Broadcast facilities continue to evolve to meet the needs of the rapidly changing media landscape. The days of using boxes for a broadcast related function are over. Vendors are moving toward an end-to-end solution. The industry is moving toward three themes – software-defined, IP-enabled, and cloud virtualized.

Using standard hardware and network infrastructure, vendors have devised software that enables the functions of the previously used hardware to be aped. To the end-users, the difference is transparent.

Broadcasters have started to embrace video over IP using software-defined networks, virtualized cloud processing, and software defined infrastructure. Entire broadcast operations spanning the creation and management of broadcast-specific acquisition, editing, playout, and distribution/storage functions are now using specialized software running on servers and in the private/public cloud. In doing so, these broadcasters are moving away from dedicated, broadcast-only proprietary hardware.

Migration from Standard Broadcast Infrastructure to IP Infrastructure

Traditional broadcast infrastructure is transitioning to Ethernet using off-the-shelf network switches and SDN control. The increasing speeds supported by Ethernet switches and the corresponding improvement in aggregate non-blocking switch and network throughput has paved the way for the use of IP to transport critical broadcast applications in a cost-effective manner, while delivering the same robustness and stability of legacy SDI and MADI router operations – all with greatly increased agility and flexibility to meet ever-evolving media formats.

The professional television industry has embraced IP technology in many areas, including video point-to-point transport and wireless HD-ENG backhaul. But TV-specific professional coaxial-based streaming formats (SDI, HD-SDI, and 3G-SDI), requiring TV-specific digital routing systems, were considered to require dedicated point-to-point technologies and commercial IP-based data center networks were not the broadcast plant.

With the agility of IP, broadcasters will be set up to handle the growing needs of their broadcast plant today and, perhaps even more importantly, their ability to continue expanding easily in the future is assured.It is this agility through technology that makes IP so appealing – high data rates, wide bandwidth, and a system that is both format agnostic and scalable for whatever the future brings.

Broadcasters have begun to embrace commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) data center-class IP networking to enhance the efficiency of the broadcast plant. More importantly, the flexibility provided by packet-based architectures effectively supports the new reality of agile production and multi-faceted distribution strategies, with the added benefit of Ethernet economics instead of high-cost bespoke broadcast infrastructure. This transition from legacy broadcast systems to IP/Ethernet meets both the near- and long-term demands of content production and distribution.

Increasing production performance and cost requirements can no longer be served by traditional switching and distribution, instead requiring a new architecture that leverages the cloud networking approach used in today's high performance data centers.

Indian Scenario

The Indian broadcast infrastructure industry in 2015-16 is estimated at 135 crore.

The transition from standard broadcast infrastructure (SDI) to Ethernet/IP may take several years. The stakeholders will take some time to move to software-based solutions, given their anxiety that software requires frequent de-bugging.

It is anticipated that all major television facilities will select the COTS IP data center networking approach, which reduces operational expenses.

Increased agility, technology future proofing, the reduction of operational expenses, and leveraging the sizeable economies of scale of the IT industry are often cited as major motivations for moving operations to IP.

One key benefit of software-defined facilities is the ability to leverage the capabilities and price points of the much larger IT industry. The flexibility of switching elements in a distributed architecture can be highly attractive for a cost-effective studio setup. Similar to a data center approach, a small top-of-rack switch can provide all local aggregation and can be connected to a central hub with just a pair of fibers. In addition to the cost benefit, the convergence and unification of real-time media delivery with that of non-real-time file transfer means a single connectivity solution can handle
both types of data. Likewise, video, audio, and data control signals can be handled
on a unified switching infrastructure rather than run as separately routed networks.

Moving to IP will ultimately allow a shift from dedicated broadcast hardware to virtualized and cloud-based infrastructures, which offer even greater infrastructure flexibility and easier upgradability.

What the industry need is a broadcast centric IP plant designed with the cost savings and efficiency of today's IP network, but with the mission-critical reliability, extensibility, functionality, and familiar workflows of today's SDI broadcast infrastructure.

