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Satellite versus fibre distribution

Michael Ward, head of operations, WRN Broadcast, highlights the key factors to consider in choosing between satellite and fibre when approaching a new broadcast distribution project.

All media companies have a distribution strategy but what factors influence your decision when it comes to international delivery? Is satellite the best option? Or does fibre offer the better solution?

First, let’s consider the price of bandwidth. Via satellite this can represent a prohibitive cost. With long haul fibre the cost is the same whether it is 5Mbps or 50Mbps; however laying the fibre in the first place is expensive. As we see the number of under-sea fibres increase, the options open to broadcasters continue to grow.

What about multiple-point distribution? Internationally this is something only really possible via satellite. Pool feeds of generic sports events for example are common. Cable headends in the US rely a lot on the satellite delivery of channels. It is possible for a feed to be made available at a fibre hub like the BT Tower, but that is often inaccessible to smaller organisations.

Next, let’s look at service level. When it is critical, fibre has by far the better record in ensuring content arrives uninterrupted. Over a prolonged period, you can expect an overall uptime of no better than 99.7% via satellite (accounting for rain fade, jamming, solar and other interference), that does not include failure of ground based equipment. Meanwhile fibre is 99.95% and therefore much more in line with the SLAs we offer here at WRN Broadcast.

However if an earthquake occurs on the fibre route or a trawler snags your under-sea fibre, the repair/down time is significantly longer than with spacecraft failures. So make sure you have a back up path. Try to employ two fibres on an auto-failover, whilst diverse routes and carriers will add to the resilience. Ad hoc feeds in particular benefit from diverse satellite and fibre routes, that way avoiding all single points of failure.

The need to avoid delay could come into play. Live studio links can be hard work for the viewer if there is a long response time. In this instance fibre is preferable as the latency lower. For news links it is not always possible to employ fibre end to end, however many US news organisations use transatlantic fibres to bring in feeds from the Continent and Middle East which therefore involves only one satellite hop.

Location, location, location

The geography and politics of a country or region can dictate heavily the choice of delivery method. In South Africa there are few fibres so access is limited and very expensive. Fibres are scarce throughout the rest of Africa meaning that satellite is the preferred system for all kinds of TV content. The race is most definitely on to dig fibre into Africa.

Fibre delivery is also very expensive in certain countries allowing some companies to maintain a stranglehold on pricing. Content delivery to and from remote or undeveloped areas is where satellite comes into its own. Satellite newsgathering will always have a place in the world of TV even if it is increasingly contribution related rather than delivery of the finished product.

Overall, it’s horses for courses and media distribution companies that have both satellite and fibre at their disposal, such as WRN Broadcast, offer the highest guarantee of delivery and the most flexibility for their clients and suppliers.