Information is Distraction?

A bold statement, followed by a complaint about too much time spent on iphones, got me thinking. In the “information age” am I better off or am I just more distracted?

Sure, there are a million ways I could be distracted: an endless stream of useless Tweets rolling through my Android or hundreds of pages of Will and Kate gossip and commentary about M.I.A. flipping the bird at the Superbowl. But is that really what the information age is all about?

After all, we are in the information business. For me it takes the form of satellite but it’s really all about the info. Knowledge is power and now that power is convenient. How often have you saved hours of research with a simple Google search? Honestly, it seems like cheating when my kids get to use Google for their homework but, in the “real world” that’s how we live now too. When I think about all the times I get to genuinely help people with information, I feel good. Just last year we had the privilege of helping FEMA provide needed assistance after Irene’s floods, we got to connect people with their communities with live news reports after the Joplin tornadoes and we got to unite paintball fans around the world watch a sport event not previously telecast. Sometimes the information is really important and sometimes it’s just good fun.

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Why Do We See Satellite Webcasting Tripling In The Next Year?

Satellite webcasting is hot! Fueled by explosive growth in online video and video on demand, what is driving this phenomenal growth?

Leading the charge, the youth of America are adopting online TV in huge numbers.  A Retrovo report discovered that a whopping 29% of the under 25 crowd get all or most of their TV online.  ( Read more: But online video isn’t just for kids, with so many devices and so much online video content to choose from, PC’s, laptops, phones, tablets and Ipods are all delivering video that used to belong exclusively to TV.

Ironically, this growing demand for online TV and online video drives the trend of online content moving back to the TV.   According to research firm Display Search, in 2010, 21% of all the TVs that were sold came with an Internet connection.  By 2014 they estimate that more than 50% of all televisions in the marketplace will offer Web services.

live surfing satellite webcasting
Live webcast audiences are moving to Internet enabled TV’s

Live webcasting content is growing in popularity too.  You don’t have to look hard to see the evidence of demand for live webcast events.  Enter into your search engine the name of any major sports apparel or energy drink company and “webcast” and you’ll find live webcast events.  Most of them delivered free thanks to sponsor dollars.  Its easy to understand how the live webcasts draw in young fans and why they want to watch them on the big screen from the comfort of the family room couch.

Satellite webcasting enriches live event content by making commercial grade internet access available virtually anywhere.  High quality, dedicated bandwidth is what makes it possible for production companies need to deliver their content back to the CDN for worldwide distribution.

Triple Digit Growth in Satellite Webcasting

From our perch here in the satellite industry we’ve seen webcast related revenues triple since 2009 and with a significant growth recently.  Webcasters are getting more sophisticated in their production and delivery.  Its now common to deliver webstreaming video in multiple formats ranging from iphones to HD.

No doubt about it.  From snow covered slopes to sandy shores and everywhere in between, dedicated IP satellite service delivers the live webstreams viewers love.   Satellite webcasting is the hot growth industry.


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Satellite Webcasting: Is My Connection Fast Enough?

Webcast Over Satellite Delivers Your Favorite Sports And Events
Webcast Over Satellite Delivers Your Favorite Sports And Events

If you are doing satellite webcasting, you may be wondering, “Is my connection fast enough?”  The beauty of satellite is that you can get Internet connectivity just about anyplace to deliver your webcast event.   Figuring out how much satellite bandwidth you really need can be a little tricky though.

The truth is that satellite internet can’t quite achieve the same speeds as terrestrial  internet.  We can however, achieve the same throughput.

Why?  There is an natural delay in every satellite connection of about 500- 600 milliseconds resulting from the time it takes for a radio signal to travel the 46,000 mile round trip from the earth, to the satellite and back again.   So, a traditional “speed test” that you run on your home or office computer, will never give a true report of the amount of data passed in one second.

The throughput is the amount of data that can be sent in a one second period.  So for a 1 Mb/s satellite connection, the “speed test” may show a lower data rate, but 1 Mb/s of data can still be transmitted in a one second period.  The second just begins 500 milliseconds later.

