Right now is a good time to be in the satellite business. The profusion of HD and other advanced services, both cable and direct-to-home, is driving marked increases in the business of satellite operators, content aggregators, DBS outfits, and even satellite-based high-speed Internet services. Add to that the impending broadband stimulus package’s goal of pushing broadband into rural areas, and it’s easy to see why the birds are busy.
Satellite operators SES Americom/New Skies and Intelsat both are planning new satellite launches to keep up with demand. SES SVP of Media Services Bryan McGuirk said his company has four new launches planned over the next few years, and Intelsat announced yesterday a launch planned for 2012. (For the Intelsat announcement, click here.)
A large part of the satellite upsurge is HD video. McGuirk said SES birds are carrying 136 HD channels worldwide, with 67 in the United States.
"There is a mass move to get more HD for cable," he said, adding that programmers increasingly are taking their channels all HD, instead of just one or two programs.
But all that HD comes at a cost in bandwidth. SES used to have all its C-band cable traffic on two satellites, but now uses five, McGuirk said.
"More recently, we’ve added three more satellites in a constellation in the Eastern arc at 103, 105 and 101 that are linked with a triple feed," he said. "That’s really where we’re expanding the HITS with Comcast. We basically have five main cable satellites that we have under the HD Prime brand, and we’re bringing blocks of HD content into that neighborhood."
Besides adding birds, DVB-S2 modulation is also helping to ease the load, said Dom Stasi, CTO of TVN Entertainment.
"We’re getting about 70 Mb of throughput," Stasi said. "The original transponder, under DVB, was a 36 MHz transponder. We were generally getting about 42 Mb through that transponder in DVB, full on, with the least error correction. Now with DVB-S2, we’re running about 70 Mb through that same transponder, so that’s a great savings for us. It sort of makes up for the imposition, for lack of a better word, of high definition, which is getting more popular, but takes up typically four times as much bandwidth as a standard definition file."
And TVN needs that bandwidth savings for its VOD content.
"The most recent challenges we’ve had have been associated with maintaining throughput at the enormous data rates that we’re running," Stasi said. "We’re moving about 8,000 hours of content a month, and an hour of content is about 2 GB of file size." He added that TVN already has one transponder converted to DVB-S2 and plans to convert a second in June.
McGuirk also praised DVB-S2.
"It’s more efficient and helps make room for all this," he said. "Frankly, we’d be out of room already if it weren’t for this technology."
Bad news for cable operators, but good for satellite folks, is increasing competition in advanced services.
DirecTV is now up to 122 cities’ worth of local HD programming. (For more, click here.)
On the high-speed data front, WildBlue Communications is running a demo today in Denver of its 18 Mbps download speeds. (For more, click here.)
– Ron Hendrickson
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