Teleport enterprise

by Staff Reporter | May 14th, 2012

Ahmed Al Muhaideb, vice president - IPTV & broadcasting services

Television has become less dominant in the business mix of teleport operators in recent decades as the industry has diversified into other vertical markets. But media and entertainment still contribute to nearly half the revenues of the top teleport operators. We look at two MENA-based teleports, in Dubai and Jordan, as they adapt to platform multiplicity and the changing economics of the region

The drive to the distinct antenna farm at Du’s teleport facility, Samacom, enroute to Jebel Ali Free Zone, takes you past construction sites suspended in motion – stark reminders of the recession that unfolded globally in the fourth quarter of 2007.

“That was an interesting time,” recalls Ahmed Al Muhaideb, vice president – broadcasting & IPTV services, du. “In 2008 we were expecting a dip in business. On the contrary, we grew.”

According to the World Teleport Association (WTA), future TV would include the move from HDTV to 3DTV, platforms that are multiplying to encompass internet delivery to the computer or tablet, streaming to the handheld device, downloading to PVRs, and over-the-top services that embed a Web browser and internet-delivered content into the familiar TV set.

Similarly Jordan was at the geographic epicentre of the Arab Spring. And yet, Jordan Media City’s CEO Radi Alkhas, speaking to SatellitePro Middle East on the growth opportunities in the region, says, “With the Arab spring, more commercial (private) TV channels are being established.”

The global teleport industry is not immune to external jolts. In fact, it is quietly preparing for years, away from the headlines, for the biggest jolt – the world of future TV. Akin to a tsunami – future TV encompasses all the radical changes occurring around the traditional business of linear television. According to the World Teleport Association (WTA), future TV would include the move from HDTV to 3DTV, platforms that are multiplying to encompass internet delivery to the computer or tablet, streaming to the handheld device, downloading to PVRs, and over-the-top services that embed a Web browser and internet-delivered content into the familiar TV set.

Savouring the challenge of future TV

As per the World Teleport Association’s (WTA) report titled: The Future TV and the Teleport, teleport operators and other content distribution service providers face challenges from future TV, but they are the kind of challenges a service provider hungers for: greater complexity, higher volume, challenges on margins but also opportunities to scale upward.

For us, upgrades are not a challenge – they are part of our business-as-usual operations.

Ahmed Al Muhaideb regards these radical changes as business-as-usual. He says, “For instance, five years ago, when the demand arose, we put the first HD signal on Arabsat. We are constantly upgrading our ground station facilities. For us, upgrades are not a challenge – they are part of our business-as-usual operations. In the past, TV stations were mostly MPEG-2, now they are MPEG-4 – we changed and adapted according to the demand.”

A glimpse into teleport technology

With the days of one analogue channel occupying one transponder long gone, a quick tour of du’s teleport at Samacom offers an insight into the advances in technology in the teleport sector. As you walk through the NOC where the channels are monitored 24/7, to the climate-controlled equipment area housing state-of-the-art DTH multiplexers, high power amplifiers, playout systems, spectrum analysers and hubs for enterprise customers, among other equipment, with built-in redundancy for every conceivable scenario, the robust sense of preparedness is unmistakable. The 16-channel new TV playout system with Omneon (harmonic) servers and Pebble Beach automation system will, according to Al Muhaideb, enhance the capability of the facility.

Spread over an area 150,000 sqm, the teleport houses an antenna farm currently numbering 33 with a satellite visibility arc that reportedly provides coverage over five continents. With an estimated 80 to 85% of the current revenues drawn from the broadcasting sector, Samacom broadcasts 227 channels and offers playout facilities to 16 of them. For occasional use, the facility has a driveaway SNG service. Having initially serviced the Dubai Media City in 2001, the facility, according to Al Muhaideb gets more than 50% of its revenues from outside the media city area. Globally ranked 9th by the WTA in terms of revenue, Al Muhaideb  believes the potential for growth is far from achieved.

He says, “From just five to six channels in 2001, we have grown to 227 channels. While I see this sector growing, we are experiencing growth in our enterprise sector as well.”

With plans to extend coverage to Africa (Arabsat5A), Europe (Eutelsat 13 deg and Yahsat), Australia and the Far East (Asiasat 5), apart from extending internet services via satellite, Alkhas of Jordan Media City, looks at the apparent disruption of linear TV as a undiluted opportunity.

