IGC Streamlines AFRTS Network to Use Fewer Teleports, Terrestrial Lines The American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) had its beginnings in a single studio in Hollywood shortly after the United States entered World War II, using borrowed shortwave transmitters to broadcast radio programs. Today, the service AFRTS uses nine satellites and eight data entry points to carry television and stereo audio services to over 1,000 outlets in more than 175 countries and U.S. territories and to U.S. Navy ships. Intelsat General was awarded the contract in April 2011 to operate the terrestrial and space network supporting AFRTS.
Over the past year, IGC engineers have streamlined the network, established a central monitoring capability and installed new equipment at teleports to optimize delivery of radio and television programming to U.S. troops and embassies around the world – all without any interruption in service. Phil Hulcher, IGC Senior Program Manager, said the AFRTS team began the project by doing a full evaluation and analysis of how the existing network provided services to each of the 1,000+ outlets receiving programming. The engineers compared that blueprint with other available terrestrial pathways and determined that the number of teleports could be reduced and a number of terrestrial lines used to deliver programming could be eliminated.
Hulcher said another step was that IGC engineers conducted a top-to-bottom review of the monitoring and control (M&C) of the network. The project team determined that new equipment was needed at each teleport to enable remote monitoring and then established a consolidated M&C operations center at the Intelsat teleport in Ellenwood, GA. Each of eight teleports around the world is constantly monitored from this one location with out-of-tolerance alarms sent by color coded pictures on monitors and via email directly to IGC first responders. Video from each teleport is also sent by secure Internet so it can be viewed for quality control.
The engineers installed equipment that monitors whether video is actually on the signals coming down from the satellites, rather than just relying on the presence of a signal as proof that everything is working properly. If the video is lost on a particular channel, the new equipment automatically switches to a redundant receiver and the programming continues to stream without interruption to the global audience. Hulcher said the entire network uses 379 MHz of satellite bandwidth.
Of the nine satellites used to support AFRTS programming, four are operated by Intelsat and five by other companies. Similarly, three of the teleports used in providing the services are operated by other companies. As part of the contract, IGC built a new teleport at Fort Meade to support transmission of the Pentagon Channel, operated by the DoD, to U.S. troops. A final step in the upgrading process will come this summer, when Intelsat closes its teleport at Clarksburg, MD, and moves operations from there to the Mountainside teleport near Hagerstown, MD. This will reduce to seven the number of teleports needed for AFRTS service.