Monitoring systems should be an integral part of any IPTV infrastructure build right from the pre-deployment stage, says Simen Frostad. A digital media delivery system is a complex thing to construct and operate. Monitoring and analysis solutions exist, and at their best, they provide end-to-end visibility of the data and signal quality. But digital media […]
Monitoring systems should be an integral part of any IPTV infrastructure build right from the pre-deployment stage, says Simen Frostad.
A digital media delivery system is a complex thing to construct and operate. Monitoring and analysis solutions exist, and at their best, they provide end-to-end visibility of the data and signal quality.
But digital media operators should not just consider a monitoring system as a layer of technology to be bolted on for the operational phase, because without testing and monitoring during the pre-deployment, deployment and project phases, operators are storing up trouble and expense for later. Complex services using IP-based real-time and non real-time signaling cant be thoroughly evaluated by test suites alone: it is cheaper and much better to find out whats working efficiently as you build.
In the Middle East, where there is a lot of activity in the building of digital media networks but where most projects are in the pre-deployment, deployment and project phases, thorough and well-planned monitoring of infrastructure as it is built, will save operators time and money.
Its wrong to assume that a theoretical approach to infrastructure planning and deployment is enough. There is a tendency to assume that once the network is set up and connected and the green lights are on, things are fully operational. Even verifying newly installed infrastructure with test data is likely to be misleading, because it is often only when real-world conditions are applied that faults become apparent. Therefore, from the earliest stages of construction, a small but sophisticated monitoring set up combined with real-world data is the only way to be sure that network architecture is ready to go live.
The most cost-effective approach is to be sure that data is arriving in good condition as soon as an IPTV operator lays down or leases a transmission line and starts putting traffic through it. Building and verifying infrastructure can appear deceptively simple, but as operators too often learn, once operations are underway and subscribers are reporting errors, there is always uncertainty about how well their infrastructure is delivering the data.
A simple monitoring setup can be enough to test infrastructure during build and deployment phases, and if used correctly this will expose any issues that would otherwise go undetected until real operations began. Once the build and testing cycle is complete and the infrastructure has expanded to operational size, the monitoring setup can be scaled up with it, to provide full extensive coverage and deliver a comprehensive picture of the parameters operators need to keep an eye on.
One of the largest and most advanced digital media infrastructures in Europe to be built over the past couple of years serves as a good example of the evolution a monitoring system can go through. Virgin Medias initial deployment of a monitoring system was intended to provide operational monitoring and analysis, but engineers soon began to realise how useful a small set of monitoring tools can be in the build and testing phase. By testing at the earliest possible point of the build phase, the companys engineers were able to identify and correct potential problems before they become more expensive to deal with.
This approach can be applied by any operator constructing an IPTV system, to keep costs to a minimum in the early stages. All the monitoring probes used for testing can later be deployed as part of the larger system for operational monitoring.
Depending on the approach to infrastructure construction, operators can choose a small set of probes for monitoring each area of the system as they build it. When constructing their IPTV infrastructure, most operators will build a headend first to start generating some services, and in a normal build, it would make sense to deploy probes in the structure at this point to measure output of decoders, and test data before and after the content protection system.
Its important also to test data at the earliest possible point to verify its quality: here, testing can measure the quality of the data coming off satellite a step that is often neglected by operators, even in the operational phase, despite the inescapable fact that errors in the satellite signal will almost certainly be compounded further downstream, and errors downstream will be more time-consuming and costly to resolve. As the infrastructure build proceeds, monitoring probes can be deployed at each network location, giving the operator complete visibility over the data quality at each remote location before connecting a single customer.
Besides the testing rig of probes, a key requirement for thorough monitoring is to push the infrastructure up to operational levels of throughput, so that potential problems that can remain undetected at lower levels are revealed. The typical test data used to verify that infrastructure is working usually comes nowhere near achieving this: it will show that the infrastructure is working, but will not give an accurate picture of how well it is working. And once operational levels of data are being pushed through the system, its how well the infrastructure performs that determines the ultimate service quality.
As an example of the early-testing type of approach that can save operators time and money, verification of cabling connection quality can turn up errors during the build phase. The green light engineers see as they connect components should not be taken as a signal that all is well: when you plug in RJ45 or fibre optic connectors youll see a green light, but what you wont see is any wiring faults that can degrade performance at operational levels. To highlight bad wiring, you need to test the system with real-world data: running data through Copper Cat5 cable lines at 200 Mbit/s may not disclose an error, but at 800 Mbit/s peak data any deficiencies will start to become obvious with the right testing equipment. Deficient Ethernet cabling will often only reveal problems only when loaded with bursts at Gigabit speeds, and the same applies with Fiber Optic cabling, where even small fragments of dust on a connector will affect performance but this will not be apparent until the system is loaded with data at operational speeds.
Testing early and thoroughly isnt expensive. In fact, its a very obvious cost-saver, since its far quicker to isolate a problem in a small section of your infrastructure than try to track the source of a problem through a larger, complex system. For any operator now involved in constructing an IPTV system, the opportunity to learn from the experience of organisations which have benefited from monitoring systems during infrastructure roll-out should not be missed.
Simen K. Frostad is CEO of Bridge Technologies