Magazine Article | September 18, 2007

Combine Digital Media, Hybrid Networks

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Maximizing the return on investment is often a matter of combining technologies.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2007

For more than 25 years, satellite-based communications networks (commonly known as VSAT [Very Small Aperture Terminal] networks) have provided thousands of retail locations with reliable connectivity for credit card processing, customer tracking, POS data, and Web applications. In recent years, VSAT services have seen dramatic growth in two distinct areas — digital media distribution and hybrid networks. Each application can improve a retailer's operational efficiency. Combining the two applications builds the business case for return on investment in a VSAT-based, business continuity solution.

With the proliferation of digital media as a tool to increase revenue per customer visit and lower employee training costs, a growing number of retailers are exploiting the broadband capability of VSAT networks. VSAT is well-suited for broadcast applications such as digital signage, in-store music, distance learning, and business TV — as the content is sent from a corporate headquarters to many locations. Even interactive applications such as video conferencing, video surveillance, and digital telephone services have matured so they can be delivered efficiently and reliably over VSAT networks.

VSATs are also an excellent platform for delivering completely converged voice, video, and data communications. For the retailer using VSAT primarily for POS, upgrading the network bandwidth to support digital media applications can quickly enable new, in-store revenue growth or operational enhancement strategies for very little cost.

For most retailers, even a temporary loss of communications can translate to lost revenue.  For a multilane 'big box' retailer, just a few minutes of downtime equates to thousands of dollars of lost revenue. A disabled DSL line means no credit card authorizations, no POS updates, and no back office connectivity to the corporate intranet.  Even emerging wireless technologies — such as WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) and other 3G cellular services — are dependent on the towers and local telecom infrastructure that may be subject to disruption from even a small regional outage.

To mitigate this risk, retailers with high uptime requirements are employing 'hybrid' networks, where DSL or other terrestrial links serve as the primary communications, and VSAT serves as a 'hot standby' solution in the event of a failure. This approach uses a diverse, completely independent connection (the VSAT) to provide 99.99% network availability. The experienced VSAT service provider will also include a network appliance or router-integrated VSAT module that manages the switchover between the terrestrial line and satellite. Switchover is automatic and requires less than 3 minutes.

On-demand (e.g. part-time) satellite service plans enable the retailer to pay only for satellite bandwidth in the event of an actual disaster. Oftentimes, however, there is a more effective way to view the investment in a VSAT-based, business continuity solution.

Many retailers combine digital media distribution with a hybrid network to maximize the return on investment of a VSAT network. This approach uses the satellite during normal operations for broadcast applications such as digital signage or business TV. In the event of a terrestrial failure, these applications are placed on hold, while more critical voice and data traffic takes over the VSAT link. Once terrestrial services are restored, the critical traffic automatically switches back to the landline, and broadcast applications resume. This combination approach allows the retailer to maximize the investment in a VSAT solution by providing a single link for revenue boosting, cost reducing, digital media applications, and nonstop networking for  real-time business transactions.

David Myers is senior vice president of marketing for Spacenet, Inc.
He can be reached at
david.myers@spacenet.com.

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