The sectors of growth for our region include the move to HD, the backhauling of TV channels from European satellites to Asian satellites and vice versa, the increase in the number of television channels that cover the African continent and delivering TV channels from across the globe via internet or fibre

He says, “The sectors of growth for our region include the move to HD, the backhauling of TV channels from European satellites to Asian satellites and vice versa, the increase in the number of television channels that cover the African continent and delivering TV channels from across the globe via internet or fibre.”

Operationally positioned for change

Robert Bell, executive direction, WTA

As per the WTA report, teleport operators and other content management and distribution service providers believe they have found themselves in a sweet spot. Their existing ingest, management and playout infrastructure positions them to provide the complex range of services that the new media outlets need to deliver content. Far from being commoditised by future TV, they face a near-term future full of opportunity.

Robert Bell, director of the WTA calls the teleport operators the original entrepreneurial business of the satellite industry. “Building, launching and flying satellites is highly capital-intensive, which is why governments and big companies dominate. But the commercial teleport industry got its start when entrepreneurs in the US responded to regulatory changes by seizing the opportunity and going into the communications service business,” Bell says.

The daily rigours of operating a teleport

The challenges faced by teleport operators such as du and Jordan Media City that have broadcast as a major source of revenue, are more day to day. “Broadcasters demand very high availability rates. If you have a blackout for a few seconds, even at 2am in the morning, which is not their prime time viewing, they will not be happy. The other challenge is finding capacity on very short notice and ensuring that channels have backup facilities, if requested, in case of emergency situations such as a fire in their facilities and so on,” Al Muhaideb points out.

Broadcasters demand very high availability rates. If you have a blackout for a few seconds, even at 2am in the morning, which is not their prime time viewing, they will not be happy

With an availability rate of 99.98%, two generators other than the electricity supply from the city’s electricity board, nothing is left to chance at Samacom.

The phenomenon of jamming

However, there is very little you can do to prepare for a phenomenon that has arisen as a major challenge for teleport operators in the MENA region – jamming.

Of the daily challenges his operations face, Alkhas speaks of government regulations regarding content of television channels, the low technical quality of some channels and lastly, the increase of transponder interference from unknown carriers.

During the Arab Spring, at the height of the problem, Al Muhaideb’s team at Samacom alternated between frequencies to ensure continuity of broadcast. “We monitor the satellite spectrum constantly and we provide alternative capacity, if required,” says Al Muhaideb.

We monitor the satellite spectrum constantly and we provide alternative capacity, if required

While both teleport operators are diversifying into other verticals such as oil and gas, enterprise and government/ military, among others, broadcast remains the big revenue earner.

Radi Alkhas, CEO, Jordan Media CityDemand drives investment

Teleport operators, according to Robert Bell, have learnt the fine art of balancing the multifaceted strategies of specialisation and diversification. Al Muhaideb agrees and says, “We enjoy a close relationship with our broadcasters. We know their executives and other staff members on a first name basis. There are no surprises and it keeps us ahead. The quality of relationship with our customers has helped us get where we are. With in-depth knowledge of customer needs, we have the ability to cater to their demands and invest in technology appropriate to those needs.

The quality of relationship with our customers has helped us get where we are. With in-depth knowledge of customer needs, we have the ability to cater to their demands and invest in technology appropriate to those needs.

“As far as future TV is concerned, we are carriers and for us whether it is live TV or catchup TV, it is content that has to be carried efficiently and reliably. Demand drives investment. You cannot build a facility anticipating demand. Operators who do that will not be around for a long time.

“I have yet to see a requirement, over the years, that is unique. But we do not build before someone asks for it. And when there is demand, given our 365/24/7 nature of operations, our response time is very fast.”

While diversification continues in du’s teleport facilities in terms of co-location for enterprise customers, broadcast remains Al Muhaideb’s first love. “Our staff here, and me included, are from a broadcasting background, so we understand the rigorous demands of the sector.”

Among the many tasks on his ‘to-do’ list is the roll-out of digital terrestrial TV by 2013 and despite the shrinking in demand for terrestrial TV, Al Muhaideb believes that the sector will endure successfully owing to the lower rates for rights to be paid by broadcasters.

