MPX over IP

In the progression from Circuit Switched Data to Packet Switched Data, I can think of many different applications for something like this:

FMC01 MPX to IP CODEC
FMC01 MPX to IP CODEC

The FMC01 MPX to IP encoder can be used for multi-point distribution (multi frequency or same frequency network) of FM Composite audio, or as a backup solution over a LAN bridge, LAN extension, or public network.  I can think of several advantages of using this for a backup when composite analog STL’s are in use.  There are many compelling reasons to extend the LAN to the transmitter site these days; Transmitter control and monitoring, security cameras, office phone system extensions, internet access, backup audio, etc.  I would think, any type of critical infrastructure (e.g. STL) over a wireless IP LAN extension should be over a licensed system.  In the United States, the 3.6 GHz WLAN (802.11y) requires coordination and licensing, however, the way the rules are set up, the license process is greatly simplified over FCC Part 74 or 101 applications.

Another similar CODEC is the Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX.

Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX CODEC
Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX CODEC

Features include:
• Transparent Analog or Digital MPX (MPX over AES), or two discrete L/R channels (analog or AES).
• Built-in MPX SFN support with PTP sync (up to 6.000km in basic version). No GPS receivers!
• Unicast or Multicast operation to feed unlimited number of FM transmitters with MPX from one encoder.
• Linear uncompressed PCM 24-bit audio.
• Very low audio latency: 2,5mS in MPX mode.
• Perfect match with Sigmacom DDS-30 Exciter with Digital MPX input.
• Can be used with high quality 802.11a/n Ethernet links.
• DC coupled, balanced Analog inputs & outputs with -130dBc noise floor.
• No modulation overshoots due compression or AC capacitor coupling.
• Decoder provides simultaneously Analog & Digital output for transmitter redundancy.
• Aux RS232 serial transparent link, Studio to Transmitter.
• Auto switchover to Analog input when Digital signal is lost.
• Centralized remote control & management software

One last thought; separating the CODEC from the radio seems to be a good idea. It allows for greater flexibility and redundancy. Using an MPX type STL allows sensitive air chain processing equipment to be installed at the studio instead of the transmitter site.

Fifth Generation WLAN

Like all data carrying technology, WLAN, or WiFi, continues to evolve into a better, faster and more robust platform.  The IEEE wireless ethernet specification 802.11ac combines all of the past developments, plus some added features, into one specification.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Operation on 5 GHz only.  Many more available channels in this spectrum than in 2.4 GHz
  • Increased channel bonding making wider channels carrying more data.  In the 5 GHz spectrum channels are 20 MHz wide and do not overlap.  802.11ac allows for 40, 60, 80 or even 160 MHz channels.  This is great for short distances, longer distances will be prone to greater interference over wider channels
  • Modulation schemes that allow up to 256 QAM.  A 256 QAM constellation is going to look pretty crowded unless it is on a wide channel.  Again, this would be good for short distances.
  • Increased MIMO.  Up to 8×8 MIMO (Multi In Multi Out) which can greatly improve throughput.  MIMO means multiple transmitters and antennas in the same unit.  The first number is the transmitter count the second number is the antenna count.  Thus an 8X8 system will have eight transmitters and eight antennas.  This allowed beam forming by use of phased antenna arrays, which can greatly reduce multi-path
  • MU-MIMO (Multi-User MIMO).  Basically, the access point sends the data frame only to the desired host, thus instead of acting like an ethernet hub sending the frame to every connected host, the AP is acting more like an ethernet switch.
Comparison of 802.11n to 802.11ac
Comparison of 802.11n to 802.11ac

The goal of all of these modifications is to get gigabit transfer rates over WLAN.

What does all of this have to do with radio broadcast, one might ask.  That is a good question.

There are several applications that have to do with remote broadcasting.  Many sports areas, night clubs, or other likely places to be broadcasting from have WIFI installed.  Using a laptop with an AoIP client installed not only can connect to the studio for audio delivery, the same laptop can use RDP or VNC to control the station’s automation computer as well.  This means easier integration of the remote into voice tracked or syndicated programming.

Secondly, wireless LAN bridges between studio and transmitter site can act as a STL, a backup STL, a remote control return link, bridge for a network connected transmitter,  VoIP phone link, IP security camera back haul or almost anything else that can send ethernet data.  I have found it useful to simply have a computer available at the transmitter site, even if it is only to download manuals and what not.  We have taken several old Windows XP machines and reloaded them with a Linux variant and installed them at various transmitter sites.  It saves the trouble of having to download a manual on the smart phone then page back and forth across a really small screen to read it.  As for using unlicensed WiFi to link to a transmitter site; the link between the WICC studio and transmitter site runs a 78 Mbps most days.  This is a two mile link over mostly water.  I will say, when there is fog, the link rate drops to 32 Mbps, which is still pretty good, all things considered.

