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Good Show - Media majors move to fully converged IP networks

November 15, 2009



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Aiming to provide reliable news and updated content, media and entertainment companies have come a long way in their use of technology. Far from the days of desktop computers, fax machines and teleprinters, these establishments today work on fully converged IP networks.

Technology has penetrated every level of operation in media organisations. To cite an example, the use of a satellite-based system for gathering news has become widespread. Satellite transmission provides a practical and almost spontaneous method for sending information to any newspaper across the country. Satellites are used to relay breaking news or special events as they can be transmitted from a vehicle equipped with a satellite news gathering (SNG) system to a studio for immediate editing and broadcasting.

Also, several mobility applications such as mobile email, mobile data connectivity and corporate intranet have become popular. Media houses are equipping their reporters with mobile smartphones and personal digital assistants, which support emailing facilities while on the go. Similarly, entertainment majors make extensive use of corporate intranet that helps and improves information sharing and collaboration across the organisation. Also, linking up to a corporate database helps to access all the information on the corporate network through a simple web interface.

The internet has emerged as an important news and information source. For media majors, apart from utilising features such as Google Reader and Yahoo! to gather news, nearly every traditional broadsheet reaches out to a wider audience via an online edition. Today, the internet provides the equivalent of 50,000 daily newspapers in all languages, including online editions of several print newspapers that have web editions.

For entertainment majors, the internet is a strategic business tool. Each company's web portal is used to showcase movies –­ current, upcoming or archived. This helps to reach out to a wide range of audiences both in India and abroad. The sites also provide other value additions such as photo galleries, wallpapers, screen savers, e-cards and trailers.

Companies in both these verticals are, therefore, investing heavily in upgrading their internal communication set-ups.Apart from standard email, the other network technologies in use include MPLS, VSATs, point-to-point Ethernet and ISDN. These not only provide reliable back-up and seamless inter-branch connectivity, but also afford the companies enough bandwidth for heavy applications such as video and audio conferencing.

Applications such as video and audio conferencing are widely used by both media majors and entertainment companies. Conferencing provides an economical connectivity medium and reduces travel time. Similarly, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) supports voice, video and data on the same IP network, and offers the ability to run applications such as unified messaging.

Similarly, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and vehicle tracking systems are common deployments. ERP helps obtain an end-to-end view across all lines of business and makes all relevant data and information available to key personnel at locations in different parts of the country. Also, SAP helps optimise systems by offering an enterprise-wide solution for all players in the value chain.Vehicle tracking systems, equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) device and compatible on both CDMA and GSM cellular platforms, help companies keep track of their news vans or content delivery channels. This helps media and entertainment majors improve flexibility, eliminates the need for expensive tracking and surveillance equipment, and increases operational efficiency.

tele.net carried out a survey amongst media and entertainment companies to assess their telecom requirements and the solutions adopted by them.

The following questions were asked in the survey:

  • What are the company's key technology requirements?
  • What mix of service providers and vendors is used?
  • What are the biggest concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure?
  • What are some of the software and enterprise applications that the organisaton has implemented?
  • Which network security tools has the organisation implemented?
  • What redundancy tools are being utilised by the company?
  • Which new product or service holds the most interest or relevance for the organisation?

  • Key technology requirements

    The results of the survey suggest that a robust and "always-on" communications backbone that facilitates streamlined connectivity and provides network redundancy while trimming overheads is a must for players in this space.

    To achieve this, most players in this space have opted for multiple wide area networks (WANs), international connectivity and last mile access technologies.

    For WAN connectivity, DLC (local loop), multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) and VSAT are the most widely deployed technologies, followed by pointto-point Ethernet and ISDN.

    While VSAT is primarily used for back-up and remote connectivity, ISDN is used for back-up and video conferencing, while MPLS provides a secure, scalable and cost-effective solution for interbranch connectivity.

    International private leased circuits (IPLCs) are the most popular international data connectivity service, followed by MPLS and IP-VPNs. For last mile connectivity, optic fibre is the dominant medium, followed by DSL.

    Wireless, primarily in the form of radio frequency (RF), is used in conjunction with either DSL or optic fibre by the companies surveyed for connecting their sites in remote areas and for back-up.Metro Ethernet is the second medium of wireless connectivity.

    Service providers and vendors

    Survey findings show that Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications (RCOM) are the dominant service providers for DLC (local loop), DLC (national long distance), MPLS and IP-VPNs. The services of Tata Communications are also used for MPLS and IP-VPN services, while those of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)/Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) are used for DSL (local loop) and ISDN services. Bharti Airtel and Hughes are popular providers of VSAT services.

    For last mile access, Bharti Airtel is the main service provider for DSL and wireless connectivity, while RCOM predominantly provides optic fibre connectivity, followed by Tata Communications.BSNL/MTNL is being used in the metro Ethernet space.

    Issues and concerns

    Eight of the 12 media companies surveyed stated that they were fully satisfied with their current networks, while the remaining stated that their communications infrastructure required some degree of improvement. None of the respondents said that they were unhappy with their communications infrastructure.