Robert Bell elaborates on this approach.  “The most successful teleport operators strike a fine balance between leadership and ‘followership’. Historically, they get into trouble when they invest too far ahead of the market. Instead, teleport operators design their facilities to be as flexible as possible and as lean as possible. They let the needs of their customers determine the configuration of their facilities.

“I recall advising on the business plan for a new teleport operator in the Middle East. The operator’s plan was to invest a very large sum of money in creating a complete technical infrastructure. I advised the company that customers would have their own requirements regarding modems, encryption, compression and other needs, and if they tried to make those decisions in advance, they would wind up buying a lot of equipment they did not need.”

The most successful teleport operators strike a fine balance between leadership and ‘followership’

Future trends for the teleport sector

Of the future trends in the business and speaking for the teleport industry at large, Bell says, “For today’s operators, the recession in the industrialised nations is finally affecting them, making things difficult in the short term. They are responding by finding ways to reduce operating costs and squeeze more productivity from the satellite and fibre capacity they buy. Longer term, teleport operators face the same challenges as everyone in the information and communications technology (ICT) business – rapid change in markets driven by the ICT revolution. In mature markets, traditional television distribution is not growing but demand for second-screen solutions, catch-up TV solutions and other kinds of interactivity are good for business.

 Longer term, teleport operators face the same challenges as everyone in the information and communications technology (ICT) business – rapid change in markets driven by the ICT revolution

Teleports excel at using technology to solve complex problems for their customers, and the need to provide video in any format, for any device, at any time is right up their alley.

Under its VSAT offerings, du provides integrated end-to-end solutions for corporate and enterprise customers, delivered over a redundant backbone infrastructure. “VSAT represents a significant addition to our corporate and enterprise offerings. It provides a solid new base from which remote businesses – such as those in the oil and gas industry – are able to ensure reliable, consistent communications at all times. It will  bring further convenience and flexibility to such industries,” said Farid Faraidooni, chief commercial officer, du.

Value added service

In addition to a teleport spread over 40,000sqm of land, operations such as Jordan Media City take justifiable pride in their value added service. Alkhas says, “Our main complex boasts two production studios of 600sqm in net floor area, along with control rooms and artists’ areas. The studios are used for the production of television series and talk shows. Also, two studios of 70sqm are used for interviews and news feeds. We have twenty post production editing suites furnished with the latest equipment.

“JMC has a nine-camera OB van equipped for sport and large events coverage, and a four-camera unit equipped with mixing, recording and editing facilities. We have a 1.9m flyaway SNG in both C and Ku bands. Our playout system is very sophisticated. JMC operates state-of-the-art ingest servers, archive systems and playout services for 90 channels.

“We have a number of earth stations for reception and retransmission from Asian and European satellites to Nilesat 101, 102, 104 and Arabsat 2B, Badr-4, Badr-6, Eutelsat (Hotbird) and Asiasat 5. In addition to this, we also have a fibre link connected to Globecast’s global network.”

With a burgeoning broadcast industry and the need to service expanding enterprise and government sectors, du has outgrown its current teleport. du has invested in a new, state-of-the-art playout system that will go on line before Ramadan, and plans to move the teleport to a larger, more secluded area.

Going forward, strategic partnerships forged with broadcasters, enterprise customers and satellite operators remain the cornerstone of the growth for teleports in the region.

Equipment at Samacom

  • Equipment in the NOC: TV Fibre system – Nevion, L-Band Router – ETL , SDI Router – Nevion-VIKINX
  • Multiplexers: Ericsson, Harmonic
  • Spectrum analysers: Agilent, SAT DSA
  • Systems integrators for the NOC: Globecomm Systems Inc ( GSI), Ericsson, Teksignal, Glocom-Dubai
  • Systems integrators for RF Systems: Globecomm Systems Inc ( GSI)
  • HD DTH compression equipment: Ericsson
  • Antenna manufacturers: Vertex RSI, Andrew (ASC), Prodelin
  • Play out Server: Omneon-Harmonic
  • Play out Automation: Pebble Beach
  • Amplifier systems: CPI, Xicom, and Codan
  • Up converters and Satellite Modems for Data: Comtech EFData, Vertex RSI
  • VSAT Systems: iDirect and Comtech
Copyright 2017 SatellitePro Middle East. All rights reserved. Product of CPI Media Group. For more information e-mail us at webmaster@cpimediagroup.com.
Privacy Policy