For any organization or government entity that relies on satellite transmissions for sharing critical data, nothing is more important than ensuring that transmissions are 100 percent reliable with zero downtime – not matter the circumstance.
One of our customers, the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), recently suffered a catastrophic loss to the fiber optic transmission lines that send a TV signal for broadcast to a transmission antenna. As a result, all programs for the Pacific Ocean region went completely off the air.
During the past year IGC has invested in a new Carrier Monitoring System (CMS), which is a comprehensive, world-wide system of servers and spectrum analyzers that allows it to record and display satellite transmissions in real time.
The AFRTS transmission outage subjected the CMS to a real-world test, and it passed with flying colors.
Operators at our Intelsat Secure Operations Center (ISOC) were instantly alerted to the failure by the CMS. They immediately called out the problem to the vendor responsible for the fiber, who was able to quickly bypass the fault and restore transmission. Customers of the service saw a brief outage, but then regular programming was quickly restored. Perhaps even more gratifying, from our point of view, was that even though the fault occurred in the customer’s own equipment—where they send the signal to our equipment for transmission—we were able to diagnose and fix the problem even before they knew the problem existed. The CMS continuously monitors and displays the transponder spectrum, which is a display of satellite downlink power versus frequency. One defining feature of the system is its ability to simultaneously display the spectral plot of all monitored transponders on a video screen, for all operators to view.
Currently, 39 transponders are monitored, and there is plenty of room for expansion. As currently configured, the new CMS can simultaneously display 240 transponders, and is comprised of a nested hub of eight high-power Linux-based servers. This nesting distributes the processing load required to communicate to a worldwide network of spectrum analyzers.
The distributed nature of the system greatly increases the power and processing speed of spectral measurements. Update rates for each transponder are in the range of 10-30 seconds. This is a spectacular improvement on other systems, which can have much longer update rates. The system is a custom-modified version of Crystal Solutions’ Sentry Monitoring Platform.
In addition to monitoring, the system stores spectral traces in an open source database, allowing IGC to play back the history of what happened on a particular transponder on a minute-by-minute basis. It can even save that history to an AVI file for emailing and playback. This comes in handy particularly during instances of interference, when we can play back an event and use that information to diagnose the event. The new CMS is also a great tool for services where we use a third party, such as a non-Intelsat satellite or teleport, which can’t take advantage of the standard Intelsat monitoring and control mechanisms.
In an effort to provide proactive management of its satellite communications and networks, IGC’s upgrade to the new CMS is part of an overall review and upgrade of its ISOC procedures and monitoring systems. This effort certainly paid off for our AFRTS customers: what could have been a drawn out sequence of alert, diagnosis, and repair was shortened to mere minutes of downtime.
In a perfect world, fiber cuts would not happen, but all of us live in the real world where you need to take immediate action to restore services for customers. Thanks to the new CMS, we are ready for anything.