Kvamnet - overcoming challenges

By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman

Published in SATNews September 2016

In a remote part of Norway, an innovative network - providing Internet access, telephony and TV programming - has been created to serve its scattered and often isolated population.

Some 600 kilometres west of Oslo and 80 kilometres east of Bergen, on Norway’s beautiful, fjord-jagged west coast, lies Norheimsund, the administrative centre of the municipality of Kvam. A popular tourist destination for the beauty of its scenery – the Steinsdalsfossen waterfall is reputedly Norway’s sixth most visited natural attraction – it is also home to numerous small businesses, including factories and food- and wood processing plants.

Back in 1970, a company was founded to provide accountancy services – payroll, invoicing, stock control and so on – to these businesses. Eventually, it found itself offering those services on a computerised basis, with its customers dialling in using what now seems like an almost prehistoric technology.

A new company – Kvamnet – was formed with the realisation that far greater bandwidth was needed than dial-up would allow, and it invested in the construction of two antenna towers that would deliver wireless access to its system. Not long after, the growing influence of the Internet saw it deploying fixed cable connections, capable of a speed of 2 Megabits/second, providing even more convenient access for its customers.

With the infrastructure starting to fall into place, it became apparent that the opportunity also existed to provide Internet access to consumers. Initially Kvamnet deployed antenna masts throughout the surrounding area – more than 20 are now installed. Access, of course, requires line-of-sight from the receiving premises.

Potential for complexity

Although the total network was, at this stage, relatively small and simple, its potential for complexity was always apparent. Expansion of the network, the served customer base and the services offered would, unless carefully managed, create challenges. Maintaining simplicity - of technology, of operation and of access - were vital considerations.

In around 2004, Kvamnet embarked on a program to lay fibre optic cable wherever possible with the goal of providing a fast connection for every home. The fibre optic network is still being built out, but the company has managed to reach 50% of its customers so far. The remainder still get access via the wireless network. With fibre optic, Kvamnet’s customers achieve download speeds of 100MB; wireless access provides 20Mb.

2005 saw Kvamnet realise that there was also an opportunity to provide more reliable TV programming to the local population. At the time, the high mountains and deep valleys in the area meant that the residents of Kvam were lucky to receive any TV signal at all - and, if they did, it was mostly of poor quality.

It was at about this time that we met Steinar Foss Andersen, the driving force behind Kvamnet.

At Bridge Technologies, we too were challenged by the need to turn technology complexity into solutions that made it simple.

In many ways, the two companies were a natural fit. We realised very quickly that we could work together.

Steinar’s vision was to create an infrastructure that would have at its heart satellite reception of some 30 TV channels and distribute these via the IP network.
  Steinar Foss Andersen in front of RDW (Remote Data Wall)
depicting the various network POPs in Norheimsund

Today, this doesn’t seem remarkable - but, 10+ years ago, it was a pioneering, visionary project. It was highly challenging, not least because it could potentially create an overwhelming support burden for a very small team.

Proactive approach

The key, it was quickly recognised, was to take a proactive approach to managing quality of experience for users. If potential problems could be identified and resolved before those users started to call to complain, then the support process would be, logistically, significantly simpler.

That’s where we came in. Satellite has long been an area of focus and expertise for Bridge Technologies. Our intelligent redundancy switches for satellite uplink sites, for example, have the most comprehensive feature set together with complete autonomous operation so that operators can have confidence in the performance and function of the switching process. For headend sites where satellite ingress is used as the main signal, understanding the quality before re-distribution provides even faster fault-finding and complete visibility of the service as a whole - functionality we are able to provide to enable a proactive approach to quality assurance.

Kvamnet elected to deploy the Bridge VB272 dual-input probe for monitoring signal distribution, contribution and data traffic. Its RF performance, allied to its ETR analysis engine, are designed for monitoring of central headends or any satellite uplink application.

Also playing a key role in the management of Kvamnet is the VB288 Objective QoE Content Extractor, which performs objective video and audio monitoring of MPEG-2, H.264/MPEG-4 and H.265/HEVC streams and offers a unique web browser-based remote video-wall capability providing full visual status from anywhere. What that means is that Steinar can view the performance of his entire network, know exactly what’s going on and identify potential problems, not only from his office - but wherever he is.

The VB272 and VB288 are complemented by around 50 Bridge microVB network analysers - and a number of VB110 probes which are still delivering reliable performance almost a decade after they were installed.

Making complexity simple

For us, Kvamnet proves what we at Bridge Technologies have always said: with the right tools, and a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use, network operators do not need significant expertise in order to manage QoE.

Kvamnet now provides four services. Internet access is delivered to both businesses and consumers; telephone services (primarily for consumers); TV programming; and computing services for its small business customers.

The company has plans to further extend the network. The Kvam area is home to numerous holiday cabins, with the owners typically wishing to benefit from reliable, high speed Internet access.

Today, TV programming is delivered to the Kvamnet headend via fibre optic cable from Oslo. The original satellite system for receiving TV signals remains in place, and is used to provide redundancy.

We believe we have been instrumental in helping Steinar Foss Andersen achieve his goal of making the complex simple – and also, perhaps, in enabling him to expand the Kvamnet business in the way he has been able to. Creating high speed broadband network is challenging even in ideal circumstances – but to do so in an environment that is as remote and geographically challenging as Hordaland county, in which the municipality of Kvam is situated, is significantly more so. The persistence and innovation that Steinar and Kvamnet have shown are to be admired. Kvamnet may just be the smallest digital TV distribution system on the planet.

Norheimsund and the fjord: a dream came true in a small village in Norway.

Photos: Morten N. Almeland © Bridge Technologies 2016

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