Satellite webcasting antenna and electronics
Satellite webcasting equipment connects to your encoding hardware or computer with LAN cables

Ok, so now that we’ve defined the difference between speed and throughput, let’s answer the question.  Is my connection fast enough?

The great news is that your viewers will never notice that 500 millisecond delay.   The buffering of the video takes much longer than that and will be imperceptible to the end user.

What matters most when you are webcasting over satellite is the throughput.  How much do you need?

Your encoding software or hardware lets you choose an encoding data rate for your live webstream.   If you are using multiple streams, add up the streams.  Then you need to plan for overhead.   Overhead is additional bandwidth which is required to send the various commands used to communicate between devices and to provide error correction  (error correction ensures that the data arrives accurately and complete at its destination.)   A couple of rules generally apply.  1) larger encoding streams require more overhead and 2) shorter buffering times require more overhead than longer buffering times.   Your satellite engineering team can help you determine how much you need.


engineers testing satellite webcasting
Testing on the bench for a flawless field production

We just can’t overstate how important this step is.   There are so many variables going into every webcast stream that settings can change, including the amount of total bandwidth required for a successful satellite webcast.

Test by setting up the actual stream sizes you plan to use for the event.  Use a similar video content (ie; if you will stream high action video, test with high action video) and run an end to end test.  Its so much easier to make adjustments to bandwidth, settings and other variables before you get out into the field.   And you can feel confident in the performance of all equipment and services working together.

Here’s to successful satellite webcasting!


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How Much Bandwidth Can I Get On A Portable Ku Antenna?

Great question.  A portable Ku antenna can deliver a pretty big satellite internet pipe: enough to support a large command center and staff with internet and phone service or deliver HD broadcast video.   The amount of uplink and downlink bandwidth you can send and receive on the antenna is dependent on several variables but there is a range of service that as a client, you should be able to anticipate that a service provider can offer for a portable size antenna.

What is a portable antenna? I would define a portable antenna as one that can either

Vehicle Mount Antenna on Standard SUV
1.2m antenna fits on standard SUV factory luggage racks

a fly away antenna that can be assembled by a single person, or a vehicle mount antenna that fits on top of standard consumer vehicles like vans or SUV’s.  For all practical purposes, a portable antenna is 1.2 meters or smaller.

What factors determine how much bandwidth you can receive on your antenna?

The size of your antenna, which satellite you are on, your location, the power of your amplifier, the size and power of the antenna you are sending and receiving to, the modem you are using and the bandwidth caps imposed by the service provider to name a few.

Don’t worry, you won’t need to know all that!  Just tell your service provider exactly what you want to do and where and they will recommend appropriate equipment configurations and prepare a link budget calculation to meet your needs.

How much bandwidth can you anticipate on a portable Ku band antenna?

In general, smaller antennas will provide a smaller link.  Assuming that you are using a service which uses their own hub antenna to send and receive signals from yours, you might anticipate the following ranges on these size antennas.  Keep in mind, these are ballpark figures and will vary based on the above variables.

  • 75 cm Ku antenna – up to 2 Mb/s uplink/downlink
  • 96 cm Ku antenna- up to 7 Mb/s uplink/downlink
  • 1.2 m Ku antenna- up to 10 Mb/s uplink/downlink

These are NOT hard and fast rules.  You may get more or less throughput on any of these sizes.

What if you are quoted a lot less bandwidth?

  • Ask your provider what the reason is.  Be patient with the answer.  Trust that the provider understands what is capable with the resources they have available under the conditions you specify.
  • Ask if there are any upgrades available such as higher power or a larger antenna that would accomplish your goal.
  • Ask if the limitations are physical or specific to the provider’s network.
  • Talk to other providers to see if there are other options available.  For example: a different satellite may offer better coverage of your geographic area or a different technology may allow larger uplink streams.
  • Be prepared to pay more for additional power, modem upgrades or other boosts to your available bandwidth.
  • Know that all components are not created equally.  Higher quality antennas or electronics often deliver better performance and can be much more reliable.

