IBC 2019 Reflections: Intelsat’s Bill O’Hara on the growth of blended-connectivity solutions

IBC 2019 marked the European debut of IronRoute, Intelsat’s new joint solution with Dejero that offers full-time blended connectivity and cloud-based content-distribution via a mix of broadband, cellular (3G, 4G, 5G), and satellite connectivity.

IronRoute, which debuted earlier this year at NAB, follows in the footsteps of CellSat, a similar blended-connectivity offering aimed at the occasional-use market that was launched in partnership with Dejero in 2017.

Intelsat’s GM of Media Bill O’Hara at IBC 2019

SVG sat down with Intelsat GM, Media, Bill O’Hara to discuss the new IronRoute platform, the benefits of blended-connectivity solutions for media organisations, how IBM Watson’s AI technology is boosting Intelsat’s solutions, and more.

What are some of Intelsat’s primary themes this year at IBC?

This is a really exciting show for us. I believe that we are coming to market with a really, really compelling media ecosystem where we’re beginning to integrate some of the new products and services that we’ve been developing — like IronRoute and CellSat — and telling the story of how it integrates with our core business, 40 video neighborhoods we have around the world, and the ability to monetise your content with almost every pay-TV operator around the world and globally.

To me, that’s extremely exciting because I think that that’s something that the industry needs. The industry needs a simplified, consolidated workflow that allows them to do all the things that they’re doing in today’s marketplace in one place – whether that’s traditional distribution, distributing to OTT platforms, different processing requirements, or occasional use. We want to bring that all into one unified managed service that makes sense for our customers – that’s our goal. The things that we’re demoing here at IBC go a long way to accomplishing that goal.

So what specific products are you demonstrating here at the show?

We’re demonstrating CellSat [for occasional use] and we’re demonstrating IronRoute for our full-time services. We’re showing how both of those can feed into our core business, as well as feed into our next-generation services that we’re working on with IBM Watson.

First of all, we have an IronRoute node here and we’re managing the connectivity coming into the booth, and we are stacking together LTE and broadband and are able to show a perfect HD live feed in our booth using our managed service despite the fact that it is a very, very difficult environment to get enough connectivity. So I think that that illustrates the value profit quite well.

Here at our booth and at IBM Watson’s booth, we also are integrating our connectivity solutions into some of the Watson workflows that IBM has established. So that’s extremely exciting to be able to integrate our traditional satellite services as well as some of the blended conductivity services that we brought to market with these next-generation processing services.

Can you provide an example of how IBM Watson can be integrated with Intelsat’s services?

One really good example is we can take a feed that we downlink anywhere in the world, bring it into our IronRoute next-generation connectivity system, and simultaneously send it to another teleport where it goes up onto a video neighbourhood, while simultaneously ingesting it into IBM, while also simultaneously sending it to a discrete endpoint that may not have great connectivity, such as our booth here at IBC. That’s what we’re demonstrating here. A network that comes off of our core value proposition can also be entered into a whole other ecosystem that our customers have had to deal with separately in the past. We can now offer one single pane of glass to manage all of that, which I think is extremely exciting.

Our partnership with Dejero is largely around managing connectivity and that allows us to choose the best combination of connectivity at any moment to solve for the customer’s application. It is a cloud-native platform, so your content is going through the cloud and, therefore, it would make sense to start utilising some of those cloud services. In this case, we’re working with IBM to essentially hand-off that content into the IBM workflow where it then is processed, chunked, integrated into a CDN, and streamed to the phone, for example.

Since IronRoute launched at NAB earlier this year, how has the market reacted and have you seen its customer base grow?

Yes absolutely. We are now deployed in 14 different locations in deep beta trials with our customers and we’ve had excellent feedback so far. We have customers that are utilising it on a daily basis. We’re continuing to work with our customers on the value proposition because this is a different conversation from what we typically offer. So I think we’ve progressed extremely well with IronRoute over the course of the last few months and we’re looking forward going into the fall with a lot of momentum.

Any big developments or updates on the OU side of Intelsat’s business?

It’s obviously an extremely important and strong part of our business that we’re excited to continue. One of the interesting things is that we are seeing growth in the demand for cloud connectivity in parallel to the traditional OU backhaul. That’s a perfect example of us also trying to capture an adjacency and to simplify that adjacency into one solution for our customers. We have customers who are occasional use principally but are now looking also for duplex cloud connectivity. So not just sending something back, but also having some sort of duplex IP connectivity, which is perfect for the type of application that we’re providing for our customers via the IronRoute solution as well as our traditional OU. So those things go very well together.

How do you see this playing out in the next two to three years as more media organisations look to virtualise their facilities?

There absolutely does continue to be a trend towards virtualisation for traditional broadcast functions — for playout as well as REMI. But I think that the real growth and the real migration will happen as non-tier-one broadcasters begin to have reliable and robust connectivity to the cloud to access these types of services. We’re positioning ourselves in a way to help enable them by the types of services that we’re offering through IronRoute and CellSat. We believe that we can help enable cloud connectivity for our customers that is tailored to video and allows them to exploit some of these services that the cloud providers are offering for video. For broadcasters in Latin America and in Africa — and other areas where connectivity is challenging — I think you’re going to see a major increase in the cloud for broadcast services.

How are you seeing the growth of remote production impacting your business?

Connectivity is the foundational enabler of REMI. So, in order to facilitate more and more REMIs, we need to be able to provide that foundational connectivity, even when satellite by itself could be a cost barrier in some cases. Similar to how we are enabling broadcasters to access to the cloud via our connectivity, we feel the same way about our ability to offer really reliable big pipes for REMIs at very attractive price points by leveraging multiple types of connectivity as opposed to just one type.


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