Republican convention votes for fiber video

Republican convention votes for fiber video

Paul Palumbo

Portable fiber-optic video transmission systems perform more effectively than microwave systems in bad weather and harsh terrain, and this has spawned a growing market for events-driven video systems to handle national and international games, conferences and meetings.

However, weather extremes are usually not a problem in the year-round temperate climate of San Diego, site of this year`s Republican national convention. Communicating news from the convention center involves a major fiber-optic network installation. To handle such communications, Artel Video Systems, Marlborough, MA, has secured a major contract from Pacific Bell to serve as its primary remote provider of video-transport equipment for the convention.

The strategy behind Artel`s product line is to deploy high-speed, fiber-based video broadcast links easily and quickly from event venues, connecting to telephone central offices. The company focuses on high-end, fiber-based solutions for shipping video signals through regional Bell operating companies` fiber-landline networks. The Bell companies provide those services for demanding end-users such as broadcasters and satellite providers.

"Artel has developed the industry`s only 12-bit digital, noncompressed transmission product," claims company President and Chief Executive Hal Charnley. Artel`s chief competitors in this market niche are ADC Telecommunications, Minneapolis, and C-Cor Electronics Inc., State College, PA--whose technology solutions employ 8- to 10-bit digital-video bitstreaming.

PacBell is deploying Artel`s video- transport equipment at the San Diego Convention Center in three trucks custom-fitted for the job. PacBell completes the installation of decoding equipment at the central office.

Inside the Grand Old Party (GOP) convention center, dozens of cameras operated by national and international news organizations and networks transmit signals along a coaxial cable with audio. At the end of the coaxial cable, PacBell connects to either Artel`s DL1200 or SL4000 systems. Analog video signals will then be converted or encoded into a 12-bit digital-video bitstream that goes out over fiber-optic cable owned by PacBell.

"It takes more bits to convert an analog signal, and that results in a higher picture quality that telephone companies can uplink to broadcasters," according to Charnley. The highest possible picture quality is a necessity for major events such as national political conventions and sporting venues.

The PacBell cable comes up through a manhole cover or through another type of feed at one of the company`s central offices, in this case, Central Office 2 in the San Diego area. Located at the central office is a complementary piece of Artel`s decoding equipment that converts the signals back into National Television Standards Committee (Ntsc) analog format. These signals are piped out to local broadcast affiliates or cable-TV companies.

The signals may also wind up on AT&T`s network for uplinking to satellites, particularly for international broadcasters, or they may be shipped across the country (see figure). According to Artel, AT&T typically plays the uplinking role in the distribution of these video feeds.

Remote video broadcast locations around San Diego will also include a number of hotels where VIPs and other personalities are expected to be clustered. News emanating from those sites is routed back to the convention center, where it again goes through Artel`s equipment and eventually out to various distribution networks.

The equipment to outfit these portable, fiber-based video systems costs about $1 million to $5 million dollars per event, and includes enough Artel gear to fill up approximately three tractor trailers.

Infant market

In assessing the video-transport market, Bob Paulson, president of Omnimedia Communication, a high-end network hardware consultancy based in Westborough, MA, estimates that it is worth approximately $100 million to $300 million. "Artel is now manufacturing and marketing digital interfaces to the television world, and that represents a good step forward for the company," Paulson says. He observes that Northern Telecom, NEC and Alcatel have to be counted as suppliers.

On an operational level, Artel sells the equipment to the Bell companies directly, and those companies hire their own contractors to complete installation and acquire the tractor trailers. The demands of systems to support events like the World Series and the Republican national convention, however, are worlds apart. Games covered in Cleveland during the 1995 World Series required only four video circuits. By comparison, 150 video circuits will be used for the GOP national convention.

But for the Bells, this service is not a one-time-and-out investment. After an event of this kind is over, the company typically rolls the video circuits into an existing architecture. In fact, Artel has also provided permanent video solutions. For example, the company supplied Korean Telecom with equipment to connect three major cities, including Seoul, over fiber-optic cable for supplying signals to broadcasters and cable-TV companies.

Artel completed one of those cable jobs with Bell Atlantic; it was a cable-TV headend connection using telephone company fiber. Artel connected the Rainbow cable-TV channel, an international news-gathering and programming service, to 29 different local cable-TV pro viders in northern New Jersey via fiber-optic cable.

High-speed video

Artel uses 1310- and 1550-nm lasers supplied by AT&T. According to Charnley, the 1550-nm lasers serve two purposes: they can ship digitized video signals over long distances (120 km, or 80 miles) and they can be combined with their 1310-nm counterparts, which puts two wavelengths on one fiber in a technique known as wavelength-division multiplexing. In the case of the GOP national convention, however, Artel is deploying 1310-nm lasers because the transport distances are relatively short--less than 10 miles to the central offices.

In similar projects, Artel sold video systems to SBC Communications during the World Cup Soccer Tournament held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 1994 and supplied high-speed video transport for Ameritech during the 1995 World Series games played at Cleveland Stadium. It also contracted with Nynex and Bell Atlantic to cover a Papal visit and worked with BellSouth for similar services for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. q

Paul Palumbo writes from Seaside, CA.

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