BBC Wales takes the IP plunge

BBC Wales
Neal Romanek
June 20th 2017 at 12:49PM : By Neal Romanek

The relocation of the BBC Wales headquarters will allow the broadcaster to jettison its SDI past. Neal Romanek reports

BBC Wales will be kicking SDI to the curb with its new Cardiff, Central Square headquarters. The broadcaster will work in an entirely IP infrastructure, which should be up and running by Q4, 2019.

Grass Valley will be a preferred broadcast tech provider, and Cisco will be provided network switching. Though most elements of the build are still in the planning stages, BBC Wales has said they will be adopting the Grass Valley Broadcast Data Center. Grass Valley’s GV Node product will provide switching, signal processing and routing capability using Cisco’s IP Fabric for Media networking solution, based on Cisco Nexus switches and SDN Controllers to allow easier migration from SDI to IP.


IP plans

The relocation was announced at the end of 2014 and was sparked by the aging tech infrastructure at Llandaff. The Llandaff sites will be redeveloped into flats when the BBC finally exits. The sale of the site is helping to fund the new development.

Central Square was named the preferred site for the new centre after a tendering process that assessed nine potential sites. BBC Wales will share the site with Welsh-language public broadcaster S4C.

When the decision to build a new studio from scratch was first put on the table in 2014, there was a dilemma. Should it be SDI based? Or is it worth thinking about this new IP business?

“When we first started, the assumption was that it was going to be an SDI build,” says Roger Crothers, BBC Wales head of technology. “At that time, there were only a few vendors who sold IP production gear. But that matured very quickly. Every time we went to a trade show IP seemed more and more a viable solution. As time went on, we began to feel that IP might be the right platform.

It allows us to be resolution agnostic. IP doesn’t care

The new build went out to tender. The BBC Wales team requested that bids be returned for both SDI and IP builds.

“When we embarked on the process, ST 2022 -6 was the prevailing standard, but then when ST 2110 came on the scene, we made all the bidders promise to go with that standard,” says Crothers. “We kept our options open and reserved our judgement on the decision till the very last minute.

“We’re trying to go IP end-to-end as much as we can, which means that all the lighting desks and sound desks will natively support IP. Because we have native IP streams coming in, the need to convert will be limited. It allows us to be format agnostic - we won’t have to rely on the shape or size of a signal. And it allows us to be resolution agnostic. IP doesn’t care.”


Proof of concept

The BBC Wales technology team will have access to the new building in spring 2018. A lightweight proof of concept is being built at the current Llandaff location as a test.

“Some of the testing is to show how Grass Valley will approach the build,” says Crothers. “And it will be also be used to train our traditional broadcast engineers. We looked at what the different kinds of training we’ve had. The feedback we’ve had is that hands on is some of the best.”

But evolving to new technology means an evolution for the team too, many of whom have never worked in an all IP environment.

“Our team are very comfortable troubleshooting faults within an SDI infrastructure,” says Crothers, “But the troubleshooting skills and tools you use to fault-find in IP are very different. Some will have that skill already. But some who have been doing SDI work for 20 years will need some training.”