Often times, performance comes down to network design.  There are many satellite networks out there, each designed for a specific style of usage.  Ask questions of providers to determine what type of client they aim to serve.  A network designed for high bandwidth uplinks will probably not be the most cost efficient choice for a rural small business whose primary applications are email and websurfing.  And by comparison, a network designed for the rural small business or home user will probably not meet the needs of public safety officials for emergency communications.

But I don’t need that much bandwidth on my antenna?  Why did they quote me a larger antenna than I need?

There are many good reasons to use a larger antenna.  Feel free to ask your provider why they recommended a particular antenna size.   Often, unless there is a specific need for a very small antenna, a provider will recommend a little big larger than the minimum requirement.  Why?

  • Cost – There is always a balance between antenna size and the power required for operation.  Often the larger antenna costs less than increasing the power.
  • Reliability – a larger antenna can allow for additional overhead during rainstorms or other interference.

Chances are there is a network and an antenna that can meet your project requirements.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the engineers.  As satellite providers our goal is to deliver high quality, cost effective satellite service and equipment in a portable format to meet your needs.


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On Call Communications Image Gallery: Joplin, Missouri

QuickSPOT provides vital communications in Joplin, MO
IP Satellite communications provide vital logistical support in the moments following a storm

Aftermath of the Joplin, MO tornadoes

Picking up the PieceTrucks stacked by the storm.  Joplin, MO
Looking up at the Joplin Hospital the morning after the storm
Looking up at the Joplin Hospital the morning after the storm
scattered belongings - Joplin Tornadoes
No Place to Sleep
On Call Communications cameraman, Joplin, MO
On Scene – Joplin, MO
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Do I Really Need To Rent A Satellite Truck To Do A Webcast?

Not necessarily.  Save money and streamline your webstreaming productions  over IP satellite links using smaller, more portable VSAT antennas.  In fact, IP satellite options  offer significant advantages over the larger satellite trucks.

Portable VSAT Antenna for Satellite Internet
Portable VSAT Antenna for Satellite Internet

Encode your webcast directly from the venue. IP Satellite service allows you to encode your video for the web at your venue and send it directly to the content distributor.  This saves bandwidth, expense and latency.  With most satellite trucks, you would need to send MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 video at a higher bandwidth to a location which can decode the video and re encode it into a web format for delivery to the CDN (Content Distribution Network.)  IP satellite allows you to eliminate the middle step.

Webcasting or webstreaming video usually requires less satellite bandwidth than broadcast MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 video.  That means you can use a smaller antenna or lower power transmitters than a satellite truck typically carries.

Fly away or other portable VSAT antennas can accomplish the job and are easily transported to your webcast location.  This is especially convenient for more getting satellite IP connectivity to remote venues like mountain concert locations or beach surfing events where you want to bring connectivity all the way to the sand.

Automated satellite antennas can save a lot of money too since they can frequently be operated by the production team without having to hire a satellite operator to setup and supervise the equipment.   The daily rental cost is significantly less than a satellite truck rental.  Pre-configuring and testing  the complete webstream path in advance of the event helps ensure a successful production on an automated system.



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Tornadoes Take Communities By Surprise; On Call Communications Mobilizes Satellite Internet And Phones

The tornadoes striking Alabama last week took residents by surprise but On Call Communications was prepared to assist the communities with emergency satellite communications.   On Call and several of its customers mobilized quickly upon news of the disaster to begin restoring communications services and providing relief crews with vital phone and internet services.

The Federal Government has been deploying many Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers equipped with On Call’s QuickSPOT™ automated satellite system.  The system provides  IP satellite service which can be used for internet access, networking, voice and fax lines.   On Call provides satellite space and technical support for the deployments.

Corporate disaster recovery teams are also relying on On Call’s QuickSPOT™ system to restore downed communications lines in the affected areas.