Broadcasters today are looking for comprehensive solutions and not just equipment or software. They are looking for partners who can offer them best of the solutions to proceed in the emerging world of multi-platform broadcasting.

Whatever the economics, broadcasters are likely to take their time moving to software-defined networks as this paradigm shift will have an enormous impact in future.

"It is about migration from a conventional discreet hardware-based headend solution to a software- and IP-based, integrated, all-in-one state-of-the-art headend solution. Well, it may be paradigm shift in this domain but standardization and software-defined concept is everywhere!

Even the legacy HW-based system also has software algorithms running inside, which actually should not be called a HW-based system but to differentiate between the two it should be alright. To provide better differentiation, the former had dedicated hardware developed by the OEM whereas the latter uses a standard IT-based hardware. The former had software control for each hardware, the latter has common software-defined (or driven) control for the integrated solution.

Rohde & Schwarz (R&S) understands fast technology changes and listens carefully to the customer needs internationally. R&S has designed a completely IT-based encoder and multiplexer solution. The solution minimizes complexity and maximizes reliability. The solution is scalable for future growth and allows easy upgrade to the new formats. The technology trend is picking up with more solutions available from the manufacturers; it is surely creating a win-win situation for both, the end users and the manufacturers.

Though technology will further evolve, the visible benefits to the end users are many, including reduced time to roll out new standards, e.g., HEVC; scalable and adaptable software-based system; smaller footprint and reduced energy consumption; better redundancy concepts; lesser interconnection points and lesser points of failure; hardware-independent firmware; license porting to new hardware possible; and informative and intuitive GUI and distributed network management systems. Also the function modules like network adapter, conditional access, automation, and frame synchronization can be activated/implemented as per specific requirement.

It is convergence of IT and broadcasting. It is a matter of time when hardware-based systems will give way to generic IT HW-based infrastructure. The trend is evident from end-to-end solutions in a broadcast chain – be it from production to delivery and consumption of media."

Vishal Gupta
Manager-Business Development,
Rohde & Schwarz

Mark Hilton, Vice president-Networking,Grass Valley

"Broadcast infrastructure has undergone many changes recently, particularly as more operations look to IP technology for significant improvements in efficiency and performance. IP is well established and is already delivering benefits in other vertical industry applications, including IT data centers. The broadcast industry can benefit from such a model – one that relies on the same scalability, load balancing, use of commodity hardware, and redundancy that make IT data centers so ubiquitous and successful.

With the agility of IP, broadcasters will be set up to handle the growing needs of their broadcast plant today and, perhaps even more importantly, will ensure their ability to continue expanding easily in the future. It's this agility through technology that makes IP so appealing – high data rates, wide bandwidth, and a system that's both format agnostic and scalable for whatever the future brings.

IP technology for broadcast is advancing at an impressive pace, but there are some obvious challenges a broadcaster will face in making the shift. Introducing IP-enabled equipment into the workflow represents a significant investment as well as a change in the way the network is built and controlled. For this reason, it's important to partner with a supplier that has an integrated, glass-to-glass IP portfolio that will ease the transition.

An IP technology infrastructure based on open standards provides broadcasters with maximum agility and flexibility without having to constantly rebuild their workflows. Common standards drive interoperable solutions that meet broadcasters' current needs and ensure they're ready for future advancements. As the industry did with SDI, it must maintain this approach with IP – utilizing a single, standardized interface for transmission of video to ensure that widespread signal transport interoperability continues."

Mark Hilton
Vice president-Networking,
Grass Valley

Raj Yadav, Regional Sales Head-South Asia, Imagine Communications

"There is no doubt that the future of broadcast infrastructure is in software-defined architectures. Put simply, this means standard IT platforms have developed to have sufficient processing power to handle the requirements of real-time video. So broadcast vendors no longer need to focus on developing hardware but can concentrate on creating efficient and effective software, which meets the real needs of a broadcaster.

