Sky Sports bemoans decline in fibre provision

Despite many sports venues in the UK being connected by fibre, Sky Sports still relies on uplink trucks for transmitting video.

Darren Long
Darren Long, Director of Operations at Sky Sports, said that because of the high cost of installing fibre at venues there is an on-going reduction in provision. “We're a long way off from being able to plug into a domestic broadband connection and be ready to go. Everything needs infrastructure built in and infrastructure is very expensive."

Darren said that changes within companies in the fibre provision market were making current infrastructure challenging. “Fibre companies currently have to pay on-going fees for dark fibres at event venues, even when they are not filming”, he said. “We are looking for companies willing to put infrastructure back in and open up the market to allow freer fibre commission rather than on the current monthly payment basis. We hope that over the next few years extra competition will make pricing models more flexible.”

The increasing reliance on satellite trucks at sports venues is a boost for the SNG industry which has faced rising competition from mobile IP technologies in the newsgathering world.

Darren said: "SNG trucks will not go away because you will always need a truck somewhere where you haven't got a fibre connection. High bandwidth fibre remains the most effective way of delivering content as, although Wi-Fi hot spots do enable connectivity, they do not yet provide the same reliability or speed. The death of the SNG truck isn't upon us yet! If anything, it will just become more efficient at what it does."

Maximising the efficiency of uplinking is crucial for Sky. Darren said, "One of the costliest aspects of SNG newsgathering is the space segment, especially now with increased HD delivery. A truck may cost up to £2,500 per day without the space, which could be the most expensive part of the delivery.“

“With HD becoming more prevalent, we've got to a point where trying to get additional transponder space has become increasingly demanding because more people want more bandwidth. We've had to try to find efficient ways of doing HD transmissions into smaller bandwidth and obviously this is something all content providers are doing."

"If you look at anything that we're doing that is non-fibered we will absolutely maximise the efficiency of those uplinks by the best encoding we can - but we're still always mindful that we don't want to depredate and lose the quality of HD. This will always be fundamentally important in the way we deliver our pictures.”

He added, "The good news is that over the next few years the situation will only improve, when we get to Mpeg-5 with high efficiency video codecs. It's exciting because it means we can make more contributions via SNG trucks as we can improve the use of our transponder space.”

With the roll-out of 4G starting in UK, Darren questions how useful the new technology will be for Sky Sports, other than for basic newsgathering. He said, "4G is certainly quicker but the reliability is, in effect, no different to 3G, unless there is a way of ensuring there is always space available to essential users and the quality is always going to remain the same. At the moment there is no guarantee that 4G would not suffer the same contention issues as 3G when faced with a large scale event with many users trying to share data concurrently. In the face of such demand, it’s unlikely that you could be able to guarantee capacity levels for the duration of live broadcasts.”

Sky is constantly looking at new technologies and how it can improve its newsgathering services. Darren said: "The immediacy of news is such that we can't just rely on uplink trucks and we certainly can't rely on fibre positions so in the future you might see greater use of Wi-Fi spots. Sky utilises its own public Wi-Fi service, The Cloud, to connect and enable us to distribute content back to our content centres.”

"In the future, broadcast cameras will become a lot more IP-connected which will provide the ability to download content faster and give news crews much more flexibility in delivering content. This will improve over time and coupled with much more efficient coding methods will enable rapid delivery of high quality pictures to our newsgathering teams.”
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