    Asked to enumerate and rank their concerns, while eight of the 12 said they did not face any issue, four agreed that downtime was an issue followed by interoperability and disaster recovery.

    Similarly, while eight of the 12 respondents said they did not face any management-related issue, the remaining said that the increasing cost of infrastructure and network equipment was a key concern, followed by technology obsolescence.

    Software, mobile and enterprise applications

    The top five enterprise applications used by organisations in this vertical are bandwidth-hungry applications including audio and video conferencing, toll-free services, instant messaging, web conferencing and VOIP.

    In addition, respondents that have not deployed many of these applications are looking to expand their applications portfolios and deploy VOIP and toll-free services, web hosting and Web2.0 in the next 12 months.

    The less popular applications include telepresence and hosted messaging and collaboration. The respondents stated that cost is the inhibiting factor in deploying telepresence services.

    The survey findings indicate extensive deployment of mobile applications with houses are equipping their reporters with mobile smartphones and personal digital assistants, which support emailing facilities while on the go. most organisations using mobile email, mobile data connectivity and corporate intranet. Other popular applications in use include personal information management, conferencing on the mobile, push alerts, sales force automation and vehicle tracking systems.

    List of respondents

  • Business Standard, Apurba K. Kundu, Deputy General Manager, Systems
  • Mukta Arts Limited, Respondent
  • Rajshri Productions, Shashank Sathe, Head, IT
  • Reliance MediaWorks Limited, Respondent
  • Sahara India TV Network, R.S. Chauhan, Head, Engineering and Operations
  • Sri Adhikari Brothers Television Network Limited, Respondent
  • The Asian Age, Mohammad Wasim, Manager, Systems
  • The Indian Express, Sanjeeb Choudhury, Head, IT
  • The Pioneer, Senior Manager, Systems
  • The Statesman, Indranil Dutta, Chief Manager, IT
  • The Tribune, Manish Kalia, Manager, IT
  • Times Group, Akhil Chandra, Former General Manager, Telecommunications Media

    Location-based service was the least popular application.

    ERP, customer relationship management and supply chain management are the key software applications in this vertical, followed by business intelligence and inventory management.

    Network security

    All the companies in this vertical use firewalls and user authentication as network security solutions. Proxy servers are also a popular option, followed by operating system (OS) security patches, security audits, unified threat management and data encryption systems.

    Three of the organisations have concrete plans for implementing OS security patches, while six media and entertainment entities are looking to utilise proxy servers in their operations.

    Redundancy options

    Most companies surveyed have a robust redundancy infrastructure in place.

    Mirror servers were the most popular redundancy option with eight respondents utilising it, followed by disaster recovery (five of the 12 companies).

    The way forward

    Companies in the media and entertainment vertical have a clear-cut idea of which product or service to implement in the future. However, a few issues and concerns do remain. The respondents elaborate on the benefits of certain components such as managed services and disaster recovery.

    For example, Sanjeeb Choudhury, head, IT, at the Indian Express, says, "Service levels have been as per our expectations. However, there are a few unresolved areas. For example, at times, it is difficult getting services from the vendor.Once the payment is made, the vendor performs at his own pace and we are left running from pillar to post, trying to multi-task and arrange for different things."

    With regard to new products and services, Akhil Chandra, former general manager, telecommunications, at the Times Group says, "The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has already cleared unified messaging and I am looking forward to it very keenly. It now has to be cleared by the Department of Telecommunications. Unified messaging, in combination with Wi-Max and 3G, will make a significant impact in our organisation. There are also `green technologies' like virtualisation and cloud computing.We have not introduced these yet but are looking forward to doing so in the near future. We are looking to deploy Wi-Max soon. In the coming year, we also expect RF and 3G to pick up in a big way for video conferencing for mobile workers. It will provide greater efficiency to mobile workers and they will be able to view video clips and transfer files wherever necessary. This will give a tremendous fillip in terms of our value chain and supply chain management."

    Choudhury agrees, "On the hardware side, we would like to deploy the very latest in server operating systems, desktops and other peripherals. On the software side, we do not have much requirement as ours is a comprehensive and cohesive infrastructure. We have achieved seamless connectivity, both internal and interbranch, and going forward, will continue to deploy the very best."

    R.S. Chauhan, head of engineering and operations at Sahara India TV Network, however, claims, "In terms of technology, we do not need any new component as such. Our existing infrastructure is perfect, its functioning and performance are at optimal levels; so I do not see any reason to put in a new technology and try to make it work. In a broadcast scenario, when the existing technology is fine and we are achieving 99.99 per cent uptime 24x7, there is no reason to change it."

    While managed services may not have caught on extensively in this segment, a few respondents have gained substantially from its usage. For example, Choudhury says, "We have deployed managed services for our online servers, our online portals and websites. This has afforded us multiple benefits. For instance, we can manage these servers remotely, without devoting all our time to the same. This helps us prioritise according to the criticality of the task at hand."

    To conclude, it is evident that after a relatively slow start, technology has become an integral component of the business strategy of every media and entertainment major in the country.



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