DVB-T/T2: monitoring the situation

By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman

Published in Content+Technology September 2016

With DVB-T2 having been trialled, adopted or deployed in over 150 countries around the world, there seems little doubt that it’s likely to become pervasive. That’s no surprise, as its benefits and advantages are demonstrably compelling. Getting to where we are, however, hasn’t been easy in the face of political resistance and financial pressures – and there are still countries who have yet to make the commitment.

DVB-T/T2 presents broadcasters with both opportunities and challenges. The complexity of services that can be offered, for example, can give rise to sophisticated, imaginative consumer offerings – and thus create the opportunity for competitive differentiation and advantage.

Managing that complexity can, inevitably, bring with it challenges – not least in managing and optimising Quality of Service, something that is not made easier by what can sometimes look like a progressive de-skilling of the industry.

It goes without saying that good planning and implementation of the infrastructure and workflows for tackling this complexity have direct benefits for service quality, results in less subscriber churn, and delivers a more successful business. This is particularly true for the network monitoring that is a fundamental element of QoS (Quality of Service). The challenge is for the operator to identify problems immediately they occur – and before they impact the viewing experience.

An efficient and comprehensive monitoring operation is the only way a service provider can be sure of delivering high standards of service and resolving problems quickly and cost-effectively. This means choosing the right monitoring technology, but it also means using it in the right way, so that engineering and maintenance staff understand how to make the best use of the tools at their disposal.

Not hard to do

Network monitoring isn’t so very hard to do from the air-conditioned security of an operations centre. If only that were the only place where monitoring was necessary… Unfortunately, it isn’t. Take Scandinavia, example. It’s a collection of countries that are characterised by a terrain – not to mention a climate - that provide significant challenges, and where many consumers are geographically remote from the main centres of population. Sound familiar?
In many places, Scandinavia features high mountains and deep valleys – and, for most of the year, the weather means they are wholly inaccessible. Even in the summer months,

access via helicopter is the only feasible way of reaching them. Yet, if those remote populations are to be reachable by broadcasters, appropriate infrastructure provision needs to be made. The Tryvann transmission tower (illustrated) located on the outskirts of Oslo, is one of the more convenient – but still far from easy to reach. There are towers that can take two days to reach via land.

The implication of this, of course – and it is at least as applicable to remote regions that are more characterised by excesses of sunshine than excesses of snow – is that equipment installed in such facilities needs to be ruggedly reliable if regular maintenance visits are to be avoided. Mostly, it needs to be capable of operating in extremes of temperature.

A key design consideration – especially in environments that are subject to very high temperatures, and where the equipment is installed in what is often a tightly confined space – is low power consumption, which results in lower operating temperatures. This, of course, maximises the reliability of electronic components.
Probes are a case in point. In the optimum DVB-T/T2 infrastructure, probes are deployed throughout the network in order to monitor network performance and, especially, reliability.

A generic DVB-T/T2 system diagram with monitoring points identified

Take the Bridge Technologies VB120 Broadcast Probe. Custom-designed and built to telco-grade standards for maximum reliability and minimum maintenance, it consumes less than 12W of power. The VB120 offers cost-effective and powerful monitoring in any broadcast operation involving most commonly available signal formats, including IP unicasts and multicasts, OTT/ABR streams as well as a whole range of RF formats. Combining it with the VB252 dual input DVB-T/T2 input interface module, it can enable monitoring of up to 50 IP multicasts, thus monitoring IP network distribution together with DVB-T/T2 transmissions. It is even possible to equip the monitoring chassis with a VB272 satellite interface module, which is valuable if combined IP and satellite distribution to transmitter sites is used.

Dispersed networks

A highly dispersed network will always present challenges – and not all of these can be addressed by “fixed install” monitoring solutions. There is also a real need for a monitoring solution that a network engineer can take with him on the road – and it was that thinking that led us to introduce Nomad at IBC this year.  Truly portable, it recognises the increasingly mobile nature of the network engineer. And yet: it delivers all the functionality of the VB252 probe.

I talked earlier about what sometimes seems like the de-skilling of the broadcast industry – at least, so far as network management is concerned. Broadcast operators today are struggling, like so many other technical organisations, to acquire and hold on to skilled engineering personnel. Skilled engineers are in demand, and this drives costs up as well as increasing the risk of losing them to the competition. It is not uncommon to have to re-train the whole Networks Operations Centre on an annual basis because of key resources having been promoted upwards internally or having left the organisation altogether. That challenge is only exacerbated when new technologies, such as DVB-T/T2, come into play.

That scenario lies behind our design approach to Nomad. Yes, it is powerful and highly capable – but, In line with Bridge Technologies' product design philosophy, it makes the complex, simple: the user does not need in-depth understanding of the detail of how IP networks operate in order to derive substantial benefit from it. The Nomad user interface is via our MediaWindow visualisation technology, which allows complex structures and data to be readily understood by non-expert users, enabling them to identify appropriate corrective actions quickly and easily. MediaWindow is implemented across Bridge’s complete range of probes – meaning, for example, that an engineer who is familiar with the VB252 will feel very much at ease with Nomad.

Deploying complex DVB-T/T2 networks, and ensuring minimum operational problems, is certainly challenging, and never more so than in difficult, demanding geographies  – but it doesn’t have to be hard. The necessary technologies and tools are out there.

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