Fiber Optics: Making Light Work for Broadcasters

Fiber optic technology has been a part of the telecommunications industry since the 1970s, revolutionizing data transfer and ushering in the digital information age. Adaptation of this technology by the broadcast industry only began in earnest during the mid 1990s, as part of the move toward DTV and HD production. Since then, the use of fiber optics is now part of every aspect of content production and delivery.

Introduction

Remote productions have benefitted greatly from fiber optics, as venues have installed fiber networks for easy interfacing with OB vans and production equipment. Fiber connections are now routinely found everywhere on production and post-production equipment, including cameras, support gear and audio consoles, streamlining the set-up and operational process while lowering its cost. The broadcast industry has come a long way in adopting fiber, and now its uses spread far beyond the broadcast compound. Bexel ESS, the systems design and integration division of Bexel, explores infrastructure, adaptation of fiber and special systems and equipment throughout the venue.

Developing a comprehensive plan that tackles all the potential risks requires a few key considerations:

  • Do you share the backbone and pathways?
  • How do you manage the tight space in existing closet IDF’s and the MDF?
  • Who has access and during what times?
  • How do you track and manage changes?
  • Who provides maintenance and systems support?

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Adaptation of Fiber

Live sports and remote events present two excellent examples of how fiber has impacted the broadcast industry. Fifteen years ago, a company seeking to use fiber at a football game would need to run its own cable throughout the stadium. While fiber optics are significantly lighter and easier to run than copper, it was still considered unproven in the broadcast industry. Today, however, all arenas and stadiums include fiber as a standard component of everyday construction practice.

Leagues, teams, and events have pushed the need for optical fiber far beyond broadcast and backhouse IT systems. As IP has become more prevalent in moving video files, many of these systems rely on fiber as the primary method of transmission. Applications like VR, AR, Replay, Statistics, POS, Wi-Fi, Injury Video Review and Photo Press are not baseband HD/SDI, but data that requires a robust network of optical cabling throughout the facility.

One of the biggest revolutions with connecting equipment is the development of the small form-factor pluggable (SFP) or Mini-GBIC transceiver. Essentially, this device allows a digital signal to go from a fiber to a copper Ethernet line. SFP transceivers support SONET, Gigabit Ethernet, Fiber Channel and other communications standards, making the jump to another medium extremely easy.

Infrastructure

An infrastructure where both in-house IT, special systems and event infrastructure share the same cable, patch panels and IDF/MDF locations is typically the most cost effective, but not necessarily the most desirable. Since some systems will need to be left permanently patched for monitoring and updates even when not in use, the idea of rebuilding and changing the network topology for each event is not feasible.

In addition, sharing cable plant infrastructure can introduce security issues and network outages at the most critical times. Consideration should be given to sharing a high capacity backbone between common points in the infrastructure and then splitting it out to dedicated patching points for each functional use such as IT, house/event and league/team.

Consideration should be given to sharing a high capacity backbone between common points in the infrastructure and then splitting it out to dedicated patching points for each functional use such as IT, house/event and league/team.

Fiber Maintenance

Having a well-documented system that prevents abandoned or undocumented fiber from overtaking your cable plant is a necessary discipline to maximize the return on your installed cable plant. Optical technology is robust and reliable, and if given the appropriate amount of care, the lifespan can exceed 20 years or more, one of the characteristics that make it a smart investment. However, if simple maintenance is not performed, it can fall into disrepair and become unreliable. Fiber’s main nemesis is dirt. Keeping access panel doors shut, and replacing dust caps before and after use will pay dividends. Limiting access to sensitive areas of the cable plant installation will prevent bends, breaks and poor optical quality signals.

A Smart Investment

Optical infrastructures are used for a host of systems and solutions that look a lot more IT-centric than event and broadcast, and we are better prepared than ever to capitalize on this remarkable technology. The implementation of fiber for the live event industry has many benefits, including reduced setup time, improved distribution of signals, long cable runs without transmission loss and dramatically reduced weight. As signals continually require more bandwidth, and equipment aggregates more signals into a single transmission path, optical fiber will continue to be a reliable and robust method of transmission and distribution of broadcast signals. Over the next several years expect to see more equipment fiber enabled right out of the box, to some extent reducing the complexity even further by eliminating the need to convert signals after the fact.

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About Bexel ESS
Bexel ESS, a division of Bexel, and an NEP Broadcast Services Company, is the choice vendor for custom systems integration, managed services, and fiber-optic solutions for high-profile broadcasters and networks. Launched in 2012, Bexel ESS designs and installs complete, turnkey solutions for permanent facilities, major events, live game production, and enterprise markets. Bexel ESS pioneered the conversion of copper cable plant systems to optical fiber, and today specializes in design, implementation, and maintenance of broadcast cable plants.

About NEP
For over 30 years, NEP has been a worldwide outsourced technical production partner supporting premier content producers of live sports, entertainment, music and corporate events. Our services include remote production, studio production, audio visual solutions, host broadcast support, premium playout, post production and innovative software-based media management solutions. NEP's 3,000+ employees are driven by a passion for superior service and a focus on technical innovation. Together, we have supported productions in over 85 countries on all seven continents. NEP is headquartered in the United States and has offices in 24 countries. Learn more at nepgroup.com.

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