What is in this article?:
- IP networking: Soon mandatory to being able to compete?
- Service level agreements
Classic fears of IP for contribution-level broadcasting — including lack of control, end-to-end quality and security concerns — are slowly being overcome. Why? The advantages far outweigh the risks, given recent technology advancements, coupled with the revenue potential of implementing technology that can transport video and other media content in real time within the same network.
In fact, IP infrastructures may soon be essential to stay competitive in a future defined by consumers of content, not the content itself. Consumers are demanding content on the go, seamlessly in step with the way they live their lives — anywhere, any time, and looking as good on the small screen as the one in the living room. IP is already being used extensively for distributing content to the range of available devices in the secondary distribution realm, as shown in Figure 1. It’s time to see why IP is ideally suited to transporting content in the primary distribution space.
IP requires managing connections, scaling bandwidth, implementing smartly engineered management tools, and a lot in between. But it doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s important to keep the end goals in mind — more efficiency, both in terms of resources and hard costs (read: lower CAPEX and OPEX); economies of scale; and increased network capacity. On the broadest scale, the key to IP technology is the any-to-any connectivity it provides. From a single interface, it allows operators to securely transport video signals to one or more receivers in the network. Think of IP as one big virtual video router that spans the globe and runs on IP instead of traditional equipment.
But IP isn’t suited just for the big scale. A considerable share of IP solutions in the professional video realm consist of simple networks such as studio-to-transmitter links. The technology allows easy and reliable connections, and when combined with Ethernet, is a universal solution for small systems to large, complex networks.
Bandwidth savings — challenges
Some in the industry believe they should migrate to IP to “save money,” without really understanding why. As the amount and complexity of content increases exponentially, strategic use of bandwidth is critically important. Video over IP offers the flexibility to scale bandwidth depending on the required quality of the delivered content. With IP, operators can use bandwidth dynamically by shifting connections when and where they’re needed.
The real benefit of IP is the ability to share bandwidth among many different applications. When an IP link isn’t being used for video transport, this same bandwidth can be used for other purposes. Although this is one of the biggest benefits of IP, it’s also one of its biggest drawbacks. To save bandwidth, IP networks are typically over-provisioned — which means that the same bandwidth is planned for use by different applications.
When calculating the needed bandwidth on an IP link, it’s assumed that not all applications need to be transported at once. If this does happen, excessive traffic is dropped on a random basis. For data applications such as e-mail and file transfer, this isn’t a problem, as lost IP packets can simply be retransmitted without the end user noticing.
For live video streams, however, this kind of over-provisioning is completely unacceptable. To overcome this issue, IP networks maintain quality by differentiating between packet requirements with the goal of providing constant, guaranteed bandwidth to live services like video streams, while giving less priority to services that aren’t time-critical.
So low-priority traffic is delayed to smooth out network traffic bursts. This is more complex than it sounds, but possible with good administration and control capabilities. It also requires a tool to help set up, schedule and tear down connections. These tools are available in the marketplace today, and systems are getting more sophisticated as they automatically manage these functions.