From oil and gas firms and natural resource companies to defense contractors and NGOs, HD videoconferencing and telepresence over satellite has applications for them in combat areas, on oil platforms, for enterprise communications, in disaster relief stations and a range of other situations.

For example, a large healthcare company is combining EMC’s recently announced HD Connect on demand HD videoconferencing over satellite, a telepresence system and an MRI machine to create a highly interactive remote consultation experience where the patient and family can have very collaborative, face-to-face discussions with doctors located in another part of the world. The combination allows for the EMC HD Connect link to be utilized during the telepresence session and to transfer the enormous amount of data generated by the MRI machine in real-time to the remote healthcare specialist. The hospital only pays for the bandwidth used during the sessions, permitting a cost model that is affordable, scalable and predictable.

Additionally, some Oil and Gas firms are utilizing EMC’s HD Connect to maximize the specialized knowledge of subject matter experts, allowing them to view and respond in real-time to changing conditions and data wherever they occur: On oil platforms, in desert areas or in very remote locations. When installed in remote locations, the HD Connect solution allows subject matter experts to “call-in” as needed and collect high-value information in a cost capitated model.

In short, the primary use case for today’s new HD videoconferencing over satellite actually goes back to the original use case for terrestrial videoconferencing — the replacement of expensive, time consuming and occasionally dangerous travel. Conducting business in the hard to reach places of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia presents many travel challenges including: Border transversal (customs/Visas), airline service, cost and time — the distances are vast within this region.

With new HD videoconferencing over satellite, remote colleagues can see one another face-to-face, with a quality level that allows the picking up of subtle non-verbal cues and facial expressions, shortened decision cycles, accomplishing tasks and strengthening relationships.

A new era of HD videoconferencing over satellite is here, one that allows governments, multinational corporations and NGOs in hard to reach areas of the world to use HD videoconferencing, telepresence and visual collaboration anywhere, anytime (on land, sea or in the air), at a fraction of the price of a typical dedicated satellite data circuit, and with the ease of use they expect and the quality they need for successful interactions.

luketichHead About the Author:
Tom Luketich is vice president of Videoconferencing and Application Services for Emerging Markets Communications (EMC). With over 20 years of experience of sales and sales management experience in the computer and software industries — and a special concentration in the Videoconferencing and Collaboration markets, Tom is responsible for the commercialization of EMC’s new HD Connect On Demand HD Videoconferencing over Satellite product.

With a track record of launching, building and leading companies from start-up, funding and staffing through to full-scale operation, Tom specializes in new product campaigns, VAR/Integrator relationships, sales channel creation and enterprise sales, as well as sales management, mentoring and training. Prior to EMC, Tom was Director of Unified Communications at HB Communications, where he championed the process of becoming the first A/V Integrator certified Business Partner for IBM Social Software and where he was instrumental in driving the initial pipeline for HB’s UC Practice.