Venue Q&A: Artel Video Systems’ Richard Dellacanonica

Local-loop circuits, or first- and last-mile connectivity, are pivotal for sports broadcasters looking to transport high-quality video between two points via direct fiber as easily and efficiently as possible. For more than 30 years, Artel Video Systems has been a leading global provider of broadcast-quality media-transport solutions for direct fiber, IP, and managed optical networks and a primary supplier of hardware for local loop.

SVG sat down with Richard Dellacanonica, president of Artel since 2004, to discuss the state of local loop, how 4K will factor into the market, and what the future holds for sports broadcasters.

Richard Dellacanonica, Artel

Richard Dellacanonica, Artel

What is the current state of local loop, and how does Artel fit in?
We are the dominant player on the equipment side of it. Local loop has been a product that the major telcos have been very active [in] for about 20 years, and Artel has always been a major supplier of the equipment for that. [Now] there are new suppliers in the market, [such as] cable businesses, [that] have a telco side to them, and so that market is starting to actually get new competitors in it for the first time in, basically, 20 years. That’s been one of the changes on that side of the industry.

Sports broadcasters and venues are playing a huge part in that. What are they looking for?
They haven’t yet gone up to 4K. Their first thing was to get HD years ago. They got that, and now they’re looking at 3G — 3G has been pretty much a bust; it hasn’t been anywhere near what everybody expected that it would be — and then 4K. You hear about it, but I just don’t think it’s real in local loop for an awful long time for a lot of reasons.

4K is the big buzz word, but uncompressed 4K? There’s just no infrastructure to transport it. Will 4K be going across local loop? Yes, but it will be compressed. So 4K is going to drive a tremendous amount of new compression technologies both on the distribution side, which is HEVC and all that, [and] on the contribution side of using JPEG2000.

What might 4K do to the market?
The difference between SD, HD, and even 3G on the technology side is incremental changes in how the network does its job. It’s a little bit bigger pipes, but you can use the same optics. It’s a little better version of the [previous] one; there’s no dramatic revolutionary shift in how you transport.

4K [is] so much larger: it’s now 12 gigabit. There’s no infrastructure in the world designed on 12 gigabit. You’ve got 10-gigabit Ethernet, which isn’t 12 gigabit. Transporting uncompressed 4K is going to be a dramatic shift, so I just don’t think it’s going to happen as fast as people want it to happen. The hardware isn’t there; manufacturers haven’t come out with chip sets yet. The challenge is in all parts of electronics. You go from a 3-gigabit signal to a 12-gigabit signal; it’s a tremendous change in technology. It’s not incremental, it’s revolutionary in how we do our job as vendors to that market.

What does the emergence of reliable and inexpensive MPLS networks and optical backbones do to the market?
This is going to be a challenge to some in how local loop does its business. If you look at most of the designs for a sporting event, they’ll use local loops to get from the stadium out to wherever they want to go. From that point, they compress and send that across their long-haul networks, and that’s really been the model. Whether it was a satellite uplink or whatever, it was this local-loop, first-mile and last-mile content.

Now, with the ability to put these reliable networks all the way to the sporting facility, you say, why am I doing local loop when I can go all the way right out the sporting facility with an IP backbone and cut off that local-loop part of it?

We, as a hardware vendor, see both risk and upside to that. The risk being yes, we’ll start losing local-loop circuits we were normally getting from the telcos. The upside is, this requirement is well-suited with the kind of technology that Artel does, which is what’s called “edge products.” In the past, you had to have a video-transport network that was a closed network; in other words, it was all their boxes everywhere, and they had their own proprietary way of moving the video around from box A to box Z. It was a very vendor-specific, proprietary, closed world. What MPLS and optical backbones do is, I can pretty much use anybody’s product on the edge and ride on these MPLS and optical backbones. [It] really changes the way the market looks at itself.

So, in your opinion, what is the long-term future for local loop?
It’s going to always exist because it’s cheap, inexpensive, [and] reliable, but some of the market won’t grow as much as it used to because of the ability to bring the network all the way out to the edge. But long-term local loop will always be around because it’s just so simple, so inexpensive, so reliable. In two or three days, you can get it for short-term events like the Super Bowl without a problem.

It’s got some risk in its growth — [it] has been growing pretty well over the years — but what it does is so simple and so reliable, it’s never going to go away. Everybody sings the death of local loop, and, as one of the primary vendors for it, I [think] you really can’t replace it as much for certain applications. You got a piece of fiber between point A and point B, there’s nothing simpler than just lighting it up.