Focus... The Importance Of Compression
author: Sandy Johnson, SatCom Global
For those units of the armed forces operating in remote parts of the globe, the ability to communicate with colleagues, friends and family has, until now, been restricted, due to affordability and the lack of communication channels.
However, there is a revolution currently taking place in the world of satellite communications. As a result, it is now possible for users who spend long periods of times in these distant locations, whether on land or at sea, to benefit from the high quality voice and data communications they have become increasingly used to using at home.
The key to this step change is compression. The latest data compression technologies provide two major benefits, which now makes the provision of advanced communications channels a viable proposition for command staff and individual military personnel.
First, the adoption of an advanced, flexible codec delivers a new level of high quality two-way voice and data communications in an easy-to-use and secure environment. At a fraction of the cost of existing satellite communications, this makes such affordable to all.
In addition, the technology is designed from the ground up to support ultra-efficient satellite communications delivery via both pre-paid and post-paid options. This provides the military and civil organizations alike with the flexibility and transparency to take back control of their telecoms costs.
Keeping In Touch
Staying in touch with family, friends, and colleagues has been difficult for those working in tough and out-of-the-way land-based or maritime environments. This has been especially problematic for military personnel operating in war zones in inhospitable terrains that are thousands of miles from home.
Individuals, often away for extended tours of duty and also attempting to save as much as they can to send money home and support their families, the options have historically been limited. In most cases, they have not been able to communicate from their operational base they have had to wait until they reached the nearest city or next port in order to use a local, expensive, pay-as-you-go phone.
In the past few years, matters have improved with the development of satellite communications, as it has become more common for the local command to provide some form of calling facility for example, offering vouchers which allow military personnel to call home from their base, and at a time that best suits them and their surrounding conditions.
The ability to take advantage of this capability, however, has continued to be restricted by the high cost of calls, typically $1 per minute or more. In response, with the greater utilization of Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions, technology is helping to make such communication much less expensive.
The issue extends significantly beyond a simple requirement to be able to call home using a pre-paid voucher. At home, and on-shore more broadly, military personnel are increasingly able to take advantage of a wide variety of sophisticated voice and data communications options. These range from instant messaging to sending and receiving emails to searching the Internet. All occur within a secure, controlled environment and offer a much better value for the money, all as a result of compression technologies.
With the greater availability of IP in the home environment, when in outlying geographies, individuals similarly want to send and receive emails and photograph attachments the modern day equivalent of the traditional long awaited letter (to and from) home.
At the same time, they may also want to be able to fill some of their leisure time surfing the net. This has also been beneficial for senior staff who wish to send and receive business-critical information via voicemail with colleagues at command center or other remote locations.
In enabling this enhanced two-way communication capability, for the first time in a pre-paid environment, family or friends have the ability to leave a voicemail message. The call can then be returned at a convenient time, an acitivty that has long been taken for granted in the world of terrestrial landline and mobile communications.
One World, One Network
Another key beneficiary is the bill payer or owner of the communications device. Those with responsibility for remote land bases or fleets are typically reliant on satellite communications for all communications between the command center and outlying operating units. Telecoms are an important element of the budget in managing each site.
The availability of new satellite-based solutions using compression technology represents a revolution in enabling truly global land-based and maritime communications, both in terms of cost and range of facilities. The cost of communicating is dramatically reduced by using VoIP end-to-end by installing a Horizon Multi-VoIP unit in each remote location and another in the operational center.
Previously, the center, or hub, would require the use of a landline phone, with a call to each location via a PSTN line, an expensive option costing in the neighborhood of $3-4 per minute. Now it is possible to call any outlying base or vessel directly through the local user extension number and to make a VoIP-to-VoIP call, using the background IP channel, by-passing the PSTN operator.
The concept of email data compression in remote terrestrial or maritime environments is not new. Recent developments have taken performance and cost reduction to a new level. Until now, access on such broadband products has been limited to one voice channel, resulting in long queues to make a call.
With the introduction of a flexible new proprietary codec, it is possible to have multiple connections, with as many as eight handsets on one Horizon Multi-VoIP unit. Not only does this allow eight people to make calls simultaneously, data can also be passed across the background IP channel at the same time. Users can also maximise savings by selecting from several call settings for optimal cost/quality voice delivery. This is a radically different form of communication and is both highly intuitive and easy to install. The savings that can be realized here are huge, as this technology slices the cost of such calls to just cents per minute.
Improved Employment Terms
Operationally, the availability of instant messaging is another valuable new capability. Historically, sending data across a satellite communications network in this manner has been highly bandwidth intensive up to 25 kbps and, once again, quite costly. With the advent of instant messaging and peer-to-peer VoIP, the satellite system is optimized, using less than 2 kbps. This provides an ideal low-cost, two-way conversation option.
This also offers a number of additional advantages. The instant messaging text facility enables correspondence to be delivered into print, which can be valuable in ensuring clarity of communication. The local commander, for example, can communicate rapidly with the command center. This is most important when receiving an immediate requirement for equipment, engineering, or other specialist support.
In a challenging economic climate, this clearly offers a notable benefit to the armed forces overall in their ability to operate effectively within tight budgets. It also offers the additional plus of boosting the operators ability to recruit and retain individuals with specialist skills and in effect become an employer of choice, by including superior, low cost voice and data communications facilities as part of a more competitive remuneration package.
Shrinking The World
For military personnel operating in dangerous war zones or dealing with civil emergencies, such as natural disasters, the ability to access the Internet and stay in contact with home on a regular basis by phone, email and text offers a much smaller world.
For administrators, the visibility and control of communications costs using such provided tools means they can offer these benefits without expenditures spiraling out of control as they seek for, and then retain, the best recruits.