The QuickSPOT™ IP satellite network is different from shared satellite service networks in that it provides dedicated satellite space for clients to operate on.  Demand for satellite space peaks immediately following emergency situations as public and private users compete for available satellite space.  QuickSPOT™ clients don’t have to worry about network congestion; their dedicated links guarantee them the needed satellite space until they release it, ensuring that their applications run as quickly and as smoothly during critical responses as they did on low demand training days.  Additionally, On Call’s  dynamic bandwidth pool allows additional space to be made available as demand increases.  There is no finite limit on the bandwidth available to QuickSPOT™ clients.

On Call’s support team is proud to be able to assist the affected communities and the dedicated men and women in the field restoring service and providing assistance to the victims of the storm.

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IP Satellite Played Major Role In Press Coverage of the Golf Tournament at Torrey Pines

Tiger Woods Press Conference Over IP Satellite
Tiger Woods speaks to the press over IP Satellite uplink

ON CALL COMMUNICATIONS IP based mobile satellite delivers the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Press Coverage to ESPN and to CNN Espanol.

Irvine, California – (February 4, 2011) – When veteran cameraman Ed Baier of San Diego could not use a fiber connection at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines he turned to On Call Communications, a leading provider of IP (Internet protocol) mobile satellite solutions, for help.  On Call facilitated the connection for Baier’s live remote and press conference coverage for ESPN and CNN Espanol.

Baier, a freelance cameraperson, has covered the Torrey Pines golf championship held near San Diego for 10 years.  He provides his clients live remotes and press conferences for the event, as well as highlights and interviews via taped feeds. In the past, he has sent the feed via fiber from the Media Center.  However, this year fiber was unavailable. After researching his options, he realized that using an IP satellite was the only other viable option given the tight time frame.  He contacted On Call Communications just days before the event. Despite the quick turnaround, On Call was able to provide him with a portable fly and drive antenna and the satellite bandwidth that he needed.

Fly and Drive IP Satellite Antenna
The compact Fly and Drive is convenient and so easy to set up

“The fly and drive antenna is convenient and so easy to set up,” explained Baier.  More importantly, the look of the image is comparable to the look that fiber gives you. I was able to use On Call to send the video to the Los Angeles Switch. Then the signal went by fiber to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT. There was no noticeable difference in video quality to Bristol.”

Baier continued. “I would definitely make using IP satellite a regular thing for Torrey Pines.  Nothing else is as simple or affordable. The merger between IP and broadcast is great.”

In addition to providing the antenna and satellite space, On Call also turned on the satellite remotely for Baier saving him set up time.  All the studio in Bristol had to do was hit record.

“We’re happy we could help Baier out in a pinch,” said Jim Gilbert, CEO of On Call. “Sometimes fiber isn’t available, especially for live events and events shot on location. On Call offers the best alternative, tailor-made solutions when HD-quality video is required that can be set up quickly and easily.”

“I was really happy working with the staff at On Call,” according to Baier. “They were great. It’s nice to work with a company that is so proactive and hassle free. With their help, a difficult situation turned into something that was quick, easy and without lots of paperwork.

About Ed Baier

Ed Baier is a veteran cameraman with AMV/HD Video Productions at 4628 W. Pt. Loma Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92107. He can be contacted at, 619-221-0036 Office, or 619-523-1571 Fax.

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6 Best Practices for Solid Live Reporting

Reporting live using satellite news gathering

Reporting live via satellite news gathering

As Seen in the RTDNA – Radio Television Digital News Association | Communicator

Live news coverage is a challenging pursuit. It requires news stations to plan for the unexpected. Well-run news stations can successfully capture these unplanned breaking news stories by implementing a series of best practices that always keep it prepared. On Call Communications, a leading provider of IP based mobile satellite solutions, spoke recently with client Marian Pittman, News Director for WSB-TV in Atlanta, about the best practices for live news coverage.

“There are probably five best practices in each area from talent, production, technology, etc.” according to Pittman. “I’ll talk about the practices that make live news engaging and informative although there will probably be more than five.”

