There is a bit of a buzz in the video communications industry at the moment around AV over IP (AVoIP). Research has shown that equipment sales have rocketed by 130% year on year. This is a trend, we’re told, that will shake up the industry. We’d be the first to acknowledge that for any company looking to deliver broadcast-quality content, IP-based distribution solutions are the way to go. But this is not new.
For over ten years, companies, including ourselves, have been designing, building and installing content distribution systems that maximise the benefits of IP networks. Interoperability with other devices is one advantage, use of high bandwidth to ensure low latency is another.
But AVoIP is not as simple as it sounds, and there is a danger, lurking in the marketing hype, that complexities for customers will not be given the right consideration and mistakes will be made at the specification stage.
Some AVoIP solutions are extremely hungry. Without compression they tend to use the vast majority of the available bandwidth on the network. This is not so bad if content is being streamed to a theatre, for example, or to one presentation screen in a meeting room or reception area. But if a customer has thousands of displays and needs multiple, simultaneous streams, the only way that the content will be successfully delivered is if it is compressed. The question is whether the AVoIP solution can manage that?
Increasingly, companies want to do more with their data. They want to add news tickers, build in a schedule, run a window with web content, or decrypt and manage their content. This is difficult to do without taking up even more bandwidth, and that’s before the AVoIP system even starts to interact with other bandwidth-hungry devices.
This type of AVoIP is point to point, not point to multipoint, and herein lies the difference. Point to multipoint solutions use multicast as their underlying enabling technology. It allows data to be sent to large numbers of users over an IP network as a single transmission. It is bandwidth-conserving, rather than bandwidth-hungry, and it can save customers a huge amount of money. Capital costs are reduced because fewer servers are needed and operating expenditure is lowered because there is less burden on the network.
Some of the world’s biggest companies have been using AVoIP for years, and because of multicast, they have not had to compromise on network availability, redundancy or encryption because all of those concerns have been taken care of by the sophistication and engineering within the content distribution system.
Installing a broadcast-style content delivery service or effective digital signage is a major undertaking and most deployments are not simple or easy to set up. Of course, point to point AVoIP solutions provide a start, particularly for smaller installations, but regardless of size, the first consideration must always be can the IP network cope with what the customer wants to do?
AVoIP is a journey and we have taken many of our customers on it over the last decade. Very few of them have stood still. They have expanded the number of servers and displays on their networks, they have opened new offices, they have installed new solutions and created vast amounts of data, and because their AVoIP system can scale, it has grown with them.
Without wishing to get too technical, the way that AVoIP has evolved means moving from the transport layer and building deeper into the application layer. What specifiers, and customers need to understand, is that not all of the new kids on the block have the ability to get beyond the transport layer.
So, choose wisely when looking to deploy AVoIP, ensure that the network can sustain bandwidth-intense, high availability transport streams carried in MPEG2 across multiple subnets, vLANs and WANS. Without this, it will never perform to maximum capacity. Remember, not all AVoIP is equal, regardless of the hype.