This is an obvious major shift in the industry. But it also implies more subtle shifts in the way the industry designs, manages, and funds its technology.

First, it changes the technology refresh cycle. In the past, a major broadcast project would involve careful design, acquisition of all the hardware systems, integration, and installation, then the expectation that it would remain more or less unchanged for perhaps seven to 10 years.

In the software-defined environment, the hardware is provided by commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) IT products, either in an on-premises data center or in the cloud. Because it is standardized, it will be subject to continual upgrade and expansion.

As new functionality becomes available, so it can be added. If the nature of the required infrastructure changes, that can be achieved through simple reconfiguration, probably the work of moments. The idea of fixed projects, which limit the ability of the broadcaster to respond to change, is no more.

The extension of this new agility is a change in the business model. If a broadcaster needs to add a new channel, or a new post-production suite, or a new delivery platform, it is no longer a major capital investment, which in the past would have limited the business's flexibility.

In a software-defined architecture, the processing power is a commodity – and in the cloud it can be rented as required. Imaginative new licensing models from broadcast vendors mean that you only pay for functionality when you need it. So the capital expenditure is almost eliminated, replaced by operational expenditure, which is directly and very closely tied to functionality. It gives the broadcaster not only flexibility, but also tight commercial control over services and revenues."

Raj Yadav,
Regional Sales Head-South Asia,
Imagine Communications

Sanjay Duda, Chief Marketing Officer, Planetcast Media Services Limited

“In the media space, earth stations play a vital role in satellite television distribution, providing global reach in the most cost-efficient manner without any quality loss. This is becoming even more relevant as consumers are moving to bandwidth-intensive high-quality content (HD, UHD, 4K). In telecom applications as well, earth stations create vital point-to-point links connecting remote locations of voice and data communication.

India’s digital vision and active participation of country’s leadership toward achieving this goal is opening up new opportunities for earth station services. Not only can earth stations enable digital connectivity to the remotest corners of the country, new technology makes it possible to provide interactive communications even on mobile platforms such as airplanes, ships, trains, etc.

Over-the-top content delivery and other terrestrial technologies like optical fiber, 3G, and 4G networks are a constant challenge to the satellite earth stations.

To counter this challenge, teleport service providers as well as satellite operators need to adopt state-of-the-art, cost-saving technologies including high-throughput satellites, high modulation techniques, and higher compression codecs, among others.”

Sanjay Duda,
Chief Marketing Officer,
Planetcast Media Services Limited

"Satellite transponders, earth stations, head-ends, hybrid fiber coaxial networks, conditional access systems, and subscriber management systems form major part of the infrastructure used for delivery of the TV broadcasting services to the subscribers. Each multi-channel distribution platform retransmits large number of satellite TV channels. Out of these large number of satellite TV channels retransmitted by each operator, many are common across the distribution platforms in a relevant market. Therefore, retransmission of such common channels independently on each distribution platform ends up duplicating the infrastructure. There appears to be a distinct possibility for sharing of distribution infrastructure among multiple DPOs for its optimal utilization. It may result in reduction in CapEx and OpEx for distributors.

Reduction in the CapEx requirements brings down the entry barriers to new service providers in the market. In a competitive market, any kind of reduction in the expenditure of distributors could ultimately benefit the consumers in the form of reduced prices and better quality of services, and results in growth of the sector due to increase in demand.

In this age of ICT, where services are configured in the cloud, the infrastructure sharing among multiple DPOs can ultimately lead to specific focus areas wherein the network provider can focus on efficient operations and maintenance of its infrastructure like transponder space on satellite, earth station, head-end facilities, transmission networks, CAS, SMS, etc., so as to ensure the maximum uptime and optimal utilization of available capacities and the service delivery operator can focus on servicing the need of the consumers. The service delivery operator's focus on consumers may help in improving the delivery of services and speedy redressal of consumer grievances. Generally, for its own subscribers, the network provider is a service delivery operator also."

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)