Of course, office network applications; laptop, tablet, smartphone and other personal devices.

Finally, Broadcast Engineers really need to keep abreast of networking technology.  There are many, many applications for WiFi units in the broadcast industry.

The Kintronic Isocoupler

Had a problem with this Kintronic FMC-0.1 isocoupler the other morning.

Kintronic FMC-1.0 STL ioscoupler
Kintronic FMC-1.0 STL isocoupler

After an overnight drenching heavy rain and very high wind, the STL transmitter associated with this unit was having high VSWR faults.  This isocoupler crosses a base insulator of an AM 50 KW directional antenna.  This particular tower has negative impedance, which is to say, it sucks power out of the pattern and feeds it back to the phasor. An interesting discussion for another time, perhaps.

Using a dummy load, we isolated the problem to the isocoupler by first connecting the load to the output on top of the unit (problem still exists) then to the transmission line prior the unit (problem went away).  Of course, the AM station had to be taken off the air to do this work.

Once the issue was confirmed as the isocoupler, I opened the unit up and found that water had entered and pooled in the top of the bottom half of the isolation transformer.

Kintronic isocoupler transformer
Kintronic isocoupler transformer

The isolation transformer consists of two loops to ground capacitively coupled through air dielectric. The issue is with the opening around the top of the unit, under the lip of metal lid. Apparently, this allowed water in.

Kintronic isocoupler isolation transformer
Kintronic isocoupler isolation transformer

It is difficult to tell with the lighting in this photograph, however, the bottom part of this isolation transformer has water pooled around the center insulator.  Using a rag, I cleaned out the water and dirt from the center insulator.  After reconnecting the antenna and transmitter transmission line, a quick check revealed the problem was much better, but still not completely gone.  I suspect water seeped further down into the bottom half of this unit.  The repair work was good enough, however, to return both stations to the air.

Glad to get that bit of work done while it was still relatively warm out.

Nanobridge M5 wireless LAN link, Part II

After a bit of delay, we were able to return to the WICC transmitter site to install the Wireless LAN link.  The installation was pretty straight forward.  The studio unit was mounted on an existing STL tower on the top of the elevator room, the transmitter unit was mounted on an existing pipe on the roof of the transmitter building.

M5 Nanobridge mounted on transmitter building with radome
M5 Nanobridge mounted on transmitter building with RADOME

I included RADOMEs for a couple of reasons; first, there is a lot of critters around of the two legged and winged kind. The upright two legged critters may be attracted to the signal strength lights at night. This unwanted attention could invite the juvenile delinquents bored teenagers to throw various objects found laying around on the ground at the antenna, damaging it.  The winged type critter may be inclined to view the feed horn as a good nesting location. The other reason is this site gets a lot of rain, wind, ice and snow, therefore the RADOMEs afford some protection against the weather.

Aiming the antennas was pretty straight forward, but requires at least two people.  Using landmarks, we aligned the dishes in the general direction of each other.  Both ends of the system were turned on and we had a -89 dBm signal path, and somewhat surprisingly, the radios linked up and my laptop grabbed an IP address via DHCP.  Using the signal strength meter on the side of the antenna, each dish was peaked in turn:

M5 Nanobridge Antenna signal strength meter
M5 Nanobridge Antenna signal strength meter

Then, somebody on either end went below and looked at the signal strength screen on the web interface while the other end was peaked.  In the end, we had about -65 dBm signal strength, which is somewhat less than the -58 dBm predicted.  I think we can do better, so on the next clear day, I am going to peak the signal again.

The data rate initially reported was over 100 MBPS, however, once I started transferring files back and forth, that dropped to about 50 MBPS.  If it is raining, that rate drops to about 35 MBPS, which is still far above what we need this link to do.  As a test, I streamed a youtube video, downloaded a windows update, loaded several web pages and checked my email simultaneously.  There where no issues with the data rate while those tasks were being preformed.

It is quite amazing to me that these little inexpensive radios can work so well.  My boss thinks that they will be blown up by lightning during the first thunderstorm of the season.  I don’t know.  There are several of these units that have been installed at mountain top tower sites and have been working for several years without issue.

Next step, installing the IP cameras and warning signs on the fence, setting up the monitoring software, etc.

Transmitter site security cameras
Transmitter site security cameras

Cameras mounted on old chimney platform.  This is the first set of cameras covering the south, north and west approaches.  A fourth camera will be mounted on the back of the building covering the east approach.  Then, under the eves cameras will be mounted on all four corners of the building and the generator shed.  If anything moves, it will be recorded.