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Mobile units bring Net to news scenes

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Mobile truck company Production and Satellite Services Inc. expects to begin fulfilling a popular request of its clients when it starts to outfit its satellite trucks with medium- to high-speed Internet access this summer.
PSSI, with a fleet of 19, provides satellite trucks for news gathering, events and film and TV production. The company plans by late August or early September to have installed its Sky-IP Internet service in two or three of its trucks. The service has previously been unavailable in its vehicles and in most other satellite trucks.
For journalists working on assignment, Internet access in the truck will mean the ability to access wire copy, send and receive e-mails, conduct online research and access the newsroom computer system to stay on top of breaking news and information. While reporters on the scene usually know the most about a story, without access to the Internet they may not know what other news outlets or the Associated Press are reporting.
“You’re there, but you’re not connected to the world or news that’s going on,” said Rob Schuster, strategic accounts manager for PSSI, which is based in Los Angeles.
With live events, such as boxing matches or corporate seminars, clients could use the truck’s Internet service to webcast the event. Production companies could use it for digital dailies and sending footage over high-speed lines to producers or artists, Mr. Schuster said.
PSSI plans to begin installing equipment from IP-over-satellite equipment maker Radyne ComSteam in a few trucks by summer’s end, with more to come, depending on demand. PSSI’s Las Vegas uplink facility will act as the hub, while transceivers will be installed in the trucks. The transceivers are boxes that both transmit and receive, essentially acting as modems for the service. Internet speed will range from 56 Kbps to 1 Mbps, though the system can support up to 72 Mbps, Mr. Schuster said. The system will also enable voice over IP. “It will be like a full-blown command center for a remote location,” he said.
Just six months ago, a truck company needed to stitch together equipment from three or four different vendors to offer Internet access, he added. The benefit of Radyne ComStream equipment is that the many parts are condensed into one box.
The company’s so-called MRT or multiple receive terminal combines a modem, a direct-to-home receiver, a router and an Ethernet switch, said Louis Dubin, director of sales for North America at Radyne ComStream in Phoenix. “Our equipment allows you to send a signal from ground to satellite and back down to another location,” he said. “The return path is another satellite link out. Each truck has its own return path.”
He estimates that combining the disparate parts into one box allows the company to reduce the cost of the device by 50 percent to 75 percent compared with the cost for such systems a year ago.
PSSI has not yet determined the prices for the Internet service. Mr. Schuster said the company is developing a similar solution for flyaway satellites.
ABC News has begun installing in its trucks a new satellite phone service that can also enable Internet access. The new system from Immeon replaces a legacy system ABC News used for 15 years known as Skyswitch, said Michael Huitt, director of ABC News ABSAT, the satellite news-gathering arm for ABC News.
The new service is primarily designed to enable phone access anywhere, since cell service can be spotty in many remote areas where news occurs. The Internet access is an add-on, he said. ABC News has installed the service in 15 of its 100 affiliate trucks so far and plans to have it installed in 50 trucks by late summer or early fall. ABC affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas, for instance, uses the Internet service to connect to its iNews newsroom computer system to access wire copies and type scripts.
“I wanted a LAN connection for iNews for sometime out in the field,” said Johnny Stigler, ENG supervisor for WFAA. “You want to do something better than cellular.”
The Internet service ranges from 64 Kbps to 256 Kbps. It could be used in the future to transmit news stories in data packets at higher speeds, Mr. Huitt said.