More than a decade after technological development got underway, SAT>IP technology – whereby antenna signals can be converted into IP for distribution around a house or commercial facility – is beginning to achieve global traction, writes David Davies.
The technological movement that has come to be known as SAT>IP has its origins in the vision of satellite operator SES’s desire to create an IP-LNB – a device that would directly at the antenna convert signals into IP format. At that time (2007) the required chip technology was not yet available, so the decision was made to establish the protocol specification.
The result was SAT>IP, a protocol developed by SES, Sky and software company Craftwork. Royalty-free, the protocol became a European standard in 2013 when it was published by CENELEC as EN50585. The next logical step to encourage adoption of the technology was the formation of a dedicated organisation, the SAT>IP Alliance, which was founded at the NAB Show in 2015. Today, the membership of the Alliance continues to grow and includes Arcadyan, Eutelsat, Irdeto, MaxLinear, NAGRA, Panasonic, SES, Hispasat, Verimatrix and Zinwell.
Thomas Wrede is president of SAT>IP Alliance and head of new technology and standards at SES Video. Considering its current activities, he says the Alliance operates with “three main objectives: 1) marketing the SAT>IP protocol for adoption throughout the broadcast industry; 2) testing SAT>IP capable equipment and products to certify them for the SAT>IP standard; 3) enhancing the standard where necessary, including collaborating with the DVB to share resources.”
“[With SAT>IP], a high-quality service is possible irrespective of what internet bandwidth is available.” Thomas Wrede, SAT>IP Alliance
If SAT>IP appears to have enjoyed a relatively rapid rise to prominence, it is highly probable that its ability to support flexible viewing habits in the multi-screen era has played significantly in its favour.
Hence one of the main applications for SAT>IP is the delivery of live content broadcast via satellite, terrestrial or cable TV to any screen, smartphone, games console or tablet in the home. “A high-quality service is possible irrespective of what internet bandwidth is available, which is hugely beneficial for delivering a great TV experience wherever you are. This is particularly important for streaming live sports events where delays and buffering can lead to significant backlash from viewers,” says Wrede.
Jorge Rodriguez Lopez, head of marketing at satellite operator Hispasat, observes that SAT>IP is “very closely aligned with changes in audience viewing habits, with people choosing to watch their own choices rather than always sitting together in the lounge. SAT>IP massively simplifies the installation process, as once the original box that supports SAT>IP is rolled out, there are minimal upgrade costs to unlock additional revenues. If a subscriber wants to watch TV in another room a satellite provider would, previously, need to organise engineer visits and supply additional boxes. SAT>IP removes these costs.”
The technology also opens up new opportunities for personalised services and multi-location facilities, including those in commercial spheres such as the retail and hospitality sectors. Hence SAT>IP can be used “to develop and launch innovative new services, such as personalised subscription packages, hybrid services with satellite and OTT integration, and premium content within larger campuses such as resorts and hotels. It can be used to unlock a huge range of business models – from offering personalised content services to individual family members, to making it possible for a local community centre in an area with little or no broadband connectivity to become a hub for TV services into the community.”
These market opportunities, as well as SAT>IP’s royalty-free status, mean that the technology has already been adopted by more than 40 manufacturers and technology companies. There are already plenty of SAT>IP servers to choose from, but now integration into TV sets is beginning to take place as well.
“We can see a great deal of potential for this service, [not just in terms of home viewing] but also in markets such as hospitality. It is going to be interesting to see how things develop over the next few years.” Nivedita Nouvel, Broadpeak
“There are already a few key deployments,” says Wrede, “including by Panasonic, which launched a ‘TV to IP’ initiative, integrating SAT>IP servers and clients into many of their flat screen TVs, allowing consumers to watch high quality content on additional devices in the home. Meanwhile, German TV platform operator HD+ has integrated SAT>IP into their latest UHD-capable set top box which can stream DRM-protected content to be viewed on a tablet device in the home.”
The rise of this new technology is also giving rise to plenty of collaborations between vendors and service providers. Launched in late 2016, Eutelsat’s SmartBeam service allows broadcasters and pay TV service providers to leverage satellites to broadcast video content in IP format, giving rise to a network that is dedicated to IP-native terminals, including tablets and smartphones. SmartBeam works with any WiFi-enabled device and supports instant channel change, DRM security and low latency. Broadpeak’s nanoCDN content delivery network product is the underlying streaming technology for SmartBeam.
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“We can see a great deal of potential for this service, [not just in terms of home viewing] but also in markets such as hospitality. It is going to be interesting to see how things develop over the next few years,” says Broadpeak VP of marketing Nivedita Nouvel, which is not currently a member of the SAT>IP Alliance.
There is a general consensus that the introduction of 4K services will help to fuel the growth of SAT>IP in line with the need for new set top boxes. Wrede notes: “Using SAT>IP is likely to mean an upgrade in set-top boxes and server technology currently used in consumer homes – so it’s ideal if the rollout is aligned to a wider upgrade or new deployment to minimise the costs involved. The rollout of new STBs for 4K represents a big opportunity for service providers to do exactly that, by adding a SAT>IP enabled multi-screen capability at very minimal additional cost as part of a 4K deployment.”
Another important consideration also works to the advantage of SAT>IP – namely, its potential contribution to helping future-proof products related to new satellite services. And according to Wrede, this applies just as much to commercial applications as those in the home.
He concludes: “We expect to see an increase in SAT>IP enabled devices over the next years as ultimately the protocol has increasing importance to device manufacturers due to its easy solution for future proofing products for all potential satellite roll-outs. Manufacturers across a broad spectrum of technologies will increasingly need to offer SAT>IP to give them the opportunity to compete in future satellite TV upgrade projects and roll-outs in both residential and commercial environments.”