S. Patton's speech to the Third Army /
Leonard Pitts' column
/ CIA Factbook file on
Afghanistan / Know your Foe!
/ (The Ground Zero Cross) / (A
Poem for A Marine at Christmas / Video Phone Technology /
By Jim Krane, Associated Press
(Copyright 2001, A.P., all rights reserved)
Editor's note: The original article
was unlinked and without illustrations. I've provided pictures
from the websites mentioned and links to them. My comments, like
these, are in maroon. To get broadcast quality you need not just
a single piece of equipment, but rather an entire system. Although
there are other systems, cost for the gear described below can
top $25,000 US. Air time for a 64kbs channel can range from $5.00
to $7.00 a minute. To power the equipment some reporters buy
generators smuggled out of Kabul and sold in the north by black
marketeers. Fox News said they recently paid $1,200 US for a
NEW YORK (October 9, 2001 9:34 a.m. EDT) - To CNN's audience,
the air war in Afghanistan looks like a series of primitive green
flashes that light up an inky night sky.
Crude as they are, the images are made possible by a new technology
- a lunch-box-sized "videophone" that streams low-bandwidth
video over a portable satellite telephone. The footage is captured
by a lone cameraman on a mountaintop 40 miles north of Kabul.
Other television reporters at Afghan rebel camps and in neighboring
Uzbekistan - basically anywhere they can lug about 20 pounds
of equipment - are using videophones to do characteristically
jittery standup reports.
While the images appear primitive, they are a big improvement
over voice-only live reports from far-flung correspondents during
previous conflicts, which were typically accompanied visually
by simple maps.
Without the $7,950 videophone, manufactured by London's 7E Communications Ltd. (external link).,
live video from a remote place like Afghanistan requires a satellite
uplink facility comprised of at least a ton of recording and
broadcast gear. Operated by a crew of three to four, the gear
is usually housed inside a van.
"Moving all that equipment
is a big operation, especially in a war zone," said CNN
chief news executive Eason Jordan.
The videophone has allowed individual television reporters
to wriggle close to the action, chiming in via jerky, pixelated
video from the some of the planet's furthest reaches.
The device first grabbed attention in April, when a CNN reporter
connected one to a car battery and broadcast live images of a
U.S. spy plane crew departing China's Hainan island.
The videophone allowed CNN to broadcast its footage almost
a half-hour earlier than rival broadcasters, who drove to an
uplink facility to transmit their video.
The pictures riled competing journalists and Chinese authorities,
who detained the reporter and confiscated the videophone.
Click here for 7E's .pdf file on their videophone.
It's not a sat phone. This is the first
part of a broadcast videophone system. The TH1 is used mainly
as a CODEC, or video and audio compressor. In landline service
the videophone could communicate with a unit like it on the end
of a normal phone line. A satellite telephone by comparison,
does not perform video or advanced audio compression. Such work
is microprocessor intensive, requiring specialized equipment
like the "Talking Head" unit pictured above. 7E recently
announced a second model, the TH2. For more on coding in general
click here. The TH1
plugs into a sat phone like that described below.
More here on Video Chip technology, the enabling
technology for visual telephony
Although the device is considered of little use in the United
States - where most areas are within reach of satellite or microwave
transmission facilities - CNN reporters used videophones after
the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack, transmitting from much
closer to "ground zero" than broadcast trucks could
Videophone broadcasts require three separate components, said
Gerry Gutman, president of Richtec
Inc. (external link) of Ocala, Fla., the North American distributor
of the 7E videophone.
The 9-pound videophone itself is used mainly to compress the
video for transmission. Few reporters rely on the rudimentary
golf-ball shaped camera that accompanies it, Gutman said. Most
reporters connect it to their own cameras - a portable digital
video camera will do.
A camera as least as
good as this Cannon XL1 is used. This model costs $3,500 US.
To stream the video to headquarters, the videophone must be
connected to a satellite phone, a device about the size of a
laptop computer. The sat phone recommended by 7E, manufactured
by England's Ottercom Ltd (external
link)., costs $9,950. [Pictured below]
here for Ottercom's .pdf file on their sat phone pictured above.
It's the second part in the system,
used to actually send a signal to the satellite. It's an Inmarsat
or GAN terminal, a required part to transmit on that wireless
carrier's network. What they call the Global Area Network. The
flat panel on the tripod is the antenna. You hook the CODEC/videophone
described above into this GAN terminal.
The phone relays the signal via a communications satellite
parked in geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles above the earth.
Since the signal travels at the speed of light, a "live"
satellite broadcast is actually delayed by a half-second, Gutman
The setup also requires installation of a $6,500 7E receiving
device at news headquarters that decodes the signal for broadcast.
