Opinion: Broadcast IP stepping stones

Over the pond
Olivier Suard, Nevion
May 6th 2016 at 10:01AM : By

Nevion is a partner in the Live IP project, which has pioneered an all-IP workflow for live production. Nevion marketing director Olivier Suard says the road to IP will require slow and steady steps

In January the industry took a giant leap in the IP evolution when the LiveIP Project performed the landmark remote production of a live Belgian musical concert using IP and open standards throughout the production chain. Overseen by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Belgian operator VRT, with the support of several broadcast technology partners, the LiveIP project was initially launched last year, and is the world’s first proof of concept of a complete multivendor live production chain that relies exclusively on IP.

Prior to the LiveIP broadcast, the industry’s approach towards full IP adoption had been to take small and cautious steps. Many broadcasters are already familiar with what individual vendors can offer in IP production, however LiveIP provides the first practical collaboration that brings all of the expertise together, with a system that demonstrates interoperability between vendors.

The latest phase of the LiveIP project, and the remote production of the concert, was an extension of the LiveIP full IP local studio set up in August 2015, which in many ways paves the way for broadcasters in the transition towards IP. It also demonstrates the potential for remote locations to become extensions of the studio/campus set-up. The project addresses many concerns cited by broadcasters exploring the move to IP, including performance, reliability, deterministic network behaviour and clean-switching.

Early stages

The IP evolution is still in its early stages, but the transition to IP in the live production environment is underway. In a recent survey of leading broadcasters in eight countries conducted by Futuresource Consulting on behalf of Nevion, 41% of global broadcasters said they had already begun the transition to IP and were preparing their business and workflow for an all-IP future. According to the survey, those broadcasters who had not yet started to move to IP in live production anticipated they would do so in the next two years, while a complete transition is expected to take place within the next 10 years for those looking to make the move.

Despite the encouraging research, the main challenges for broadcasters are around building an adequate infrastructure that will allow them to transition. However, common technical reservations regarding the technology, such as reliability, latency and management, can be overcome with the right, standards-based equipment and software.

The IP evolution is still in its early stages, but the transition to IP in the live production environment is underway

The right architecture

As business needs evolve, the best way forward is for broadcasters to move to IP incrementally. The core principles to consider when introducing IP in the facilities, include making allowances for a period of co-existence between baseband and IP, adhering to recognised standards and ensuring that the architecture is based on the use of Software Defined Networks (SDN).

To some broadcasters, the distributed-nature of IP networks appears to be very different from the familiar centralised architecture they are used to. However, the architecture of modern, robust networks is not that dissimilar to baseband networks.

Based on a ‘leaf-spine’ set-up, the equivalent of the central router in the MCR is the ‘spine’ - a set of standard IP routers and the spine routers are connected to ‘leaf’ networks situated in various locations. The ‘leaves’ consist of standard IP routers combined with media nodes that provide the bridge between baseband technology and IP. Each leaf is connected to multiple spine routers, ensuring reliability and scalability, with bi-directional links. The media nodes also ensure signals are never disrupted and the spine-leaf architecture scales easily, meaning that in theory, there’s no limit to the size of the network.

The whole network is controlled by management software, making it an SDN in which the routes between the sources and destinations are set up dynamically to guarantee the right level of deterministic performance. As the network is IP based, handing signals to other networks such as remote production, telco networks or other broadcasters, is a standard IP feature. Any router in the network can forward the packets to any other connected network, even if the latter is not SDN-based. As no specialist gateways or bridges are needed to achieve this, remote locations effectively become extensions of the central studio/campus.

Managing the system

Media nodes allow a new IP architecture to work alongside the baseband network and equipment. The integration of the new IP architecture with existing baseband infrastructure enables existing equipment to be better shared between locations, in the studio and beyond, ensuring they are utilised to the maximum of their capacity. Effectively, the equipment becomes virtualised. This represents substantial improvements in efficiency and as well as cost savings.

The key to efficient management of the transition from baseband to IP is to ensure that the migration of the network is transparent for those managing it. There is a growing need for a media service management system capable of handling baseband and IP networks that presents a broadcast-centric view of the network as a whole. Operators will have peace of mind, as all the complexities of network transitions will be hidden to allow the workflows to remain undisrupted.

The journey towards IP does not need to be a challenge for broadcasters. The route has been carefully planned and projects such as LiveIP will help boost momentum in the evolution to IP by addressing common challenges. For the first time ever, the industry has a real-life template that can be used to build a plan for every operation. Broadcasters can implement the best solutions for their businesses, and make the transition to IP smooth, cost effectively, with incremental steps towards the future.