New London office for BSI reveals techno-cultural differences

George Bernard Shaw, who famously described England and America as “two countries separated by a common language,” might have liked to try that with a soldering iron, writes Dan Daley. With the announcement that Broadcast Sports, Inc. (BSI) has now opened a London-area office to service the UK and Europe with microphone systems and other wireless rigs, they’ll experience the fullness of that ironic disparity.

“The big difference in our model and how they tend to do [equipment rental] over there is in the service presentation,” explains Clay Underwood, BSI’s technology development manager. “In the US, we offer turnkey type service – a client calls us with a specific need, we take care of all of the it, including the equipment, the interfacing of it, all the logistics and the shipping, the frequency coordination and if necessary the operators for the equipment.

“In the UK it’s more of a dry hire proposition, we supply the gear but not necessarily the expertise and they have staffers on their end who will operate it. One of the biggest hurdles going in is that we’ve designed so much of our equipment packages to provide a very specific type of service and clients won’t necessarily know how to maximize its use so there will be a bit of a learning curve. We’re feeling it out, we knew that going in.”

One of the strategies to address this has been to add their local staff – in addition to newly installed director of technical operations Tony Valentino, two applications engineers will also be available to accompany BSI’s rigs on location to provide on-site “consultancy” for systems assembly, operation and integration into the larger network.

Underwood calls it a hybrid solution, sending staffers who will provide guidance and training but not necessarily hands-on operation, with the intent of having those same clients become familiar with BSI technology designs and configurations and being able to, in the future, send the packages out without additional human assets.

“That’s the hybrid scenario we’re hoping is the model for the UK,” says Underwood. “The next time the same system is shipped to the same client, they’ll already be familiar with it.”

That’s a reasonable expectation in Europe and the UK, where the preponderance of state-owned broadcasters means that operators will likely be consistent from game to game, perhaps more so than in the freelance technologist culture of the US broadcasting business.

“Setting up and sending out proprietary systems has been our business model for 27 years,” Underwood states. “The client says we need a solution, our engineering staff designs and develops one [from multiple components] and we hand it off to our guys in the field to deploy. That’s the model we have to find a workaround for [in the UK].”

However, as a solution builder for what he calls “the first quarter mile,” Underwood says BSI’s assemblies are designed to bolt on to the larger systems used at sports and other events, and are agnostic to transport system whether they be MADI over fibre or plain old copper. BSI is also finding a more orderly wireless spectrum environment to build their wireless packages for, the White Spaces issue being a purely American one, and compared to the closer control of spectrum by governments in Europe, and a little more predictability about commercial use of spectrum that might encroach on professional applications.

“There will still be different bands to adapt to, certainly, and the same issues there with UHF allocation as we get in the States,” says Underwood. “But we’ll still be able to do the frequency spectrum shifts we’ve done in the past to get around problems.”

Underwood was referring to a tactic they regularly use for large-scale RF deployments. In order to reduce potential RF interference, BSI developed and deployed RF systems that legally operate outside of standard broadcast frequencies, using a combination of off-the-shelf and custom-designed systems that operate in spectrum licensable for temporary use through the Aerospace and Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Special Temporary Authority (STA) approval process. This process gave BSI access to the spectrum between 1435 -1525 MHz and 2360 – 2390 MHz with reasonable assuredness of interference-free operation.

The mobile video transmission portion of the service was provided using Link L1500 HD digital microwave transmitters on five handheld cameras. A distributed receive infrastructure was deployed to provide overlapping coverage areas throughout the facility. BSI designed and manufactured this system to allow for small footprint receive sites, connected via fibreoptic cable, to deliver two discrete slices of spectrum back to a mobile unit in the television compound from each designated site.

BSI’s UK shop is another kind of hybrid: The equipment being stocked is about half derived from its US inventories and half sourced overseas. Underwood expects that, at least for smaller projects, BSI may look and operate more like a typical UK dry hire shop than its usual turnkey approach. “A lot of that will be driven by finding the right price points for everything,” he says. But with the Summer Olympics less than a year away now,” he adds, “We’re already off to a good start.”

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