What 's needed at the broadcasting studio
to automatically receive the incoming, encoded and compressed
Click here for 7E's .pdf file on this receiver.
Besides CNN, Gutman said he has sold videophones to major
television networks including the British Broadcasting Corp.,
Fox, ABC and NBC.
Associated Press Television News has also supplied staff in
the Afghan theater with videophones, said Sandy MacIntyre, head
of news at APTN.
The units' primitive broadcast quality stems from the limitations
of portable satellite telephones, which can transmit no faster
than 128 kilobits per second, just over twice the speed of the
56 kbps dial-up modems used by home computers, Gutman said.
Large satellite uplink facilities typically stream video at
15 megabits per second, requiring more than 100 times the bandwidth.
^^top of page ^^
The satellite carrier most used for
videophone service is Inmarsat
(external link). Here's a press release
from the Inmarsat site with more details on how a video phone
system works. By way of introduction, GAN stands for Global Area
Network, a proprietary radio
standard Inmarsat developed. Many,
many, manufacturers design GAN compatible equipment. GAN provides
a 64Kbs rate, which can be doubled to 128Kbs, a full ISDN rate.
To do this you need two compatible sat phones. What they call
Inmarsat the power behind live TV and radio
broadcasting in Afghanistan
Broadcasters including CNN and BBC turn to Inmarsat to feed
the world's thirst for news and developments in the region
Viewers around the world are able to watch live events unfold
in Afghanistan from many of the world's television and radio
stations thanks to advanced imaging technology utilising Inmarsat's
Global Area Network (GAN) solution.
Broadcasters from all around the world, including the BBC
and CNN have been drawn to Afghanistan to record the UN sanctioned
strikes on suspected terrorists in the region and are using Inmarsat's
satellite network to broadcast live from the field. The only
way to get the news in real-time back live from where it is actually
happening is via Inmarsat, which can deliver ISDN speed connectivity,
high availability and high reliability.
Presenters can operate in the field filming live through a
video conference unit called the TH2
Talking Heads or Videophone from 7E Communications in London,
which links via a standard ISDN socket to the Inmarsat GAN terminal
which provides a dial up two way connection to the home studio
via satellites orbiting 36,000 km above the equator. GAN provides
a 64kbit/s two-way channel from virtually any landmass in the
world. The speed can be increased to 128kbit/s by harnessing
two GAN channels.
Nic Robertson, CNN Senior Correspondent, who has just left
Kabul, Afghanistan said: "Videophones put you in the heart
of a story and allow you to broadcast live within minutes, following
the changes in a story and without having to go back to base.
For example, in Kabul we could simply unfold the Inmarsat antenna
and open the videophone box, connect the camera and transmit
live pictures immediately.
"The need to haul hundreds of kilogrammes of cumbersome
satellite equipment and feel restricted by a satellite truck
is now history. On this trip, it made getting across the border
into Afghanistan not only physically easier but allowed our hi-tech
equipment to escape the detection of the Taleban border guards,"
Inmarsat communications solutions have been part of the broadcasters
armoury for some time and are often used by teams flying into
the world's trouble spots in advance of more permanent and costly
deployment of fixed uplink capabilities.
For example, many audio broadcasters use Inmarsat GAN to provide
a high quality radio broadcast facility from the road, for example
BBC Radio cars are often equipped with GAN in the UK for Radio
4 and Radio 5 broadcasts. The Inmarsat mini-M voice and low level
data terminal is also used by many broadcasters for live voice
links, or communicating with the studio.
"What makes the situation in Afghanistan unique is that
the news organizations of the world are relying on Inmarsat GAN
to provide them with mainstream newsgathering capabilities in
the field for a longer period of time than they would normally
do," said Michael Butler, managing director of Inmarsat
Limited. "The news teams need a highly reliable and robust
system, which they can pick up and move around as they cover
developments, and Inmarsat GAN provides that.
"GAN is a tried and tested technology which has been
operational for almost two years and is used by many businesses
around the world to access their corporate databases or conduct
video conferences when there is no reliable telecommunications
solution available," he added.
Since the terrorist attacks on the US on 11th September, Inmarsat
partners have reported a surge in demand for GAN terminals and
associated equipment. When the US-led strikes on Taleban and
terrorist targets started on 7th October, the Inmarsat network
saw a large increase in usage which was tracked by Inmarsat's
advanced network management system and assigned extra capacity
to meet the increased demand.
More here on Video Chip technology, the enabling
technology for visual telephony
^^top of page ^^
Video Phone Technology / George S. Patton's speech
to the Third Army / Leonard Pitts'
column / CIA Factbook
file on Afghanistan / Know your