What strikes us the most in our conversation is how many of the best practices have to do with the ability to manage people.

Hire and keep the best people.

First and foremost, it is crucial to recruit the right people. Hiring and retaining the top candidates requires critical thinking. A good news director needs to keep a watch list. The watch list contains candidates that show good promise, but are currently under contract elsewhere. Part of the news director’s job is to network with potential candidates through outside organizations, such as RTDNA, to be able to identify and build relationships with these prospects.

During the hiring stage, prospects should be interviewed by numerous members of the news team as part of the vetting process. It is vital that new hires be team players especially for the photographer/reporter teams. Once hired, invest in your best employees to help retain them.

Communicate with your team and give them accountability.

Straightforward communication prevents misunderstandings. Managers need to be aligned and clearly lay out goals and expectations on a daily basis. Then, the employees need to be held accountable. Accountability should not be mistaken as mere discipline. Positive responsiveness like praise must also be given and strengths recognized.

It is also very important to offer growth opportunities to internal candidates. It is key to motivating employees and fostering their loyalty. Pittman herself started on the floor crew and worked her way up to News Director through her recognized and proven performance.

Continue to invest in your employees through training.

The investment in employees should continue after they are hired to keep them up-to-date and on trend. Newsrooms should constantly invest in training on the latest technology and skill sets.

It is especially helpful to have someone working in the newsroom capable of training veteran news people on the latest technology such as shooting footage on iphones and editing on laptops. In Pittman’s case, one of her staff members serves this role in addition to his regular duties. This not only saves the company money on third party training, it also allows the trainer to better know his trainees strengths and weaknesses. It is also vital that there be continuous training around legal issues to maintain up-to-date and ethical standards in journalism. All of the training ultimately pays off as an investment in the newsroom’s employees’ careers.

Cast based on strengths.

Casting is a very important element of the newscast. WSB-TV holds an 8 a.m. conference call each day followed by a 9 a.m. editorial meeting. This meeting is used to match the strengths of the right person with the right story. The news director needs to know and assign the best people for crime stories, live newscasts, investigative reports, etc.

Live News Coverage Makes the Story More RelevantBe ready to go live.

WSB-TV has a fleet of 13 live trucks. The trucks use a variety of technology so the best technology is always available as the situation demands. It allows the station to go live a lot rather than prerecorded. The ability to go live makes news stories more compelling and also helps the station to meet its deadlines.

Know the power of television and practice ethical journalism.

Finally, ethical journalism is a best practice that cannot be stressed enough. Newsrooms need to understand the power of television. It makes a huge impact on a mass audience. It is very easy to destroy someone’s life through irresponsible, unethical reporting. Therefore, in addition to continuous ethics trainings, it is extremely important that newsrooms maintain several levels of editorial control and use well-seasoned journalists.

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Free Training for College Broadcasters on Live Satellite News Gathering System

IP satellite news gathering crewsLive broadcast news is changing rapidly and the newscasters of tomorrow will be telling the news remotely using vastly different technologies. Major networks will be looking for cameramen, reporters and technicians skilled  in the latest satellite and IP technologies to bring the news to the public. Seeing the need to train these broadcasters of tomorrow, On Call Communications has stepped up to the plate and will attend the National College Media Convention in Louisville,Kentucky to look for talented college broadcasters to train for use in its live news gathering system.

“We’ve seen a tremendous interest from the major networks in finding talented and IP savvy news teams.  There are real opportunities out there for teams like this to work directly with the networks to cover stories in their local markets.  It’s a win-win situation for the students, their schools and the networks.” said Jim Gilbert, CEO of On Call.

Free training and special discounts on satellite news gathering equipment are available  to interested college online and television media outlets as part of the initiative to train tomorrow’s broadcasters.

Meet On Call at the National College Media Convention in Louisville, Kentucky Wednesday – Friday October 27 – 29 in booth 2b to learn more about the college training program.

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